The Politics of Clean Water

A Note to My Readers:  After some research on epidemiology with an eye on Auburn, New York at the turn of the last century, I decided to zero in on typhoid, cholera, consumption, Spanish Flu and infantile paralysis…with a side bar on malaria and diphtheria. During that period, a number of my family members were afflicted with at least one or more of these scourges and there were fatalities as well. Story after story unfolded in my research and it was unsettling to say the least that any one of these diseases could visit any household…any community and all folks could do was react and pray their efforts would spare their loved ones. Today we take for granted modern healthcare and public sanitation standards and the resulting protection due to prophylactic measures…vaccinations…water filtration, waste and trash disposal systems. We know it works, because it has for over a century. Today there are still those that deny scientific proof even in the face of solid evidence and history.

Last week I had worked on a blog post about civil engineering and Auburn’s history of street numbering, building its various infrastructures for water and sewer and electric. In trade journals spanning from 1909 and 1910, among the dry engineering specs, bids and contracts, I ran into a more prosy and intriguing reference to several plans and discussions about building a water filtration plant for Owasco Lake…Auburn’s main water supply at the time. And the typhoid debate.

It sparked a curiosity as over the Christmas holidays I had read a book entitled “The Epidemic” by award-winning journalist David DeKok which recounted the terrible typhoid epidemic in Ithaca, New York that devastated Ithaca in 1903. Typhoid infected hundreds and killed at least 82 people, including 29 Cornell University students. Almost 1 in 10 residents became ill. DeKok gives a chilling account of corporate greed and political disconnect that was the nexus of the catastrophe. DeKok’s detailed account illustrates clearly that the entire typhoid tragedy could have been avoided had a proper water filtration plant that should have been built.  In fact the dam that was built without the accompanying filtration plant was the root cause due to the human excrement build up at the labor site by infected immigrant workers.  Matters were further complicated with the failure of authorities to report the deplorable and dangerous conditions that they had found.

That was 1903. It was national news and certainly could not have escaped the attention of Auburn, New York. Typhoid regularly appeared, not just along the communities of Cayuga Lake, but Owasco Lake as well.

In 1909 and 1910 New York State led the nation in typhoid deaths. The United States was declared as having the most typhoid deaths of any civilized nation with 1300 deaths reported in the year of 1909. Newspapers were awash with reports of outbreaks and local health authorities testing waters and even milk. Municipalities across the country were building filtration plants to decontaminate the water and protect their populations. Still some communities resisted despite the evidence that others were now relieved of typhoid outbreaks by filtering the water and implementing other sanitation methods. There was no doubt that exposure to human excrement was the issue. Health officials had standardized instructions for individuals and hospitals managing an outbreak and it was up to the private citizen and the local doctors at hand to prevent it or enforce it.  It was up to local governments to decide what was best for their community when it came to infrastructure investment.  Like a water filtration plant.

Governor Hughes was urged by the State Department of Health to enact legislation to relieve “the water supplies of the State from pollution”.

“Many of our streams,” says the report, “have reached the amount of pollution they will care for. That such a condition of affairs exists is a public disgrace. But little relief in the conditions can be obtained under the existing laws.”

Summer resorts were especially unhealthful due to methods of sewage disposal as the report advised. Added to that problem was the fact that summer people from other communities brought typhoid with them. “The conditions of a number of places have been found to be dangerous to the persons visiting them.”

Another factor came into play as well. Just as it happened in Ithaca, newly arrived European immigrant laborers, brought typhoid with them. As New York State’s cities were expanding, large contractors – many of them New York City firms- bid on the municipal projects in great competition and brought in cheap labor to win bids by keeping costs down. Newly arrived immigrants fit the bill. The laborers had been exposed for years and had immunity and so they were carriers. As the children’s book says…”Everybody Poops”. And this was still the era of outhouses and wells. Public and private. Especially along the lakes. Auburn may have installed sewers and there was indoor plumbing, but there were still private and public wells and private…um…privies.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 9 May 1908 Boil the WAter

In 1910 though the evidence and statistics gathered by respected experts of the day overwhelmingly pointed to the conclusion that a water filtration plant was the answer to Auburn’s typhoid outbreaks, some of the officials and elite citizens of Auburn had a curious resistance and furious public debate had begun. I say curious because despite the fact that “BOIL THE WATER” was the order of the day and the naysayers themselves enthusiastically complied, a water filtration system seemed to be an absurd idea to them.

Moravia and Union Springs were particularly hard hit in October of 1910. Whole families were devastated. The Gillespie family of Basin Street in Union Springs lost their fifth member in three weeks with the death of 25 year old Joseph. His mother and three brothers had perished during the late days of September. Brothers Bernard and Thomas died within minutes of one another. Father James lie on his death bed. Mother Bridget Gillespie contracted typhoid while caring for her ill sons and lived only a short time. Only three Gillespie daughters were spared. Frightened by the swiftness of the family’s demise, a petition to the State Board of Health was circulated by Reverend W. H. Casey pleading for assistance for a remedy.

Their neighbors…the Tierneys – Hattie and her brother – also lay critically ill with the fever.

In Moravia townspeople were instructed to boil their water and five springs southeast of the village were found to be the suspected sources. Specific instruction given by Moravia’s Board of Health ranged from the proper supervision of the milk supply to the isolation of patients and disinfection methods. Sears and Ingalls Springs were immediately protected against contamination. The spring near Skinner Mill road was ordered to be abandoned.

Moravia’s citizens had just suffered a series of typhoid outbreaks of note in the previous years. The very same health officials had answered that call for help, including Dr. M. P. Conway, Head of the Water Board. In that year the measures seemed to revolve around containment of the ill and dying and debating about the source.

Got Milk? Got Typhoid?

It was noteworthy that in 1908 the Water Board headed by President M. P. Conway took public issue with the theory of Health Officer Dr. A. H. Brown and which had been endorsed by Dr. Thomas Darlington, Health Commissioner of Greater New York, to the effect that “the typhoid germs came down 14 miles from Moravia to the mains of the this city (Auburn)”. Dr. Conway pronounced the opinion as “rot”. Politics played itself out as Conway and Brown’s divergent and heated opinions found themselves in public discourse at city meetings and in newspaper articles. The Health Department and Dr. Conway had had run- ins before. When Auburn was hit in March of 1907, it was said that source of the contagion was “still shrouded in mystery. The Health department insists that it is the water supply that is at fault and the Water department insinuates that it is the milk supply.” Cayuga County Dairy Company’s milk was tested and though a small trace was found, it was declared ‘good milk’, but that the pasteurizing was not quite adequate. So they tested the water. It was contaminated, but not with sufficiently high enough levels to convince everyone that the lake was the likely source.  As I discovered in further reading, if the samples are not taken at the correct site of contamination, a low count will be the result.  Further field samples taken in a variety of locations did reveal higher counts.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 9 May 1908 Water Board TalksDrs. Brown and Darlington spoke at the First Presbyterian Church in May of 1908 ‘to speak of local conditions and work of sanitation in Auburn.” The main topic presented was “The White Plague”. Consumption. Tuberculosis. Lectures were delivered by physicians and exhibits educated Auburnians on this ever present and real threat. But the doctors weren’t done with the subject of Typhoid. Not when year after year, outbreaks were sickening and killing so many. In an impressive presentation supported by research and facts on the outbreaks, Dr. Brown made it undeniably clear that the contamination was in the water and due to insufficient sanitation. He cited Ithaca’s unfortunate history and declared that

Auburn’s typhoid outbreak was caused by the epidemic in Moravia. During the spring thaw, the ice that was melting and came down the inlet from Moravia was tested and it had the highest bacterial count they had ever witnessed.

The fact that in 1916 a water filtration plant was planned and in 1918 contracted to build for Owasco Lake leads me to believe that the good doctor’s conclusions were most definitely not “rot”. Eventually, the pressing proof had the Water Board allied with Dr. Brown in the ongoing drive to establish a new water filtration plant.

Experts continued to push municipalities at the national, state and local levels to purify municipal water sources. A movement was underway, filtration plants bloomed everywhere and soon the levels of disease fell dramatically. Still Auburn didn’t quite buy in. The new debates revolved not around the source of the disease, but rather what water plant would work best and who was in control of the water plant. A good number of the cities that had built new plants were located on rivers and it was thought that lake water and river water had differing issues.

The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

More debate over the next few years continued, but as knowledge improved and more filtration systems were installed, the idea of a water plant was becoming acceptable.  The debate topics changed.  It was no longer ‘should we build’.  Instead the issue went to the manner of raising money and just how to convince citizens to approve the water treatment plant. Politics had muddied the waters so to speak.  Questions whirled about the community.  What were the available designs that would work best and what were the cost comparisons for building one? What kind of life would it have and what would the ongoing maintenance needs be? How would rates be controlled?  Everyone had an opinion and everyone had a stake in it. Politicians and respected leaders worried about who had authority over the fundraising. It was thought that the Water Board did not have the legal authority to implement the fundraising and in fact, the Water Board was labeled as reckless. It was recommended that the citizens should vote on whether or not to build the plant.

“The Water Board’s financial chickens are soon coming home to roost,” declared Democratic candidate for Member of Assembly, Thomas M. Osborne.

In his 1910 campaign speech at a large political meeting held at the Court house, Mr. Osborne spoke on many subjects to the crowd which filled the rooms from wall to wall and overflowed into the hallways. When he arrived fresh from a speech at Owasco, the crowd hooped and applauded. Quieting the crowd, he narrated the history of the Water Board, pointing out its financial weaknesses and failures.  He went on to state that its refusal to be a coordinated member of city government left in doubt its ability to manage the bonds and the water rates to any satisfaction.  Osborn called out the President of the Water Board, M. P. Conway.

“Calling attention to the fact that the President of the Water Board had pronounced as “rot” the theory several years ago that typhoid germs could be carried from…  carelessly supervised by the Water department of Moravia, Cascade and other places…”

Osborne went on to allege that the President of the Water Board’s fixation on milk being the source of the typhoid epidemic was because Osborne was interested in the Cayuga County Dairy Company. Wrapping up that portion of his speech, he stated that he was not opposed to the water filtration plant and declared that the plant proposed by the Water Board was not sufficient for the city of Auburn.

Pending the necessary reorganization of the Water Board and its being brought into proper relation to other city departments he urged the defeat of the filtration plant scheme.

After several years of debate and active campaigning, on November 7, 1916, the citizens of Auburn voted in favor of the new water filtration plant.

At the heart of the contention was money and control. Should the monies involve raising taxes? Assessing property owners? The history of the Water Board and its handling of bonds made people nervous. Women property owners were furious because they did not yet have the vote at that time and they wanted a say. Suffragettes were out in force. But something had to be done and when the politics settled down, the public good was the bottom line and a financing strategy was determined.  It was time.

In 1917 as requested by the Water Board, Auburn’s City Alderman passed a resolution for Issuance of $200,000 in bonds which was formally titled the “Water Filtration Bond”. This time, however, the city had a watch dog and the Water Board was required to report its finances on a scheduled basis. By January of 1918, they had nearly $196, 000 in cash in the coffers.

According to Applied Science and Technology Index, Volume 7, published in 1919, under J. Walter Ackerman, Municipal engineer, Auburn had a new, slow sand water filtration plant underway by 1918. The plant was built and on the corner of Swift Street and Pulsifer Drive and was a two-story field house type of structure.Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 5 Sep 1918 Rotarians have dinner at the WP tanks

Auburn became enamored with its soon-to-be completed plant in  September of 1920.  Auburn’s Rotary Club arranged for a V.I.P dinner to be held at the plant with the dining tables set up in the newly poured concrete tanks with assurance that “Medicos” were going along in case there was a need for First Aid.

A Brief History

The short history of the water plant tells that in 1894 the City of Auburn bought a plant from a private company for $425,000. At the time of purchase the plant included two pumping stations, one at the lake and one at upper dam containing a 6 million gallon capacity Holly pump which was in rough shape, having been frozen and cracked during the winters and one quadruplex pump, old style and one new Gaskell steam and water wheel driven pump. Over ten years new mains were installed replacing old cement pipes. Eventually pumping capacity was increased at the lower station and the old quadruplex was removed and a new R. D. Wood pump was installed. The new pump was driven by two water wheels on one side and a 650 horsepower McIntosh & Seymour steam engine and three 150 horsepower boilers.

As mechanics improved and demand increased, more improvements were made over the years. A 12 million gallon Snow steam pump and two boilers were installed at the lake which gave the old Holley pump more reserve. Next a new screen well was built at the lake with a 36 inch intake pipe which was 1,875 feet long with a concrete screen on the end in water 45 deep (normal lake level).

Between 1917 and 1920 the new sand filtration plant was built adding new gears and repairing the water wheels. Finally the old Holley pump at the lake was removed and three new electric pumps replaced it. The Snow pump was kept, but in reserve and an additional build to house the electric driven pumps and a McIntosh & Seymour diesel engine. The last old water wheel which had been used to drive the Gaskell pump was removed and a modern water wheel generator was installed to furnish current for the upper house and two of the lower house pumps.

Local unemployment was a problem and the new plant construction and refittings provided jobs for two years. A new reservoir was built out Franklin Street Road with a 30 inch pipe leading to the center of the city. As with any construction, plans had to be changed. Timber rotting and falling into the wheel pit, wrecked the water wheel generator. So they drained the water and the old bridge and raceway was inspected. Since they had the water lowered, it was decided to replace the old bridge with a cement bridge and install new Herring cone gears on the R. D. Wood pump, repairing the drive shaft and installing two new boilers and pipings. Two new clutches on the shaft were installed to enable engineers to cut off the steam engine and use water entirely several months in the year or in case any trouble with the water wheels cut them out and they could run with the steam engine only.

The plant once valued in 1894 at $425,000 was worth $2,000,000,000 by 1935. At that time it was reported that rates were among the lowest in the country.

And, of course, Auburn had clean water and plumbing businesses were flourishing.

Researching the epidemics reminded me that these diseases were feared and rightly so. Yet despite the real fear, the politics and power plays, the water filtration plant played a significant role in advancing the public welfare. The speeches and debates were impressive to read and the passion for the subject fairly leaps off the page. Eventually the debates had to end and the people understood that they had to end the battle of wills and fight the true enemy. Typhoid.

Author’s Note:
Generations later, we turn on our taps, fill a glass with water and drink it without a thought. As an historian, I don’t take anything for granted. I spend so many hours examining the past and learning to appreciate modern living standards. And I am old enough to remember polio and measles. My brother had a mild case of it in the 1940’s, as did my father’s sister in 1925. Consumption was like wildfire in more than one family group in my ancestry. Cholera killed a number of infants of family members that lived along Cayuga Lake in the late 1800’s. Spanish flu killed two of my grandmother’s siblings in Auburn in 1918 within 24 hours of one another.

It was this span of time that I visited the past few days to understand how as a community, my ancestors and their neighbors coped and then sought…together…to find a solution to a healthier life. At first I wallowed with the scientists and physicians and learned the talk about E.coli counts and contamination and studied the statistics and conclusions. Then came the politicians and the businessmen who fought for control of local utilities. Private power companies made fortunes during that time and water treatment was becoming the next boom industry. They both had more than the initial profit gains. They had long term cash flow. No Pollyanna stories here. No famous heroes. Just the people. The people who voted for their own well-being. That said, the people still argue over rates and service to this day. Everywhere.

At least typhoid isn’t in the equation.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.


Numbers Count. A Civil Engineering Mystery

A Note to My Readers:  One of the most interesting resources that I haunt are old city and county directories.  And of course maps!  When I have the opportunity to visit the site of an ancestor’s home or place of business, I am one happy genealogist.  January and February are perfect for this type of research.  I am snowed in.  It is cold.  And I am off to faraway places and times.

Directory of Auburn 1888 David and George Penird Green St cropDoing a bit of Auburn, NY research today identifying where my great great grandfather, David Penird lived in 1888 with his son, George W. Penird on 11 and 13 Green St. while the family business of Coy and Penird was being established.

By 1879 Auburn, New York had become so densely populated that the number of wards was increased from seven to ten. At the recommendation of Special Agent Smith in 1880 the letter carrier system was inaugurated and the Common Council ordered the streets to be renumbered.

Renumbering had been going on for awhile before 1879 and continued on an ad hoc basis for decades afterward.  Must have given the post office fits as the incremental street renumbering went on into the 20th century.

Green Street was extended to Clark Street sometime in the 1880’s and it is that extension that is the site of 11 and 13 Green Streets.  Today I can visit the parking lot where their residence once stood.  So much for nostalgia.

If any of you are collectors…old postcards, letters, etc., you have seen the addresses of Obadiah  Downing Letter 1828yesteryear progress to more precise information.  I have seen a number of addressed envelopes and postcards and own more than one set of correspondence myself from back in the day.   Some of them are downright folksy and casual and relied solely upon the postmaster’s establishment.  Several of my ancestors were U.S. postmasters and handled the U.S. mail in their stores and inns.  The postmaster would regularly publish in local newspapers a list of letters awaiting individuals so they made a trip with purpose and not promise of mail.  However, a good amount of time a stroll down a country road to the postmaster’s office was an idle recreation to chat with friends and neighbors and to check out the latest post on the wall.  A call for homesteaders or a notice for a fugitive. A stagecoach schedule.  Or as in the case of Mr. Lincoln’s call of 1861-  a call to enlistment.


And then curiosity kicked in and I had wondered about renumbering.  Imagine one day your address is 123 Main Street and tomorrow the number is 427.  How did THAT happen and why THAT number?  In pursuit of historical trivia, I went on the hunt to learn more about Auburn’s history and information on renumbering its streets.  It was a mighty different place one year to the next from its post revolutionary war settlement to its hey day in the mid and late 19th century and even into the first decades of the 20th century.  My ancestors were part of those centuries and I was game for some history.  The kind of history that I have to dig into obscure places to find and that I have to parse and build a coherent chronicle on my own.

I came across an old national trade publication for engineering firms and contractors which was a compilation of periodical journals detailing engineering bids, contracts and work completed around the country from July to December 1916 – sewers, streets, bridges and the like. Several entries indicated the impressive activity in Auburn, New York.  When I found a second publication for 1910, it was clear that Auburn had been booming and modernizing at a fast pace.

In 1910 new sanitary sewers were installed on Osborne Ave and Belvedere Place…and Arlington Avenue was renumbered.   In fact in 1910, Auburn businessmen were trying to have ALL streets renumbered according to another journal entry.  With all of this ‘renumbering’ going on either in whole or by one street at a time, it is no wonder at times researchers have to be cautious about saying ‘X’ marks the spot.

That historian irk aside, discovering the engineering publications gave me a glimpse into the growth of the cities around the nation and the infrastructure expansion to meet the needs of growing municipalities. Auburn was definitely active in that regard during the late 1870’s and the infrastructure projects are nicely documented in detail in the journals  that recount 1910 and 1916 municipal projects and planning.

A city water filtration plant (for Owasco Lake) was proposed and voted on by the citizens of Auburn. Owasco Lake was listed as its main water supply with a scary chart of statistics for related TYPHOID deaths due to the unfiltered water.

Auburn’s average rate per 100, 000 for 10 years – 22.5 deaths. In 1909 6 Auburnians died of typhoid. Buffalo, New York had 12 deaths; Geneva, New York had just 2 deaths and Syracuse, New York had 14 typhoid deaths.

An interesting aside was that the engineering society noted what municipalities realized a profit from their waterworks plants and Auburn was one of the few cities along with much larger cities Chicago and Boston, Providence and Schenectady listed as profitable. The report credited conservatism and good business management.

Meanwhile extensive improvements were made to the local plant of the Auburn Gas Co. immediately that cost about $100,000.  The Public Service Commission, Second District, ordered Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railroad Co. to lay double track on State Street. New plans were submitted to the County Superintendent of Highways for a state Road to be built from South Street to Fleming Hill. Auburn Board of Supervisors passed a resolution for construction of the Weedsport-Cato Road at a cost of $24, 912. Two county roads were built in 1910 – the Auburn to Owasco highway and the Moravia to Niles highway totaling $10, 907.20.

Auburn Mayor O’ Neill favored a change in speed ordinances of the city permitting street cars to run 8 miles an hour in the congested district and 12 miles outside, but he is opposed to 10 miles in the congested district and 13 miles outside as advocated. Obviously the mayor had a thing about speed.  But his city was expanding and changing and he must have been hanging on to a whirlwind.

Mayor O’ Neill sent a communication to a special meeting of the Board of Alderman recommending a salary for the Aldermen, and upon motion of Alderman Moseley the matter was, by unanimous vote, referred to the Estimate and Control to establish a salary that would fairly compensate them for the services rendered.  Bureaucracy was growing along with the city.

I guess horse dung was still a big issue in the streets of Auburn in 1910 because bids went out to acquire additional hose to ‘flush the streets’.

A large project that was well documented was the construction of ‘fiber conduits’ for Municipal_Journal_and_Engineer 1910 Hoopes Subway_Page_1electrification in the works in 1910 extension of the system on Hoopes Avenue. Evidently the engineering society was all a-twitter over the Novel manhole construction and published a brief article with diagrams with all the pertinent details.

Newspapers were full of notices about infrastructure improvements…telephone, telegraph, electrification, fire hydrants, and CEMENT sidewalks.  But I was on the hunt for street renumbering data.  Not so much the what, when and where and how as the WHY?   Building better roads and sewers and water filtration, sidewalks and street lights answer the why all by themselves.  But I am determined to find some Alderman, Council Member, Mayor, civil engineer statement that tells me why an established street or an entire city would require renumbering.  The only exception I can think of is the development of an empty lot and in its hurly-burly no one thought of numbering that lot for future occupants. Or could it be that larger lots were divided for new houses and renumbering needed to include the new dwellings?  That feels too easy.  And I usually guess wrong.  I will keep looking for some answer from someone much hipper on civil engineering than I am.

Our favorite Auburn Alderman Moseley directed the City Engineer in 1913 to draw up a new map for the renumbering of Logan Street.  The City Engineer expanded the effort to Fulton Street, Westlake and Lake Avenues. In 1916 portions of Beach and Grant Avenues and Perry Street were renumbered.  In 1917 it was Clark Street’s turn.  Going further back, Paul, West and Wood Streets were ordered to be renumbered in 1885.

In 1919 City Engineer Thomas B. Bergan presented a blistering report on the city’s infrastructure condition.  Washington, State and Division Street bridges were in unsafe condition.  The sewer disposal plant was clogged and needed additional sludge beds, the macadam on city streets was failing due to inferior material.  An gas explosion in February of 1918 in the ‘subway’ on State Street had damaged manholes and pavement due to gas build up.  Much of the problem of fundraising had to do with the economic impact of World War I and the need to address the needs of Auburn, New York and its citizens.

And there it is in his report..RENUMBERING.  Front and center in his report with all the unsafe stuff!

An ordinance granting the city engineer authority to renumber the houses of the city in the block system of number was presented to the Common Council in February and defeated by one vote.

My views in reference to the house numbering in the city are well known.  The condition at present is deplorable and an ordinance should be adopted providing for the block system of number as presented by the city engineer.

Endorsed by the city administration and business groups like the Rotary Club, it seemed to be a slam dunk, but I suspect the city coffers needed to prioritize things like bridges and subways.

So what makes street numbering good…or in the words of City Engineer Bergan…deplorable?  One little clue comes from the village of Seneca Falls which in 1912 developed a plan to replace all street signs purchased with a subscription fund and with that to establish an accurate system of house numbers.  The published reason?  To give assistance in locating a building.    Okay, this is going to take more work.   It can’t be that simple.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Taking Stock

Occasionally research takes you down unexpected paths.  I was stopped short today and went where the story took me.  The evidence left me with more questions and added to the research load, but I wouldn’t miss these jogs in the road for anything.  Picking up some loose ends today to see if I can find more Martin descendants, I casually checked back with a number of newspapers to see if there was anything new.  And boy, oh boy, I got more than I bargained for.

Newspaper Auburn NY News & Bulletin May 1883  Ernest Martin takes a NYC positionChasing down the descendants of my great grandfather’s brother, Ernest M. Martin, I uncovered some intriguing material. Ernest, and my great grandfather Henry A. Martin were both ‘stenographers’ and telegraph operators. I hadn’t previously identified their employers. I assumed they were Western Union. Both men picked up and left Auburn in May of 1883 to work as stenographers in New York City. I speculated that perhaps it might have to do with the soon to be completed Brooklyn Bridge since young people from all over the tri-state area were streaming into the city to work as professionals in Manhattan while living in Brooklyn.

What I found today has given me pause. I found they were employed in the Auburn, NY offices of stockbrokers Watson & Cox and Co. handling the ‘wire’. Irregularities were occurring at the time and investors were beginning to question what was happening with their money. In 1883 local reporters went to two brokerages and asked them point blank why were people losing money? Watson said it was nonsense…that crops were great and there was no reason for panic.

He said that in his opinion, the panicky feeling is the result of a large class of worthless securities being thrown upon the market, which has a tendency, naturally to affect first class collaterals.

“Then you have no idea of a panic? the reporter asked.”

That is nonsense.  The country never had better crops; the railroads are in excellent condition for transportation and there is a general feeling of contentment among all classes.  You can put me down as saying that there is no cause for alarm.

It wasn’t long before Watson & Cox, Co. had closed their doors and the principal brokers were indicted for grand larceny. Though they went through a trial in 1885, they were not convicted.

What was of interest to me beyond the intrigue of the economic impact on Auburn’s citizens was the fact that Watson & Cox was affiliated with the NYC brokerage Townsend & Yale that hired my grandfather and his brother and brought them from Auburn to NYC. In 1883. Men who would know EVERY transaction and message in and out of those offices at 82 Genesee St.

There is no evidence that Ernest and Henry were called to testify and they both worked for decades as stenographers on the New York Stock Exchange. I also found no evidence that Henry EVER returned to Auburn except to marry in July of 1884. He remained in Brooklyn until his death in 1932. Ernest married his Auburn sweetheart at the same time and immediately returned to Brooklyn. Only Ernest’s wife and daughters returned to visit her parents.

The effect on Auburn’s economy was felt for years. Newspaper Auburn NY Weekly Democrat 31 May 1888 Watson Cox destroyed Auburns economy

There is much to read on the Watson & Cox case. Just collecting it and organizing it has been Herculean.   Of course, this means I have a check list.  What is a bucket shop?  And worthless securities?  And even more unsettling…do bucket shops still exist under another name.    And worthless securities?  Time to talk to an historian about the stock market and the American economy.


Author’s Note:

DEFINITION of ‘Bucket Shop’

1. A fraudulent brokerage firm that uses aggressive telephone sales tactics to sell securities that the brokerage owns and wants to get rid of. The securities they sell are typically poor investment opportunities, and almost always penny stocks.

2. A brokerage that makes trades on a client’s behalf and promises a certain price. The brokerage, however, waits until a different price arises and then makes the trade, keeping the difference as profit.


1. Bucket shops are sometimes called the boiler room. The U.S. has laws restricting bucket shop practices by limiting the ability of brokerage houses to create and trade certain types of over-the-counter securities.

2. The second definition for a bucket shop comes from more than 50 years ago, when bucket shops would do trades all day long, throwing the tickets into a bucket. At the end of the day they would decide which accounts to award the winning and losing trades to.

“1885, Jan. 5. – The firm of Watson, Cox & Co., brokers is dissolved; the Auburn members of the firm taking quarters with Sheriff Myers.  The firm was organized in 1880, as Watson & Neyhart.  Mr. Neyhart retiring, Mr. Ashby succeeded him and a New York broker, named Cox, was introduced.  The firm did a large business in the purchase and sale of stocks, and great expectations of large fortunes were indulged in, which I regret to say, were not in all cases realized.  Some misunderstanding having arisen between the firm and its patrons, the business office was removed and negotiations were carried on at the jail until the 8th of May, when the restrained brokers were honorably discharged.”

Collections of Cayuga County Historical Society, Volumes 9 -11.  Published 1891. Page 36


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.


Coming Home…a Stranger’s Gift

A Note To My Readers:  What a week! I have been pretty seriously ill with a virus that oddly enough attacked my eyes…scary and painful…and made it really difficult to do any reading or computer work. I toughed it out…with the help of good medication and am on the mend.


That said…I did ‘force’ myself to do some genealogical work (I know you all can admit to the same thing…never too sick for genealogy!). Wonder of wonders…I received an email from a complete stranger who told me she had found a cabinet card with a name and date on the back…Grace Trowbridge 1890. She was going through her grandmother’s things in some old boxes and there it was!  Her grandmother and Grace were school girls together. She mentioned it to a friend who happened to know me and who follows my genealogical postings…including some regarding my Jennings and Trowbridge family members.

Would I like to have it? Well, I didn’t hesitate a bit. Of course! Yes! Please! And thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

It arrived on Wednesday.

Grace Trowbridge

Grace Trowbridge. 1890. Auburn, NY.

GRACE TROWBRIDGE (1876 – 1948)

Grace is the daughter of Emily Russell Jennings and John Trowbridge. Emily is the sister of my great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin. Emily’s husband John and her brother William H. Jennings were business partners in Auburn, NY.  I have, but one picture from my Jennings line…Lillian and Emily’s sister, Harriett Jennings White.  Harriet is in her eighties in the photo standing with my father and his Uncle George (Lillian’s son) and my two older brothers playing at their feet.  Aging has changed her enough to make it a struggle to see distinct family resemblances.   With the picture of 14 year old Grace I can stare into Harriett’s face and I see family characteristics.
I have nothing of  great grandmother Lillian and the mystery is still there about her fate. I have checked with every authority to find a death certificate…cemeteries too numerous to count and all the pertinent newspapers for her obituary. But now I have her two sisters’ images and it makes the melancholy of not ‘finding’ Lillian sting a bit less.  Grace never married…nor did her sister, Emma and I suppose that any Jennings memorabilia that the spinster sisters might have from their mother Emily went the way of most things left behind by maiden ladies…either poof…or to their only brother’s children…their nieces Louise White Trowbridge or Ruth Jennings Trowbridge who hopefully have kept them for family sentiment and passed them down.  And awaiting another discovery in an old box.
Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

Happily…Grace is now tucked among her family members’ images now and I will rearrange the framed pieces to place her next to Harriett.
A big thank you to a generous stranger who understands the power of family and pay it forward.
Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian & Genealogical Researcher
(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

A Family Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Note To My Readers:  Yesterday I spent hours in Brooklyn, NY…via my laptop that is.  I have been haunted by the fact that I cannot determine the fate of my paternal grandfather’s mother.   I know I am not alone in the family secret category.  Dad’s family seemed to be one with all manner of voids.  Almost like a scatter of chain links.  There they are in front of me clearly related…isn’t the material of the same making?  And the fabrication distinctly of the same hand?  One by one I pick up the pieces and rebuild the chain, noting the beginnings and the endings…watching for the telltale scars and scratches to match the partners.  On occasion several links have stayed fast.   And inevitably I come to the link that fails to close.  Lillian W. Jennings, my paternal great grandmother is that link.

Henry A. Martin and Lillian W. Jennings

My paternal great grandparents, 26 year old Henry A. Martin and 25 year old Lillian W. Jennings,  left Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and DemocratAuburn, New York in 1884 within days of their July 16th marriage by the Trinity Methodist Church pastor and settled in what is now known as Clinton Hill.  They set up household in one of the old brownstones on Waverly Street and Henry went to work as a stenographer.  The Brooklyn Bridge had been completed in 1883 connecting the boroughs and Henry rode the trolley into Manhattan.

Sag Harbor NY Corrector 1910 Ernest Martin diesHenry’s brother, Ernest had married another Auburnian, Emma Grace Kilmer,  the year before and they, too, had made their home in Brooklyn where Ernest worked as a stenographer and then began selling typewriters in the New York Metro area.   Ernest became very successful and with Emma and their two daughters lived in a lovely building in Prospect Park.   A long life for Ernest was not to be.  He died suddenly on Long Island beside the train tracks after collapsing from a massive stroke.  Emma and her daughters, Edna Mae and Grace Harriett,  did not stay in Brooklyn, but rather packed up their household and moved to Hempstead, Long Island where the girls grew up and married.

And Henry?   And Lillian?

The research began with the Federal and NYS censuses supported by Brooklyn directories and newspapers.   Addresses were pinpointed in directories in 1887, 1888, 1890 and 1897 and the NYS 1892 census shows the family, Henry A., Lillian W., Al H. and George E. living on Halsey Street in Brooklyn.    By 1900 Henry was living in Brooklyn as a ‘widower’ with their four children, Albert, George, Howard and baby Lillian on Jefferson Avenue according to the enumeration in the Federal Census.

Just yesterday I found that Lillian had borne another child – a girl – in Union, Hudson, New Jersey (now West New York, New Jersey) on August 12, 1888.  My grandfather would have been just a year and half old.  But why New Jersey?  All the other children were born in New York.  Since the child was not in any subsequent census, I can only assume she did not survive.

By the 1905 NYS Census, Henry and his children, Albert “Bertie” (my grandfather), George, Howard and Lillian,  lived in another brownstone this time on 236 Reid Street.  Henry was enumerated as “head” and living with the family was the children’s caregiver “servant”, Henrietta Fischer, a 35 year German immigrant.  No marital status category was provided in that census.  Henrietta was as close to a mother figure as little Lillian would have.  The two travelled together periodically.

In 1907 young Howard died in Brooklyn at the age of 14.  I never sent away for his death certificate.  Perhaps the knowledge of why he died might provide a clue.  Or add to the mystery.

By 1910 Henry had finally set up a permanent residence at 691 Halsey Street and that year married widow, Mary Giddings.    The Martins attended the Janes Methodist Episcopalian Church on Monroe Street. Over the years Henry threw himself into church and civic organizations.  At the Janes Methodist Church Henry ran the men’s bible study and served in several capacities with The Valley Forge Council, Jr. O.U.A.M.  76 and the Janes Social Union.

George continued to live with his father and stepmother on 691 Halsey until he went off to fight in the 49th Infantry inBrooklyn NY Standard Union Wed 14 Aug 1918 George E Martin Over There WWI in 1917 at the age of 26.  Uncle George was in the parlance of the time “a perennial bachelor”.  I vividly remember his auburn hair…curly and topped with a jaunty beret…sipping tea with my mother and my father’s sister in the big farm kitchen in the 1950’s.   He visited…motored was the term at the time…from his Murray Hill home quite often.  Always quiet and shy, he was almost delicate.  And I thought exotic (he was from NYC!)  and kind.  After my father’s death, he sent me a set of oils and brushes because he knew that I like to paint.   He is pictured in the blog banner with my father and his mother’s sister,  Harriet Jennings White.  George is buried next to my grandfather, Albert, and sharing a headstone in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.  His footstone is the only tender sign of affection I have found.

Beloved Brother.  Rest In Peace.

And baby Lillian?   She married Leo Franklin Leonard in 1922 and had three children – all before her father’s death in 1932.  She lived within walking distance of her father and stepmother and yet when Henry died in 1932, the only survivor listed in the Brooklyn Eagle obituary was his second wife.  No George.  No Lillian.  No grandchildren.   He was referred to as her beloved husband.  Odd and sadly detached.  And there is no stone marking his grave.

Not much mention about Henry’s central New York roots in his Brooklyn life.  No notices of visiting his family.  Except for a Brooklyn Eagle news article at the death of his first cousin, Will Cruttenden, in 1928 who Henry A Martin in will of W H Cruttenden 1928 cropleft him and his central New York cousins to share in a hoarded stash, he seemed removed.  Henry’s spinster sister, Harriett Cornelia Martin, kept the family ties together attending weddings and funerals as ambassador of sorts and she traveled to New York to visit her brother.    Henry’s daughter, Lillian,  was named in Harriett’s obituary.  Apparently Henry kept to Brooklyn.  And my grandfather, Albert,  didn’t.   In 1905, Albert Henry was sent back to Auburn to his Martin family and met and married my then 15 year old grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird.  In six years, the young father of three was dead by his own hand at the age of 24.  A troubled mind.

What happened to my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin?

Genealogists are accustomed to gaps in information the further we go back in our research, but there are occasions when a more recent generation has ‘mystery’ written all over it.  And family secrets.

Henry did not remarry until 1910, but relied upon two German sisters who lived in their building to care for the children while he went to work in Manhattan. Why was he single for so long a time? Is THAT a clue?  Was Lillian really dead? Did she run away? Was she ill in an institution? I found a Lillian W. Martin in a state mental hospital in the 1900 Federal Census and her statistics were fairly close.  The age was off by a very few years and this Lillian’s mother was born in Massachusetts and father in NY and my Lillian’s information was the reverse – mother was born in NY and father in Massachusetts.  Genealogists understand that a slight variance doesn’t constitute a wrong conclusion.  It just puts up a flag.  “Caution.  Proceed with Care.”    But proceed I must.  With Care.   I cannot ignore the fact that I know that Lillian’s maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James,  died in an insane asylum in Whitestown, Oneida County, NY in 1852 and my grandfather was so troubled that he took his own life by swallowing carbolic acid in 1911.  Pathology…hard as it is…might be this genealogist’s evidence.    HIPAA laws might get in the way of acquiring information and researching the Lillian W. Martin in what was Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park .  Still….

Earlier this year I sent a request out to the Vital Records Department that covers the NY metro area…and no death certificate is there for her…not before 1900.    I have poured over Brooklyn newspapers and Auburn NY papers for some kind of death notice for years now. Nothing. She is not listed in the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn where Henry is buried. Alone. The North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY has suffered from neglect and record loss…a shameful history story there…so I don’t know if her body was buried in the Jennings family plot.  But there were other Lillian Martins who died in the New York metro area and I dismissed them because the death date didn’t neatly fit into Henry’s statement of widowhood in 1900.

With this possible clue…this painful clue…the next step is to ascertain if there are burial records for the patients of Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park.

I will keep looking in every nook and cranny. It would be like abandoning her if I didn’t.

My education on Brooklyn is just beginning…I have two history books on the area since family members on both sides left central New York in the 1880’s to live and work in Brooklyn.   Just to get a feel for the Brooklyn of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.    But the personal history is as black and white as the old photos and so very full of shadows.     I knew my Grand Uncle George…my grandfather’s brother…and I own one of his lovely landscape oil paintings and my brother has one of his pastels…”The Three Cherubs”…that Uncle George created to celebrate my three brothers.   But so very little of his mother, Lillian W. “Lillie” Jennings Martin.

Bits and pieces.  Art and void.  And perhaps madness.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved




The Eye of the Beholder

Our mail carrier KNOWS I love her arrival. At the sound of the truck making its way down the street…I am out to the mailbox like I have been shot out of a cannon. Not all of the time. But, when I am awaiting a book or article regarding my genealogy research, it is akin to Christmas at my house.

“What is it today, Deb?”, Barb says leaning out of the USPS vehicle. It is spring at last and I am not bundled up and she happily has her window open to catch a warm April breeze. And me? I am content to open the envelope right then and there…not risking frost bite…and oblige her curiosity (and mine).

I found three different collectible objects on eBay last month and ordered all three. Coming from three different sources, they were mailed separately thus spreading out the anticipation and joy. All of the items directly relate to my central New York ancestors and have antiquity.

Order of Sons of St. George, General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, New York.  Circa 1896

Order of Sons of St. George, General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, New York. Circa 1896

First, my paternal 2nd great grandfather’s portrait (circa 1896) with his fellow members of the Order of the Sons of St. George; General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, NY. The seller was from the Binghamton area. I was over the moon.

Yesterday’s mail brought the Victorian Trading Card from his son’s Auburn, NY business, “Coy and Penird… from around the late 1880’s. The seller was in the Sacramento, California area. WOW!  How things do ‘travel’!

I opened this envelope to show my mail carrier my latest treasure and inwardly laughed when I saw her polite and puzzled expression that clearly said,

” Just a piece of cheap paper advertising “Coy & Penird” All * Kinds * Of * Rags”.

Coy & Penird; Victorian Trading Card.  Circa late 1880's.

Coy & Penird; Victorian Trading Card. Circa late 1880’s.

But, we genealogists and historians have seen that look before…

Stereopticon Slide.  Taughannock Falls.

Stereopticon Slide. Taughannock Falls.

The third item is a stereopticon slide of Taughannock Falls (Ithaca, NY) and in lovely condition. My 5th great grandfather built a log cabin there in 1790 and the falls are a great part of my family history. I can’t wait to have it arrive. Perhaps Barb will find this item a bit more charming. Or confirm that I am collector of odd bits.

What can I say…





Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

An Englishman in a Complicated American Life

A Note to My Readers: In furthering my knowledge of my paternal 2nd great grandfather, David Penird (1830-1901), a London born Englishman who migrated to the United States around 1850 and settled in Cayuga County, New York, I began to look at where he spent a good deal of his energy and time. I started with the task of writing a biographical profile with the facts. First I had to embrace the fact that over the decades, what eventually became the surname Penird was morphed many times from Pennard to Penard to Peniard and countless odd transcriptions and at last settling on Penird.

Upon his arrival in America, David immediately married 16 year old Elizabeth White of Auburn and soon after the couple had twin girls, Lucy Jennie and Mary Elizabeth. Elizabeth died in 1852 leaving David with the infant girls who had not yet celebrated their first birthday. On May 21, 1854, David married Martha D. Colwell of Summerhill in Union Springs and the pair took up Lucy Jennie and their own infant daughter, Ida Mae and moved to Cherry Valley, Illinois in 1856, leaving little Mary Elizabeth with her maternal grandmother in Auburn.

During their attempt at farming in Illinois two more children were born to the Penirds –sons John and George. While it is unclear what the circumstances were, a legal notice in the January 1st, 1861 issue of the Rock River (Illinois) Democrat reported the proceedings of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors.

ROCKFORD, Dec. 3d, 1860.
Resolved. That Geo W. Miller be allowed the sum of Forty Dollars, for care of Lucy Penird, and for sending said Lucy Penird to her friends in Auburn New York, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.
Resolved. That Burnap & Harvey, attorneys be allowed the sum of twenty-five dollars for their services in the case of U. D. Meacham, States Attorney, against David Penird, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.

Lucy Jennie was sent to live with her mother’s sister, Olive White Arnold who had migrated to Wisconsin where Lucy continued to live, marry Horatio Theodore Harroun and raise six children. Between the time Mary Elizabeth was 14 and living with her grandmother in Auburn in 1865 until her marriage to William C. Heard on January 19, 1880 at the age of 29 in Bayonne, New Jersey I lost track of Mary Elizabeth.
It is clear, however, that the twin Penird girls – however far flung – and their half-siblings kept contact and indeed were named as heirs in their half-brother, George’s 1927 will.

By the spring of 1861, the Penirds were back in Summerhill, where Martha gave birth in May to my great grandfather, William J. Penird. David enlisted to fight in Mr. Lincoln’s War on November 16, 1861, mustering in with the newly formed 75th regiment out of Cayuga County. When his first duty was completed, he re-enlisted on January 24, 1864, collecting a bounty of $300 and was again in the throes of battle bivouacked in Florida and Louisiana, fighting at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads and mustering out in Savannah, Georgia on August 21, 1865. He mustered out with the rank of Sergeant having lost all of his teeth as a result of continuous vomiting brought on by typhoid fever. He had suffered the travails of typhoid alongside his son’s father-in-law, Samuel French, a Summerhill farmer, who died of the disease in the hospital at Camp Dwight in Louisiana.

1875 Summerhill Map

1875 Summerhill Map

Returning home, David found his pious and competent wife Martha had become a good farmer owning several acres in Summerhill and living on her farm along Lick Road. By the late 1870’s he was itching for adventure and good fortune, so he scooped up my teenage great grandfather, William, and headed for Deadwood City in the Dakota Territories. They are both enumerated in the 1880 Federal census living in Deadwood as laborers next to Dr. F. W. Wilson and the barber shop run by E. R. Sims. As I read into the history of Deadwood, I came to understand that former Civil War soldiers banded together and headed to Deadwood to seek their fortune after the devastating effects of the war on the economy. By December of 1880, William was back in Summerhill when he married his Summerhill sweetheart, my great grandmother, Emogene Lillian Case.

The aging David settled in Auburn with Martha though she kept control of the farm in Summerhill for decades. David had learned about resources…scrap material to be exact…in his duties as supply sergeant in the old 75th and in the mineral mining community of Deadwood and began to build what is indelicately called ‘the junk business’. His eldest son, John had managed the Summerhill farm and as a family story told by his descendants relates, he was told to stay away from the mills and the shops in Auburn as they were hotbeds of tuberculosis. It did not save him as luck would have it. He died of the disease contracted in the plagued community of Summerhill in 1888 at the age of 31 just four years after his older sister, Ida. She, too, was lost to ‘consumption’ in Summerhill when she was 29.

Auburn became the center of the family’s activities as the scrap business boomed.  David’s remaining sons, George W.Auburn Weekly Auburnian May 1893 Coy and Penird New Address and William J. both became involved with their father’s enterprise. In the year 1888 after his older brother John’s death, George became the head of the business first partnering with Nehemiah Coy to form the company of Coy and Penird with offices in Ithaca and Auburn.  As George matured into his role and became politically active in Auburn as Third Ward Supervisor,  David gradually found other avenues for his remaining energy.  The Grand Army of the Republic and The Order of the Sons of St. George and a brief fling at local politics.

Though I never found evidence of David becoming a naturalized citizen, I did find him involved on the periphery of the Independent Labor Party in 1891. But the majority of his time was devoted to his brothers-in-arms and his fellow English ex-pats. He is found marching in parades and dining at banquets, organizing the 11th annual reunion of the ‘Old 75th” in 1891 in Auburn. More marching and dining and conventions and fund-raising for the General Gordon Lodge, No. 211 of the Order of the sons of St. George and serving as one of its Trustees in his 60’s. He continued to be an ‘agent’ and ‘peddler’ for Coy and Penird until finally the family set up residence and shop at 21 – 23 Perrine Street where George had built a large warehouse and arranged to have the railroad run a side track. Over the decades David had been listed as living in various locations…Martha in others.  In his man’s world of the time, he favored their company and the social events, but Martha kept to her sewing circles and managing her Summerhill property.  David is buried alongside Martha in Groton Rural Cemetery, but the pair seemed to live very different and individual lives after he returned from his service in the Civil War.

The Order of the Sons of St. George

Order of the Sons of St. George.  David Penird is seated, far left

Order of the Sons of St. George. David Penird is seated, far left

I had all manner of records about David’s involvement in the Grand Army of the Republic, but not the Order of the Sons of St. George. Could this very English affiliation tell me more about David other than the doings of his family and business activities?

Oh yes, indeed, what was already complicated, sometimes uncomfortable and oddball became colorful, if not downright boisterous.

I found that the Order’s motto was (and is) “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, an Anglo-Norman phrase that translates “Evil unto him who thinks evil of it” or “Shame upon him who thinks evil of it”. Historians attribute the phrase to the Most Noble Order of the Garter established in 1348 and its founder, King Edward III of England. The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry and is dedicated to St. George, England’s patron saint. It is the world’s oldest national order of knighthood in continuous existence.

The Order of Sons of St. George was first established as a cultural and benevolent society in 1871 by English emigrants living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Some of the literature hints at some violence between the English born mine owners and officials in the area perpetrated by the secret society of the Irish Catholic group the “Molly McGuires” and thus the Order’s formation as protection.

As time moved on, the Order of the Sons of St. George evolved into an ethnic fraternal society to benefit Englishmen, their sons and grandsons, living in the United States. Sick and death benefits were offered to all members and the social activities such as dances, picnics and dinners were part of lodge activities. Membership was limited to first, second and third generation Englishmen. A separate organization…an auxiliary for females…was called the Daughters of St. George.

In its prime over 600 lodges existed in North America with a membership of 45, 000, but as insurance companies took over the benefit market, the need for membership in a benevolent society for financial security became less of a necessity.  As the migration from England diminished and the generations became absorbed into American life and culture, the desire to belong to a heritage society was lost on them. Though few, lodges still exist today in the U.S. and in fact, in England as well and celebrate the history and observe the traditions of the Order.

My paternal great great grandfather was a trustee in the General Gordon Lodge, Order of the Sons of St. George in Auburn, New York and if there was an event, he was there. In the 1900 Auburn Directory (Lamey), the lodges are listed.

Sons of St George, (Gen Gordon Lodge)–Organized June 21, 1886. Meetings held at St George’s Hall, over 8 Genesee St, first and third Wednesday evenings of each month. Headley Tutton, W P; Charles Spencer, Sec’y; James Williamson, Treas.
Daughters of St George, (Red Rose Lodge No. 112)–Organized March 10, 1897. Meets alternate Wednesday evenings at American Hall, over 145 Genesee St. Mrs. Georgia Kober, W P; May Sandham, W V P; Mrs Elizabeth Kerslake, Sec’y; Mrs Ada Williams, Treas.

General Gordon Lodge, No. 211

From its inception in June 21, 1886, Auburn’s General Gordon Lodge, held scores of events to raise money for the benefit of its members. According to Lodge Comptroller, Ernest Hunt, in a speech given in 1913, Auburn’s lodge was formed out of compassion for the plight of a fellow Englishman.

When a young Englishman, who had not friends or relatives in this country, came to Auburn and succeeded in finding employment as an engineer at Stalker’s mill, a position for which he had no training and as a result a boiler exploded, wrecking the building and killing him, it became necessary for the city of Auburn to arrange for his burial. After some time it became known or rumored that he had not been given proper burial, but that the coffin provided was not long enough for the body and consequently the undertaker had crowded the corpse into its receptacle. This aroused much indignation among the Englishmen, with the result that a meeting was called and arrangements made for a proper burial. From this incident originated the lodge of the Sons of St. George with membership of 350 members.

Headquartered at St. George’s Hall on Water Street, the organization held gatherings there that were strictly for men only. In 1891 the Lodge celebrated the anniversary of General Gordon’s birthday by giving an old English dinner. David was one of its organizers.

All formality was laid aside. The company was decidedly ‘stag’. So happily and smoothly did each event succeed the other that there was scarcely time to think of the absent fairs sex although toasts to their health were drank and their praises echoed in the songs and speeches of the evening. The spacious lodge room was turned into a banquet hall. The tables, heavily laden with all that goes to make up and old English dinner, greeted the merry party as they filed into the hall and took their seats at the table. There were over eighty in all, including the members of the order and their guests. Mrs. C. C. Lynch served as substantial and wholesome a dinner as any Englishman could desire. She was the recipient of compliments from all sides for her Old English plumb pudding with brandy sauce which was disposed of with relish. The rest of the menu was in keeping with the occasion. The dinner was served from 8 to 11 o’clock when the feast of reason followed. George Salvage filled most acceptably the position of toast master. The toasts were drank with a hearty cheer and the sparkling wine which flowed freely brought with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs. The first toast of the evening was to Queen Victoria of England and President Harrison of the United States.

The party broke up in the early hour of the morning with the best of good fellowship after singing several old English songs. All agreed that the anniversary of ’91, was one of the most enjoyable events in the history of the organization.

When David died on August 12, 1901, the Lodge gathered at his Perrine Street home to honor their brother and see him off to ‘the higher plain’. I imagine there were speeches and toasts…many speeches and many toasts ‘which flowed freely’ bringing with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs in the manner of all of their gatherings when he walked among them.

Author’s Note: I knew so little about my father’s mother, Sarah Leonie Penird Martin Merithew Palmer. She died before I was five and I have but one memory of her in her little brick house on Ross Place…and her curio cabinet full of knickknacks and memorabilia. While the adults talked, I pressed my nose to the glass examining the riot of things that belonged to her. She who knew so much about David Penird…she who belonged to the ladies auxiliary of the Sons of Union Volunteers. She who went to England just before World War II broke out to explore her grandfather’s English roots and who had to sail abruptly back in 1937 on the S. S. Aquitania to avoid “the unsettled conditions in Europe”.

The genealogist’s lament.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved