Old No. 63 Trolley

A Note to My Readers:  Trolleys are one of my all-time favorite things. I lived in the San Francisco bay area for a couple of years and loved hopping onto those beauties. I am also a train geek…passed that on to my grandson. As a kid growing up in Auburn, New York, I only vaguely became aware of trolleys when winter thaw would lift the weakened macadam from the underlying cobblestone on Genesee Street and the iron rails would be exposed. My mother, who grew up in Ithaca, would often tell me about riding the trolleys as a child and what a thrill that was for her. It wasn’t a typical thing for the Purdys to do, but an event where everyone wore their best attire, including hats and gloves.

My grandmother would tuck peppermints in her purse and once they were seated, she would dole them out to keep the children still. There is something tender about that bit of nostalgia and I suppose that is why the romance of riding a trolley has stuck with me. When my father died in 1958, mom sold the car and our transportation modes were city bus and good old ‘bus number two’. Those were the days when not everyone had a car and those that did had just one. The family car. Fathers drove it to work and to church and took the family on those wonderful Sunday drives in the countryside.

I didn’t drive until I was 24 years old and a young mother. My mother said I was a pioneer. Really!

She always carried peppermints in her purse and I suspect if Auburn still had trolleys when I was growing up, she would have definitely preferred to hop on and let the buses go on without her.

HIRAM MIAL TITUS

Hiram Mial Titus (1861-1943) is my first cousin 3X removed. We are both descendants of Gilbert Titus and Jane Hoag who along with their son David Sands Titus and his family and their daughter Lydia H. Titus Downing and her family arrived in the village of Cayuga in 1829. Hiram is descended from David and I am descended from Lydia. Lydia is my mother’s great great grandmother. I have put together a scholastic publication for this branch of the family tree and it will be published later this year.

While it has been a great journey studying my Quaker family history, it has also been fascinating to learn about the generations beyond David and Lydia.

Hiram and Susan Cook Titus 1912 with Indian motorbike

Hiram Titus and his wife Susan Cook with his Indian motorbike in 1912.

David’s son Hiram inherited a substantial part of the Titus land in Cayuga and by 1879 had an impressive operation with prize -winning cattle and horses. Though he indulged in a team of “handsome” matching black horses for his sleigh and drove the team into Auburn, New York often to show off his magnificent animals, he also loved the ‘new-fangled’. He was an old man of eighty-four in 1912 when he was photographed with his wife, Ada B. Shoemaker Titus and his prized Indian motorized bicycle.

Despite all of Hiram’s successes at farming and his social and political prominence in Aurelius, his sons did not share his passion for the bucolic life along the shores of Cayuga Lake. In 1895 thirty-four year-old Hiram, Jr. sold his meat market and left the small village of Cayuga to go to the bustling and expanding city of Auburn, New York to ride the rails.

As one of the first men to be employed by the Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railway(then the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad), he helped survey the line on which he later became a conductor. During that time, Hiram served as superintendent of the old Lakeside Park at the foot of Owasco Lake for over fifteen years when the park was operated by the railway. A park that was part of my summer every day of my young life in the 1950’s and 60’s and where my 50th class reunion will be held this year.

No. 63 was full to capacity that day and many took the ride as a last goodbye to the old trolley that they had ridden for decades. One elderly woman who had traveled from Skaneateles needed to be helped aboard the car and told a reporter that she had made the journey to take the last ride before the buses of Cayuga Omnibus Corporation began that very day. Timothy Hayes of Throopsville in Cayuga County, who had made his first trip in 1903, was a passenger on that last grand journey. Charles H. Abbott of Auburn who traveled the line as a passenger on the very first day of the road’s history journeyed with Mr. Hayes. Many of the passengers kept their tickets as a souvenir.

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

There was no grand ceremony to see them off from Syracuse. No bands. No flags or banners. No grandstand. No speeches. Only two minor officials were present to travel on old Number 63 as it made its way to the Auburn barn before it would be claimed by a wrecking company. The crowds were there. The many faithful passengers and citizens who wanted to be part of a passage in time.

The car left Syracuse several minutes after its scheduled departure of 11AM and Hiram remarked to his passengers

“Well, if they don’t like it, they can fire us.”

Motorman Gordan Winters gave the whistle ‘vigorous pulls’ as they pulled out of Syracuse in a raucous goodbye to an era and to the crowds who had gathered to watch the trolley depart one last time.

As No. 63 slowly traversed the streets of Auburn, men and women had waved and shouted, but it was during the journey from Syracuse to Auburn that this event made its greatest impact. The farmer stopped his plow to watch its journey out of sight. The housewife stood on her porch

‘with wistful eyes as though looking for the last time at an old friend’.

Boys and girls ran along the route waved and swung their caps and bonnets in a hearty farewell. Frequently along the route line, the car was forced to stop by sentimental central New Yorkers in order to permit more snapshots of the moment.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

It was at Skaneateles that an appreciative crowd had gathered and Hiram and Gordan stood to pose before a battery of cameras. The arrival and departure was signaled by waving of hats and blowing of horns.

It was Hiram’s 65th birthday that day. Cameras clicked as Hiram and Gordan took the car from the Dill Street station where they discharged fifty-nine passengers and took the car to Genesee and Exchange Streets where it was boarded by city and railroad officials who made the final leg of the trip to the Franklin Street Barn. Observers stood silently as they realized that they were seeing something that marked the changes of life. Changes that the automobile made on their everyday existence.

“Passing through the streets of Auburn during the noon hour, the car was the center of all interest until it had deposited its last passenger and had departed with its load of officials for the car barns.”

Not to let history go without a memento, the car was scavenged by onlookers. Still someone had a greater thirst for a piece of history.

“Some souvenir hunter possessed himself of the car sign and it was reported that the draw-head was sought by another before he was stopped.”

A draw-head is part of the coupling mechanism and this souvenir hunter was one ambitious gent!

When the No. 63 trolley entered the car barn switch for its final stop, “torpedos” (fireworks) placed along the rails gave out a passing salute.

As the A & S Electric Railroad Company passed into history and No. 63 sat at its destination in the Franklin Street barn, the final transaction to transfer the property of the road took place. Aboard No. 63, President of Enna Jetticks, Fred L. Emerson, delivered to Mayor Marvin of Syracuse a check in the amount of $225,000. In that single gesture, the interurban traffic over the A & S road ceased after twenty-seven years of continuous service. A single official photographer memorialized the transfer of the check.

On that day, Hiram Titus and Gordan Winters were presented a check for $50 and a commemorative gift by Treasurer Zinsmeister on behalf of Fred L. Emerson. After the two trolley men stepped down from the car, they shook hands and each man made his way home that April afternoon. Without further fanfare, Mayors Marvin and Charles D. Osborne, City Manager John F. Donovan, City Attorneys William S. Elder, A. H. Cowle, William H. Seward and William B. Haeffner, Superintendent William Lee and Treasurer W. K. Zinsmeister adjourned to awaiting automobiles that drove them to the Osborne home for lunch.

Within the hour of No. 63’s arrival…indeed as the check was being transferred, the Cayuga Omnibus Corporation’s first bus left Skaneateles eastbound at 11 A.M.

The Auburn & Syracuse was part of what was called the “Beebe Syndicate” or “Empire United” lines that also included the RS&E, Auburn Northern, Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo. Developed by Clifford D. Beebe, the network of suburban and interurban lines ran through Baldwinsville to Phoenix, Fulton and Oswego. A native of Michigan, young Mr. Beebe and his syndicate bought up the financially troubled Syracuse & Auburn railroad in 1904. At that time the line had only been completed as far as Skaneateles and had been initiated as the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad. Opened on January 1, 1901 it had struggled until Mr. Beebe’s group came along with the money to invest in its future. Under this syndicate, it was extended to Auburn within the year. The company also ran the South Bay line and the Newark & Marion Railroad. All of the lines were interconnected. While there were few grades on the Auburn & Syracuse line, it was still referred to as a ‘roller-coaster operation’. Trolleys ran every half hour with extra trips during peak periods.

In its heyday, the region was in the throes of ‘trolley fever’. A fever that had begun in the area when surveyors filed proposed railways in the 1870’s when Hiram Titus, Senior was a young farmer building his new barn and driving a well into the deep bedrock. When the cars first traveled the Auburn & Syracuse line, the roads running along Route 20 were narrow and dirt-covered and the tracks followed the shoulder of the road. From Syracuse the line passed out Burnet Avenue to Split Rock, Howlett Hill and Marcellus paralleling Howlett Hill and Lee-Mulroy Roads along Route 20 to Skaneateles and to Franklin Street Road from there to Auburn. The stop at Split rock was the first major stop along the line and from there it passed through a scenic gorge with rocky cliffs on either side. In the late 1920’s the roads were beginning to be paved. Trucks and cars were easily making their way between Syracuse and Auburn and with that, the fate of the electric interurban lines was sealed.

Marcellus NY Weekly Observer 1995 Trolley building restored near Skaneateles imageFor another year after the Auburn & Syracuse line ceased to run, travelers could still get from Syracuse to Auburn on the trolley via the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern through Jordan and Weedsport to Port Byron, then to Auburn on the Auburn & Northern. Once the railways became a modern day dinosaur, relics of trolley fever still remained well into the 20th century. Along Route 20 just east of Skaneateles a brick building which housed machinery to convert alternating current to direct current for the Auburn & Syracuse Electric railroad stood abandoned for some time. It was a garage and then a restaurant known as “The Willows” during the 1960’s before it was abandoned again. A design firm owned it for a short while and restored it including adding some railroad tracks and ties in tribute to its past. The white paint was removed and the old bricks re-pointed and replaced. The design firmed moved on and sold it to an insurance agency. It is believed to be the only original building still standing on the A & S Interurban line.

I wonder as I come home and drive that stretch of Route 20 if there is a bit of rail line underneath the shoulder of the road.

As always, my genealogy research serves as a time machine and my first cousin, Hiram Mial Titus, is the conductor on this trip. Motorman Winters….pull that whistle!

All aboard.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
©Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Postcript.  In advance, I beg your indulgence if I have spelling and grammatical errors at this time.  I damaged my eyes and am awaiting eye surgery so my usual editorial fastidiousness is absent.

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Signs

A Note to My Readers:   Family lore often assists in uncovering mysteries.  Breaking brick walls.  On the other hand, it can also be the cause of those brick walls as well.  Or the very least throw a cloud over the real lives of the people you are researching and removing an important aspect of the times in which they live.   For years I was under the impression that one family’s deafness was due to so many first cousins marrying.  It was perpetuated by other Tyler researchers like the proverbial ‘whisper down the lane’.  The more it was repeated, the more it became fact.  That is, until I began to find out more about my second cousins, the Doty Family of Cayuga County, New York.  I looked for the ‘signs’.

Researching my maternal 4th great grandfather, William Tyler (1773 – 1860) and his wife, Abelina Bartlett (1772 – 1855) also involved the extended family – the Dotys. My second cousins.  William and his wife, Abelina Bartlett Tyler, were feeble in their final years. William suffered from senility and so the pair were separated by 1850. Abilena spent her remaining days with her two daughters, Marietta Roberts and Almyra Swain in Aurelius. William went to live with his daughter, Anna Tyler Doty in Sennett. Anna married her first cousin Jason Martin Doty.  Jason’s mother, Deborah, was William Tyler’s sister and she was married to Timothy Doty.

New York Institute for Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

New York Institute for Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

It wasn’t uncommon in the Tyler line for first cousins to marry. Kin was a big deal…family wealth was kept close and family loyalty was paramount. It wreaked havoc on the gene pool back then among many families that practiced the tradition.  At first I thought that was borne out by the number of individuals that are recorded as ‘deaf and dumb’ in the family of William B. Doty…John Mason Doty’s brother. Will and his wife, Lucretia Pierce, had eleven children. Three of them were deaf and dumb and were sent off to New York City to the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb to learn to read and write, but more importantly to learn to sign to stay connected to the greater world. After their education, the children returned and married fellow students of the institution.

Several poignant records came to my attention regarding the Dotys. The first was the 1850 Federal Census that shows sisters Phebe Doty Cuddeback (1833-1930) and Rebecca Doty Gilbert Cross (1829-1915) living at the NYC school as students and enumerated as ‘inmates’ and ‘deaf and dumb’.  Inmate is a term frequently used for students and patients in institutions when enumerating in the censuses.

I also came across Phebe’s marriage announcement in a local newspaper – the Auburn, NY Weekly Journal from November of 1852.

“At Weedsport on Tuesday, November 9th, by the Rev. S. R. Brown, Mr. CORNELIUS CUDDEBACK, of Phelps, Ontario County, to Miss PHEBE DOTY, of Weedsport. Both were graduates of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. The ceremony was performed in the language of signs.”

U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages

U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages, Rebecca Doty weds George M. Cross

For Rebecca Doty, I found her first husband, Gustavus O. Gilbert and his sister, Lucy, each listed as an ‘inmate’ at the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in the 1850 census. Rebecca and Gustavus were students there at the same time. When Gustavus died in 1865, Rebecca married George M. Cross, another young man who was profoundly deaf. Their marriage record in the U.S. Census on Deaf Family Marriages tells the real story about why the three Doty siblings were afflicted. The cause was attributed to WHOOPING COUGH. The Dotys were not ill at the same time as their ages ran a span of decades.  Rebecca and Phebe most likely were ill at the same time as they were just four years apart, but the youngest, who was also deaf, was not born until 1846.   All lost their hearing at a young age which in turn affected their speech.

As I read through Auburn area newspapers from the 1840’s and 1850’s, it became apparent that whooping cough was a widespread problem during that time.  Along with whooping cough, scarletina, diphtheria and consumption (phthsis),  the area residents had suffered for several decades prior to the 40’s and 50’s as well.  It was a constant threat and institutions had been established to manage the long-term effects.  The New York Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1817.  The U.S. Census on Deaf Family Marriages (1888-1895) read more like a medical report defining the cause of the deafness and details on the parents and other siblings.  This was a society looking desperately to manage infectious diseases that clearly impacted large segments of the population and remained unchecked.

Adelmor Doty Monument.  Throopsville Cemetery

Adelmor Doty Monument. Throopsville Cemetery

I mentioned three siblings…the last was Adelmor Doty (1846-1864) who died at the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb of typhoid when he was just 18 years old. Adelmor is buried among his Doty family members in Throop’s Community Cemetery. His monument is particularly touching. It features three signs that spell out G. O. D. and the inscription:

“The ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. Isaiah 35 Chap 5 Vse. Selected by his teacher.”  ADELMORE. SON OF WM. & L. DOTY.  DIED AT WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, N.Y. CITY

In my initial research of this Doty family, I found Adelmor’s monument first as I did Tyler work in the old Throopsville Cemetery.  Walking cemeteries in the process of documenting my family’s old pioneer burials, I happen upon monuments that capture my attention.  They have a character that tells you that there is a bigger story to tell.  The unusual engraving and the inscription on the stele of Adelmor Doty was the beginning of that deeper research.

Signs.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian, Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Timetables and The Parlor of Samuel Jenney

A Note to my Readers:  It is such a small world and nothing illustrates that more than my research of my James and Jennings and Jenney family members.  They all migrated from the city of New Bedford in the early 1800’s.  The City that Lit the World…the whaling capital of the world…was losing it influence when whale oil stopped being the driving commodity for gathering wealth or at the very least financial security.   The family alliances…both through marriage and business…are like a spider web pattern and if I am not industrious, I will get lost in the intricacies. Particularly because of the repetition of first names…Samuel, Abigail, Harriet, Deborah and James.   Sometimes, one individual clarifies it all and becomes such a comfortable character in the process that I like to take time to visit awhile.  Even though he is not a direct ancestor, he is a sweet nexus in his farmhouse along Cayuga Lake and beloved by his neighbors, friends and family.   The year of 1885 was one of noteworthy moments in the widower’s life and so I take the H. G. Wells time machine out…drag it into the garden and set it to 1885.  See you there.

The Parlor

The year of 1885 along Cayuga Lake and around the nation was full of joy, sorrow, surprises, schemes, secrecy and mosquitoes…

On February 5th, Adelia M. Jenney, daughter of Samuel Jenney, Jr. and his wife, Sally Sharpsteen, married Franklin Eugene James in the parlor of her widowed father’s Union Springs home. Samuel’s father…who was also Samuel…was first married to Abigail James…Adelia’s grandmother and my 2nd great grandmother’s sister (Harriet James Jennings).   Her groom was my 2nd great grandmother’s nephew…which makes the newlyweds cousins.   The James’ and the Jenneys and the Jennings all came from New Bedford, Massachusetts to the shores of Cayuga Lake in the early 1800’s where Samuel’s generation was born.

At the residence of the bride’s father in Springport, Thursday, Feb. 6th, by Rev. S. A. Beman, Miss Adelia M. Jenney to Franklin E. James of Newfield. After the ceremony Mr. Jenny in a few appropriate worlds welcomed his children both to his heart and home. Mr. James, then through the officiating clergyman, presented his father-in-law with an elegant easy chair expressing the hope that he might live many years to enjoy it. Another elegant chair was also presented to the his bride. The occasion was an impressive and enjoyable one. The happy couple took the evening train on a trip to Buffalo and Niagara.

Just one month later, forty friends and family members of Samuel Jenney gathered in the Jenney home to celebrate his 65th birthday. The parlor was once again filled with celebration.

Monday evening last was the occasion of a pleasant surprise to Mr. Samuel Jenney when about forty of his friends and neighbors very unexpectedly came in to celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday. His cordial manner at once assured them they were welcome. A bountiful repast was served, and good music added much to the enjoyment of the occasion. The wish of all as the good nights were spoken was that their host might live to enjoy many happy birthdays.

The Jenney neighbors…the Gaylord family of Union Springs lost their yellow and white Scotch Terrier and offered a ten dollar reward for his return. In today’s currency that’s almost $250!   Some dog!

Samuel’s brother-in-law, William Sharpsteen, came for a visit that July from Defiance, Ohio and on a warm summer’s evening passed away in the Jenney’s home. William was laid out in the parlor and a somber funeral was held there in the very spot that his sister’s body was viewed a the time of her death five years earlier.  William’s mortal remains were transported to Chestnut Hill Cemetery were he was laid to rest near his sister.

And the World Turns

But…beyond the parlor and its activities in 1885 the world continued to spin and nature had its way with the residents.

It was a bitter winter and even into March Cayuga Lake was frozen solid.  Seneca County historian, Naomi Brewer,  reports that her great grandmother, Carrie Coleman wrote an account of the March weather in her diary .

…on Feb. 17 the lake was frozen over and many people skated on the lake, with one getting the mail this way. On March 4, the ice thawed in places but refroze the next day. On March 6 the ice roared and groaned as it froze harder. Iceboats were in use frequently. On March 27 she reported teams crossing on the ice but there was some thawing and water on the ice. Thawing continued so that there were open streaks on April 4.

That March temperatures held at freezing and below with a relentless grip.  An immense cake of ice reported to be 150 feet Glenwood Hotel 2long, 30 feet wide and 10 inches thick was cut from Cayuga Lake and towed to the hotel ice house to stock the Glenwood resort.

Reverend Ezra Dean, a retired Baptist minister of Auburn died from the effects of asphyxiation by coal gas. He and his wife were found unconscious when their daughter called upon them for a visit. It was too late for the minister, but his wife survived.

Roller skating…which had become a phenomenon in Auburn…faded into oblivion that winter and both rinks closed like a light winking out.  I imagine the ice being plentiful afforded the hardy winter sporting enthusiasts with more than enough surfaces to indulge themselves and for those that shied from the frigid cold, a good book and a warm fire kept them at hearth and home.

The going rate for a one way fare to San Francisco was a modest or princely sum depending on your circumstance…. of $50.00. (about $1219.00 in today’s currency).

My 2nd great grandmother’s brother, David Sands Titus…known as the Major…was a supervisor from Cayuga county and traveled from his home in the village of Cayuga to Auburn inspecting the old jail. The county was about to build a new jail and the Major and his fellow supervisors were inspecting the various proposed plans after visiting several cities and reviewing their facilities.

By July travelers of the NY Central between Union Springs and Auburn were relieved to find out that the old time-table had been restored. The new schedule had proved so inconvenient that officials heeded the complaints.

That summer the President of Yale College, Noah Porter, was reported to be revising Webster’s dictionary…in secret.  Gossip was rampant as to the nature of the revisions.  As with other editions…before and after, it was quite the hot topic with debates on the ‘war of words’.

And Detroit was beset with mosquitoes that summer…something the folks in the Finger Lakes knew too well. So was published a home remedy for the pesky critters…mix four ounces of cloves, two ounces of oil of peppermint, eight ounces of Persian powder (an organic blend of crushed Chrysanthemums and Tanacetum or Tansies), four ounces of gum camphor. The concoction was guaranteed to drive them from the room.

But as is the experienced and practical nature of advice from the folks along the lake,  there was a bit of extra wisdom to be shared.

“If it fails, hit him with a wet towel.”

Reluctantly I left the research visit with the Jenneys and Cayuga Lake and the year of 1885 with the full understanding that I would be back to visit in their autumn…when the leaves are golden and the flocks of Canada geese settle on the lake for a brief respite during their migration.

I am a Time Traveler.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

 

The Earth Shook and Two Old Men Went Home

A Note to My Readers:  Like many historians and genealogists, I spend a good deal of time pouring over old publications in search of mention of an ancestor…a marriage…a birth…a death…a family gathering.  Every bit is a tender thread to weave a story of the times in which they lived.  Context.  History.  Flavor.  Going beyond the discovery of a specific published morsel…is the indulgence in a full blown meal.  Reading the whole page…in fact, the whole publication…it changes the perspective.  Getting beyond the ‘ah ha moment’ and the impulse of stashing the nugget into your research is critical to becoming a complete historian and to developing a meaningful biography of your ancestor.  Everyone knows that there is more satisfaction when you eat slowly…enjoying a lively and interesting conversation with fellow diners.  The same holds true when researching.  Reading the complete document…savoring the complexities…sipping a lovely wine before nibbling on the next delicious tidbit…makes it a memorable occasion.  Before you snip and run, make the time to read the surrounding material.  By opening up your research strategy, you will know your family on an intimate basis in ways you couldn’t contemplate.  Enjoy the feast, historians!

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 banner

In mid-May of 1906 the weather was mild and the farmers of Cayuga County were well into their spring chores. In fact one old fellow had fields to till and was in need of beasts with which to pull his plow. As reported in the Skaneateles Free Press, James B. Robinson made quite a stir as he turned Genesee Street into the scene of his small cattle drive.

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Long Overland Journey


“One day last week James B. Robinson who occupies the late James J. Gross farm in the southwestern part of the town, went to Fox Ridge, where he bought a pair of steers, driving them to Auburn, a distance of fourteen miles in one day, and the next day driving them home, where he is now using them in plowing and doing other farm work. His journey through Auburn attracted much attention, a yoke of cattle being a rare sight these days in city streets, or farm roads, either. Mr. Robinson is nearly 84 years old, but is a vigorous and active man.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Scenes From San FranAuburnians F. D. Burleigh and his wife Clara L. Stockwell Burleigh wrote a letter home to her father recounting their ordeal in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake. Her letter was transcribed in complete. 

“We escaped San Francisco yesterday with what little baggage we could carry by hand. Last night we were taken in temporarily by acquaintances here and are trying to find a way to reach Los Angeles. Dean and Mr. Pyre represent a company with $35, 000, 000 in capital but cannot get in communication with them and we are almost penniless. Oakland banks are all closed, fearing a run, and no one here seems to be able to give us any help financially. If we can reach Los Angeles, money and telegraphic communications will be easier to obtain we hope. And, too, smallpox has broken out in San Francisco, it will soon be quarantined and in that case this place will be infected, too. The fire is out and our flat was saved.”

Mrs. Burleigh tells that the fire did not damage their household goods but she lost a valuable watch at a jeweler’s. Continuing she says:

“The weather has turned cold and the suffering and sickness will no doubt be doubled. we have cause to be grateful that our lives were spared and our household goods saved. But no one who was not there can ever get even the faintest idea of the horror of the hours since 5:15 last Wednesday morning. I have to stop and study before I can name a day that anything happened, for every hour seemed a day and every day was nameless.”

Her letter told of fear and death and desolation during those first dreadful hours.

“The house rocked back and forth and rose and sank all at once, together with an awful roaring and rambling and the noise of falling bricks and breaking crockery. I got to the door just as soon as the floor was quiet enough to let me walk and by even that time the first column of smoke was rising in the south. Little did we think that it was signal of a horror worse than the earthquake.”

“Thousands camped as thick as grass blades with no shelter except some kind devised from their small store of baggage; women fainting in the road and carried by the loads to the United States hospital.”

Amidst the colorful and witty charm of cattle being driven down Genesee Street and the harrowing and moving recount of Mrs. Burleigh’s earthquake experience in the May 15th Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, sits the brief and practical death notice of my 87 year old, great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.

DIED

“JENNINGS – At the residence of his daughter Mrs. John J. Trowbridge, East Orange, N.J., Thursday, May 10, 1906. Daniel Jennings (formerly of Auburn) in the 87th year of his age.
Remains will arrive in Auburn via N.Y.C & H. R. R. Sunday morning, May 14 at 6:46 o’clock. Funeral services at the residence of his son, W. H. Jennings, No 9 Easterly avenue, in the afternoon at 3:00 o’clock. Burial at North Street Cemetery.”

The Friday, May 11th edition of the Auburn, New York Citizen Advertiser offers only the additional Daniel J Jennings Auburn Newspaper Obit May 11 1906words “a well known and respected citizen of this city” to his obituary.

“The funeral of Daniel J. Jennings who died at East Orange, N. J. was held there (Auburn) this afternoon at the home of his son, W. H. Jennings, No. 9 Easterly ave.”  reports the Syracuse Daily Standard.”

I spent a great deal of time creating Daniel’s biography.  Beginning with his birth in the whaling city of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Samuel and Ruth Jennings and through his 1839 carriage maker apprenticeship as a young boy with Silas N. Richards.   Discovering his 1843 New Bedford marriage record to Harriet Jane James and their migration to central New York with their young family.  Exploring Daniel’s politics as a member of the Whig Party in Ithaca with his brother, Nathan supporting Zachary Taylor and Millard Filmore in their bid for the White House in 1848.  The Jennings family membership in the Trinity Methodist Church.  Daniel’s carriagemaking career first working at the shop of Bench Brothers Cayuga Wagon Works crafting wagons, carriages and sleighs and eventually opening his own business “Jennings & Lewis” on Dill Street.

Decade by decade assembling the life of the man who is my paternal great great grandfather, I came to know him and his children in Auburn, New York in the 19th century.  The days when the streets were filled with mud and sidewalks were fashioned of wood planks.  When horses pulled wagons and sleighs and trolleys.   During the Civil War when his 16 year son, Charles, went off to fight with the 111th NYS Volunteers and later his service as Auburn’s Chief of Police.  Exploring the successful business story of Trowbridge and Jennings that son William established with his sister Emily’s husband.  The pride of son Daniel carrying on his father’s craftsmanship with carpentry.  Giving away his teenaged daughter, Lillian, to a young man named Henry Martin, my great grandparents,  at Trinity Methodist Church.   Waving the pair good-bye as they left Auburn in 1884 for their newlywed adventure and the promise of the business boom of the New York City area fostered by the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Celebrating the marriage of 49 year old daughter Harriet who after years of being the family’s dutiful spinster daughter,  wed widower Roderick White in 1901.  Mourning his dear wife, Harriet and their daughter, Lillian and her son, Harold.

Coming Home

Amid the wealth of words in three newspapers, I could only find the briefest and final arrangements of Daniel’s death and his journey home.  No elegy to his character and his rich life.  That is left to me to construct over one hundred years later.

As part of that biography is the imagery of his daughter Emily’s long train ride accompanying her father’s body to Auburn and their arrival at the depot, steam billowing from the engine and the somber carriage ride to Easterly Avenue on a fine spring day where the siblings, Emily, Charles, Daniel and Harriet and grandchildren gathered to say farewell to their patriarch.

The intimate family rite transpired as the world still went on…lilacs coming into bloom;  the Burleighs recovering from the San Francisco earthquake and James Robinson leading his steers through the fields of his farm.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

 

Scarlet Fever in Scipio

A Note to my Readers:  Family historians…genealogists if you will…are noted in the big world as those that plot lineage.  Who begat whom and all of that.  Except that is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are on the hunt for THE STORY.   What was their life like?  And so we go beyond all of the names, dates and places and visit HISTORY…or HERSTORY.  So much of what surrounds an individual is the greater drama with an interesting cast of characters.  Context.  Life.

Hoodoo.  Hemstitching.  Healing.

In the spring of 1915 my grandmother’s brother and his family thought they had struck gold.  Due to the Dreythaler family’s series of misfortune, their farm became available for a pittance and Floyd William Penird snapped up the opportunity to cultivate the rich Scipio soil.   His wife, Emma Hurd, and their infant son, Floyd were moved into the farmhouse and they began to make it their own.  The wood floors were scrubbed on hands and knees and the old paper was ripped from the walls to brighten up the house.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1915 Scarlet Fever in ScipioIt wasn’t long before the tiny baby was in the terrifying grip of scarlet fever.  Floyd and Emma sent for the village doctor – F. C. Smith – and prayed that their child would survive.  The little one, who was their only child, healed, but their tale put fear in the hearts of parents in the Auburn area with news of the doctor’s theory of just how Floyd, Jr. contracted the dreaded disease.

The month of May had been a hectic time for the village doctor -reducing fractures and stitching wounds.  Farmer Selah Allen was dragged some distance on the back lot of his farm before his runaway team came to halt.  Allen had suffered scrapes and bruises and a fractured arm which Dr. Smith treated.  He had just completed the needed care for farmer Allen, when he was called to the home of David Meyers of Fleming Hill “to do a job of hemstitching on Meyers’s head.”  Meyers had been placing his horse in its stall after a long day of work, when the creature spooked, reared up and struck him in the head with his hooves.

In a few hours Smith was called to treat young carpenter Will Bowen when his chisel slipped off a piece of hard wood and struck him in the thigh inflicting a six inch long gash more than an inch deep.  He had lost a great deal of blood by the time the now weary Doc Smith reached Bowen’s Fleming Hill home.

His next stop was at the Penird place to care for the ailing infant.

During that time black measles was making its way through the community, tuberculosis was a serious problem…infantile

Dr. Frank C. Smith

Dr. Frank C. Smith

paralysis would crop up within a year or two…followed up by the impact of the world wide plague…Spanish flu.

Astonishing to think about what Auburnians and their neighbors had to deal with just about one hundred years ago.  And what the life of a country doctor was during that time of house calls in a horse and buggy world.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

 

Notes From the Field: Not Enough Sense to Come In Out of the Rain

Notes from the Field:  Recently I traveled to central New York…my childhood home and the sites where my ancestors lived and died.  I am 65 years old and have lived away for more years than I lived there, but it is and always will be the place I call ‘home’.   I concentrated on Cayuga County instead of including explorations in Tompkins, Seneca, Wayne and Madison Counties as I had in the past.  Partly because I wanted to be more disciplined and focused…partly because I am not the kid I used to be and my energy only goes so far these days.  And partly because I could take time to visit with my high school friends…and embrace my very own history.

I had a game plan as usual, but it was more relaxed and open to hanging out and experiencing the moment versus intense information gathering.  Good thing, too, because it rained every day I was there.  And I am a field historian by nature and don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.

Wednesday

Though it had been just past lunch time when I arrived in Auburn, I had skipped lunch and headed straight to my first research site.  Here is where my kids yell…MO-O-O-MMM!

I drove the few miles west of Auburn, NY to the little Village of Cayuga and to the Lakeview cemetery where my maternal ancestors and my dad are buried. I always look forward to that visit. As the name implies, the cemetery sits just above Cayuga Lake. I can imagine that when it was cleared to become a burial ground, there was indeed a generous view of the lake that sat just a few feet away. Over the century and more, large pines and elms grew up and shaded the monuments..some crowding the tombstones and engulfing others within the trunks and roots. Once I turn onto Center Street, I am home (owning in 1971 the historic Federal period home called Tumble Inn built by Dr. Jonathan Whitney in the early 1800’s) and just a block away from the cemetery entrance and my father’s grave. He is always my first and last stop.  “Hey, Dad.”

I drove down toward the lakeside entrance as is my practice so I can work my way up the hill visiting my ancestors and noting burials of newly discovered family. Turning down the old path I came upon an orange cone sitting smack in between the tire worn grooves.  I thought…must be a funeral below…or maintenance going on.   It was then I saw the large truck and tractor and the two men below.   And the enormous damage.  On Thursday, May 30th a violent storm swept off the lake with microbursts that tore 40 foot elms right out of the ground and twisted others so violently that their huge trunks snapped like mere twigs. I walked down the crude road and met one William (he told me to call him Bill) Patterson and his workmate who were cutting up the debris and clearing the monster trees out of the cemetery.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

At first glance I saw one tree down, but as I approached, it was clear that several of the old sentinel trees had fallen and the men had a Herculean task ahead. I asked Bill…he was the chatty one…his younger workmate was no nonsense and ‘gettin’ on with it’… to pause for a few moments to share his storm experience. I introduced myself and shook Bill’s rough hand firmly and asked if he would stand next to the massive and broken tree trunk for a photo so I could show scale. He hitched up his well worn jeans and adjusted his suspenders and struck a pose. It was clear old Bill was enjoying his momentary celebrity.

Then it was back to loading the truck with the cut up limbs some as thick as Bill’s waist with a quick and nonchalant toss into the truck bed.  Bill..a self-described “old farmer who mows the cemetery and sees to burials”…took a shine to the talk of my ancestors buried there asking me for the litany of  family names. “Yep, know that name.  Buried a family with that name just recently,”  he said. I asked him about whose monuments were under the biggest fallen elm and he said, “We’ll find out when we get the rest of the tree cleared,” when his associate chimed in, “Damn mess and we got clearing all over the place to do..not just here.” He shook his head and climbed into the truck and hauled away the load. Bill stayed behind…muttered “damn mess” as an echoing sentiment and continued his chores while I headed into the debris to see if the monuments of my “people” had escaped damage. And they did in a remarkable twist of fate.  The fallen trees had found other directions and my family burials were just outside of the large canopy of the ruined elm.  I stopped to say “Hey” to my maternal great great grandparents, Deborah Jane Tyler and her husband, Francis J. Curry and up the slope a few steps to their daughter’s in-laws and my other set of maternal great great grandparents, Susannah M. Downing and Henry Eugene Curtis.  Someone newly discovered by me just before the trip, I found Deborah’s oldest sister, Abbie Tyler and her husband James Jenney just strides away.  Just across the road, my maternal great great great grandparents, Lonson Tyler and his wife, Betsey Tyler.  Cousins of some kind…the Tylers had a habit of that…and the parents of Deborah Jane Tyler.  Just to the north of the huge tree, my Titus family members and their monuments remained free and clear.  “Hey, everyone.”

“Hurts me awful when I see a fallen stone,” called out Bill. “Can’t do anything about either.” He made his way up to where I was taking photographs and listed all the burial grounds along the lake that he tends and his chagrin at his limitations. “Money,” he says, “and time.” Finishing up my video and photo session, I continued to make my way up to my car and Bill stopped me one more time to express his apology for his language…he had said “damn” a couple of times. “Just an old farmer”, he sheepishly reiterated and climbed aboard the tractor and made his way up the old dirt road that meanders up the cemetery.

They had a lot of work to do…those two men with just a chain saw…a truck and a tractor. And I had chewed up a bit of their time talking about the terrible storm and the lakeside damage. They advised me to take a drive down Lake Road to see the roof blown off one historic home and the big old elm that was lifted out of the ground with the exposed root ball….which I did.

I noted for my research cousins that the beautiful old Hutchinson mansion was untouched…a few small branches still sat on the portico, but the lakeside properties to my right and directly on the lake took a beating and looked like a giant had played pick up sticks with the huge trees. Yep, Bill…a damned mess.

After treating myself to an icy martini and a steak and a salad, I fell asleep sometime around 9PM.  I was wicked tired from my drive up from Philadelphia and the field work at the cemetery so I gladly gave up the idea of making notes or even pondering the plans for the next days work.  Waking at 5:30 in the morning rested, but content to snuggle into the super comfy pillows…in the dark, I stayed in bed until 6AM when I saw dawn peeking through the crack of the darkening hotel drapes. A decent cup of in-room brewed coffee and I was returning emails from the day before and organizing my research materials for the day. It was rainy and gray in central New York after the incredibly crystal blue skies that graced my northward drive up route 81 the day before.

Thursday

My first appointment was at the  Cayuga County Museum to view the Civil War material archived there and to discuss a proposed exhibit with images of the family collection from my great great grandfather David Penird who served the entire war with the 75th Regiment formed from the ‘boys’ of Cayuga County.  The sky had opened up and gutters and downspouts struggled to keep up with the pouring rain.  Teeming, pouring rain, as my mother would say.   Tucking my head under the umbrella, I made a dash to the back entrance of the museum with one of the staff and her most handsome dog.   As I walked to the work room that obviously doubled as the staff lunch room, I felt instantly at home.  Two huge boxes and a large number of books were placed at the table in front of me and I dug into the as yet uncatalogued material.  Folder by folder the years fell away and the letters home to loved ones played out with the old cabinet cards and post war G.A.R. programs and songbooks capturing my every heartbeat. 

It was with the tender experience of holding the field arm band of a Cayuga County doctor who served in the 9th IMG_0547Corps…and the buttons and badges from the uniform of another young man who served in the old 75th regiment that I found myself having to remember to breathe and I sat back from the box and knew this was something special.   After awhile, I took a break and found my way down the hall to the office of Lauren Chyl, the museum’s curator.  We chatted for a few moments and she rose to walk with me back to my work area and to refill her mug.   While I was going through the boxes of Civil War memorabilia and old newspaper articles and she sipped at her coffee, I reminisced about my childhood days at the museum.  I took art lessons with Dr. Walter Long in the Case Research Lab and spent several summers there learning to draw and paint and listen to the wandering and amazing stories that only Dr. Long could tell.   He loved history and would often tell his students to visit the museum before we dashed home.   Even though we had seen the exhibits many times, we would dutifully walk across the parking area and scoot into the back door…the very one I had just entered and made our way through the museum.  The favorite stop for Dr. Long and ours as well was the velvet draped exhibit with the phosphorescent rocks that glowed in the gloom.  “Did you stop to see the rocks that glow?” he would ask.   Of course we had and pleased that we did, he bade us goodbye until our next lesson.   And the predictable gentle command to visit the exhibits before we went home.   I chuckled when I told Lauren about how many times his wife would come to the classroom with a brown paper bag neatly packed with his lunch…that he had characteristically forgotten on his way out the door.   Of course, sharing the well-known story of how he had returned home from a conference absentmindedly leaving Mrs. Long behind left Lauren and I smiling and nodding.  She had never met Dr. Long since he passed away many years before Lauren took up her position, but it was as if he was still there wandering about his beloved museum and its collections…forgetting that he had left this realm perhaps and looking for the rocks that glow.

Rain and More Rain

It was just after noon when I left the museum and the rain seemed to have circled around to have another go at me.  I grabbed my poncho from the trunk and ducked into my car.  Peering through the rivulets streaming down the windows I could just make out the interior of the Case Lab.  It seemed like yesterday that I had spent so many hours drawing horses and sweeping watercolors onto endless reams of paper.  But enough reverie.  There was an entire afternoon to work with and along with my own list…a request from a research cousin had landed in my email.   She was on the hunt for more Parcells information and ‘if I had time”, could I check on some burials at Soule Cemetery.   No time for lunch…maybe an early dinner…a hot shower and early to bed.  But later.   I was off to Soule Cemetery in Sennett where my great great grandparents, Albert S. Martin and Harriet M. Frear, are buried.  My father’s great grandparents and always another stop I make when I am home.

When I pulled into the entrance off Pine Ridge Road, the work truck sat outside of the office like a huge and hapless creature.  The bed was filling with rain water and the dirt that had been there was becoming a muddy mess and spilling over the edge in a sepia cascade.  I pulled around the truck and windshield wipers on full and hazard blinkers on made my way to the Martin plot.  Slipping on the rain poncho and my Wellies, I carefully made my way up to the slope to the monuments.  “Hey, Grandfather and Grandmother.”  The rain let up for a few moments as I paid my respects when the Parcells name caught my attention and I moved further up the hill.   I had found what Marj was looking for and pulled out my iPhone and began taking photos of the family plot and the stones and their inscriptions when the rain returned in earnest.  Slip sliding down to the road, I made it inside the dry interior of my car and though it was June, turned on the heat to chase away the chill.    As I drove to the entrance and near the truck, I spotted a cemetery worker standing in the open door of the office and staring out at the deluge and the hulk of the truck.  Not one to miss the opportunity to visit a cemetery office, I pulled up behind the truck avoiding the Niagara end, flipped up the hood of my poncho and hauled it to the door.  He must have been startled at the sight of me…or the thought of someone running in the storm.  “Hi!”, I said, out of breath.  Sticking out my hand, I introduced myself and asked his name.  “Michael,” he stammered.  “Well, Michael, I sure hope you can help me.   Can I look at the burial cards?  I am an historian researching here and standing in a dry office sure beats bashing around the cemetery in this weather,” I said.  Michael must have been thrilled at the thought of a dry few minutes and he swung open the door and waved his hand at the big set of drawers housing the cards.  In just a few moments I had pulled the Parcells cards and had photographed them…I am an old hand at such things.  I thanked Michael and headed out the way I came.   “Are you sure you have everything?” the young man asked.  I had the feeling that I had worked too fast and he wasn’t anxious to deal with the mess outside.

When I checked the time, I realized that I had just one hour before meeting two of my friends for “Zumba” whatever that was.   Was it a restaurant?  I texted them and got directions.  Okay…I thought I was pretty current on things, but this wasn’t going to be a cocktail with Brazilian liquor.  This was THE Zumba!   Luckily I had my sneakers on and my friend Marie coaxed me onto the floor.  I Zumbaed left.  I Zumbaed right.  I shook my butt and shimmied my shoulders for three-quarters of the class and took a break.  Leaning against the wall I posted the Zumba class on FaceBook and my daughter, Cate,  simply posted “!!!!”   With an “LOL”, I sat out the rest of the class and Marie and I scooted over to the neighboring restaurant for a bowl of soup and gal talk.   It wasn’t long before our friend, Sheila popped in the booth and after a round of hugs and laughs, we got down to a serious visit.  I was tired from the day’s work and the unexpected Zumba lesson, but the time flew by and the years left us all and we were girls again for those few hours.

Friday

Naturalization Testimonial Francis Curry 1856A good breakfast with some welcome cups of coffee and I was off to the County Records Department and then on to the new office of the Cayuga County Historian on Court Street.  The records clerks were barely in their offices when I was at the counter waiting to acquire copies of the 1856 naturalization papers of my great great grandfather, Francis J. Curry.  I had to put on the charm that morning.  Poor souls had probably not had an early bird come into the office right on their heels and disrupt a perfectly good routine.  But I was prepared with the index information and it was an easy find for the clerk.  He made copies for me…of copies, that is…and I asked where the originals were kept.  Oh, how I would love to see them!  He cocked an eye at me as if I had asked where Moses had ditched the tablet shards and told me that originals were destroyed after copies were made.  No room for all of that paper ‘stuff’.  While my exterior was calm, inside…from my toes on up…my historian spirit shrieked like a banshee.  “What if a descendant PAID for the originals?”.  County makes money and space is saved and descendant genealogist is giddy with archival love. Win. Win.  I was making sense to me anyway.  It was then that the truth of public records and the bureaucratic heart (or lack of one) brings down a harsh reality.  “Can’t sell public records,” came the reply.  I sighed and packed up the photocopies that had cost me 65 cents apiece and tried to be grateful for that.

The historian’s office is in the same building and just around the corner, but it still requires a walk around the exterior..and back in the rain.  My poncho was getting a workout.    The librarian was puttering about and hurried up to the counter to sign me in and instruct me as to the rules.   I had to leave my purse at her desk which was weird because it was just big enough for my car keys and some lipstick with my driver’s license nudging the seams.  But who knows the cleverness of a history thief, right?   No cameras, either.  Okay.  And of course the menu of costs for photocopies.  Got it.  Now it was my turn to ask questions.   Is there a catalog of what is here?  I think I asked an impossible question because she patiently told me that she couldn’t possibly tell me  what they had.  I just had to tell her what I was looking for.  HUH?  How do I know what I am looking for if I don’t know what is here?   If nothing I am a practical soul and just went for the obvious..how about surnames?  Jackpot.  She had just begun the task of indexing the files of surname loose material and now we had traction.  I spent two hours there and we began to talk genealogy…a lot about her family which was interesting, but I hadn’t traveled all the way to Auburn to talk shop.  While the librarian was photocopying (GAD I hate the word now), I wandered about the public room and found a binder full of material that was a gold mine for me.  Cayuga Historian Ruth Probst’s transcriptions of the Village of Cayuga Records.  Ruth was the quintessential historian.  A virtual encyclopedia herself…”was” being the operative word.  Ruth has joined her ancestors and I regret not having met her before I started my work, but she left behind a remarkably savvy and worthy effort.  But, oh what she took with her….

It was closing upon lunch time – which as you know by now I forget to indulge in – and the office closes down.  So I retrieved my purse and my poncho and in a naughty or was it saintly moment, I told the librarian that my iPhone was not only a still camera…but a video camera…AND a scanner and it had been visibly on the desk next to me the whole time I was working with the files.    “Just food for thought,” I told her and reassured her that I was as Mary Tyler Moore as you can get and had observed the rules, but that was me….    Out into the rain again and to the parking garage with my photocopy treasures, I decided to head to Fort Hill Cemetery.

I was a bit hungry and fished out an energy bar and washed it down with bottled water while I made my way to the old Gothic administrative building of Fort Hill.  Greeted by the secretary, Kristen,  who warmly welcomed me in to her office, I stood among the old burial records and books and found myself admiring the beautiful map of the cemetery…almost as tall as I am…that hangs on the wall behind her desk.  She graciously stopped her work for my impromptu visit and explained the records to me…pulled some cards for me from the files secreted away in the walk-in safe and showed me the beautifully bound records books.  I sat at the big table snugged against the stone wall and pulled out my iPhone and took pictures…with permission, of course.  After the visit at the Cayuga historian’s office, I felt a bit wicked even so.   The topics of conversation wove in and out of Auburn’s history and that of my family and I shared my findings about Fort Hill’s predecessor,  North Street Cemetery.  Secret burials and cholera.   Remarkably I knew so very little about Fort Hill and she began to share her knowledge with me.   I could see she had work to do and I had taken up her time when she suggested that I purchase “Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery” compiled by Lydia J. Russell.  She retrieved a fresh copy for me and for $16.50 I had a lovely little publication to take back with me for background research.   It was time to leave…back in to wet weather that had gone from steady rain to clinging mist.

For the first time, I went beyond the usual visits to my grandparents’, Sarah Leona Penird and Albert H. Martin, graves in Fort Hill.  “Hey, Grandparents.”

I drove and walked the 22 acres marveling at the stately monuments of Auburn’s notable families.  Some were IMG_0663soaring edifices, columns and obelisks of amazing craftsmanship and intended to impress.  It was misty and comfortably cool.  A perfect atmosphere for the experience.   I recognized a good number of the names…some of them my Tyler family members.   One Tyler monument that I came upon was more marvelous than all the towering stone tributes.   Fort Hill is not one hill, but a collection of them.  Steep hills.  I was mindful as I walked about the cemetery…careful of each footfall because the grass was wet and the ground so soggy as to defy even the most careful mountain goat…which I am not.  I gave up walking at one point and drove slowly along the winding, curving road and happened upon the tombstone of Almyra Doty Pierce.  She was the daughter of Jason Martin Doty and Anna Tyler.  Anna Tyler was the sister of my maternal 3rd greatgrandfather, Lonson Tyler.   Along side Almyra is the monument of her daughter, Helen and son-in-law, John Llewellyn Tyler.  Oh, the Tylers were still marrying cousins even then.  The monuments are lovely and modestly impressive, but that wasn’t the boggling aspect.  Wedged at the very edge of a high rise of earth, one would expect them to come popping out of the hill at any given moment.   I still ponder how they were put in the ground…and managed to be kept there.    At those uneasy thoughts, I turned off my hazards and made my way out of the cemetery…back to the hotel…a martini and a salad…a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

Saturday

Breakfast with friends!   I keep track of my high school chums on FaceBook and know that they gather once a month for breakfast so I had planned my research trip around that time to join them.  Though the skies continued to be gray and promising to rain, I left my poncho in the back seat of my car and joined my friends for a couple of hours of coffee and reminiscing and catching up with news of grandbabies and retirement challenges and joys..keeping the ‘who died’ to a minimum.    We sang Happy Birthday to one of our friends with great gusto and took a group photo before we all dashed off to our lives.   It went so quickly, I wanted to snatch their car keys and hold them hostage for another hour or two.

I had an unscheduled afternoon ahead of me that I had saved for spontaneity.   I drove the entire way around Owasco Lake.  That was a first for me.  I am a Cayuga Lake kid.   Before I was born my paternal grandmother had a summer cottage on Owasco Lake and rented ‘camps’ along Cayuga Lake for summer visitors.  A picture of her with my father and my two older brothers sitting outside her cottage hangs on my wall.  It is black and white and curiously formal and devoid of cheer like the somber weather that followed me around the lake and colored everything in shades of gray.

I stopped at Green Shutters on White Bridge Road and chatted and dallied with locals…ate a hot dog, fries and a root beer along the lake while listening to the 1961 hit “Blue Moon” sung by the Marcels play on the jukebox.  It was still early and going back to the hotel was not an option.  I was fourteen again and immune to the cholesterol and salt and sugar in my lunch.  It was Saturday and there were no afternoon hours at Seymour Library for researching historians.  After considering my options and observing the lift in the clouds, I drove back to Lakeview Cemetery to see how Bill was doing with the clean up.  Maybe I might be able to see what monuments were effected and record them before whatever fate was to befall them in the process.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

This time I drove from the opposite direction and it provided an entirely different perspective .  In for a penny…I found my way via the side entrance and began thoroughly walking the pioneer section to inspect the damage and the progress of removing the debris. Clearly it was going to take more than one old farmer and a middle-aged man with a chainsaw to get the job done. I peered into the largest fallen tree and could only make out a single obelisk still standing and tightly wedged in among the huge limbs. The canopy was so dense that there was simply no way to tell if anything else survived the crush or if the obelisk is standing on its base.

I will go back to findagrave and see what is posted…and my notes from visits over the years to make sure no information I have is lost…that may be the only thing left in that area of the cemetery after the old giant is removed…my notes and some photos.

Union Springs is just a short drive south of Cayuga and I had one more cemetery to visit.   The sun was peeking through and shafts of light were finding their way to brighten the lake.  The waters looked blue again instead of leaden gray.  I had just found Chestnut Hill Cemetery for the first time and began to drive in when my cell phone rang and it was the Newfield historian from Tompkins County.  Did I have time to come down for a quick visit?    I pulled over and chatted with him for 20 minutes and though I really wanted to make the trip down and spend time, I had used up my energy and was ready to get back to the hotel and get some rest before the four and a half hour drive home the next morning.

At one time or another I could run rings about those many years my junior, but these days I respect the limits put upon me by the passing of time.   That doesn’t stop my historian spirit from chafing at those limitations, but it does provide me with an excuse for another field trip.   Back to Cayuga Lake and home.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

OH, HENRY!

A Note to My Readers:  Pretty much everyone should know by now that I am an old newspaper junkie. Anywhere that I can find them…I load the microfiche…log in to the digital files…whatever and wherever I can find them…I am like a pig in mud.   In fact, there have been a number of times that I have been transfixed for so many hours that I find that I have forgotten to eat or drink.  Getting up to stretch reminds me with every creak and ache that I need someone to babysit me lest I become frozen in my trance.  I like to think that with this rather benign guilty vice that I am not in too much danger of the need for rehab.  Maybe I might just need to get new glasses or apply a mist of Visine for my tired eyes…and perhaps I require a reminder to put a sandwich and glass of iced tea by my side before I begin to read.  Or an alarm clock to break the spell and to remind me to move.  Is there Pilates for Genealogists?

All of that aside, I do a great deal of research perusing military documents and land records…estate files…resplendent with legalese and their own special syntax.  That takes surgical concentration.   But not newspapers…there is a lyricism to the prose of yesteryear’s print media.  A folksiness that draws me in and transports me back in time.  Irresistible.  Magical.  And so close to sitting at an elder’s knee listening to stories of his youth…and the tales that were told about the canals…the trains…the crazy uncle…the year the crops failed…the time father came home with a new horse.   Something about the tang of the language, too.  It was sentimental and carefully constructed for polite society on one hand…and on the other…just as salacious and gossipy as today’s tabloids.  Don’t get me started on the advertising.   I love it all.

So when I am researching and finding the slimmest of proper documentation, I go straight to the old newspapers.  Forensic scientist, Dr. Edmond Focard, once said, “Every contact leaves a trace.”   It’s not such a far leap to think historians must be forensic scientists.  I have found more forensic evidence in newspapers than any other source.  And so it was researching my maternal great great grandfather, Henry Eugene Curtis.

It’s All Relative

Henry Eugene Curtis was born in 1825 in South Livonia, Livingston county, New York where his father, David, was superintendent of the County farm of Livingston.  In 1832, by the time Henry was seven, David was dead and his mother, Sophia Greene Curtis, had possession of their farmlands in Genoa, Cayuga County.  Sophia and her children, Levi, Edwin David, Henry Eugene and little Alexina put down roots in Cayuga County.  After Sophia’s death in 1848, with the exception of Edwin her children left the farm to strike out on their own.

Edwin carried on with the family farm in Genoa and like his father, he only lived to his mid thirties.  His first wife, Calysta Geer bore him two children, David Coleman Curtis and Calfernia “Callie” Curtis.   David moved on to Minnesota where he and his wife, Fanny Conklin raised a large family.   He left quite a footprint during his life and I was delighted to find living descendants to share the research on his family.   Callie was twice married, but had no children of her own.  She was a challenge…like many females of the past who bore no children.  Her first name, Calfernia, should have been Forensic 101.  Should have, but was definitely not.  That was another ‘newspaper trace’ marathon following Callie from Genoa to Auburn, New York -all through family news in the social sections of the newspapers of the day.  David’s second wife, Susan Bodine Vandermark, bore one child,  George Edwin Curtis.  George’s descendants live in the Genoa area to this day and once again…newspaper articles moved me from the mid 1800’s through to current day.

Brothers Levi and Henry followed the lure of making money along the Chemung Canal system.  The brothers owned grocery stores in Havana and Watkins Glen that served the barges and steamboats as they made their way along the Chemung Canal system and the Seneca-Cayuga Canal system…all part of the complex waterways that fed into the Erie Canal itself.  By 1860 Levi was running a hotel in Alleghany County and Henry was his own man in Watkins Glen.  It wasn’t long before the Civil War swept up Levi and he enlisted in the 5th Calvary, Company F in New York State.  Levi returned home to Caneadea in 1863 with the rank of Captain after being wounded in battle and as a result, discharged.  He and his wife, Lurana Elsworth, followed their only child, Charlotte “Lottie” and her husband, Edwin Trump to Fenton, Michigan where Levi and Lurana lived out their days doting on their only grandchild, Minnie Lurana Trump.  Levi left more than a trace.  He was a hero of the Civil War and his history was celebrated in his adopted state of Michigan.  I knew more about Levi than I did about my great great grandfather at one point.

Alexina married Livonia resident John Landis Van Sickle and had three children: Sophia E., Ella Curtis and James Hixon Van Sickle.  The Van Sickles were prominent citizens of Livonia and stayed close with the descendants of their ancestral grandmother, Sophia Greene Curtis.   The newspapers are filled with interesting stories of their gatherings and reminiscences of the ‘old days’ of Livonia. My favorite is the derring-do of the winter sledding of the boys in Livonia.  The descendants of James Hixon Van Sickle are celebrated for their accomplishments in publications and have a nice, neat trail to follow.

The Big Pink Granite Obelisk

Curtis Monument Full 2One fine May day I stood before the monument rising high in Lakeview Cemetery situated above Cayuga Lake in the Village of Cayuga.  The breeze from the lake was at my back and the sun struggled to find me through the high pines as I considered the inscriptions.  It was the most concrete…or should I say marble…thing I knew about Henry Eugene Curtis at that time.  Other than he was my great grandfather’s father.  I set to conquering the basics…following the census material and found that was as good as it gets at that point.  Meantime, I posted to my blog…pieces about my great grandfather- Henry’s son, George Downing Curtis.  And another about one of George’s grandnieces and her runaway husband.  I was leaving traces this time…in hopes that a descendant of Henry’s would find me and share the Sherlock Holmes effort with me.  Forensic science is a two way street and I was in sore need of a Dr. Watson.

I kept digging…checking anything in Schuyler, Livingston and Cayuga counties…anything to tell me about Henry.  I found bits and pieces of information and continued the process of building the profile…bland, but better than nothing.  And then a couple of years ago I was contacted by another descendant of Henry and Susan Curtis and the game was afoot.  Sort of.  Marj had read my blog posts and had wonderful old portraits of Henry and Susannah Downing Curtis, but not much more in the way of information.   That was my bailiwick.  And my impetus to keep checking.  New information is available all of the time and Henry Eugene Curtis’ great great granddaughter is no quitter!

Be Patient, Grasshopper

Finding new sources is a must…there are always new places to look and learn.  That said, going back to old sources…rereading old material and discovering updated materials is simply oxygen.  Besides…I love reading old newspapers, remember?  Any new publications out there?   Has Tom Tryniski at FultonHistory.com been busy again…finding publications from Schuyler county?  How about genealogybank.com or newspaperarchives.com?  Time to check back.

In just a short span of time…through the magic of newspapers (The Watkins Express on Fultonhistory.com)…I have learned so Watkins NY Express Thu 3 Mar 1864 H E Curtis expands hotel congratsmuch about my great great grandfather, Henry Eugene Curtis.  The first mention of him is as a grocer in 1853 in Watkins Glen. Henry was entrepreneurial and the canal systems offered a young man with ambition a plethora of opportunity. I know his hotel-The Curtis Hotel- stood on Franklin and Warren Streets in Watkins Glen with an attached ‘saloon’ where he served warm meals…including oysters…” in every form”…’at all hours’. He had a liquor license and was known by all as a “whole- souled man, big-hearted man” and most affable host. He was only 41 years old when he died and had suffered from an unnamed illness for quite a long time. During the last year or so of his life, he tried to sell the hotel, but finally ended up leasing it to a young man who had initiative of his own.

I learned that Henry was first buried in Watkins Glen in 1866 and 28 years later my great grandfather’s brother had Henry’s remains disinterred and brought to the lakeside cemetery in the little village of Cayuga where they had just buried their mother, Susannah.  To the layman…this may seem a paltry bit of information, but to the historian it defines a life that had up until now had only been a smattering of dates, a census enumeration and an 1864 liquor license roll and the presence of a pink granite obelisk at the rise of a hill above the lake.

And now the road trip!   After a brief phone call followed by a couple of emails to Andrew Tompkins of the Schuyler County Historical Society, I have a foundation of information to take with me to Montour Falls and perhaps to find more about the Curtis Hotel…or the Canal Grocery Store…and the life of Henry Eugene Curtis along the Chemung Canal.  It is always encouraging to speak with someone who has innate enthusiasm for someone’s quest for local history and I certainly felt that with the brief conversation we had this afternoon.  If nothing else, it will be a good day to explore Watkins Glen and learn the background history of the area.  Perhaps there is a hotel where they serve warm meals…including oysters in every form.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

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