Welcome to the Firelands History Website

“Sufferers’ Land.”
“Firelands.”

These evocative and descriptive phrases refer to a region in northern Ohio set aside by the state of Connecticut for “Sufferers” burned out of their homes by the British during the American Revolution. Part of the Western Reserve, it covered present-day Huron and Erie counties.

After the War of 1812, a flood of emigration erupted out of crowded New England, the result of a pent up desire for new land that had been held in check by the threat of Native Americans defending their homes, and the spur of economic hardship engendered by the catastrophic “Year without Summer” of 1816. Most of these pioneers were bound for the Firelands.

Thus began one of the great migrations of American history; a flood of humanity that poured out of New England and settled lands stretching along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from upstate New York to Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

These settlers greatly impacted the history of the United States. In the 1850’s, some of them entered Kansas and clashed with the leading edge of another great migration that had settled the South — a tragic foreshadowing of the Civil War. The grandchildren of the settlers of the Old Northwest formed the backbone of the Union Army of the West during that war and made possible the Republican majority that ruled the nation the remainder of the century.

This website presents histories of the Firelands and genealogies of families that settled there.

  1. “Sufferers’ Land” is a history of the settlement of the Firelands from the founding of the town of Norwalk in 1817 by Platt Benedict to the final Pioneers Reunion and founding of The Firelands Historical Society in 1857. This story may be read by selecting any of the 53 episodes in the Sufferers’ Land Index of Posts.
  2. Genealogical information of families who settled in the Firelands is also included on this website. These include the Benedict, Wickham, Preston, Taylor, BuckinghamDeForest, Deaver, and Lockwood families.
  3. Little Doctor on the Black Horse is a memoir of Doctor David DeForest Benedict of Norwalk, Ohio, a Union Surgeon during the Civil War. It was written by his granddaughter Harriott Benedict Wickham, who included in the story excerpts of letters he wrote to his wife from the field and from Libby Prison, where he was a prisoner of war. See the Little Doctor on the Black Horse Index of Posts to read the entire memoir.

I would appreciate comments about this website. Please click on the comments button below and let me know what you think. Thank you.

The Firelands History Website had a great 2015. Thanks to all who visited the site this past year. Please see the stats at the 2015 in Review post.

© 2011 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie – Post # 1

Today we celebrate the birthday of another member of the Class of 1907, and uncover a few mysteries that need solving, as well.

homer-beattie-commencement-photoOn Monday, September 17, 1906, Homer Beattie celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Unlike his classmate Irene Eline, featured in my previous post, Homer’s family did not live in the blue collar section of Norwalk. They resided in the better part of town south of Main Street, at 137 Benedict Avenue [1]. Homer’s father, Albert Milo (A.M) Beattie, was a lawyer by profession, and had served as Clerk of Courts for Huron County in the 1880s before returning to his own law practice. He was a leader in the community, active in civic organizations and a member of the school board. In 1901, he was a founder of the Norwalk Steel and Iron Company, and became its first president. In 1906, he maintained an office in the Gallup Block on Main Street. Homer’s mother, Dora Beattie, nee Sullivan, had received a good education, not common for women in those days. [2]

Although more spacious than Irene Eline’s home, the Beattie’s residence on Benedict Street was crowded by today’s standards. Beside his

residence-of-a-m-beattie-norwalk-ohio

From “Find a Grave” article for Albert Milo Beattie.

father and mother, living in the house were Homer’s sisters Blanche, age 26 and Anna, age 22, and his elder brother, John, age 20. All three were teachers. He also had a younger brother in the home: Arthur, age 11, who like Homer was a student[3]. Now comes the first mystery. Although I can find no direct evidence that he resided at 137 Benedict Avenue, Homer’s maternal grandfather, Josiah Sullivan, who lived most of his life in Pennsylvania, died in Norwalk in 1907 [4]. From what I can tell, Josiah had no other family beside his daughter Dorothy living in Norwalk at the time.

Here’s the second mystery: In her 1908-09 diary, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham (a fellow classmate of Homer Beattie), mentions a close friend named Rastus Beattie [5]. I find many clues in her descriptions of this friend that make me think he is Homer.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post at least three articles about Homer Beattie. One article will explore his heritage on his father’s side. Another will look at his mother’s line, with a special emphasis on her father’s final days. And I’ll post what my grandmother wrote about “Rastus” Beattie, and try to determine if she was really talking about her fellow classmate, Homer Beattie.

Stay tuned!

Notes

 [1] Huron County, Ohio. 1900 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Kenton Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: 1288; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0031; FHL microfilm: 1241288., 1900

[2] Firelands Historical Society (Norwalk, Ohio). The Firelands Pioneer (new series). (Norwalk, Ohio: The Firelands Historical Society, 1882-1937), Volume 25, page 220-221, Jun 1937.

[3] My estimate of who was living at 137 Benedict Street in 1906 is based on the following sources:

(a) Huron County, Ohio. 1900 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Kenton Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: 1288; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0031; FHL microfilm: 1241288., 1900

(b) Norwalk, Ohio Directory; Year Range: 1909 – 1910; Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company; Publication Year: 1909 – 1910

(c) Norwalk Ward 2, in Huron, Ohio, United States. 1910 U.S. Census Population Schedule, Norwalk Ward 2, Huron, Ohio; Roll: T624_1200; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0036; FHL microfilm: 1375213., 1910

[4] Obituary, Norwalk Daily Reflector, Page: 3 Column: 4, 8 Jun 1907.

[5] Today Rastus has a pejorative and racist meaning that it did not have in 1906.

Class of 1907 – Irene Eline

Over the next year, I be posting articles about each member of the Class of 1907 on the anniversary of their birth. Today, we’ll begin with Irene Eline; her birthday is past, but because it was only last week, just before I began this series of posts, I hope you will forgive me.

irene-eline-commencement-photo

Irene Eline Commencement Photo

Irene celebrated her seventeenth birthday on September 5, which fell on Wednesday in 1906. Two days previously, Norwalk had celebrated Labor Day, which was a big deal in those days.

 Hers was a laboring family. Her father Joseph was a cabinet maker at a piano factory in town, probably A.B. Chase [1]. Sister Lillian, age 19, was a stenographer at Pressing & Orr, a manufacturer of Wilton Brand Ketchup [2] and other food products. Irene’s Aunt Margaret, who was living with the family in 1900, was a seamstress.

The family lived at 180 Whittlesey Avenue, over seven blocks north of Main Street, in the blue collar part of town. The do not count among the Firelands Pioneers featured in The Sufferers’ Land which is posted on the Firelands History Website. Joseph and his wife Anne, were originally from Maryland, and moved to Norwalk from Pennsylvania sometime between the birth of their eldest child, Mary and Lillian.

 How did Irene spend her birthday? School had just begun, so we can imagine she spent the day in class. The high school in those days was at Main and Foster Streets, so she had a walk of almost a mile. What celebration could we imagine for her when she returned home. Her father and mother would be there, and her sister Lillian. Her eldest sister Mary was probably still at home, but by 1909 she was married to James Cooper, a boiler maker with the railroad. And there were three young children in the home: her brother Robert, age 6, and sisters Ruth, age 3 and Catherine, age 2.

 But what about friends? Who were they, and where did they live. Just as in any society and at any time, there are stratums of society that dictate whom we associate with. That would have been the case in 1906 Norwalk. In my grandmother’s diaries and other papers and photos from that time, she never mentions Irene as being her friend. But she moved in different circles from people in north Norwalk. In her diary entry for December 30, 1908, she wrote of meeting a young man named John Yerpe, who she liked. But, she added: “if he were only something other than a Swedish mechanic’s son from north of twon, he would make a hit, I’m sure.” We’ll further explore this social divide in future posts.

Notes

[1] A.B. Chase was founded in Norwalk in 1875. See the Antique Piano Shop Website for details.

[2] Andrew F. Smith, Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, p. 219.

Who Are They?

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 included my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham, and twenty-five other students. Who were these other pupils? Well, here is a class roster:

Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff, Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French, Florence Bascom, Homer Beattie, Slice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Harriott Wickham, and Cleo Collins.

Just names–for now. Over the next year, I will endeavor to breathe life into them: to discover what kind of people they were, who their families were, and what world they inhabited one-hundred and ten years ago.

I have a small treasure of photos to get me started. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Like this image from a long ago theater production of the Class of 1907, for instance.

scan0027

Who were these young people? What theater production were they in? I do not know the answers–yet. Let’s find out together.

 

 

Norwalk, Ohio High School, 1906-1907

Do you have old photos knocking around of your ancestors–and you have no idea who they are–or even if they are your ancestors?

Well I thought I had both problems when I found the photo below at my mother’s house a decade ago. I knew that one of the students was my grandmother. But which one? Then I turned the photo over and found what every genealogist and historian dreams of–my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton (descendant of Firelands Pioneers Platt Benedict and Frederick Wickham) had identified not just herself, but every one of her classmates.

Norwalk High School - Junior, Senior Study Hall

Junior, Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, 1906.

I was thrilled, of course, to identify my grandmother (tenth back in the far right column). But then I began to wonder: who are the rest of these people? Where did they live? What were their families like and when did they come to the Firelands?

So I began to research them,focusing on the Class of 1907: on Ancestry, in back issues of the  Firelands Pioneer, and any other source I could find. This was a homogeneous group, compared to schools today, but had their distinctions. And they grew up to have varied careers: some successful, some not–and some just seemed to disappear. Some of the men went off to war, others did not. Most of the women married and had families, others had careers. One of the men became a soldier-statesman: becoming a U.S. Senator, and not only serving in both world wars, but also on General Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

I’ve only scratched the surface in my research of the Class of 1907. But on this, the 110th anniversary of their senior year, I have decided to share what I’ve learned so far with you, visitors to this blog, and solicit you help in filling in blanks where you can.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

 

 

Summer in the Firelands

As we approach Labor Day, we look back on a summer of outdoor activities and vacation trips. But how did people in the Firelands spend that period between June and September? In those days before the advent of air conditioning, whole families (less fathers who stayed in town to work) would decamp from hot towns and cities to cottages on lakes, at the seashore, or in the mountains. In some parts of the country, this tradition continues, albeit, now only for weekends.

Growing up, I spent part of my summers at “the cottage” in the Firelands, on the shores of Lake Erie, about an hour and a half west of our home in Cleveland. I remember “the cottage” as a musty old building with wide porches set between a cemetery and the lake. I loved the air of family history that permeated the place.

Squirrel House 1972

The Cottage at Oak Bluff in 1972 – as I remember it.

At the time, I was aware that it had been in our family for generations, but had scant knowledge of how it came into the family. Decades later, I found at my mother’s house a story written by my grandmother. Titled, “The Squirrel House,” it filled in the gaps in my knowledge and gave me a glimpse of a time when many families in the Firelands, and across America, would spend their summers at the beach.

 ***************************************

The Squirrel House

by Harriott Barton [1]

About 1892, Judge Charles Wickham [2], Judge Samuel Wildman [3], brother’s-in-law, and Dr. David DeForest Benedict [4]  bought from Mr. Douglas, father of Will Douglas, the property which they named Oak Bluff, because of the huge old oaks that grew along the hilltop. Each of the three owned a front lot upon which he planned to erect a summer cottage. The remainder of the land to the west of the cemetery and south and west of the cottages was held in common. Later they sold the west lot to Captain John Adams [5], brother-in-law of Wickham and Wildman. He built a fourth cottage.

David Benedict - Firelands Pioneer

As this was in the “Horse and Buggy” age, it was necessary to have a stable. So a long, narrow shed was erected facing west, just beyond the south-west corner of the cemetery, close to the entrance from Lake Road. A partition separated the Benedict part from the larger Wickham-Wildman part. There was a wide door on the west side of each room. Between the road and the lake was Common Property — an old peach orchard, neglected, and no longer very productive. Later it was fenced for a pasture. Then it was used for a tennis court.

The Wickham and Wildman cottages were built, I believe, in 1893. On the Benedict lot, overlooking Cranberry Creek, was the old cabin, its floor mostly rotted away; the door sill a good three feet above the badly eroded ground. On my first visit someone lifted me up to look inside. What floor still remained in place was covered with heaps of chewed hickory nuts and acorns. Back in town I chattered about the squirrel’s house, and that became its name.

Harriott Wickham 1893

Harriott at age 3 in 1893, about the time when she named the cottage “Squirrel House”

 

That winter Grandpa and old Bill Mears (uncle of Mrs. George Harkness) cleaned and repaired the old cabin. They put in a new roof and floor . . . Grandpa loved to work with wood. In Norwalk he had a workshop above the chicken house on the slope of the hill behind the garden on Bank Street. They built two partitions in the cabin for a dining room on the west, with the east part cut into two small rooms, the kitchen to the south and a bedroom on the north.

In the front yard they made a large wooden platform about a foot above the ground for a floor for the big four room tent which housed the rest of the family in the summer. Each room held a bed and a wash stand with bowl and pitcher. Wash water was carried up from the lake; drinking water from the Ruggles or the old stone trough south of Ceylon.

The cabin bedroom was reserved for Grandpa and Grandma [6] when she was there. They usually took their vacation in early fall, when there were usually fishing boats on the shore. I now suspect they found more peace and quiet at that time.

Through the summer the place was always full of family! Although Aunt Fannie [7] was till in Colorado, there were still Aunt Lil [8], Mame [9] and my mother [10], also Cousin May [11], our grandmother’s orphaned niece from Canada who married Fred Christian [12], my father’s nephew. May had been a part of the Benedict family for several years.

As the years passed and Grandpa’s tribe increased, he saw the need for larger quarters, so by 1896 he was involved in a new project; bedrooms to complete his house. He personally chose the boards he wanted to use – many for their knots, which he found interesting for their varied designs.

The actual building, I believe, started in the fall of 1896 and finished in the spring of 1897. Again Bill Mears assisted. They erected the frame and fitted the perpendicular siding boards, using sawhorses made during the winter in Grandpa’s workshop. The only clear memory I have of the actual building is it standing back of the house about 30 feet (there was no fence at that time). Grandpa was sitting astride the ridgepole with his snowy hair and beard — he looked just like the Santa Claus on a Christmas card!

Finally, the house was finished! A living room and two bedrooms on the ground floor; upstairs four bedrooms opening onto a narrow hall. The bedrooms’ inner walls were really just partitions, seven feet high. No ceilings up there — to allow for better ventilation. A porch (roofed) ran across the front of the living room along its east side to join a porch in front of the dining-kitchen part, and around the east side, where the steps led down to the back yard and the privy. No doorway was cut between the new part and the kitchen-dining area, in order to keep flies out of the front part of the house.

Oak Bluff c. 1911, 1912 (Susan Orsini)

The Squirrel House, 1911

There was no fireplace, as in other cottages. Grandpa had grown up in a family haunted by the memory of his older brother who, at the age of three, got up too early one morning, caught his night clothes afire, and was burned to death. Some years later my mother had one built in the living room.

Having finished the house and furnished it — largely from the attic at 80 E. — a number of surplus things from the dismantled Deaver home in New Haven [14] were stored there. The little ash stands were the property of Uncle Will Benham [14], who had had a rooming house in Chicago during The Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892-3.

Having finished the house and furnished it, Grandpa decided that, to protect it from dripping bathers, there should be a bathhouse; so he proceeded to build one! — on the slope of the bluff just west of the steps down to the beach. The south side of the shed-like building rested on a shelf-like cut in the slope up from the beach (the south part of which was higher and much drier than now). The north part of the shed-like building rested on tall posts resting on stones set into the beach. A north-south partition divided it into rooms — ladies to the east, with a door onto the stairway; the men’s room (to the west) going onto a plank walk between the building and the hillside. Each room had a window, a table and hooks on the wall. It saved many a wet trail in the house!

scan0012

At the beach – 1908

It was at about this time that Aunt Fannie, her husband [15] having died very suddenly, returned to Norwalk with her three children, Benedict [16], Mary [17] and Agnes [18] and became part of the summer household in the cottage. I’ve often wondered how our three mothers put up with us!

Eleanor, Harriott, Ben Hottel 1

Harriott (bottom left) her cousin Ben and sister Eleanor

By this time Grandpa’s angina had become much more severe. The last year he came to the lake he began having very sudden and severe attacks of pain in his chest. As he insisted upon being quite active, I was assigned the task of keeping an eye on him.

I was nine years old by then and had been very devoted to Grandpa. The problem was that he did not want to be considered an invalid and kept telling me not to follow him. One day he collapsed in the drive back of the Wildman cottage. I came running up and he was a bit cross about it, saying he was just tired and was resting! and he wished I would stop following him.

I was, of course, old enough to understand that he as in great pain, but determined to keep going. And he did until the next January when, overnight, he died suddenly at the age of 68.

If he could look in on Oak Bluff now, more than seventy years later, I’m sure that he would be happy that some of his family are still enjoying, as he did, The Place on the Lake.

 

Genealogical Notes

When reading old stories like “The Squirrel House,” do you often wonder who all these people the author mentions are? Who are “Aunt Lil,” and “Grandma,” and “Judge Charles Wickham” and all the rest of these people Harriott Barton mentions in passing?

Well, I have the answers to those questions for you. Below are the full names of everyone mentioned in “The Squirrel House,” along with their relationship to Harriott. Click on the links for a WeRelate Wiki article that describes their lives. Let me know if you have additional information about any of these people, and I’ll update their article. Or you can  join WeRelate Wiki and update it yourself! That’s the beauty of Wikis–collaboration!

[1] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton (1890-1981). Author of “The Squirrel House.” Daughter of Agnes and Frank Wickham.

[2] Charles Preston Wickham (1836-1925). Eldest brother of Frank Wickham. Civil War veteran, judge, and U.S. Congressman.

[3] Samuel A Wildman (1846-1934). Brother of Charles Wickham’s wife Emma. Civil War veteran and judge.

[4] David DeForrest Benedict (1833-1901). Harriott Wickham Barton’s grandfather. Surgeon in the Civil War where he was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga.

[5] John Adams (1843-1927). Civil War veteran. Husband of Mary Wildman, Samuel Wildman’s sister.

[6] Harriott Deaver Benedict (1835-1909). Harriott Wickham Barton’s grandmother. David Benedict’s wife.

[7] Fannie Buckingham Benedict Hottel (1863-1940). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[8] Ellen Eliza Benedict Wickham (1868-1942). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[9] Mary Deaver Benedict (1857-1931). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[10] Agnes Caroline Benedict Wickham (1861-1934). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s mother.

[11] Mabel (May) Curtis Christian (1868-1911). Ward of David and Harriott Benedict. Married Fred Christian.

[12] Fred Christian (1866-1935). Son of Katherine Wickham Christian, sister of Charles Preston Wickham. Married May Curtis.

[13] Homestead of James Deaver and Harriott Shaon Deaver in North Fairfield, Ohio. Parents of Harriott Deaver Benedict and Harriot Wickham Barton’s grandparents.

[14] William Benham (1858-1923). Second husband of Harriott Benedict Benham, eldest daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[15] Andrew Hottel (1852-1899). Husband of Fanny Benedict Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s uncle.

[16] David Benjamin Hottel (1890-1955). Son of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.

[18] Mary Hottel (1895-1981). Daughter of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.

[19] Agnes Hottel (1897-1983). Daughter of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.

 

For additional information about Oak Bluff and the Benedict and Wickham families, check out Family, by Ian Frazier.

 

 

 

 

WeRelate Presentation

We Relate LogoOn Saturday, April 2, the Highlands Ranch Genealogical held a Genealogy Fair at the Highlands Ranch Library in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I had a kiosk that displayed an interactive presentation of WeRelate, a wiki that takes a shared approach to genealogy. The goal to build a unified family tree containing the best information from all contributors.

Click  here to check out my presentation slides.

Genealogy Wiki Presentation

Thursday, March 10, 2016, I had the pleasure of presenting “Genealogy Wikis and Wikipedia” to the Mountain Genealogists Society in Evergreen, Colorado. Although I had the usual technical difficulties, the audience forgave my stumbles and enthusiastically participated. Thanks to everyone for their kind reception and to the society for inviting me.

Everyone knows about Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, but many people do not know that there are other “Wikis” out there, to include many dedicated to genealogy. Wikis enable communities to write documents collaboratively using a simple markup language and a web browser. The “community” can be the world, as with Wikipedia, or a smaller group, such as a corporation, governmental organization—or the genealogy community.

During my presentation, I explained how Wikis work and the many ways they are used, especially by genealogists. I also demonstrated how to use this simple but powerful tool by making changes to existing Wiki pages. We finished by creating a Wikipedia article about the second woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, Ida Martha Metcalf.

Click this link to check out my presentation slides and find out how useful this collaboration tool can by to your genealogy research.