Last week, a storm brought 10 inches of snow to Western Maryland and turned my mind to snowmen of old.
In all probabilty, humans have sculpted snowmen for millenia. In 2007, Bob Eckstein, the author of The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market, told NPR that in writing his book, “I wanted to make it clear that snowman-making actually was a form of folk art. Man was making folk art like this for ages, and…maybe it’s one of man’s oldest forms of art…. [T]he further back you go, you find that people were really fascinated with snowmen.”
Eckstein says that building snowmen was “a very popular activity in the Middle Ages…after a snow came down and dumped all these free-art supplies in front of everyone’s house.” The earliest known representation of a snowman dates to that era, drawn in a 1380 A.D. Book of Hours. A century later, in 1494, Michelangelo was commissioned by Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Gran Maestro of Florence, to practice his art with snow. According to art historian Giorgio Vasari, “de’ Medici had him make in his courtyard a statue of snow, which was very beautiful.” Sadly, no one drew it for posterity.
In 1510, a Florentine apothecary, Lucas Landucci confided in his diary that he had seen “a number of the most beautiful snow-lions, as well as many nude figures…made also by good masters.” Another notable snowmen outbreak occurred just a year later, when folk in Brussels built more than 100 of them “in a public art installation known as the Miracle of 1511,” notes Atlas Obscura. “Their snowmen embodied a dissatisfaction with the political climate, not to mention the six weeks of below-freezing weather. The Belgians rendered their anxieties into tangible, life-like models: a defecating demon, a humiliated king, and womenfolk getting buggered six ways to Sunday. Besides your typical sexually graphic and politically riled caricatures, the Belgian snowmen, Eckstein discovered, were often parodies of folklore figures, such as mermaids, unicorns, and village idiots.”
On a sunny day in the winter of 1853/1854, early female photographer Mary Dillman Welby, then aged 37 and sister of the better-known photographer John Llewelyn Dillwyn of Penlle’r-gaer, Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom, captured the collodion glass-plate image seen at the top of this page. Hidden away in the National Museum of Wales, it was rediscovered by an historian researching extreme weather images who recognized it for what it was—the first photographed Frostie. Ω
“Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”—Beckwith’s Almanac
Harriet Leonard Hale, scion of an old and venerable New England family, was the third child and only daughter of Russell Hale. Hale was born 22 July, 1799, in Glastonbury, Hartford County, Connecticut, and died 13 April, 1849, in that same place. Harriet’s mother, Harriet Ely, was born 17 April, 1803, in Agawam, Massachusetts, and died 2 September, 1880. Russell was the son of Thomas Hale of Glastonbury (10 June, 1768–12 Feb., 1819) and Lucretia House (1771–24 September, 1835). The Hales descended from Samuel Hale, born 1 July, 1615, at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, England, who came to Connecticut as a young man, married Mary Smith in about 1642, and died in Glastonbury on 9 November, 1693.
Harriet Hale was born 14 April, 1833, in Glastonbury. Her two older brothers were Robert Ely (1827–1847) and Henry Russell (1830–1876). The 1850 Census of Glastonbury included Harriet Ely Hale as a widow, together with her daughter Harriet and her son Henry, a farmer. It is the only census that Harriet Hale Fox appeared on, as the one compiled a decade previously, when she was seven in 1840, listed the names of household heads only.
At age 18, Harriet wed blond, bearded, and bespectacled Henry Fox, a man twelve years her senior, on 5 October, 1851. He had been born in East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, 19 April, 1821, and was the son of Leonard Fox (1792–1866) and Hannah Nicholson (1795–1894). The Fox family had been in New England since emigrating from London in the 17th century. Members of the clan participated in the Revolutionary War, and Leonard Fox fought in the War of 1812.
The 1850 census of Hartford included Henry Fox, a cooper—a maker or repairer of barrels and casks—who dwelt on a farm with his parents; his brother Clement (b. 1817), who was also a cooper; sister Lucy A. (b. 1826); brother Leonard (b. 1825)—a burnisher; and sister Eliza (b. 1831).
It was at about this time that Henry went into business with his paternal cousin Dudley, the son of Solomon and Clarissa Low Fox. The cousins appear to have been exceptionally close all of their lives.
Dudley, who was born 8 May, 1823, was a silversmith and a tinner. In the early 1850s, the Hartford Courant ran adverts for H&D Fox, selling tinware and stoves out of a shop at 49 Main Street. Other adverts mention the sale of cleaning fluids, brass and sheet metal for bespoke projects, and cooking pots and pans.
After marrying, Henry and Harriet quickly produced two daughters—Lucy Ely (8 October, 1852-20 March, 1910) and Julia Helen (2 November, 1854-26 Feb., 1946). These little girls were aged just four and two when they lost their mother.
“As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger.”
The Wethersfield Ferry, now known as the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, is the oldest still operating in the United States. It began in 1655, more than a century before the founding of an independent nation, as a raft propelled by pole across the Connecticut River. Later, its movement was powered by a horse on a treadmill, and by steam after 1876. The ferry is today part of the Glastonbury-Rocky Hill Ferry Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The sixth of August, 1856, was a day busy with misfortune. Beckwith’s Almanac kept a running daily list of things that happened in the Hartford area—many of them macabre. For instance, on the sixth, “Patrick Sheridan, a well digger, and one of his assistants, were at work at the bottom of a well which they had been digging for a Mrs. Ely, in Fair Haven, when the earth suddenly gave way, and buried them with sand and stones nearly thirty feet below the surface.” In Hartford, “An unfinished house…belonging to Sam’l J. Tuttle, was set on fire and burned down.” The entry about Harriet reads: “The wife of Mr. Henry Fox, of Hockanum, was drowned at the crossing of the Wethersfield Ferry.”
Another, and almost completely erroneous report appeared in the 7 August Courant: “The steamer Granite State reports that as she was passing Glastonbury this afternoon, a woman by the name of Fox, wife of Henry Fox of Chester, either jumped or fell off the dock and was drowned.”
Thanks to court records of Fox vs. Town of Glastonbury, a suit in which Henry sued the town for negligence leading to Harriet’s death, the full and correct story of that day can be detailed. The scene was set by conditions reported in Beckwith’s Almanac: “Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”
In his opinion on the case, Judge David Curtis Sanders recounted, “An inlet from the Connecticut River, called the cove, runs up to the main land in the town of Glastonbury. About twenty-seven rods from its mouth, a highway had been laid through this cove to the Wethersfield ferry, and a causeway constructed thereon for the accommodation of public travel. The causeway…was raised about two feet above the ordinary surface of the water.”
Sanford continued, “The water in the cove, along the sides of the causeway, was ordinarily about one foot deep, but in times of freshet it frequently rose so high as to submerge the causeway, and render its passage perilous and sometimes impossible.”
According to the judge, at about 3 p.m., Harriet was at the reins of a horse and wagon, headed for the ferry crossing. With her was Dudley Fox’s wife Clarinda Grant, whom he had married in New Britain in 1844. Both women resided “about a half mile from the east end of the causeway.”
As noted by Beckwith’s, the river was swollen and turgid, and Judge Sanford writes that water was already covering the causeway. “The deceased and her companion stopped in front of the house of Mrs. French, a short distance from the causeway, but in full view of it, and there observed that the water was running over [it]…. The deceased inquired of Mrs. French whether people crossed there that day, to which Mrs. F. replied they had, but that she had not before noticed that the water was over the road. The deceased then inquired of Mrs. F. if she would dare to cross. Mrs. F. replied that she would be afraid, unless she had a very gentle horse; and the deceased remarked that their horse was perfectly gentle.”
Harriet then guided her wagon toward the causeway, where, according to Sanford, “the cove and the condition of the water in it could not have escaped their notice. They saw, and observed, that the causeway was entirely submerged, that a swift and strong current of turbid water was passing over it, that there was no rail or visible object of any kind, above the surface of the water, on the sides of the causeway, by which to be protected or guided in their course.”
In the middle of the causeway was a bridge raised about 2.5 feet from the level of the causeway. Sanford notes that the wagon made it to bridge, the water having been as high as “the hubs of the fore wheels of wagon.” What occurred next could only have been recounted by Clarinda to the court, as only she was privy to it: “On the bridge they stopped, noticed and remarked on the height of the water and the rapidity of its current, and felt some degree of alarm, but concluded to proceed. As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger and became frightened; the horse stopped; they urged him forward with the whip, and becoming more frightened, they probably tried to turn around and went off the causeway, nearly at right angle with it, into the deep water on the north side.”
The wagon sunk—Harriet, Clarinda, and the horse with it. Two boys in a boat nearby saw the incident and managed to haul Clarinda from the river, but it was too late for Harriet.
Judge Sanford opined that although “a majority of us are of the opinion that the town had been culpably negligent” for not erecting a fence or railing along the causeway as was demanded by law, the court found that “however negligent the defendants may have been, the unfortunate woman who lost her life contributed to the production of that result by her own culpable imprudence and indiscretion.” Harriet and Clarinda had “voluntarily assumed the risks and all the consequences,” the court concluded. One can imagine what a stinging slap this was for the widower and father, Henry Fox.
The body of 23-year-old Harriet was buried in Glastonbury’s Green Cemetery. She sleeps there today, beneath a weathered stone, with Henry by her side. Her husband would live another two decades before he joined her.
“Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork.”
By 1860, Henry had returned to his family home. The census enumerated him with his parents, Leonard and Hannah, as well as his brother Leonard, Jr., who was a mariner, and his daughter Lucy, aged 7. Henry listed his occupation as schoolteacher; his business with cousin Dudley ended some years before. Henry’s second daughter, Julia, was not with the rest of her family in 1860. She lived up the street with Dudley, Clarinda, and their young daughter for a number of years—why this was so is unknown.
In 1854, Dudley Fox had built a fine house at 177 Naubuc Avenue in East Hartford, “producing tin, pewter, and silver-plated goods from a small shop next to his home,” notes a Rootsweb site on American silversmiths. “The inventory of the full contents of the shop found in the East Hartford Land Records dated January 20, 1868, reads, ‘17 Rolls of Stock about 1,300 lbs. in the front of Store also 15 Rolls of Stock 1000 lbs. in Back Room together with 500 lbs scrapes or cuttings. 5 shelves of wooden chucks. 3 Lathes in Running order, one Large Press & Die, One Small Press & Dies, One Drop Press & Dies, One Large Press Down Seller, Two Squaring Shears, One Small Laze Folding Machine, One Drop Press down below, 2 Melting Kettles, also Sett of Copper or Brass Molds for Castings.’”
Additionally, Dudley was postmaster for Hockanum from 12 May, 1865, to 27 November, 1867. During this tenure, to comply with an 1860 federal requirement that stamps be thoroughly cancelled to prevent reuse, Dudley created a whimsical running fox that is beloved by philatelists today.
W. J. Duffney has written extensively about Dudley and his running fox, however, in his work, Duffney misidentified Julia as the daughter of Dudley and Clarinda, rather than that they served as Julia’s foster parents after her mother drowned. The second cousin mentioned by Duffney, “Mrs. Baker…who for a time lived with [Dudley’s] family,” was Julia Fox after her marriage to Isaiah Baker, Jr. (6 June, 1856-30 Nov., 1923).
Duffney reports, “In 1920, collector J. Arthur Ritchie wrote to Hockanum requesting answers to a series of questions that he proposed. It was about this time that the Running Fox fancy cancellation first came to public attention. Isaiah Baker, Jr., sent a short but informative response to the query. He wrote that ‘Mrs. Baker [said that] Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork, striking same on a pad of black ink and cancelling stamps on envelopes. She knows they quickly wore out, or the eyes of the fox would fill, and he was very fussy about having that clear, so new ones were frequently made.’”
When Dudley Fox died in Hartford, aged 66, on August 23, 1889, “His funeral was a rather large event. Organizations of which he was a member — the Putnam Phalanx, the Eastern Star Lodge, the Improved Order of Red Men, the Masonic Lodge of East Hartford, and St. Thomas’s Church—had representatives serve as bearers. Fellow jewelers of the city closed their shops in his honor and the flag on the Putnam Phalanx Armory flew at half mast. It was said that Dudley would be long remembered, and he has been, not just for his ‘frank and open-hearted’ character, but for making the marvelous Running Fox fancy cancellations,” Duffney noted.
In 1870, the census of Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut, enumerated Henry Fox as a coal dealer. Both daughters were with him, grown into teenagers. Also listed in the household was “Hattie B.,” a new Mrs. Fox. She was Harriet King Bidwell (1833–1902), eldest daughter of farmer Julius Bidwell (1805–26 Feb., 1889) and his wife Rhoda Cook (16 Dec., 1810-8 Nov., 1863). Hattie was baptized 2 July, 1837, at an East Hartford Congregationalist church by the Rev. Mr. Spring.
From the censuses, we know that Henry did not marry Hattie before 1860, and that he was her spouse by 1870. Their union lasted less than a decade. The Courant reported the “sudden” death of Henry Fox on 8 June, 1874, at the rather ironically named Deep River, Middlesex County. He was 53.
Before 1880, Hattie Bidwell Fox relocated to Massachusetts, where she worked as a dressmaker in Holyoke. She died at age 69 and is buried in Green Cemetery, although not with her husband and the first Harriet.
After their father passed away, both Lucy and Hannah became schoolteachers. On March 10, 1881, Julia married Isaiah Baker. He was a member of the Masonic Order, who served as an officer of the rather pompously named Charter Oak Lodge of Perfection in Hartford. Lucy married insurance agent Charles McCloud Webster (b. 1847) on 13 September, 1882. Julia and Isaiah had two children—Helen Eunisa (1885–1959) and Leverett Chase (1892–1975). Lucy and Charles had four children—Raymond Wing (b. 1884), Harold McCloud (b. 1886); Zulette Hale (b. 1888); and Florence Pease (b. 1892). Ω
“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The above daguerreotype, which includes a 20th-Century handwritten note indicating it was once held in the collection of the Ossining, New York Historical Society, shows Avis Burr Wooster in about the fifty-fifth year of her life.
Avis was born on 26 May, 1796, in Southbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, in the ember glow of a hot century that had seen Connecticut change from a British colony to a sovereign state inside a new nation. By the time the Revolution exploded, Southbury was already a venerable place, having been established on land bought from the Paugusset tribe in 1659. The area remains much as it was in Avis’s day: rural, agricultural, quiet.
The Burr family’s transplantation to the New World was courtesy of Jehue Burr, born in about 1605, who sailed with Governor Winthrop to Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1630. Jehue eventually removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, and planted the seeds of a lineage that would include the noted vice president and unfortunate dualist Aaron Burr. Avis’s line was through Jehue’s son Nathaniel (1635-1712) to Avis’s great-great-grandfather Colonel John Burr (1673-1750) to her great-grandfather Captain John Burr (1698-1752) to her grandfather of the same name and rank (1728-1771), who married Eunice Booth (abt. 1728-bef. 1786) circa 1750.
Avis’s father, William Burr (23 June, 1762-28 Jan., 1841), lost his own father tragically when he was less than ten years old. According to the parish record of Stratfield, on 28 July, 1771, “Capt. John Burr, a farmer, son of…John Burr, was killed by lightning at the old Pequonnock meeting-house…. The congregation was standing in prayer. Parson Rose stopped praying, and after a pause he uttered the following words, ‘Are we all here?’ When the congregation moved out it was found that David Sherman and John Burr were dead. They were both in the prime of life, with families (the very pick of the flock). There was no rod on the steeple at that time.”
A mere five years thereafter, when the Revolution began, teenaged William Burr joined the Connecticut Militia, enlisting on 1 April, 1776. His pension files, included in the tome Revolutionary War Records of Fairfield, Connecticut, indicate that his postings were many and varied, and that he served for a time as a substitute for another man, Andrew Curtiss. One of Burr’s postings was to the “Battery at Black Rock,” or Black Rock Fort in New Haven, later Fort Nathan Hale. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution note, “Fort Hale is situated upon an insulated rock, two miles from the end of Long Wharf, New Haven…. The Americans [had] a battery of three guns upon this point, which greatly annoyed the enemy when landing.” Many years later, Aaron Turney of Fairfield attested that in 1779, Burr was 1st sergeant at the battery and second-in-command under Captain Jarvis. Burr appears to have left military service sometime in 1780.
Having reached manhood during the fight for independence, Burr beat his sword into a plowshare, marrying Sarah Hubbell (1770-1857), the daughter of Jeremiah (1725-1801) and Sarah (1724-1775) Hubbell, on 23 November, 1786. The above-cited pension records include testimony by friend Aner Wheeler, who was “born and lived in Sarah’s neighborhood, and knew her from childhood,” that she “saw William Burr and Sarah Hubbell married in Huntington in the fall of 1786” by Congregational Minister Rev. Elisha Rexford.
The couple was blessed with a multitude of children whose names and dates of birth were presented by Sarah Hubbell Burr during her attempts to gain a pension increase and land bounty based on her husband’s service. Although it may at first seem tedious to list them, doing so illustrates the spacing between infants that was either natural to, or practiced by this American family, and is illustrative of the sibling maelstrom in which Avis Burr was raised: Alvan (1788); Abigail (1790); Sally (1792); Betsey (1794); Avis (1797); Olive (1800); George (1803); Erastus (1805); Eliza (1808); Harry (1811); and William, Jr. (1814).
As is sadly the case with bygone women, there is little to fill the story of Avis’s days until 15 November, 1820, when she married farmer Russell Wooster (b. 25 April, 1791) in Southbury. Wooster was the son of Joseph Wooster (abt. 1743-1819) and Hannah Woodruff (abt. 1755-1835). He was descended from the early immigrant Edward Wooster, born in 1622 in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, who became the first permanent settler of Derby, Connecticut, and died there 8 July, 1689.
Whilst running a prosperous farm (the value of the real estate was $6,000 in 1870), Russell and Avis had four children: William Burr (1821-1900); Cynthia Cordelia (21 Dec., 1824-17 Aug., 1868); Samuel R. (22 April, 1830-5 Feb., 1906); and Avis Amanda (1839-1889).
Avis’s eldest daughter Cynthia—whose strong resemblance to her mother is evident in the photo below—married Thomas Merwin Downs (15 July, 1823-19 Feb., 1874) on New Year’s Day 1845. Downs, also pictured below, was the son of Henry Downs and Sarah Ann Botsford. He was listed on the 1850 Census as a farmer, and on both the 1860 and 1870 censuses as a “laborer.” By the latter enumeration, two years after his wife’s death, he had amassed $5,500 in real estate and $3,000 in personal wealth. The couple had three children: Imogene Amanda (5 Sept., 1847-12 May, 1881), Wilber Russell, and Avis Elena (b. abt. 1866-aft. 1931). The circumstances of Cynthia Wooster Downs’s death are unknown, but she was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia, Connecticut. Her husband would remarry, but have no further offspring.
Cynthia Cordelia Wooster
Thomas Merwin Downs
Avis and Russell’s second daughter Amanda lived with Cynthia’s widow Merwin, presumably undertaking the duty of replacement mother for her sister’s children until Merwin married again. She left the Downs’ residence by 1872, when she wed the widowed Joseph White Naramore (1827-1898), the son of William White Naramore and Mary Lyman. Naramore’s first wife, Amelia Wallace, died in 1870. Naramore listed his profession in 1860 as a machinist and in 1870 and 1880 a pin maker with $5,000 in real estate and $2,000 in personal property.
Amanda and Joseph had two daughters: Amelia Wooster (b. 1874) and Harriet Avis (b. 1875). Harriet never married and remained her mother’s companion all her life. Amelia married Harrison Abram Cornell, Jr., a fire insurance agent in Ossining, New York. They had three children: Marguerite E. Cornell (1901-1940); Joseph Naramore Cornell (b. 1904); and Greta A. Cornell (1911-1997). As was noted at the start of this article, my daguerreotype of Avis Burr Wooster was formerly in the collection of the Ossining Historical Society, and by this connection that mystery is solved: one of the Cornells certainly made the original donation.
Joseph Naramore died in 1898 in Derby, and was laid to rest at Oak Cliff Cemetery beside his first wife. In 1900, Amanda and Harriet were living with her brother Dr. Samuel Wooster, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By 1910, Samuel had passed away and Amanda and Harriet returned to Connecticut. Twenty years later, the 1930 Census found the pair living in Park Street. Amanda died in 1933, aged 96, the last survivor of Avis and Russell Wooster’s brood. Harriet died in Hamden, Connecticut, 6 December, 1957, and is also buried in Oak Cliff.
“Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings.”
On 1 June, 1858, Wooster married Josephine Ella Godfroy, who was born 28 February, 1837, in Michigan, to Detroit native Richard Godfroy and his Canadian wife Anne Lewis. Samuel and Josephine had one daughter, Louise D. Wooster, born in January 1860.
During the Civil War, Samuel Wooster was first attached as an assistant surgeon to the 8th Michigan 8th Volunteer Infantry, which, according to the unit’s Record of Service, was mustered 23 September, 1861, in Detroit.
With the regiment, Wooster saw service as part of Sherman’s Expeditionary Corps, including “a severe engagement with the enemy on Wilmington Island [and] at Secessionville on James Island, the regiment distinguished itself by a bayonet charge upon the enemy’s works, and though their ranks were swept by the enemy’s artillery, not a gun was fired until the parapet was reached.” The cost of this gallant rush on the Union side, noted the 8th’s record of service, was 13 dead, 98 wounded, 35 taken prisoner, and 36 missing.
Wooster saw the injured as they were offloaded at a wayside surgery that was hastily established. The soldiers were triaged in order to save those who had a real chance. This would become the process during the major conflagrationary battles of the war in which Wooster was a surgeon, including Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam, to name the most famous scenes of carnage—as well as many smaller, bloody affairs across a wide swath of nation busily consuming its own.
The noted Stanley B. Burns, MD, wrote in Surgery in the Civil War, “Military surgeons learned to amputate and perform a wide variety of procedures as they were actively engaged in conflicts…. Few were mentally or physically prepared, on either side, for what was to come.” Unfortunately, sterilization was unknown and unpracticed, and those who might otherwise have survived perished of post-operative infections. “Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings. Knives were often held in the mouth and sutures were wet with saliva,” Burns noted.
Another Union surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston Adams of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is the only medical officer to be honored on Gettysburg battlefield. “On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the doctor set up a rude field hospital close to the line of battle. (One flat rock that was used as a surgical table is still there.) Adams had noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care. Because he began treating patients so quickly and near the fighting, the 1895 plaque reads ‘many of our wounded escaped capture or death,’” noted his great-grandson Mitchell L. Adams during a lecture covered by the Harvard Review. “Adams…labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg—up for two days and three nights—that he was blind with exhaustion. In 1864, he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness and captured by Confederate forces. His left leg shattered, he lingered untreated for weeks. Gangrene set in, but Adams treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into the wound.”
After serving with the 8th Massachusetts, Samuel Wooster was commissioned as a full surgeon with the Michigan 1st Calvary, into which he mustered 11 April, 1863. He rose to the position of brigade surgeon in July of that year while on duty at General George Custer’s headquarters. He was made surgeon-in-chief of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Brigade from 15 September, 1863, then was appointed an acting staff surgeon by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. During this final posting, Wooster served in field and hospital practice, the Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: A Historical Account states.
After the war, Wooster practiced for a time in Muskegon, but returned to Grand Rapids in 1871. In 1874, he was one of Kent County’s two coroners, a city physician and health officer of Grand Rapids in 1880, and president of the Kent County Medical Society in 1889.
By 1900, Samuel, Josephine, and Louise lived with his sister Amanda Wooster Naramore and niece Harriett at 165 Jefferson Street, Grand Rapids. A few years later, on 1 June, 1905, at age of 45, Louise Wooster married William Cary, who was employed by a local glass factory.
In one of Fate’s weird twists, Dr. Samuel Wooster died 5 February, 1906, during an operation for chronic cystitis that sent him into shock. He was aged 75 years, nine months, and 16 days. The old doctor was buried in the mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Grand Rapids. Josephine died 20 November, 1922, after a fracture of her right hip, and was buried in the vault with her husband. Their daughter Louise died 12 March, 1950, aged 90.
“He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery.”
The Wooster’s eldest son, William, began his life “until early manhood…following the plow and tilling the soil upon his father’s farm, teaching school in the surrounding districts during the winter months,” wrote John W. Storrs in the Twentieth Connecticut: A Regimental History.
Wooster had been educated at the South Britain Academy and later Yale Law School, after which he was admitted to the bar in 1846. As the 1850s progressed and his law career grew successful, his thoughts turned to politics: In 1858, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives from the town of Derby, and in 1859 he was voted to the Connecticut Senate; in 1861, he returned to the Connecticut House. “In politics he has been a Republican from the outset, and the honesty and uprightness of his political views have been exemplified in every step of his career,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut.
William Wooster was a strong abolitionist and he viewed the war as a righteous blow to end slavery, but he was also unsure that he was fit to command men. Almost year after his younger brother had joined up, William had not gone into uniform. At last, in early September 1862, he received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Together, this group “left behind them the green hills of their fathers, left with them also their mothers, their wives, their children, and sweethearts with heroic bosoms swelling with patriotic devotion…. But alas! with a very inadequate idea as to what was to be the cost thereof,” Storrs lamented.
During in early May 1863, Wooster was in command of the 20th Connecticut during the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia—an engagement during which “two horses were shot out from under him and his sword taken,” reported the Ansonia Valley Post. He was captured and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, the Confederate capital.
“Libby takes in the captured Federals by scores, but lets none out; they are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines,” described the Richmond Enquirer in February 1864.
Wooster was paroled in a prisoner exchange in time to command the 20th Connecticut at Gettysburg as part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. The monument to the 20th Connecticut’s heroics during the three-day battle tells the tale: “The [brigade] formed on this line on the morning of July 2nd. At eve it moved to the support left of army. Returning, it found the position and woods on rear occupied by Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Corps. During the night it lay in line of battle. At dawn, July 3rd, the 20th Conn. advanced under cover of artillery and fought 5 [hours], driving the enemy and reoccupying the works. Was relieved by the 123rd N.Y. In the afternoon moved to support the 2nd Corps against Longstreet’s assault.” The 20th Connecticut suffered the loss of 28 men and upwards of 70 wounded.
On 8 March, 1864, Wooster accepted a colonelcy with the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Colored, the state’s first black regiment. “He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut. “But it required great moral courage not less than loyalty to one’s convictions, to assume the leadership of a regiment of colored men even in 1864. All honor is due to Colonel Wooster for the frankness and manliness of his course.”
When the new unit paraded in New Haven, one of the soldiers, J. J. Hill, recalled, “White and colored ladies and gentlemen grasped me by the hand, with tears streaming down their cheeks…expressing the hope that we might have a safe return.” Even so, the unit had much to fight against—not only the Confederacy, which held an estimated 4 million slaves, but also the bias and bigotry of a Northern white society skeptical that blacks could be effective soldiers.
The unit went south to Virginia, where it fought admirably to capture Fort Harrison, not far from Richmond. Then, “On October 13, the regiment participated in a scouting mission which led to the Battle of the Darbytown Road, and two weeks later the men pushed the Confederate army back at the Battle of Kell House, which resulted in over 150 casualties and many captured soldiers,” states a well-researched article on the history of the regiment at Connecticut History.
Frederick Chesson of the 29th wrote of Richmond’s fall, “We began to realize as we had not till then . . . that this was one of the great days of the Lord. Right out there in the open in sight of the flaming city we went wild with excitement. We yelled, we cheered, we sang, we prayed, we wept, we hugged each other and threw up our hats.” As it would happen, Wooster and his colored 29th were the first to enter the Confederate capital—the irony must have been great.
After the Union victory, the 29th was sent to Brazos de Santiago, Texas, arriving in July, 1865. Wooster stayed until the unit was settled, then mustered out in August. A law practice back in green Connecticut beckoned. He became a partner with Wooster, Williams & Gager then paymaster general of the State of Connecticut in 1867. In later years, Wooster was president of the Derby Gas Company and the Birmingham Water Company.
At census time, 1870, William Wooster, aged 48, lived alone in an upscale rooming house in Birmingham, Connecticut, but later that year he married 37-year-old Jemima A. Wallace, known as “Jay,” who was born in New York 11 October, 1833, daughter of the prominent industrialist and English immigrant Thomas Wallace. Her father’s company, Thomas Wallace & Sons, was founded in Ansonia in 1848 and incorporated in 1853. It produced rolled metals, drawing wire, and finished items such as library lamps until 1895.
The Woosters traveled extensively after their marriage, spending several years in Europe. William’s passport application gives us a glimpse of him at age 60: 5’6-1/2″, with a high forehead, blue eyes, a Roman nose, small mouth, medium chin, and brown hair shot with grey.
On 21 September, 1900, the Ansonia Valley Post reported, “Colonel William B. Wooster died suddenly at his home…from apoplexy. He attended a Grand Army celebration in New Britain yesterday, and came home last night in his usual good health. Shortly after arising this morning he was taken ill and died within an hour.” His wife survived until 23 March, 1927.
Avis Burr Wooster, the mother who bore hero sons, herself the daughter of a revolutionary patriot, had predeceased William and Samuel by nearly twenty years, dying 17 September, 1881, aged 86. She and her husband, Russell, who died 23 April, 1877, are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia. I am saddened that I cannot tell her story more fully at this time and have some concerns about the latter years of her life. The 1880 census placed her at age 83 in Derby, keeping house for Ira Bliss and Emma J. (Lines) Newcomb. The connection of this couple to Avis remains unclear, as does why her two successful, wealthy sons did not house her, but this absence of facts should not impugn their characters until further research is undertaken. Ω
These people are identified by inscriptions, yet their stories remain stubbornly untold—at least for now.
This beautiful carte de visite (CDV) is identified on the reverse as “Elise Von Rodenstein.” When I purchased it, I had great hopes of uncovering a full biography, but this has not yet happened. The first problem I encountered was not knowing whether the snood-wearing, polka dot-dressed mother or the equally polka-dotted child was Elise. If the infant, she may have been the Elise Von Rodenstein born in 1865 or 1866 in Fort Washington, New York, United States, to German immigrant Charles Von Rodenstein and his American wife, Elise Briggs. I am skeptical of this, however, as I can find no connection to Scotland.
Elise von Rodenstein’s potential mother, Elise Briggs, was enumerated on the 1881 Census of Kingston City, Ontario, Canada, with her six Von Rodenstein children. (Interestingly, half of the children were Catholics and the other half adherents of the Church of England.) The census said that Elise Briggs was born about 1833 in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. In 1890, Elise and her children’s enumeration escaped the conflagration that destroyed most of the decade’s U.S. Census. In that year, Elise Briggs lived in Washington, D.C., with one of her other daughters. She was also likely the same woman who died in Manhattan, New York City, 28 October, 1920, aged 88.
Elise Von Rodenstein became a nun. In 1910, she was at the Sacred Heart Convent and Loretta Sisters Schools in St. Charles, Missouri, working as a teacher, By 1915, she taught at the Academy of the Sacred Heart at University Avenue and 174th Street, New York City. Between 1920 and 1930, Elise was a nun at the Convent and Academy of the Sacred Heart in Rochester, New York. She eventually became Mother Superior of a Philadelphia convent and died there of acute coronary occlusion on 9 March, 1961.
The photographer of this CDV is quite well known. Thomas Rodger (1832-1883) studied at St. Andrews University, learned to produce the silver iodide-coated paper calotypes introduced in 1841, and became an assistant at Lord Kinnaird’s studio in Rossie Priory.
During the 1850s, Rodger won multiple awards for his photographic achievements, and in 1877 he was given the International Photographic Exhibition Medal.
Written inside the case of this delightful daguerreotype is “W. K. Brown, 45 yrs old; Wife, 41 years old; Minnie, 2 years old.”
Every time I look at baby Minnie’s grumpy face I can imagine her thoughts: “I hate my dress! I hate my boots! I hate my spit curls! And you behind that big box on sticks—I. Hate. You. Too!”
I’ve looked to no avail for a Minnie Brown born between about 1848 and 1855. There are a few W. K. Browns and hundreds of W. Browns—William Browns, Wilhelm Browns, Walter Browns, Wilfred Browns, Wesley Browns—but none with a daughter named Minnie. If Mrs. Brown’s first name had been part of the inscription, I might have been able to suss out the family’s traces. Doing so may still be possible as more records come online. Until then, at least I can smile at eternally cranky Miss Minnie.
“Wife of Hugh Holmes” is written on reverse of this melancholy CDV. Assuming the heartbroken subject wore mourning for her spouse, I have looked into records of a number of men. The most promising was Hugh P. Holmes of Maine, who was born in 1833 and who died of Typhoid in August 1861, one month into his service with the 7th Regiment, Maine Volunteer Infantry. However, I can find no record of a marriage for this man. Hugh Holmes’s father filed a pension claim on his son many years later, but no widow is listed in the paperwork.
Another possibility is that Mrs. Holmes was not in mourning for her spouse, but for another close family member. This may indeed be more likely because Mrs. Holmes’s bonnet does not include white inner ruching signifying a widow. However, this practice was less common in the United States than in Great Britain. If this Mrs. Holmes did not mourn a spouse, it will be nearly impossible to identify her. Ω
A happy New Year, Gentle Readers. May 2017 be kind to all your clan!
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.
—1788 poem by Robert Burns set to the tune of a traditional folk song.
The daguerreotype may have been taken to mark Pressey’s official coming of age in 1856.
This gorgeous and all-but-pristine daguerreotype portrays Charles Wilber Pressey, most likely at the age of 21. Handsome, jaunty, and possessed of a fetching chapeau, the image may have been taken to reflect Pressey’s official coming of age. He was born in 7 June, 1835, in Sandown, New Hampshire. If my supposition is correct, this image can be dated to the summer of 1856.
The Presseys were New Hampshire natives, having descended from the immigrant John Pressey who arrived in Hampton, New Hampshire, in about 1650. Charles Pressey’s birthplace is in the southeast of Rockingham County, named for Sandown on England’s Isle of Wight. Today’s population is about 6,000. It was smaller in Pressey’s time, although the tranquility and introspection was most likely the same.
The most prominent structure in Sandown was the Meeting House, built by the first minister of Sandown, the Reverend Josiah Cotton, in 1774, and was a focal point for both civic and religious activities. Today, this simple, sturdy building is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places.
“While the town as a whole has been largely ignored by the outside world, its meetinghouse has gained a marked degree of notoriety. Sandown is credited by many with possessing the finest meetinghouse in New Hampshire—and there are those who would go so far as to say the finest in America,” wrote Richard Holmes in A View from Meeting House Hill. “The praise of outsiders, while always appreciated, is not the chief reason that the townspeople honor this building. To the residents of Sandown, this old building is the encapsulation of their town’s entire history, for within its walls has passed the pageant of the community’s past. For 155 years, the good men and women of Sandown gathered at this building to set their own taxes and to draft their own laws. This building was, to a great extent, the capitol of a small, semi-autonomous republic operating inside New Hampshire.”
Little is known of Charles Pressey’s father, Henry Moulton Pressey, save the barest bones. He was born 7 August, 1806, in Sandown, to Peter Pressey and Bettey Moulton. Peter Pressey died insolvent in October 1823, with debts to a long list of local citizens. Settling the estate included the sale of $280 in real estate to satistfy Peter’s creditors.
On 25 November, 1830, in Freemont, Rockingham County, Henry Pressey married Mary Ingalls (1805-1858), called “Polly.” Their first child was Mary Eliza, born in about 1833 with Charles Wilber following two years after. Another son, Albert A., was born in 1844.
Henry Pressey died 28 April, 1848, at the age of 41, likely of Tuberculosis (TB). Two years later, when the 1850 Census was enumerated, Charles and Albert, along with their mother, dwelt with maternal grandparents Samuel and Betsy Ingalls—both born in 1775 in New Hampshire—on a farm in Sandown. The location in 1850 of Charles’s sister Mary is not known, but neither she nor his mother Polly lived out the decade. Their lives were eaten away by TB, known then as the “White Death” and “Consumption.” Mary died 11 October, 1855, and Polly passed away 17 October, 1858. Sandwiched between those two deaths was 7 June, 1856—Charles’s 21st birthday. It is possible that the daguerreotype in my collection marks this attainment and may have been made as a gift for Polly.
To sit for his picture, Charles likely traveled to Exeter, where John Plumbe, Jr., set up a studio and school in the early 1840s. Barbara Rimkunas wrote in the “Historically Speaking” column of the Exeter News-Letter of 17 September, 2013, “In 1841, advertisements for ‘Mr. Plumbe, Professor of Photography’ began running in the Exeter News-Letter. Mr. Plumbe ‘proposes to instruct a limited number of Ladies and gentlemen in this beautiful and valuable art, who will be furnished with complete sets of the improved patent apparatus, by means of which any one may be enabled to take a likeness in an ordinary room without requiring any peculiar adjustment of the light.’ The technology must have seemed near-miraculous to many people, since Mr. Plumbe had to explain that ‘the process is simple; it requires no acquaintance with chemistry and no knowledge of drawing or painting, for the light engraves itself upon the prepared plate.’…. Exeter’s early photographers—Thomas Boutelle, George Sawyer, the Davis Brothers, and William Hobbs—set up shops all along Water Street.”
Pressey chose as his bride Clementine Wood Sleeper, a cousin and a widow one year older, who brought a young son to the marriage.
The 1860 Census, taken in July, placed Charles Pressey at a Sandown box mill, while his 16-year-old younger brother dwelt with his Ingalls grandparents on their farm. If Charles was living away from his remaining family, he would not be alone for long. His eye had alighted on a pretty cousin who had suffered a tragic blow and Charles was resolved to marry her.
Clementine Wood Sleeper was a young widow one year older. Called “Clemmie” by her family, she was born 3 April, 1834, the daughter of Joseph Gardner and Polly Pressey Wood, a paternal relation of Charles Pressey—and one of those to whom his grandfather Peter had once owed money.
In 1855, Clementine married as her first husband Joseph C. Sleeper, son of James and Sally Sleeper of Sandown. The young couple had a child, Edwin Sidney Sleeper, born in Freemont, New Hampshire, 12 November, 1856. Clementine’s husband committed suicide at the Matteson House, a high-class hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on 9 January, 1858. Why he was in that city and what drove him to his desperate act is unknown.
It is likely that Charles and Clementine had known each other all their lives—they were related and their hometown was small. Whether Charles had feelings for Clementine before or during her marriage to Joseph Sleeper is speculation, as is that a man like Charles, who had lost so many of his own family so tragically, might be drawn to comfort a grieving widow, then woo her.
However it came to pass, Clementine Sleeper married Charles Pressey on 28 November, 1860, in the town of Hampstead, which borders Sandown. Charles adopted little Edwin Sleeper as his own. For the rest of Edwin’s life he used the surname Pressey and Charles was always stated as his father, not his stepfather. Many years later, he would be listed in the 1916 Who’s Who in New England as Edwin Sidney Pressey.
“A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age.”
Although a Charles A. Pressey served as sergeant in Company A, Regular Army 19th Infantry, a Charles O. Pressey joined Company I, Indiana 9th Infantry, and a plain Charles Pressey of Company G, 10th Maine Infantry, died during the Battle of Antietam, our Charles Wilber Pressey did not join up during the U.S. Civil War. For a Union man, conscription did not exist until the Draft Act of 1863, but even then single men were conscripted before husbands. Moreover, all drafted men could hire a substitute or pay $300 in lieu of service.
However, Charles’s brother Albert did enlist. On 26 September, 1862, at Concord, the 19-near-old became a private in Company K, 15th New Hampshire Infantry, headed by Colonel John W. Kingman, which mustered for a nine-month stint of service. Charles McGregor, company historian, noted in his Regimental History of the Fifteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, “This was the very darkest period of the war. It was the first regiment of New Hampshire’s quota in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 nine months’ men. A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age…. It is understood that the nine months’ men were raised for a special purpose—as an auxiliary to our struggling armies already in the field, and to enable them to strike the rebellion a staggering and fatal blow.”
Company K went south to Louisiana—probably as foreign a place to Sandown as Albert Pressey could have imagined. The company became part of Sherman’s Division, Department of the Gulf, and participated in the 48-day siege and military assault on Port Hudson in the the summer of 1863, which was the Union’s final engagement in the campaign to recapture the Mississippi.
After Port Hudson surrendered, the men of the 15th New Hampshire “boarded the steamer City of Madison for Cairo, Illinois, thence to Chicago,” wrote McGregor. “From Chicago and through New York, the regiment enjoyed a continuous ovation. Arrived at Concord at about noon of Saturday, the 8th, and was mustered out on the 13th of August.”
A few months later, on 26 November, Albert wed Amelia A. Moore, daughter of John and Alice Moore, in the town of Derry, near Sandown, and would spend the first part of their married lives there. The couple had a farm and a baby daughter, Mary Ann, by 1870. They would have at least five more children, but only three survived infancy—Lyndall E. (1872-1964), William M. (1874-1942), and Bertha M. (b. 1882). Later, Albert Pressey worked as a stableman in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and eventually moved to a Hampstead farm established by his son William. He received a Civil War veteran’s pension and died aged 77 on 9 August, 1920.
“The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face often has the appearance of extreme age.”
In 1867, Charles and Clementine welcomed their first child, a son named Henry Mahlon Pressey, but the boy died aged one year, five months, and 17 days on 15 September, 1868. It was a horrible and heartbreaking twist of fate, and for Charles, it may have painfully echoed the death of the baby’s namesake. Little Henry’s death record states that he perished of Cholera Infantum, an acuteinfectiousenteritis where death comes after severediarrheaand vomiting leads toextremefluidandelectrolytedepletion.
The disease’s progress was described in The Eclectic Practice of Medicine with Especial Reference to the Treatment of Disease, written in 1910 by Dr. Finley Ellingwood: “The diarrhea is at first muco-purulent, soon becoming watery, and amounts to purging. The stools are voided with force, and vary in number from ten to fifty in twenty-four hours, and are alkaline in reaction. Vomiting occurs, and may soon become nearly incessant.
“The pulse is rapid and weak; the temperature taken in the rectum may be found to be as high as 105° to 106° F., while the peripheral temperature may be low. The tongue becomes red and dry; there is intense thirst. The urine is scanty or it may be suppressed. The skin has a mottled appearance from poor capillary circulation; the extremities are usually cold. The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face has often the appearance of extreme age. The eyelids are but partly closed, the mouth is open, and the fontanels are depressed. Not only is prostration present from the beginning, but signs of profound toxemia are are marked. Toward the end of fatal cases the breathing is irregular and the head retracted; the temperature is sub-normal, or there may be hyperpyrexia. Death may occur in twenty-four hours.”
Their baby was gone, but the theme of resurgence strongly marked the chapters of Charles Pressey’s life. By the 8 June enumeration of the 1870 Census there was a new son, Charles Park Pressey (b. 25 November, 1869). In 1872, the Presseys—a unit of four again—moved the short distance to Hampstead where their boy, known as Park, would thrive, where they took up farming, and where they would become established as well-respected and noted citizens.
In 1880, the census enumerated Charles and Clementine on their farm with Edwin, aged 23, and Park, aged 10. Also living with them was Clementine’s father Joseph A. Wood, aged 77; her mother Polly, aged 76; and her brother Clarence, who was aged 28 and a commercial miller.
In February 1880, there was a rare glimpse of Clementine Pressey chaperoning the town youth at a meeting of The Ladies’ Sociable where there were “various games, charades, recitations, readings, and singing,” according to A Memorial of the Town of Hampstead, New Hampshire, Vol. II, by Harriette Noyes.
During the years 1880 to 1900, Pressey was elected a member of the Trustees of Hampstead High School and after his election on 31 December, 1884, became a deacon of the Congregational Church. His company, C. W. Pressey & Co.,was a general lumber business and manufactured wooden boxes in the town from about 1872 to 1892. In 1900, he was elected a Rockingham County commissioner.
Charles made an appearance in a June 1890 court case concerning the town of Hampstead’s ability to establish a new cemetery. The New Hampshire Reports, Vol. LXVI’ssummary of Eastman v. Hampstead reveals that a four-acre lot was purchased and the deed delivered to the town. However, when the selectmen went to lay out the new cemetery they found that “across the highway, on land owned by Charles W. Pressey, one of the cemetery committee, was a dwelling-house occupied by George Wyman. Wyman had a contract with Pressey for the purchase of the house and land, and objected to the laying out of the cemetery within 20 rods [110 yards] of it. At this time, Pressey notified the selectmen of Wyman’s objection, and informed them that he could not consent to laying out the cemetery within 20 rods of the dwelling-house.”
The issue was resolved by paying Pressey and Wyman $100 for a release to build the graveyard no closer than ten rods to the house and the laying out progressed with lots no closer than 20 rods. The money was fronted by Selectman Josiah Eastman on behalf of the cemetery committee, but the bad blood this created became evident when the town refused to reimburse Eastman for his expense. The court ruled in Eastman’s favor, writing, “It is noted that Pressey was estopped to withhold his consent to use the land as a cemetery, and therefore the release was without consideration. This objection is not tenable. Wyman had a contract for the purchase of the Pressey land and was the equitable owner. It was Wyman, not Pressey, who objected…. There was no estoppel. The plaintiff is entitled to judgement for $100 and interest from the date of the writ.”
It is possible that the fine photo of the Pressey home was taken by Park, who was fascinated by old houses all his life.
Both Charles and Clementine’s sons were exceedingly well educated—so much so it seems Charles wanted to give them the underpinings for success he’d lost when his own father died.
Park Pressey was schooled in the public and high schools of Hampstead, as well as the Exeter Phillips Academy, a residential school founded in 1781 known for academic excellence and a distinguished faculty. Park also attended Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1893. Later in life, he became the manager of the Boston Branch of the Educational Register Company. He was the author of The Vocational Reader (Beacon Vocational Series) and a regular contributor to Youth’s Companion and St. Nicholas Magazine. Park was also an avid photographer.
It is probable that the fine photograph of the Pressey home above was taken by Park, who was fascinated with old houses all his life. A local architecture scrapbook compiled by Park between 1896 and 1910 exists in the Historic Society of New England containing “well-illustrated news clippings relating to architectural and historical subjects pertaining to Boston, with some coverage of Andover, Amesbury, Salem, Bedford, Marblehead, Malden, Portsmouth, NH and other communities.”
Park also obtained the Halliday Historic Photograph Company Collection, lauded as an “unrivaled” documentary source of old New England homes by The Bulletin of the Society for the Preservation of New England, December 1916. “Sometime after Mr. Halliday’s death in 1904 the collection of negatives came to the possession of Mr. C. Park Pressey, who has still further enlarged it. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of such a collection as this, as an astonishing number of the houses represented have been destroyed and many of these photographs are the best or only record.” The society eventually purchased the collection.
Park married late in life—in 1926 in Belmont, Massachusetts. The 1930 Census enumerated him back in Hampstead, aged 60, with his wife Anne D., aged 39, and daughter Carol Anne (1928-11 Sept. 2011), aged 1. His occupation was given as publisher and photographer.
By the late 1950s, Park devoted himself to preserving old houses and other structures, writing tracts such as Have you seen this Old House? Or Priscilla’s Quest for a Family Roof-Tree, and articles such as “Old New England Canals” in Old Time New England in 1956.
He would die in 1963 in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Park’s daughter Carol married Anthony P. DiPesa (d. 11 Nov. 2007) and had five children. She was buried in Puritan Lawn Memorial Park, Peabody, Massachusetts.
Edwin Pressey attended district and Hampstead High schools, graduated from Williams College in 1885, and from Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1888. He earned a Ph.D. from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1904. He authored the book History, Philosophy and Practical Use of Mental Healing in 1910. (Did his interest spring from a need to understand the suicide of his biological father?) Edwin also lectured on Biblical archeological developments. His chief recreation, he told Who’s Who, was tramping.
On 23 August, 1887, Edwin married Orrie Belle, daughter of William C. Little and Julia Harris Haseltine. The bride was a music teacher. The couple had had two children—Sidney Leavitt (b. 1888) and Julia Clementine Pressey (b. 1895).
During his early years in the ministry, Edwin served as pastor of Congregational churches at Brooklyn, New York; Springfield, Vermont; and Glenwood, Illinois. Next, he became pastor of the St. Anthony Park Congregational Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The 3 March, 1897, St. Paul Globe contained an article on Edwin’s installation, as well as a sketched portrait. “Last night marked an epoch in the history of [the church], which will long be remembered by the members…. The church interior was ablaze with light in honor of the occasion, and was very prettily decorated with festoons of smilax and cut flowers,” the newspaper noted. After the official service was concluded, “the evening was spent in a social way, and Rev. Pressey was given an informal welcome to his new charge.”
The years that followed were crowded with sermons, weddings, christenings, funerals, and conferences. Orrie Pressey was also deeply involved in her husband’s work. The 4 April, 1905, issue of the Minneapolis Journal noted, for example, that when the Congregational Missionary Society next met, “Mrs. Edwin Pressey and Mrs. W. Hays will speak on ‘The Ancient Religions of Japan,’ and ‘Why America is Interested in Japan.’”
“Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems.”
As Charles and Clementine had done for Edwin and Park—doubtless recognizing the brilliance of both boys—so Edwin and Orrie did for Sidney and Julia. The children were incredibly gifted. By 1910, Sidney was training to become a psychologist. (Were these the continued ripples of Joseph Sleeper’s long-ago suicide?) His 1918 draft registration stated he was a “mental test expert” in a psychiatric hospital in Boston.
Sidney Pressey was a noted professor of psychology at Ohio State University from 1921 to 1959. A cognitive psychologist, he is credited with inventing in the mid-1920s the first teaching machine, which presented students with multiple-choice questions. Sidney is quoted in a 1932 article in School and Society, “Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems;” his teaching machine was an attempt at doing so. After retiring, he continued to publish on the topic of cognitive psychology. He wrote several books, including a influential textbook Psychology and the New Education in 1937. Sidney Pressey died 1 July, 1979.
Edwin, Orrie, and Julia Pressey were enumerated in Orange, Massachusetts, in 1910 and in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1920, at which time Edwin served as pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. Julia graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts, in 1918 then enrolled in the Wisconsin Library School, where she did field work in Harry Houdini’s home town of Appleton in the winter of 1922 and graduated in May of that year. On 14 October, 1924, Kansas’s Emporia Gazette noted, “A demonstration of the use of the catalog will be given by Miss Julia Pressey, head cataloguer at the Kellogg Library.”
Sometime between 1925 and 1930, Julia received a post as assistant professor of library science at the Atlanta Library School, Atlanta, Georgia. Edwin Pressey had retired and both parents moved with her there. (Later Julia would become a faculty member at Emory University.) Orrie Pressey died sometime between late 1930 and 1940 in Atlanta.
After her mother’s passing, Julia donated a quilt made by Orrie in the late 1800s to the National Museum of American History, which describes it thus: “Crazy-patched square and rectangular blocks were assembled to make Orrie Little’s Parlor Throw. The four corner blocks are made entirely of ribbons. A variety of silks, satins and velvets were used for the other blocks. The lining is a brown-and-black stripe printed fabric. The binding is made of 12 different ¾-inch ribbons, seamed to the lining and whip-stitched to the front. Embroidery is used to embellish the edges of the patches and along the bound edge.”
During the war years and through the end of the decade, Julia was head of the Decimal Classification Section of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Various University of Illinois alumni newsletters highlight her activities—for example, lecturing to students at a Catholic University evening class on cataloging and classification and serving as a committee member to resolve classification problems at the a national gathering of the Assembly of Librarians of the Americas.
From the end of the Second World War to the close of the 1940s, Edwin Pressey lived with his son Sidney in Columbus, Ohio, near to the university where Sidney taught. Edwin’s passing was noted in this tiny obituary that ran in the 29 November Mansfield, Ohio, News-Journal.
As for Julia, I can find little about her life during the 1950s and 1960s. She never married and died 1 July, 1976, in Pomona, California, at the age of 81.
Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery.
Back to the beginning now—or at least the end of the beginning.
By 1910, Charles Pressey had largely retired—the census of that year noted he performed odd jobs. His last census appearance was in 1920, when he was enumerated with Clementine in their home on Main Street in Hampstead. Charles died there 26 April, 1927, of pneumonia ten days in duration that began from a cold. He was 92.
Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery. She would soon join him there—surviving her husband by only three days. Clementine died 29 April, age 93, of a heart attack brought on by cold and bronchitis. She was buried beside him on 1 May.
Just as I finished this article, I located a second photo of Charles Wilber Pressey that dates to about 1903. I freely admit that my eyes filled with tears. He is older, weathered, but recognizably that handsome young man of the summer of ’56. Ω
When this daguerreotype image was captured, Annie and Harry Sourbeck had been fatherless for most of their lives.
Daguerreotypes were the earliest form of photography – little wood-encased miracles of light and the long exposure of silvered copper plates. Sometimes the exposures lasted more than a minute, especially in the 1840s, which were the early days of the art form. A note in the case of this image reads “Sarah Ann Sauerbeck, Henry Sauerbeck, 1850?” This guesstimate accords well with the case design, with the simple brass mat that framed the image beneath its glass cover, as well as the clothing of the Sourbeck siblings. The two would have had to be very still, looking into the empty black eye of an alien, unnerving camera for at least 30 seconds. It was almost certainly their first photograph.
Sourbeck is the correct spelling of the family name, or at least that which they used the majority of the time. Even as late as the mid-nineteenth century, spelling could be fluid with both given and surnames. Sarah Ann Sourbeck, recorded in various public records as “Annie” and sometimes “Anna” (she will be Annie within this article, to distinguish her from her mother), was born in March 1841 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Her younger brother, William Henry Harrison Sourbeck, came along four years later, on 11 August, 1845, in Harrisburg, Dauphin (now Lebanon) County, Pennsylvania, a small city located on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The boy, named after the ninth president of the United States who had died the previous April, would be known by all as Harry. They were the children of Sarah Ann Collier (1804-1886) and her second husband John Sourbeck (1786-1847). When this daguerreotype was captured, they were aged about eight and five and had been fatherless for much of their lives.
Sarah Ann’s father eventually lost the hotel after using it as collateral for the bail of a friend, who promptly fled.
Sarah Ann Collier was the daughter of Jonathan (1780-1828) and Catherine Tice Collier (d. 1809). She was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, to a father who was a hotelier in Upper Paxton Township. According to a descendant, he had used his children’s inheritance from their maternal grandfather to build the Millersburg Hotel, which still was operating as late as 1996. Sarah Ann’s father eventually lost the hotel after using it as collateral for the bail of a friend, who promptly fled. Collier was dead by the age of 48, passing away in March 1828 in Buffalo Township.
Sarah Collier first married Dr. Samuel Fahnestock (1803-1829). According to a letter by H. S. Bickel, pastor of the Church of God in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, which was preserved by the family, “Mrs. Ann Nicholas of Camp Hill…said that Dr. Samuel Fahnestock’s mother was a member of the Seven Day Baptist faith, and lived at Oysters Point…. She was the mother of two boys, both physicians.” Pastor Bickel noted two daughters born to Samuel and Sarah Ann: Catherine Fahnestock, who may not have survived childhood, and Susanna (1830-1915). One of the girls, “I was told was a mute,” the Pastor wrote.
Dr. Fahnestock died of unknown causes at age 26 in 1829. His widow Sarah Ann was enumerated on the 1830 Census of East Pennsboro, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, as heading a household three – two of whom females under the age of five. In his letter, Paster Bickel wrote that Catherine and Susanna Fahnestock were raised by Fahnestock’s mother, but it is not known whether they were eventually sent to their grandmother out of duress or because their mother remarried and her new husband was not interested in raising step-children.
If the cause was the latter, Sarah Ann’s suitor, John Sourbeck, had reason enough. The widowed Sourbeck had 10 offspring by his marriage to Lydia Hemphill (b. 1791): Dorcas (1810-aft. 1840); Daniel E. (1812-1883); Margaret (1816-1852); Jane (1818-1841); Joseph S. (1822-1857); John (1823-1864); Adeline (1824-aft. 1900); James W. (1829-1873); and twins Elizabeth (1831-1889) and Mary (1831-1901), whose birth may have lead to Lydia’s death at the age of 42 years. Whilst his older children were married and established, in 1832 Sourbeck needed a mother for his infant twins, as well as three-year-old James, eight-year-old Adeline, nine-year-old John, 10-year-old Joseph, and 12-year-old Jane.
There may have been a connection between Sarah Ann’s father, Jonathan Collier, and John Sourbeck, who were close in age and both hoteliers, which drew the couple together. However they met, Sarah Ann Collier Fahnestock, age 28, married forty-six-year-old Sourbeck, on 2 August, 1832, and took up the position of mother to his brood. Paster Bickel wrote that “Sourbeck kept a hotel in Camp Hill,” and a commodious inn would have provided the space the growing Sourbeck clan needed. The couple’s first child, Caroline, was born in 1834. Next came George Washington Sourbeck, born 26 February, 1837, then Annie in 1841.
Paster Bickel concluded his letter with an intriguing and somewhat snide side note: “Mrs. Nicholas doesn’t know anything of them after they removed from Camp Hill. She said that it is hardly likely that John Sourbeck’s children were baptized while they were in Camp Hill.” Whether Mrs. Nicholas referred to Sourbeck’s children by his first marriage, his second, or both, is unknown.
“His table shall be furnished with all the varieties of the season – his Bar, Beds, and every thing connected with the establishment, shall not be excelled by any in the borough.”
The family decamped from Camp Hill before 1842, when theHarrisburg City Directorycontained this notice from Sourbeck: “The undersigned respectfully announces to his friends and the public, that he has taken that well known tavern stand, in the borough of Harrisburg, known as Franklin House, in Walnut-st., formerly kept by B. Hale. His table shall be furnished with all the varieties of the season – his Bar, Beds, and every thing connected with the establishment, shall not be excelled by any in the borough. The Carriage house and Stabling are extensive and convenient, and sufficiently large to accommodate drovers. The house being situated in the centre of businesses, renders it a desirable stopping place for those having business at the Capitol of the State, as well as Jurors attending Courts; and having long been known as the keeper of several public houses in Cumberland county, he flatters himself that his old friends and customers will favor him with a call. No pains will be spared to minister to the comfort of his guests during their stay with him – he therefore respectfully solicits a share of public patronage.”
While John and Sarah Ann Sourbeck operated Franklin House, Matilda Georgia was born 21 February, 1843, and Harry was born in 1845. The pub and inn, sitting on the busy corner of Walnut and Raspberry Alley, seems to have been a bustling establishment, however the 1844 tax rates list Sourbeck as tenant taverner – not an owner – who possessed one horse and cow. TheHarrisburg Business Directorynotes that in 1845, a baker named John O. Austin was either employed by or worked out of Franklin House; others listed in residence at the property were boot and shoemaker J. M. Awl and Jacob Brua, a printer.
“Mr. Sourbeck, who could not swim, immediately sank.”
The Sourbecks’ lives changed dramatically on 10 July, 1847. The 13 July issue of theHarrisburg Telegraph, tells the tale:
“On Saturday afternoon last, Messrs. John Sourbeck, Christian Kendig, Jonathan Novinger, and a Mr. Graham went fishing in the Susquehanna, at Dauphin, in a skiff. They had not got far into the river before the skiff ran upon a rock. In getting it off, three – Messrs. Sourbeck, Kendig, and Graham – got upon the rock, where Mr. Graham slipped, and in his endeavoring to save himself, he caught hold of Mr. Sourbeck, and pulled him into the water. A struggle ensued to save themselves by the boat, which was upset in the attempt, when all three were obliged to save themselves in the best way they could. Mr. Sourbeck, who could not swim, immediately sank. Mr. Graham could swim and made for shore, but sunk before he reached it. Mr. Novinger clung to the boat until he was rescued. Mr. Kendig remained on the rock until he was taken off the rock by a boat from shore. Two of the four were thus suddenly launched into eternity within a few moments after they had left their friends on an excursion, more of an amusement than a utility. Mr. Sourbeck was a man of over fifty years age, extensively known; he was keeping a public tavern at Dauphin at the time of his death. Mr. Graham, who was from Perry County, near Newport, we are informed, and attached to the Engineer Corps engaged in locating the Pennsylvania Rail Road. They both left families to lament their loss.”
On 14 July, theDemocratic Unioncarried this item: “Two Men Drowned – On Saturday last, John Sourbeck of Dauphin, and Thomas Graham of Newport, Perry County, were drowned in the river at Dauphin, whilst on a fishing excursion. Sourbeck leaves a wife and fourteen children to mourn his untimely end. Graham has left a wife and three children to regret his loss. The bodies of the drowned men have been recovered.”
John Sourbeck was buried in Dauphin Cemetery, where his gravestone stands today. Inscribed upon it is this verse: “Ye friends that weep around my grave, Compose your minds to rest, Prepare with me for sudden death, And live for ever blessed.”
“He was early in life necessitated to do for himself.”
After losing their pater familias, life immediately became difficult for the family. Just how difficult is evidenced within the 1881 History of Stark County, Ohio, edited by William Henry Perrin, which contains a short biography of George Washington Sourbeck (known as Washington or Wash), John and Sarah Ann’s eldest son.
“He was early in life necessitated to do for himself, and began his career as driver on the canal from Harrisburg to Nanticoke and Wilkesbarre. This he followed one season, when he went to Mechanicsburg and apprenticed himself in the boot and shoe trade, and remained there six years.” (The 1850 Census places Wash with Irish immigrant shoemaker Edward Lamant, his family, and apprentices.)
Sarah Ann and her youngest children also moved to Mechanicsburg. A document preserved by the family states, “Sarah Ann Sourbeck the bearer, has been an acceptable member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Mechanicsburg, Carlisle Circuit, Baltimore Conference. Given under my had this 11th day of September, 1849. James Watts, Preacher in charge.” If Mrs. Nicholas of Camp Hill thought there had been an earlier issue with the Sourbecks and religion, it seems to have been rectified.
It was during the family’s years in Mechanicsburg that the daguerreotype of Annie and Harry Sourbeck was made, most likely by Andrew B. Tubbs, who was active in Harrisburg in 1850, although the velvet liner of the case is not embossed with Tubbs’ name as in other surviving examples. There is no question that John Plumbe, Jr. – who was one of the earliest daguerreotypists in America, and who established galleries bearing his name in cities such as Frederick, Maryland; Portland, Maine; Ontario, Canada; and Louisville, Kentucky – operated a daguerreotype franchise in Harrisburg in the 1840s. Tubbs may have taken over the studio late in that decade.
The rarity and wonder of photographic images, even some two decades after the introduction of the daguerreotype, is evidenced in a surviving letter of 5 February, 1865, from Sarah Ann’s nephew, Emanuel H. Salada, to his aunt. His mother was Elizabeth Collier (1831-1867). (I have lightly edited this excerpt to increase readability.)
“I would inform you that I received the photograph you sent and further I was pleased very well to have it…. When I showed it to sister Amanda Hoffman, she kissed it and said, ‘She looks like mother did.’…. I would like to have my family taken and send it to you all but our place will not afford [a photographer] to stop here. But if I live till next summer I will take them to Harrisburg and have them taken. Further, I am sorry to say to you that I can’t fulfill your wish in regard of sending my mother’s picture. She never had it taken as far as I know,” Salada concluded mournfully. “I would give 20 Dollars myself for one likeness of my mother.”
“I came west with my parents in 1851 or 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was not yet completed.”
Harry Sourbeck, the tow-headed boy who looks at us suspiciously through the daguerreotype’s photographic hole in time, shared an early memory with the Alliance Weekly Review, which published a biographical item about him on 3 April, 1914. “I came west with my parents in 1851 or 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was not yet completed…. I remember well the conductor calling out the first through train to Pittsburgh. It was at a place where they were loading canal boats on cars to take them over the mountains by rail.”
What seems at first to be misremembering – that Harry travelled with both parents when his father was dead – resolves with the understanding that it was Daniel, Harry’s eldest brother, more than 30 years his senior, who led the party west. Their destination was a triumvirate of villages sprung up around the Cleveland & Wellsville and Ohio & Pennsylvania railroads that would later unify into town called Alliance.
According to Amtrak’s Great American Stations website, “At Alliance, the two railroads crossed, and to this day, any map of the area prominently displays the graceful ‘X’ that the rails create upon the landscape.”
The site continues, “In 1853 the first depot in town was constructed on the north side of the rail crossing near E. Main Street and Webb Avenue; Main Street was laid out to lead directly to the station, as city leaders recognized the potential impact that the railroad would have on their community. Old photographs show it to be…an octagonal two-story central section with a low tent roof. This portion of the station was flanked by one-story wings that featured large dormer gables trimmed in fancy bargeboard. The building appeared to be wood frame and covered in clapboard, while the windows were crowned by Tudor inspired window hoods that were in keeping with the eclectic nature of the overall design. Also on the north side adjoining the depot was a hotel and dining hall.”
On 12 May, 1852, Daniel Sourbeck arrived to take charge of the latter, which “became noted for famous meals throughout the length of these great thoroughfares and their connections…. Sourbeck came here at the solicitation of members of that company especially to take charge of their house. He had been engaged up to that time, in the Dry Goods trade and hotel business for a number of years in New Brighton, Pa. To the Sourbeck House, Alliance owes greatly her early fame; for the excellent manner in which the house has been managed in all its departments from his installation therein, has caused it to be spoken of far and near, and always has it been associated with the name of Alliance,” explains Stuart McKees’ Directory of 1868.
During the years in which Daniel ran the establishment it burned down once and was rebuilt of brick, and “Many noted individuals stopped at Sourbeck House, among them Louis Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian revolution, [who] was received with honor and made a brief address in 1852, also in the same year, Gen. Winfield Scott on his way to Cleveland where he made the historic speech which lost the presidency to the Whig party in the fall,” notes The Alliance Review, published by the Alliance Historical Society.
The Review also allows us a glimpse of an age that was ugly with racism: “Mr. J. H. Sharer in his history of early Alliance tells of listening to the speeches of these men and also relates the incident when ‘Fred Douglass in company with two hundred delegates to a Free Soil convention, had stopped at the Sourbeck House in 1852 for a dinner previously ordered. Mr. Sourbeck, seeing the colored man in the dining room and not knowing he was one of the party, took steps to eject him whereupon all present arose from their seats and marched in a body to the round house which stood nearby on the north side of the track and adopted a series of stinging resolutions, rebuking Mr. Sourbeck for the indignity he had heaped upon them.’”
Daniel Sourbeck’s prospering business attracted other members of the clan such as brothers John, who would shortly move on to Youngstown; James, who died in Alliance in 1873; and Wash, who rejoined his family in 1855 after a sojourn working on the rails. “[Wash] came to Alliance, and was engaged in his brother’s dining hall at the railroad depot for about one and a half years,” notes the History of Stark County, Ohio. Afterward, “He went to Youngstown and engaged at his trade for a short time when he accepted a clerkship in the Union Hotel, where he remained for two years. He purchased the passenger dining-rooms on Liberty Street, Pittsburgh, which he conducted about a year, sold out and returned to Youngstown, Ohio.”
“I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the rear coach leaving the track.”
In 1855, Daniel Sourbeck was nearly the victim of a horrific train wreck that was widely reported in the eastern United States. According to the Friday, 31 August, Baltimore Sun, a train of five passenger cars “left Philadelphia at 10 o’clock…reached Burlington before 11 o’clock. It then stopped, waiting for the arrival of the 8 o’clock New York train from Jersey City…. After waiting for from five to ten minutes, and the New York train not appearing, the Philadelphia train went forward slowly, watching for the approach of the downward train. It had gone forward about a mile and a quarter when the New York train came in sight.” The Philadelphia train began to back up. The engineer did so at speed, not knowing that a “light pleasure wagon driven by Dr. Hannigan of Columbus, N.J., had attempted to cross the track.” The last passenger car, which at the train’s reversal became the leading car, crashed into the wagon, jumped the track, and rolled down an embankment dragging other cars with it and crushing some together.
Sourbeck was traveling on the train with a friend named Kelly from Philadelphia to New York. The engineer, Mr. Kelly claimed years later in a Pittsburgh Daily Post article, “pulled the throttle wide open, sending the light train flying backward over the road. Mr. Sourbeck remarked about the high speed and swaying motion of the cars. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the rear coach leaving the track and rolling over. I was just reaching for the bell cord when our own car lurched over…. When I regained my senses, I was lying beneath the body of a dead man.”
Dozens were killed and severely injured. Daniel Sourbeck was reported by the Sun to have a scalp wound. Mr. Kelly recalled that Sourbeck was “badly hurt and suffered for some time.”
Even so, Sourbeck could count himself amongst the lucky. A female passenger, Mrs. Benjamin Harvey, described the terrible scene to the Sunbury American: “She says that portions of bodies were scattered over the ground, while wounded men and women, bleeding, and some dying, were lying upon the bank, exposed to the hot sun. The leg of a man was thrown some distance from the body, while his heart and other small particles of flesh and bones were found in other directions.”
Less than a year later, on 6 December, 1856, another tragic train accident occurred, this time, literally, too close to home. There was a “collision in which the train on the C. & P. crashed into the train on the Ohio & Penn, which had not yet cleared the crossing. It was rushing along at such speed and hit with such force that the cars were pushed into the wooden station house that stood on the north side of the track and where the platform and waiting room was filled with people. Eleven were killed and twenty seriously hurt,” reported the Alliance Weekly Review.
The 12 December issue of the Freemont Weekly Journal includes more details. “One of the passenger cars was thrown into the rotunda of the depot, and another into the sitting room of the Sourbeck Hotel, in which several persons were sitting. Both of these rooms were torn to pieces, and the inmates either killed or wounded.”
William H. Vincent, who was a clerk at Sourbeck House, later described the scene in a handwritten autobiography: “After coming into the public room we found one of the Pennsylvania cars – two trucks of it were in the room, four doorways were all broken down. On going outside, the platform was all broken and the bodies of seven person were lying dead.” Vincent saw the dead bodies of his doctor and the doctor’s wife, as well. “The doctor’s body was found with his clothing around and between the front wheels of the locomotive, which was still on the track except the two front wheels,” he wrote.
It does not appear that any of the Sourbecks were injured during this incident. The damage to the property was quickly repaired, and within a few years, Albert, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), would be a noted guest, as would President Abraham Lincoln whilst on his way to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration. A few years after this auspicious visit, the same rail lines would transport wounded and ill soldiers through Alliance as the Civil War raged. Amongst these soldiers would be one of the Sourbecks’ own.
“At the time of his enlistment said Sourbeck was a sound able-bodied man and free from all chills and fever.”
During the Civil War, brother John Sourbeck enlisted, fought, and ultimately died. Sourbeck joined up on 26 May, 1862, becoming a first lieutenant with the 84th Regiment, Ohio Infantry. But it was neither bullets nor cannon shot that took out John – it was tiny, hungry mosquitos.
In a pension case filed by John’s widow, Jane Griffith Sourbeck, she produced the sworn testimony of Third Sergeant Levellette Battelle of the 84th Ohio who said he was “personally acquainted with Lt. John Sourbeck when enlisted, prior to, and during his service in said organization. At the time of his enlistment said Sourbeck was a sound able-bodied man and free from all chills and fever. In Cumberland, MD, in July 1862, said Sourbeck took sick with chills and fever caused by being exposed…to a malarial climate. During the rest of his service, he had several attacks of chills and fever and was at the time disabled from service on that account.”
An affidavit filed by Dr. Frederick Whistler concludes John’s story: “[He was] discharged from service in the fall of 1862 …. He continued to suffer with chills and fever until he died of a congestive chill April 30, 1864. From the time of his discharge until his death, I saw him frequently each month, knew he suffered from said disability during that time by observing his symptoms and hearing his complaints. I was with him and saw him about two hours before he died.”
John Sourbeck was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio. Much like his father before him, John left many children behind, including an infant not yet one year old. His wife Jane never remarried. During her final years, she lived on Oak Street in Youngstown, dying 5 January, 1901.
“He was of a wandering disposition and has not been heard from since 1896.”
Unlike some of her male relatives, little exists to fill out the character of Annie Sourbeck Gray. We have a photo of her taken in the 1870s and we know the Grays would have three children together: Mary E. (b.1857); Louis Henry (1859-1945); and Margaret Anna (1864-1927). By 1861, they had left Alliance for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and remained there through the 1870 Census. They lived in Brewster, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, by 1900, when they were enumerated in the household of Annie’s sister Matilda Sourbeck Crosby. At that time, Theodore Gray stated his occupation as “day laborer” – surely a harsh job for a 65-year-old man. It was in Brewster with his wife and in-laws that Theodore died at age 67 on 2 August, 1902.
On 17 February, 1887, Annie’s daughter Margaret married Edwards Cranston Brooks (8 November 1860-12 January, 1922), who was a West Point graduate and commissioned cavalry officer. In 1898, he was sent to Santiago, Cuba, for the duration of the Spanish-American War, and because of meritorious service received a brevet U.S. Army captainship. In 1900, he served as auditor for the Island of Cuba. This information comes from Genealogies of Rhode Island Familes, Vol. I, which also includes this amusing comment about one of Brooks’ cousins, George Williams: “He went to Oregon with his father and other members of his family in 1851, but he was of a wandering disposition and has not been heard from since 1896.”
Annie and Theodore Gray’s son, Louis, became the president of the L. H. Gray Steamship Company and later the head of Associate Charters, a railroad freight shipping venture. He was a successful businessman who married Halcon L. Robertson on 4 October, 1893, in Cook, Illinois. In 1900, the census places him in Seattle, Washington, where he remained for the rest of his life, dying at age 85. The couple had no children.
After Theodore Gray’s death, Annie Sourbeck appears on the 1910 Census in Ward 3 of the District of Columbia, dwelling with her daughter Margaret Gray Brooks and two granddaughters. She lived until 1920, dying in East Brewster, Massachusetts, in August of that year.
“Happy, oh happy may you ever be, And be you blessed in Immortality.”
By 1870, Sarah Ann Sourbeck had moved to Chicago’s 4th Ward. A picture exists of her in taken that decade in which she appears a relatively well-heeled, silver-haired widow. That her sons and stepsons provided for her is certain, if the discretionary income of Daniel Sourbeck is any evidence. The Stark County Democrat reported on 7 August, 1873, that he had gone to New York and “bought a fine Specimen of Darwin’s ancestry which came duly to hand, in a fit condition for burial, accompanied by $10.00 express charges. If [Sourbeck] were not a Christian, we would expect to hear that he had become profane. The Express Company has not got the ten dollars, but then it can have the monkey.”
Sarah Ann Sourbeck remained in Chicago until her death, 9 April, 1886, aged 82 years, one month. The funeral took place at the home of her son Wash on 11 April, followed by her burial in Alliance City Cemetery. Wash would follow her to the family plot on 26 June, 1891.
There exists an acrostic dated 23 July, 1838, which proclaims itself as “a token of respect” to Sarah Ann from soi-disant poet James Fitzpatrick of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The lines that Fitzpatrick wrote to match her first name are apt by which to bid her farewell:
“Sweetest of bliss shall thy pure bosom know; And flowers of Beauty on thy pathway grow; Refulgent jewels shall thy brow adorn, As pure and radiant as the star of morn; Happy, oh happy may you ever be, And be you blessed in Immortality, Ne’er fading flowers on thy path shall grow, Nor ever sorrow will thy bosom know….”
His wife’s surname was Reeves, and a family story says she came from a banking family, but her first name remains stubbornly unknown.
Harry Sourbeck was schooled in Alliance “until I was 14 years of age, and started firing when not quite 15,” Harry told the Alliance Review in 1913. “I was promoted to engineer at the age of 19, in the year 1864. The first thing I did was on a steam car, built on Massillion, Ohio, and the first engine I ran was an 18-ton engine, with one pair of drivers and a wood burner, the cylinders set half way back of the boiler.”
Harry did not join up during the Civil War, possibly because his railway position was considered essential by the Union. Near the end of the war, in 1865, he told the Review, “I was transferred to New Castle, PA, to run a construction train in building the Lawrence Branch Road from New Castle to Youngstown on the Pennsylvania Lines.” According to the Locomotive Engineer’ Monthly Journal, “He ran the first engine that ever went into Youngstown of the Pennsylvania lines.”
Harry Sourbeck married for the first time in the late 1860s. His wife’s surname was Reeves, and a family story says she came from a banking family, but her first name remains stubbornly unknown. Harry had by her a son, Franklin William, born 25 September, 1869, in Sharpsville, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, and who died 21 November, 1917, in the State Epileptic Hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio, after spending a lifetime in Alliance as a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railway Company.
Frank Sourbeck married an Alliance native, Laura May Moyer (1874-1961), on 17 December, 1890, and with her, he gave his father four grandchildren: Harry Lloyd (1891-1964), Pearl Marie (1892-1983), Floyd Maurice (1897-1978), and Margaret May Sourbeck (1903-1986).
In addition to his railway career, Harry Sourbeck also co-owned several retail shops. He and his brother-in-law Thomas Clark Moore ran a business together at Irving House, located at Conneaut Lake Park, northwest of Pittsburgh. The building housed Sourbeck & Clark, probably a hardware store, according to an interview with a relative. There was also Sourbeck & Moore, also probably a hardware store, in Alliance. In addition, Harry owned the lots on what is now Wayne Street, Alliance, upon which he built homes, including his own dwelling at number 231.
After the breakup of his first marriage or the death of his spouse – we don’t know which of these occurred –Harry Sourbeck married Lydia D. Robinson (1861–1912) on 1 May, 1878, in Alliance at the home of the bride’s father, George Robinson. They went on to have three daughters: Bertha Eliza (1874 – 1963), Flora E. (1879 – 1919), and Fannie Helen Crosby Sourbeck (1895 – 1973).
Willie Donovan was frequently sent upstairs to have Mrs. Sourbeck cash large bills for the barkeep.
While this article may stand perilously close to being retitled “Daniel Sourbeck, Man Around Town,” there is one anecdote left to share about this colorful chap in his old age. In 1882, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, “The community was startled on Friday night on becoming aware that Dan Sourbeck had been robbed of $600…. Some years ago, Mr. Sourbeck lost $10,000 in the Alliance Bank, since which time he, and especially Mrs. Sourbeck, lost confidence in banks and concluded to be their own bankers, and hoarded their surplus cash in a trunk in Mrs. Sourbeck’s private room.”
A boy named Willie Donovan, who was employed by the Sourbecks, was frequently sent upstairs to have Mrs. Sourbeck cash large bills for the barkeep and thusly “became aware that there was a handsome depository in the house.” One day, Donovan was sent to Mrs. Sourbeck’s room to light a fire and stayed longer than usual. He told his employers that this was because the fire would not properly light. A few days later, the Sourbeck’s granddaughter Sophia discovered that money had been taken from the trunk. Unfortunately for Donovan, it had already been noticed that he was “quite flash with cash” and had bought a new suit, a watch, and other valuables. When questioned by the police and Sourbeck, he convinced them that he had been put up to the theft by Sourbeck’s neighbor, Olie Clark. Both Donovan and Clark were arrested for the crime.
The article concludes with Sourbeck reflecting that one of the two keys to his money drawer had gone missing some time before “and on several occasions [he] missed money from the drawer. A number of cigars were also stolen out of a case, all of which he attributes to the faithlessness of the boy in hoc.”
Sourbeck died 14 November, 1883, at 71 years of age, leaving the entirely of his estate, minus small bequeaths, to his wife Eliza, who outlived him by only a year. Both are buried at Grove Cemetery, New Brighton, Pennsylvania.
“Engineer W. H. Sourbeck was not at his post nor on the engine.”
On 6 November, 1898, a newspaper of no less gravitas than The New York Times ran the following story: “Joseph Desmond, Fireman on a Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago locomotive, drawing a fast passenger train last night near Columbiana, Ohio, suddenly discovered that Engineer W. H. Sourbeck was not at his post or on the engine. The train was running at a high rate of speed at the time. The fireman promptly shut off steam and stopped the train. Conductor Holloway ordered the train run back, and Engineer Sourbeck was found lying unconscious beside the track with his skull badly fractured. His injuries will likely prove fatal. It is thought that he climbed out on the running board and, losing his balance, fell to the ground.”
The Pittsburgh Press’s article ran on page one under the headline “He May Recover.” It reported that after Fireman Desmond had stopped the train and calmed the passengers, a search party was organized to find Sourbeck. “For several hours the mystery remained unsolved, but finally the crew of a freight train found the missing engineer among some trees, 50 yards from the railroad track.”
Sourbeck suffered a fractured skull, a broken breastbone, and an injured spine. After a period of unconsciousness, he awoke, but could not explain what happened. Later, his memory returned and he told the Press reporter that he was leaning from his cab window, oiling machinery, when he lost his balance and tumbled from the train.
Years later, the Locomotive Engineer’ Monthly of January 1914 would write that the accident “did not amount to much.” It certainly did not dim his love of the railroad. The Journal noted that when Harry retired he was the oldest engineer on the lines west of Pittsburgh and that there was no one left in any department who had been there when he had begun. He received a pension in January 1914, by which time he had a permanently injured hand and impaired hearing. But when interviewed, he “still appeared fit, agile, and strong…and would like to live until he was 100 years old to see the great changes to come on the railroads.”
Harry’s wife, Lydia Robinson Sourbeck, passed away a few years before his retirement, on 6 September, 1912, in the 34th year of their marriage. Harry, now a stately silver-haired man, would live on in the city with his youngest daughter, Fanny. He continued to travel to by rail, telling the Journal that “‘By sand, it’s the happiest day of life; it’s just like going out on a lark…. [A]fter riding in the cab for over a century I’m going to ride the velvet instead of the leather.’” That publication notes that he had recently returned from a rail trip to Florida, where he had made the short crossing by boat to Havana, Cuba.
Harry Sourbeck died at Suburban General Hospital on 13 September, 1930, of pneumonia, age 85. He was buried on 15 September at Union Dale Cemetery, Allegheny County. Ω
This article would not have been possible without the research of Dale Alan Sourbeck into his family’s history. I also thank him humbly for allowing me to use the photos of the family has he has meticulously collected.