An Afternoon Down the Frear Rabbit Hole

My laptop has been slowing down lately. (Me, too.) I decided to do some clean up and hopefully solve the problem. Into the deep gray matter of the old gal and I found a significant number of downloaded files that had to go. Some with recognizable names. Some with the typical gibberish that required me to open them to decide to either rename them appropriately and move them to the proper folder OR delete them. I have been at it for hours now. Not so much because of the volume of files but because they are my research finds. Newspaper articles and documents and I HAD to read them.

Down the Rabbit Hole She Went

I went down the genealogy rabbit hole and am having the best time. Who wouldn’t enjoy re-reading old finds? It’s as if I went visiting old friends and was reminiscing over an ice cold lemonade. Genealogy friend, remember the time when I discovered my 2x great grandmother, Harriet Meyer Frear Martin had a sister Deborah Ann Frear? That was quite a delightful surprise, all right.

When Harriet died in 1887, her old hometown newspaper – the Newark Union in Wayne county, New York- published a death notice listing her siblings. Deceased and Living.

I knew about John Lawrence Frear and Phoebe Frear Keller and Cornelia Frear Bloomer, but not Deborah. When I found this little tidbit, I was off and running to learn about her. She had lived with Harriet and her family in Auburn for a short while and then, aging and widowed, went to Michigan to live with the youngest of the Frear siblings -Phoebe. Deborah died in Michigan and I was able to get her death certificate as well as Phoebe’s and compare it to Harriet’s NYS record. There they were…daughters of Simeon J. Frear and Cornelia Meyer (also spelled Myer and Meyers).

And Deborah left a small estate. Having no children of her own, she left her Martin nieces and nephews each a share of her wealth. Or course, her surviving sister, Phebe was at the top of the list. She also listed her brother John’s children and the sole surviving child of her brother Samuel, Cornelia Johnson. She gave me a gift, too. In one enumeration of her heirs, she had neatly packaged her Frear siblings and their extended families.

My 2x great aunt…my surprise. It was good to visit with her this afternoon.

Deborah Ann Frear (1815-1899) is buried along side her husband, Simeon Phillips in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Genealogist, Author and Contributing Writer

(c) Copyright 2021

The Old Pedestrian Rivalry

A Note to My Readers:  In search of my Frear family ‘comings and goings’ in central New York I am back to reading old newspapers and found an intriguing article in a June 1913 edition of the Auburn, New York Democrat Argus. The story revolves around a promotional photograph purchased by Auburn and Union Springs jeweler, WILLIAM STANSELL LAWRENCE FREAR (1849-1930), the first cousin of my great grandfather, HENRY A. MARTIN (1857-1932) and the rivalry of two old ‘athletes’, Edward Payson Weston and John Ennis.

Newspaper Auburn NY  Democrat  Argus 1912 - 1913 - 1243. WSL Frear Headline

Auburn NY Democrat Argus Headline June 1913

The present “hike” of Edward Payson Weston, the veteran pedestrian, who is now plodding his way Westward along the Southern Tier on his way from new York to Minneapolis, Minn., where he is to lay the cornerstone of the new Minneapolis Athletic Club building, recalled to W. S. L. Frear, the Market Street jeweler, the fact that he had in his possession a photograph of the aged hiker when he was a youngster in the game half a century ago. The Citizen herewith presents the picture, and as many Auburnians are familiar with the striking physique of the Weston of today they will be astonished to note the similarity of carriage despite the effects of 50 years on the famous walker. As he walked through Port Byron two years ago on his “Frisco-to New York hike he bore himself in the identical erect manner and his short cane was carried in the same stiff manner, convenient for an occasional automatic smite on his right flank.
Bought Picture in 1867.
Mr. Frear bought the picture from Weston’s agent who accompanied him on his first important “hike,” from Albany Edward_P_Weston_1861to Chicago, in 1867, as Weston was passing through Newark (Wayne county New York). Then as on his walk across Cayuga County two years ago, Weston went through Port Byron and Weedsport, following the old New York Central lines and the Albany-Buffalo turnpike. At that time Weston walked alone, but his agent rode in a buggy and besides selling photographs of the walker, the drive carried articles to be used in an emergency. Today Weston is accompanied by an automobile. Then he was 22, today he is 76. The original picture has been put on display in the window of the owner in Market Street.
Corning gave a hearty welcome to Weston and John Ennis, 71, who has set out to beat the easy schedule set by Weston, when they passed through Corning together yesterday.
Have made 300 Miles.
“Corning marked the completion of the first fifth of the 1,500 mile journey which the two men have undertaken on foot. It is 292 miles from Corning to New York City by the lines of the Erie Railroad which the walkers are following along parallel highways. Before leaving New York City the pedestrians had walked seven miles, so that they had walked 299 miles when they reached Corning. Weston, despite his delay of the past two days, reached Corning a full day ahead of schedule he mapped out before leaving New York City and he was in an optimistic mood. Ennis, too, was highly elated. He had predicted that he would pass Weston before Buffalo was reached although Weston had 24 hours the start of him, and he had succeeded sooner than he had anticipated, thanks to Weston’s poor limb. The four or five years difference in age is also in favor of Ennis.
Not a Race, Says Weston.
Ennis is bent upon forcing the public belief that there is a race on between the two men. This Weston denies and he refuses to be forced into a race with Ennis. Weston mapped out a schedule and published it long before Ennis was heard of in connection with the trip. Weston states that he is simply following the schedule and not attempting to extend himself.
“Although I have allowed 60 days for the trip to Minneapolis, I could cover it in 45 days if I wanted to extend myself,” said Weston to a Corning reporter.
“Ennis has been my competitor only once – that was in England in 1879 when we were competing for a belt offered by Astley for a 100 mile walk,” said Weston. “Ennis was in the race one day and then dropped out. I take Ennis’s action in starting out on this walk after I had planned as just a joke. He is trying to get a reputation from reputation, and by doing what he calls beating me, he hopes to make money giving lectures on this trip.
“As an instance of how ridiculous he is making himself is the statement that he is reported to have made that in six days he walked 348 miles between North Platte, Neb., and Rock Springs, Wyoming – a route through the worst kind of roads in the United States. This is an impossibility. Ennis also claims that he walked from Toledo, O., to Bryan, O., in one day, a distance Ennis gives as 72 miles. The chief of police of Toledo told me that the distance is but 57 miles. If things turn out as I hope and expect there be some fund for the people here when Ennis and I come back.
“I am making this walk to lay the corner stone of the Minneapolis, Minn., Athletic Club’s new house on August 2. I am not making this walk as a race – and I will not be forced into a race. I am making the walk to show that at 76 I can walk more than half the distance that I could at 50 years. I am now making about 158 miles a week, and I am going to average a little more than 26 miles a day. I am not extending myself to see how far I can walk in a day.  My schedule was made out for 60 days but cutting out the Sundays the walking will be but 52 days.

Calls Walk a Picnic.
“I am being shown such courtesies by everybody along the route that the walk is proving no labor, but a picnic.
“I live very carefully whether on or off the road. We I am off the road I eat but two meals a day – breakfast and supper. On the road I eat but one meal a day, breakfast. For breakfast I generally eat three poached eggs and bread and butter and two or more cups of coffee with occasionally a glass of milk. Along the road about once an hour I am given liquid refreshments of egg and milk beaten together with sugar added. I also have vichy water and milk. Occasionally I take sarsaparilla and ginger ale. In the evening I take ice water and sometimes bread and milk.
“When I left New York’s week ago last Monday noon I had a 36 inch waist line. It is now reduced to 34.”
Weston carries with him a cane that was given him 30 years ago by Lord Algernon Lennox, a son of the Duke of Richmond, while he was in England. Weston also has a belt from the same donor.
Weston walks without a coat or hat. A towel wrung out in ice cold water is worn by him in place of a hat. An automobile proceeds him, and occasionally ice water is supplied him from the auto and he is given liquid refreshments. From time to time he stops during the heat of the day in the shade of a sheltering tree for brief refreshments and rest. At times members of the part traveling with him pace him.

Doctor Cobb Accompanies Weston.
When Weston left Corning at 4 o’clock this afternoon for Addison, he was accompanied by Dr. W. S. Cobb of that city. When Weston was on a walk 36 years ago from Portland, Me., to Portland, Ore., Doctor Cobb’s father, George Cobb of West Stockbridge, Mass., walked with Weston from West Stockbridge toward Albany. George Cobb is still alive at the age of 85. Doctor Cobb took the walk yesterday to make the acquaintance of his father’s old friend. (NOTE: The article’s writer incorrectly stated that the walk was from Portland, Maine to Portland, Ore.  The route was from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois.  Thanks to reader, Paul Marshall for catching the article’s error.)

John Ennis "King of Pedestrians" advertising card.

John Ennis “King of Pedestrians” advertising card.

Ennis An Irishman.
Ennis was born at Richmond Harbor, County, Longford, Ireland, June 4, 1842. He celebrated his 71st birthday the day after he took the road with the intention of beating Weston to Minneapolis. Ennis’s home is at Stamford, Conn. He served in the American Civil War in the Army of the Cumberland Engineering Corps. He has a record as an athlete. For 14 years he held the world’s long distance skating record and he has also held records as a rifle shot.
“I left the College of the City of New York, Tuesday, June 3, at noon – just 24 hours to a minute after Weston left the same spot,” said Ennis. “I predicted that I should pass Weston by the time Buffalo was reached – and I have more than made good my prediction,” continued Ennis with a broad grin. “My purpose in making this walk is two fold. First, I desire to clean up an old dispute with Weston and shiw him that I am his superior as a walker, as I have previously demonstrated, and second to show people that all a man of 70 needs to do to be able to as active at that age as most men are at 40 is to to keep exercising – keep doing hard work.

An Ocean to Ocean Walk.
“Three years ago I beat Weston’s coast to coast record by 25 days. Weston walked from New York, to San Francisco in 105 days. I made the journey in 80 days. I bathed in the waters of the Atlantic off Coney Island before leaving New York and I plunged into the waters of the Pacific in Golden Gate Harbor completing a truly ocean to ocean walk. I have been in contests with Weston for upwards of 35 years, and I have beaten him or his records on many occasions. It was my intention in seizing upon this opportunity to prove once and for all that I am Weston’s superior. I am not walking to Minneapolis for a prize or anything when I get there – I am walking to beat Weston, and I am going to do it.

Calls Weston “Sly Fox”.
“Weston is as sly as a fox. He has been doing his best to cover his trail and to keep me off the scent, but I have managed to follow his trail all right, and now I’m ahead of him and he will have to follow mine. I am not unfolding my plans as to where I’ll be tonight, and I leave town quietly when I go. Weston wants the whole town to know about it when he leaves a town. You can say I passed through on the way toward Minneapolis. I suppose I shall follow about the same route that Weston has mapped out. I am going through Addison at any rate this afternoon.
“Yesterday I walked from Owego to Elmira -50 miles. I reached Elmira at 8 o’clock last night and stopped at the Hotel Langwell. I left Elmira at 6 o’clock this morning, and came through to Corning without stop. The first man to walk with me from the time I left Elmira was the Leader reporter. No one travels with me. My son goes ahead of my by train with my luggage. He carries a coat which I use on cold days, and also an umbrella which is the only protection I use on rainy days.”
Ennis is a man of very rugged appearance. He walks in his shirt sleeves, with a long swinging stride. He has a sense of humor and a pleasant smile which wins him a welcome anywhere.

The Auburn New York Democrat Argus, June 1913.

W.S.L. Frear Jeweler Ad 1887.  Courtesy of The Frontenac Museum.

W.S.L. Frear Jeweler Ad 1887. Courtesy of The Frontenac Museum.

Author’s Note:  WILLIAM STANSELL LAWRENCE FREAR was born in Arcadia, New York to JOHN LAWRENCE MYERS FREAR and JUDITH O. STANSELL.    In addition to his jewelry and clock repair business in both Union Springs and Auburn, William and his brother, CHARLES HENRY FREAR owned and operated the ASTORIA HOTEL in Unions Springs.   It is so easy to narrow down research focus and forget the history revolving around our ancestors…or to go ‘too big’ and think national or global…wars, economic news, politics.   Every once in awhile I come across a local or regional story that reminds me about the character of the day and my family’s humanity becomes so very real.  Like the rivalry between two old ‘pedestrians’.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved



Hell Hath No Fury

A Note To My Readers:  As my fellow genealogists know, you can spend as much time with extended family history as you do with your direct line.  The siblings of our forebears often provide us with critical information for our research and insight as to the nature of our family members and the times in which they lived.  Fortunately for some of us….one of these individuals was a hoarder, a snoop, a character of note in local doings or best of all, a sentimental soul who loved their own family history and passed it down before they, too, became part of yesteryear.

A few years ago, I was assembling what I could about the Frears…my paternal great great grandmother’s family.  Initially it was a hodgepodge cobbled together from Ruth P. Heidgard’s 1968 publication, “The Freer family: the descendants of Hugo Freer, patentee of New Paltz, (Frear, Fraer, Frayer, Fryer, etc.” and research done with the help of the knowledgeable staff of the  Huguenot Historical Society in New Paltz, NY and local historians in Ulster County.  Like Ruth P. Heidgard’s genealogical effort, many of these publications are a huge undertaking and by nature are inaccurate in areas and incomplete in others.  A base to work with for sure, but it behooves the wise researcher to validate their own work…generation to generation…family to family…person to person.  It was, therefore, no surprise to me, to find that my great great grandmother, Harriett Myers Frear Martin was not noted in her original family.  Indeed, only her three brothers – Samuel, John Lawrence Myers and William Henry Frear – were itemized in the book as offspring of Simeon J. Frear and Cornelia “Neeltje” Myers of Newark, Wayne County, New York. 

Absent an extant family bible or a will itemizing heirs and property, it took me over a year of reading local New York State newspapers…noting business dealings, family affairs, visits and obituaries in Auburn, Union Springs, Newark, Binghamton and Buffalo while cross referencing online records in Indiana for son, Samuel Frear…to put the proof of Simeon and Cornelia’s complete family together.  Finally I had the Frear girls properly in their place in family history…Elizabeth, Cornelia, Mary Ann, Harriet Myers (my GG Grandmother) and Phoebe Jane Frear.  Along the way I spent time with the eight Frear children and their parents and through them I learned about the early rough and rowdy days along the Erie Canal, the terrible toll that tuberculosis would take on the Frears, the student life of the little Newark schoolhouse, the heyday of the port of Buffalo and the impact that the Civil War would have on three of the Frear men. 

Throughout the process of solving the Frear family puzzle, I would run across a character and family story that would pull me up short.  The big project was set aside and I would while away the time visiting…drifting into their time and world…comfortably seated on the front porch of a home on Newark’s Main Street, delicately fanning away the heat and a buzzing mosquito or two with my embroidered hankie…and chatting with Mrs. Judith O. Stansell Welch Frear.

Becoming MRS. FREAR

In 1825 Judith’s father-in-law, Simeon J. Frear, had moved his family from their Saratoga, New York home in the Hudson Valley to the little community of Lockville in Wayne County…later renamed Arcadia.  Governor DeWitt’s “ditch” was completed in 1829 and the Frears and their neighbors celebrated the “Wedding of the Waters“.  Although Simeon states he is a farmer in the 1850 census, he also plied trades that were typical along the canal.

1860 Federal census Arcadia NY

At the age of 68 widowed “Old Daddy Frear” as he was called by the villagers, was caulking boats in the carpentry business of his sons, William Henry and John Lawrence Myers Frear .

John Lawrence Myers Frear had married young widow, Judith O. Stansell Welch on May 23, 1844 and along with her four year old son, Daniel, set up house on Main Street near the canal bridge.  Like her husband, Judith was the child of a pioneer family.  In fact the Stansells arrived in the Palmyra area in May of 1789 migrating from the Mohawk Valley region.  Pioneer royalty if you will.

An able carpenter, John built carriages, repaired canal boats and built homes in Newark.  In 1866 he was a successful viticulturist (grape grower) and winemaker.  Opportunity was at the hand of every able body in Newark and the Frears took full advantage.

Judith became pregnant right away and in 1845 gave birth to their son, Charles Henry Frear.  Son William Stansell Frear arrived in 1849 and was followed by John Milton Frear in 1854.  Little Nellie came along in 1864 while her oldest brother, Charles,  was serving in the Union Army as a bugler in the NYS Volunteers 2nd regiment Company F.  Nellie would die in 1870 at the tender age of six.

The Frears would lose Cornelia Myers Frear, matriarch of their family, on November 10, 1853.  Samuel Frear had moved to Indiana in the late 1830’s and his wife, Dolly Brown and their children were not part of the daily lives of the next generation in Newark.   Though Judith’s only other brother-in-law, William Henry, was her husband’s business partner, William had a much lower profile in family and community life.  He had married Harriet Bloomer and they and their children did not live long lives.  It could be that tuberculosis took a toll on William’s family…like it did on his brother, Samuel’s family as well.

In her adult life Judith had been widowed, given birth to five children, lost her only daughter, sent Charles off to fight Johnnie Reb and ran her home with a firm Christian hand and heart.  She sang in the choir and taught in the Sunday school of the little Methodist Church in Newark.  There wasn’t a soul in Newark that didn’t know and respect the woman that they would call simply “Mrs. Frear”.

The Next Generation

When Judith’s son, Charles, came home from the war, he settled into his hometown and established Frear Brothers grocery with his brother, William, in 1869 and in addition served as the town clerk.  That same year he married pretty Cornelia Brodt and they set up their household in Newark.   Soon after, the couple had two sons of their own…Charles and Frederick.

After the brief retail partnership with Charles, William and youngest brother, John were apprenticing at clockmaker, S. J. Childs and in 1873 they left Wayne county to establish themselves as jewelers in the little village of Union Springs situated on Cayuga Lake and the city of Binghamton, New York.  Eighty nine year old patriarch, Simeon, would die in 1878 and  Judith O. Stansell Frear would someday pass on the dignity of being Mrs. Frear of Newark to her daughter-in-law.  Or so she thought.

The year 1880 brought a shock to Judith’s…Mrs. Frear’s…ordered life.  Charles’ wife, Cornelia had been obsessively attending the local opera house in nearby Palmyra…bitten and smitten…by the theater.  Married life to Charles was strained because he suffered from chronic and debilitating diarrhea…an unfortunate and unpleasant souvenir of his Civil War service.  Cornelia was a pretty, vivacious woman and it wasn’t long before she caught the eye of Henry Carlos “Nat” Blossom, a charismatic actor that performed at the Palmyra opera house.  In no time Cornelia had packed up her boys and moved to Buffalo, New York and set up a boarding house for actors on 115 East Eagle Street.  An advertisement in the New York Clipper made it clear that the Eagle Street boarding house was headquarters for Nat Blossom and his acting troupe.  Nat was managing the Bunnel’s Museum in Buffalo.

It was another blow when Judith’s husband, John died in November of 1885 at the age of 72 of Bright’s disease and his brother, William followed not thirty days later, but her faith was her rock and she was a beloved elder in the village with a constant stream of visitors to her Main Street home.  Charles and his mother were alone in Newark.

Charles was divorced by Cornelia in 1886 and she immediately married Nat Blossom…eight years her junior…and moved to Missouri with her sons where Nat and Cornelia owned a theater and Nat managed comedic actors…minstrel acts were his specialty.  In 1900 Nat was counted in the Federal Census on board a railroad car as his residence in Fort Madison City in Iowa in the James LaPearl Show.

Charles went to Michigan with his half-brother, Daniel and became a major contractor builder in Grand Rapids finally to return permanently to New York State in 1905.  He was not entirely well, but still an ebullient, social man.

Courtesy of the Frontenac Museum

With the help of his brother William, Charles took over the Hotel Astoria in Union Springs as proprietor.  The hotel was renovated under his design and direction…a new cigar counter and a men’s lounge was added.  A newfangled ice cream maker was installed…and Charles’ big yellow dog named Birney made the hotel a welcome destination for the folks who sought respite from the central New York summer heat.

William lived in Union Springs and enjoyed the visits of his mother.   She would spend weeks with her son and his family…with frequent visits from her son, John of Binghamton.  Though the family joy of the visits with her sons and William’s children, Pearl and Leo, was obvious by their frequency and length, she would eventually return to Newark and her treasured home of decades. It was called “Mrs. Frear’s house” years after she left the earth.

A Shock of Corn Fully Ripe

On Monday, May 19th, 1902, eighty-four year old, Judith O. Frear died in Union Springs at her son, William’s home.   According to a Union Springs Advertiser obituary,

“The day before she died she sang “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me” and “Nearer My God to Thee,” carrying the tune and recalling the words. She was conscious to almost the last, and came to her end on earth like a shock of corn fully ripe”.

Among the out of town attendees was H. C. Martin of Auburn…Harriet Cornelia Martin, daughter of my great great grandmother, Harriet Myers Frear Martin.  After the funeral services, Judith’s body was taken to Newark where she was laid to rest in the Frear family plot in a Methodist committal service “where many friends of earlier days were gathered”.

Normally, genealogists don’t quit the research when the last handful of dirt is tossed on the casket, the grave is filled in…the sod neatly set into the neighboring turf and the monument installed.  There is unfinished business yet.

The Last Word

All during my research of the three generations of Frears in central New York and Indiana, I developed a sense the family dynamic and circumstances of the history of each individual.  Outside of my own direct ancestors…none more dramatically played out than Judith O. Stansell Frear.  She took her role as mother and head of the family to heart…even as her sons were mature men themselves.  And she obviously wasn’t going to let a small thing like her death keep her from her role as Mrs. Frear, matriarch.

Fully one year and one month after her death, her will was admitted to probate.  Along with the usual itemization of debts to satisfy, personal goods and real estate holdings, the names of the executors…her sons, William and John, and a description of the disbursement of the proceeds, the telling stipulation as to Charles’ share of her estate had the distinct ring of Judith’s iron hand.

One third of her will was to be divided equally between her sons Daniel Welch and Charles Frear.  “The portion to the latter (Charles) is to be held in trust for his maintenance and is given to him on the express condition that he never lives with “Cornelia B., the woman he first married. In case he does live with “Cornelia B., then he shall receive but $100, and the remaining port of his one-sixth of the three parts is to be divided equally between the other three sons.”  Judith left her grandchildren, Pearl and Leo the sum of $500 and $100 to only one of Charles’ son, Charles Lawrence.  His son, Frederick was not provided for.

Charles was almost sixty years old when his mother died, never remarried and had little contact with his sons, Charles and Frederick who continued to live with their mother in Missouri when she married Nat Blossom.  All was not bliss in Missouri as 51 year old Nat Blossom divorced Cornelia who was eight years his senior in 1905 in order to marry a 38 year old actress and songstress in his Vaudeville touring troupe, Nellie Rutledge.

Was there word before Judith’s death from her grandson, Charles Lawrence Frear, that his mother had regrets…that Nat was a philandering actor…which evidence clearly shows he was…and did Judith’s son, Charles continue to carry a torch for “Cornelia B.”,  the mother of his sons, with thoughts of regaining her favor?  Did that drive Mrs. Frear to incorporate such a stipulation in her will?  And did the exclusion of Frederick by his grandmother mean she did not recognize him as “hers”?  Or did he have unwavering and exclusive loyalty to his mother and seal his fate with his grandmother?  Or was it simply a transcription error?

There was as much unsaid in Judith O. Frear’s will as was said.  What we do know is the “why” of the stipulation of her son, Charles’ inheritance.   “Cornelia B.” was NEVER to be passed the mantle of MRS. FREAR.   But even the indomitable Judith O. Stansell Frear has her limits.  Her former daughter-in-law reclaimed the name FREAR and is buried in IOOF Cemetery in Monett, Missouri as Cornelia Brodt FREAR.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

The Summer of 1906-Aunt Neil, Lavender and Ice Cream

The Summer of 1906

Harriett Cornelia Martin (15 jan 1855 – 28 mar 1927)

I dreamed of Aunt Neil last night.   My dreaming mind accompanied Neil as she alit from the trolley in the early morning and walked purposefully down Genesee Street to open her fancy goods store.  Her wide brimmed hat shielded her face from the already bright summer sun.  Nodding and smiling, Neil greeted  her fellow merchants as they slipped their keys into the locks and entered the cool interior of their shops.  Everyone knew and liked their fellow merchant, Neil Martin.

Auburn NY Genesee Street circa 1906

Like a small army preparing for a full dress parade, hats and jackets were carefully removed and stowed and the protective sleeves favored by the proprietors and clerks were pulled over their snow white blouses and starched shirts.  The cheerful fabric awnings were cranked out over the streets extending the shade over the sidewalks and deepening the darkness in the little shops.  Large glass paneled doors held open by door props welcomed both cooling breezes and customers.  Especially made for the shops, the props heralded the goods and services available in each establishment…a barber pole…a cigar store Indian…and for Aunt Neil…a lovely mannequin sporting the latest in ladies’ finery.  She was fond of dressing her window and indeed was accomplished enough to win a blue ribbon for her window display talents in a local merchant competition that year.

It would be a fine day.  Neil was expecting her nieces to arrive today to inspect a new shipment of handmade items…complete with lovely beading and a touch of imported lace.  The afternoon was filled with girlish giggles mingled with a wisp of lavender scent that one of the girls favored at the moment.

Aunt Neil and Companion

After the purchases of a bit of lace and delicate French lingerie, Neil and the three girls walked arm in arm to the ice cream shop on South Street.  Several days before, Mr. Curtis, the shop owner,  had confided to Neil that he would be making a new ice cream treat to sell at the upcoming July 4th activities.     When the four ladies arrived at the ice cream parlor, an unfamiliar but tantalizing scent filled the air.  What could her fellow merchant be making?  Mr. Curtis had been bustling in his establishment for days and his neighbor, Mr. Papadopoulos, had been rushing between his sweet shop on Genesee Street and the ice cream parlor.  The two men greeted the ladies and escorted them to a small table by the window.

Neil’s lovely nieces were favorites in the city of Auburn and the merchants were accustomed to the sight of them chatting and smiling and visiting the shops along Genesee Street.  Today they were the honored guests of Mr. Curtis at the unveiling of a treat that no Auburnians had ever seen before.  Disappearing behind the white marble counter, Mr. Curtis prepared ice cream cones which were the rage concoction of the very recent St. Louis World’s Fair.  Neil and the girls clapped their hands at Mr. Curtis’s clever surprise and exclaiming as they ate…pronounced the treat as a most wonderful creation.

Neil fondly watched her nieces as they touched their lips with the snow white linens that they kept tucked into the sashes of their light summer frocks.  Each beloved niece had received the embroidered and delicate linen squares from Aunt Neil that very Christmas.  Neil was in her early fifties that summer of 1906 and never married and would never know the special bond of having a child of her own.  And  her nieces brought joy to her heart as if each were her own daughter.

Flora Mae Martin

Flora Mae Martin Fiero

Flora Mae was the eldest daughter of Neil’s oldest brother, Walton and his wife, Elizabeth Johanna.    She was a new bride that year and had already established her own millinery enterprise.  She was adept with fabrics and embellishments and like her Aunt Neil,  Flora found pleasure and profit in her passion for finery.  Flora had her father’s bright blue eyes and Neil found solace in Flora’s gaze after the untimely loss of Walton to cancer in 1902.  Though Flora and her new husband, Edward Raymond Fiero, were now living in Syracuse, she often visited her Aunt Neil and her large Martin family still living in Auburn, NY.  Edward was a stenographer and worked from many years at Solvay Processing while Flora continued her successful millinery.  For a brief time in 1930, they lived in Virginia where her husband worked at a new nitrogen processing plant.  Eventually they returned to their home in Syracuse.  Flora and Edward were never blessed with children.

Harriette Frear Martin Funnell

Harriette Frear Martin

Harriette was the namesake of her father’s mother.  She was born in 1884 and bore not only her grandmother’s name, but a remarkable likeness to her.  Harriette had married in 1905 to the dashing young farmer, George Edward Funnell of Syracuse.   In May of 1906 Harriette had just given birth to her first child, Dorothy, and was wearing a lovely new summer frock and celebrating the return of her figure.  She would follow George Funnell into Canada…returning to Syracuse for a brief time in the 1930’s and working as cook in a private family home while George remained in Canada.  Later she rejoined him on their farm in Alberta, Canada.  They had six children.  Harriette is the grandmother of Sharon Sullivan Olsen, my fellow family researcher,  who has shared her family memories and work with me as I have with her and to whom I am ever grateful.  The photos of Neil, Flora, Harriette and Laura are all courtesy of Sharon.



Laura Viola Martin

Laura Martin Acey

Laura , the youngest of the three Martin girls, was just seventeen that summer and four years away from her marriage to John M. Acey.   Having lost her father when she just thirteen, Laura and her mother, Elizabeth, found themselves struggling to survive their grief and to manage financially without Walton and the income of the sewing machine shops he and his father, Albert,  had owned and operated.  Elizabeth had to sell their property in Syracuse and by 1910…the year Laura became John Acey’s bride…Elizabeth was working as a servant in a private home in Syracuse.

John Acey was the brother of her Uncle Charles Martin’s wife, Julia.    Young John was a plumber and he and Laura moved into his widowed mother’s home on North Seward Avenue along with John’s unmarried sister, Ida.  John and Laura had one child, a son, Robert J. Acey.

Fancy Goods, Ashes and Renewal

Neil was remarkably happy that summer.  I say remarkably because that March, her cherished  store had been lost in a fire that completely destroyed the Columbus Block and Temple Building.  The fire began on March 27th in the basement of the Temple Building and was discovered about 8 PM.  Firefighters from as far away as Syracuse and Seneca Falls fought the blaze that continued to flare until well after 6 AM the following morning.  The fire spread through the basement and moved to the wood structure of the Columbus block.  Finding new energy in the wood material, the fire soon roared through the old building.  Neil’s “Fancy Goods” store was located in the Columbus building at 136 Genesee Street.

Syracuse Post Standard Headline March 1906

Heroically or foolishly, soot covered and her eyes tearing from the heat and smoke, she was able to move some of her inventory on her own through the late night while the firefighters fought the blaze.  Neil’s efforts to save her inventory and reports of her loss were published in several newspapers.  Her total loss was reported as $10,000 (roughly $250,000.00 in today’s US dollars), but Neil’s insurance would only cover $7,000 (about $173,000.00).

Undaunted, the fifty-one-year-old Neil opened her new store under the name “The Smart Shop” which was prudently located in a brick structure on 145 Genesee St.  In 2009 the building still stands where clothing and sundries are sold.  The trolley tracks and beautiful awnings are gone and the lovely fabrics and embellishments have been replaced by t shirts that declare the name of some band that was famous for ten minutes.  But I know when I go back home and walk down Genesee Street, Aunt Neil walks with me.   And if I am very quiet, I will hear the echo of girlish laughter and smell the faintest trace of lavender.

Deborah Martin-Plugh, her great grand niece

July 19, 2009

Author’s Note:

I tell this story because I did dream of Aunt Neil after an email chain of reminiscences and sentiments with Sharon Sullivan Olsen.  I grew up in Auburn in the 1950’s and 60’s and the downtown…as we called it…remained relatively the same as in Aunt Neil’s time.   Oh, the trolley tracks and cobbles were long covered with macadam and only a smattering of faded awnings were still sported by some shops…and one or two modernists had replaced the brick facades with shiny metal odes to outer space.  But, the frosted globe street lights still glowed in the evening…the citizenry less concerned with crime and safety and more content to stroll beneath a gentle radiance. And the merchants all knew one another as they did in Neil’s day.

As a teenager and college student,  I worked downtown in the 1960’s and felt as cared for as I did when I returned home to my mother in the evening.  One wintery night, I had the misfortune to lose my wallet on my way to the bus.  It was dark and cold and it was the last bus to take me on the 1 ½ mile trip home.  The bus door opened to let the waiting passengers on board and I stood there while everyone made their way to their seats.  I explained that I had no money…I had lost my wallet and without hesitation, the bus driver waved me in with a wink and told me to pay twice next time.  And I did.

This was Neil’s town and it was mine and I am happy to tell a bit of her story.   Though I had to fill in some blanks with my heart, her stores existed as did  Mr. Papadopoulus’ sweet shop and Mr. Curtis’ ice cream parlor.

These women are as real as I am and they are my family.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved