Today I am cleaning up my files about my great great grandfathers…one in particular…Albert S. Martin. He was the first Martin in our line to settle in Auburn, New York in 1875. Albert was a boot maker by trade when they left Madison county. He had plied his trade with his older brother, Hiram in Wayne county where Albert met and married Harriet Frear in 1849. While remaining a cobbler, his occupation shifted to selling and repairing sewing machines and selling second hand goods. He and Harriet raised their eight children in Auburn. They belonged to the same Methodist Church I attended.
Somehow…somewhere along the way…the knowledge that my Martin family had lived in Auburn was lost to us. I suspect my father knew, but as is true with all of his family history, I had to learn it through research. His father had committed suicide when my father was five…his mother married twice more and I suspect all of that turmoil was packed away in his head…along with the family heritage.
And so I have been in search of my Martin genealogy and I suppose recent family history…the dark and light of it along with the names and dates.
Reading old documents…especially the old Auburn newspapers. I found my great great grandfather’s display ads…A.S. Martin and Sons…for his sewing machine business. And there were the classifieds buying and selling second hand goods and expanding to repairing bicycles and lawnmowers. On occasion there was a personal item in the social news…a visit from a relative…a church function…a Y.M.C.A speech to the young men of the community on being ‘humble’.
The Martins were well known merchants in Auburn with stores located at 136 Genesee Street and later 96 State Street and another on Clark Street. A bicycle shop on Williams Street was run by son, William which was located right around the corner from the Genesee Street “Fancy Goods” store established by Albert’s daughter, Harriett Cornelia.
Everyone had business with the Martins at one time or another. The men could repair just about anything and Harriet had a lovely shop with the best of laces and fabrics and the latest in French corsets. William A. Martin’s bicycle shop proved to be the launch of future Martin descendents’ love affair with the automobile. The Springer and Bench families had their roots with William Martin’s venture. My uncle and my father spent their lives in the auto industry…both tinkerers and lovers of anything with wheels.
Albert seemed to have trouble with the family horse and came away the worse for wear more than once. He was tipped out of the sleigh on the corner of Genesee and State streets in mid November of 1886 and his horse had to be restrained before it could bolt down Auburn’s main street..overturned sleigh and all. On December 30, 1899 71 year old Albert lost control of his horse-drawn wagon and broke his collar bone when his wagon collided with a hack parked in front of cafe on State Street. Once again his horse proved to be a…uh…nervous Nellie. His horse was reported as “fractious”. Not every Martin was a “transportation” guy it seems.
Mishaps with horses aside, Albert had his issues with the characters of the town. He was robbed in his store in 1898 and though an old man, gave the young coat thief a run for his money.
However, the story that jumped out occurred in the summer of 1884 in the form of the “Insane Prince of Oranges” when addled Sam Francisco ran down the street of Auburn shouting that “Mr. Martin was going to kill him for losing the keys” and several buildings downtown “were going to burn”. He found his way to my great great grandfather’s home on Seward Avenue and bawling up at the windows at one o’clock in the morning, begged not to be killed for he had no keys. Father and son managed to assure the crazed man that all was well as they soothed him from the second story windows. Eventually quieted, he began the journey home, but his odd and noisy behavior had caught the attention of Officer Malone and the poor man was hauled away.
Having had no family lore for my dad’s family passed down through the generations, I found reading these published snippets of activity and moments of drama are worth finding and getting familiar with. Family historians can get caught up with securing evidence…finding proof…data mining and don’t take the time to take a more gentle stroll through the past. If luck will have it, some worthy item will crop up and often does if you are willing to spend time reading.
You could find out your ancestral grandfather…a living, breathing human being… had a fractious horse that he could not handle, but could calm a deranged soul dubbed the “Prince of Oranges” in the middle of the night.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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