Researching the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 – and Other Subjects

firelands-historical-society-museum

Firelands Historical Society Museum

 

If I had my druthers, I’d spend my free time in Norwalk, Ohio at the Firelands Historical Society‘s Laning-Young Research Center, the Norwalk Public Library and the Huron County Courthouse. But I’ve found it inconvenient to do so from my home in Colorado. What to do?

Fortunately, resources about Norwalk abound online. Beside Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and other “normal” genealogical sources, here are a few others specific to Norwalk and the Firelands I regularly use to flesh out my Sufferers’ Land and Norwalk High School Class of 1907 series of posts on this website:

  • The Firelands Pioneer: The journal of the Firelands Historical Society was first published in June 1858. The “Old Series” of the-firelands-pioneernineteen issues ran from 1858 until 1878, followed by twenty-five additional issues in the “New Series” from 1882 to 1937. During the publication of the “Old Issue,” most of the original settlers of the Firelands were still alive, and many contributed eyewitness accounts of their experiences. In 1939, the Firelands Historical Society published an index to both series. This index has been invaluable to me in my research. Most issues of The Firelands Pioneer are now digitized and just a Google search away.

  • Another important source of information about the Firelands is History of the FirelandsW.W. Williams 1879 book History of the Fire-Lands: Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers. Mr.. Williams used The Firelands Pioneer as an important source for History of the Firelands; he also drew from many other  primary sources, to include court records and personal interviews with settlers still surviving in the 1870’s. The resulting book is a treasure trove of histories, biographies, and illustrations for the genealogist and historian interested in this region and the families that settled there. This tome is available online, and I have posted links to the Table of Contents of the book on this website.

  • Finally, another great source is the Huron County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society Website. Here you can find links to HCCOGS Logopublications of the society, and other sources: death indexes, cemetery and funeral records, indexes of probate and court records and more. You can also request assistance from society members for a fee. This is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in researching the Firelands.

So that’s it: a short list of the resources I’ve found most useful in researching posts for this website. But there is one more that only recently become available to me: newspaper archives. I’ll tell you about that source in my next post.

 

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A Home in the Wilderness Revisited

Two hundred years ago today, September 9, 1817, Platt and Sally Benedict and their family arrived in the Sufferers’ Land of northern Ohio, ending a two month trek from their home in Connecticut. Over the next days and weeks, Platt and Sally would become the first permanent residents and founders of Norwalk, Ohio. To celebrate this event, I am republishing A Home in the Wilderness, the sixth post in my series Sufferers’ Land, which tells the story of the settlement of Norwalk from 1817 to 1857.

Happy Bicentennial, Norwalk!

 

Platt and Sally Benedict

Platt and Sally Benedict

 

A Home in the Wilderness

A day or so from their destination, Platt and Sally received bad news. Their cabin had burned down.

Mr. Stewart, whom Platt had hired to clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the sand ridge, had gone out of the cabin one morning, leaving a fire to dry his clothes. When he returned at noon for dinner, he found the cabin ablaze. He immediately left the area, not forgetting to take the provisions Platt had bought for him. [1]

The news devastated Platt and Sally. Footsore and weary, soaked and depressed by constant rain, they knew that they would have to get their family under shelter quickly before winter set in. They decided to stop at the home of the Gibbs and Lockwood families, located a mile and a half northeast of their land on the sand ridge; at the corner of what are now East Main Street and Old State Road. At four o’clock, Tuesday afternoon, the ninth of September, they came upon a cleared area in the forest where they found the Gibbs and Lockwood’s cabin and ramshackle barn. [2]

The two families lived in two one-room structures with a common roof and separated by a breezeway, one family in each cabin. David and Elizabeth Gibbs and their family had arrived in Ohio the previous year, accompanied by Elizabeth’s brother Henry Lockwood and his wife Fanny. The two families had a harder trip than the Benedicts and Keelers and each lost a child on the road. Looking at her own children, Sally must have been thankful that they had all made the trip safely.

John and Ruth Boalt and their eleven children had arrived several weeks previously. Ruth Boalt was the sister of Henry Lockwood and Elizabeth Gibbs. The Boalts were sick with malaria, or ague as the settlers called it. They lay in the Lockwood cabin, burning with fever, Fanny nursing them as best she could. [3]

The travelers crowded into the Gibbs cabin for supper. After eating, the unmarried men went to the barn to sleep and the families settled down in the cabin as best they could. As she lay in a makeshift bed on the floor of the crowded little cabin, Sally must have thought of her home in Connecticut and wished she were back there, safe and warm. During the night, a big storm blew through the clearing, rain and wind rattling the “shakes” that covered the roof of the cabin.

Dawn finally came, and the single men dragged into the cabin, exhausted. The barn had provided scant protection against the storm. Rain came through the roof as if it was a sieve, soaking their beds and making for a miserable and sleepless night.

After breakfast, the men shouldered axes and saws and trudged down the trail along the sand ridge to where the Benedict cabin had burned down. Sally helped Elizabeth take care of the children and prepare dinner for the men. Around noon, the women followed the men’s tracks along the sand ridge with their dinner. They found the work progressing well. Men had come in from the surrounding farms to help. Sally could see that by the end of the day they would finish erecting her new home.

log-cabin-imageThe log house was only twenty feet square, with no doors, windows or fireplace, but it was good enough to provide shelter. The next day, Platt moved in and Sally cooked breakfast for the men by a log next to the cabin. [4]

Over the next few days, the men continued to improve the cabin, building a fireplace and chimney with clay and sticks, chinking and mudding the cracks and cutting holes in the walls for two doors and two windows. They accomplished all this without a single nail or other ironwork. Platt had brought two sashes for the windows from Connecticut, but had no glass, so they used greased paper instead. They finished five days later, and Sally and the children moved in. Conditions were primitive. There was no furniture and no floor.

Mud spoiled the mattresses Sally had brought from Connecticut, so Platt made two bedsteads, one for him and Sally and the other for their daughters. They were primitive — frames attached to the walls of the cabin and webbed with basswood bark instead of cords. However, according to Platt, they were very comfortable, and after almost two months on the road, Sally probably agreed that they were a welcome relief from sleeping on the ground. [5]

With the Benedict cabin finished, the men moved on to the land John Boalt had purchased from Platt on Old State Highway, south-east of the Benedict’s cabin. They built a double cabin there and the Boalts moved down from the Gibbs and Lockwood homestead as soon as they recovered their health. [6]

Sally and Platt had established a new home on the frontier. Now they had to make it through their first winter.

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18.
[2] The description of the arrival at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] “Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, pp. 83-84.
[4] The description of the first night at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin and the raising of the Benedict cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[6] “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, p. 17.

 

Click Here to read all fifty-three of the Sufferers’ Land series of posts.

 

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Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.

Footnotes:

[1] From “MAJOR POST-LOGGING FIRES IN MICHIGAN: the 1900’s.”

[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Where They Went – Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland 1930

Cleveland, Ohio – 1930 [1]

 

By far, Cleveland and its suburbs was the primary destination for the graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Why Cleveland? Today – although it is experiencing a renaissance – the city is a shadow of the metropolis that lured young people from around the world to work in its factories. In 1907, Cleveland was already an industrial powerhouse, by 1920, it became the fifth largest city in the nation. And it was not only jobs that made it a destination of choice for many in the early twentieth century. Philanthropy by titans of industry like John D. Rockefeller and Louis Severance brought culture to the city. [1]

Nine of the twenty-seven graduates of the Class of 1907 spent most of their lives in Cleveland or its suburbs, but only three lived in the city limits of Cleveland, and none of them ever married.

Fred Osborne Commencement Photo 1907

Fred Osborne came from a working class family, his father was a housepainter and paperhanger, and he became a working class man. After graduating from Norwalk High School, he went into farming, and became a beekeeper. Around 1920, he moved to Cleveland, and for over twenty years lived in an apartment at 1482 East 84th Street with his sisters, while working as a mail carrier out of the University Post Office at 1950 E 101st Street, Cleveland. After retirement, he moved to Pinellas, Florida, where he died in 1972.

 

University Post Office Cleveland Ohio

University Post Office 2017 [3]

myrtle-woodruff

Myrtle Woodruff

How important is it to check source documents and not rely on transcriptions? Very important. But sometimes we goof, as I did in my post on education when I reported that Myrtle Woodruff had not pursued an education after high school. That despite finding her obituary, which reported that she had graduated from Ohio University. While drafting this post, I checked her obituary and realized my mistake. I went to the original 1940 Census record for confirmation, and there it was: Myrtle Woodruff had completed five years of college. How stupid of me! Oh, well! Lesson learned (I hope), and now I have the chance to set the record straight.

What did Myrtle do with her education? She taught at West Technical High School in Cleveland. [4] In 1928, she lived on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland. Later she moved to the suburb of Lakewood. After retiring in 1946, she returned to live with a sister in their hometown of Fairfield Township, where she died in 1951.

West Technical High School

West Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio [5]

Edna West Commencement Photo 1907

Edna West spent most of her short life (she died in 1936) living in boarding houses. After graduation, she moved to Trenton, Michigan, where she taught school, living in a home with fourteen other boarders, most who were teachers. By 1920, she had returned to Ohio and was working as a clerk in Cleveland, boarding at 3848 Prospect Avenue (now a parking lot). But in the end she returned to teaching. According to the 1930 Census, she was a governess at the Cleveland Christian Home for Children located at 11401 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. [6] She was the first of the class of 1907 to die, passing away on April 6, 1936 in Toledo, Ohio.

That’s it for the tales of those graduates of the class who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Next up, the suburbs, beginning with Cleveland Heights.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Image from Pinterest, downloaded August 6, 2017

[2] From the Cleveland Wikipedia article. An excellent source of information about Cleveland is the Case Western Reserve Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

[3] Google Maps Image downloaded August 6, 2017.

[4] West Technical School was a highly rated high school in Cleveland. Established in 1912, it closed in 1995 and was converted to apartments. For more information, visit the West Tech Alumni Association website.

[5] Image from West Technical High School Class of 1967 Reunion Website. on Classmates.com.

[6] The Cleveland Christian Home for Children is an orphanage founded in 1900, and is still operates today. A history of this institution is at the Cleveland Christian Home Website.

Note: For timelines and sources, click on these links: Fred Osborne, Myrtle Woodruff, and Edna West. I will fill in the gaps with individual biographies for these three in later posts.

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Those Who Stayed

 

old-norwalk-high-school0001

Norwalk High School, Norwalk, Ohio 1907

 

 

In the ninety years from the founding of Norwalk, Ohio by Platt and Sally Benedict to the graduation of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, a large proportion of those who settled in the town had stayed, especially those of the social status of the graduates of the class. That was about to change. The stress of World War I and the continued industrialization of America tore at the fabric of small towns like Norwalk. The lure of the big city and the rapid settlement of the west beckoned. Within ten years of graduation, three-quarters of the class of 1907 would leave Norwalk. We’ll see where they went in my next post. In this one, we’ll look at the few who stayed behind

Only seven of the twenty-seven graduates of the class stayed in Norealk and its surrounding townships. Four — Sheldon Laning, Homer Beattie, Irene Bragdon, and Irene Eline — lived in Norwalk. The two men went away to college, and lived elsewhere for a time. But they both returned to Norwalk, and spent most of their careers in the town.

Sheldon Laning and Homer Beattie

Irene Bragdon never married and lived her entire life in her parent’s house, and taught in the Norwalk school district. Irene Eline married a clerk in a Norwalk dry goods store and raised a family with him in the city.

 

Irene Bragdon and Irene Eline

 

The remaining three classmates who stayed in the area spent their lives in the farming townships around Norwalk where they were born. Earl Sinclair became a carpenter and farmed in Clarksfield Township. He never married. Gertrude Ryerson and Alice McCammon married farmers, and raised families with them on farms in Steuben and Bronson Townships.

 

Earl Sinclair, Gertrude Ryerson, and Alice McCammon

 

These seven young people of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 decided to stay close to home. Most of their classmates, however, did not. In my next few posts, we’ll see where they went, beginning with the three graduates who settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Matrimony

old-norwalk-high-school0001

When I began researching the lives after graduation of the members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, I expected to find that a higher percentage of the men of the class had married than women. A prejudiced assumption, of course, which almost guarantees it will be wrong. In fact, only sixty percent of men married compared to over seventy percent of women [1]

The grouping of men and women by ages is even more interesting, and unexpected (for me, at least). The six men who married did so between the ages of twenty-one and twenty five, with Stephen Young marrying first, at the age of twenty-one, on January 11, 1911, the same year he graduated from Western Reserve University with a law degree. On the other end of the spectrum, Sheldon Laning and Arthur Young waited until 1915 before they wed, when they were twenty-five and had started their careers.

 

 

Stephen Young, Sheldon Laning, and Arthur Young

 

Twelve women of the class married, with a much wider spread in years and ages than the men: from age nineteen to thirty-four and as early 1907 and as late as 1924.

Gertrude Ryerson married first, in 1907, the same year she graduated. I haven’t been able to learn the exact date she wed, so it’s possible she married prior to graduation. That may be why she does not appear in the graduation photo. Gertrude was twenty-one when she wed, so she was not the youngest of the class to marry. That was Nina Humiston, who married at the age of nineteen, almost exactly one year after graduating from Norwalk High School.

The woman who married last, and at the oldest age, was Harriott Wickham, who waited until 1924 to marry at the age of thirty-four. This was after graduating from Wooster College (the only woman in the class of 1907 to graduate from college), teaching high school in the west for over a decade, and homesteading in Wyoming.

 

Gertrude Ryerson, Nina Humiston, and Harriott Wickham

 

Many women worked before marrying, mainly as teachers in one-room schools around Norwalk. But, unlike their male classmates, none had a career after they wed. The remainder of their lives were dedicated to their husbands and families.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The percentage of women married may be higher than 70%. As I reported in a previous post, Florence Davidson disappears from the records after the 1910 Census. She was still single then, but may have married afterwards.

 

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Education After Graduation – The Men

old-norwalk-high-school0001

In my last post, we saw that only two women out of seventeen in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 went on to college, and only one of those two graduated. With the men of the class, however, the story was totally different . Eight of the ten male students in the class went on to college. That disparity tells volumes about the roles of women and men in society, doesn’t it?

Today, we’ll see where these eight men went to college and what they did with their education in their careers.

 

sheldon-laning

First up: Sheldon Laning – and here we solve the mystery of who in the class received the scholarship to Ohio Wesleyan University that Arthur Young turned down. It was Sheldon. According to the 1940 Census, he completed four years of college. Not all four years, however, were spent at Ohio Wesleyan. He graduated from Cleveland Law School, now the Cleveland– Marshall College of Law, in 1913. After graduation, he worked in Cleveland, He married in 1915, and moved back to Norwalk in the 1920s to work in the publishing business like his father. [1]

Three graduates attended Western Reserve University, now Case Western Reserve, in Cleveland: Stephen Young, Robert Venus, and Arthur Young.

stephen-young-commencement-photo-1907Stephen Young went first to Kenyon College, then on to Western Reserve where he graduated in 1911 with a law degree. According to the 1940 U.S. Census, he spent five years in college. He is the most accomplished graduate of the class of 1907. In addition to a successful law career, as a soldier, he served in three armed conflicts: the expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico and both world wars. He also was elected to many political offices, including the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. [2]

robert-venus-commencement-photo-1907

Robert Venus started at Western Reserve University a year after graduation and according to the 1940 Census, studied there for four years, graduating in 1914. His is an interesting tale. After graduation, he worked as a clerk in Cleveland before serving in World War I. After the war, he moved to Chicago and had a career as an interior decorator. He never married. He returned to Norwalk after retirement, where he again became a clerk, this time at a hotel. [3]

arthur-young-commencement-photo-1907

Because Arthur Young led the Class of 1907 academically, he had a choice of scholarships at Ohio Wesleyan and Buchtel College, now part of the University of Akron. Instead, he decided to attend Western Reserve, where he studied for six years. In 1911, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, and went on to study law for two more years. After leaving Western Reserve, he married and went to work at the National Bank of Cleveland in the legal department, where he rose to the position of Vice President. Sadly, his career was cut short. In 1943 he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, becoming the first male graduate to pass away. [4]

Two members of the class of 1907 studied for four years at the University of Michigan: Homer Beattie and Eugene Bloxham.

homer-beattie-commencement-photo

At the Class of 1907 commencement ceremony at Norwalk High School, Homer Beattie gave an oration on “The Call of the Wild.” Obviously an outdoorsman, he followed his love of nature at the University of Michigan, where he studied forestry. In World War I, he served as a forester in France, then spent much of his career after the war in the Federal Forestry Service. Like Robert Venus, he never married, and also like that classmate, he returned after retirement to the Firelands, where he died of a heart attack in 1950. [5]

eugene-bloxham

Eugene Bloxham studied for four years at the University of Michigan, but did not graduate. He married and lived most of his life in Sandusky, Ohio at an insurance agent. Later in life, he drove a taxi, a step down economically that perhaps was a result of the Great Depression. If that is the case, he would be the only male graduate of the Class of 1907 to have suffered loss from that calamity. [6]

harry-holiday-commencement-photo-1907

After a year of preparation, Harry Holiday took and passed the entrance exam for Carnegie Technical School, now Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The school had been founded by Industrialist Andrew Carnegie to promote the education of manufacturing and research. After he graduated, Harry stayed in Pennsylvania and had a career in management with ARMCO Steel Company, now AK Steel Holding. He retired early, in the mid-1940s, due to a heart condition, and moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he died of a heart attack in 1949. [7]

Fred French Commencement Photo 1907

Finally, Fred French, and another mystery. According to the 1940 Census, Fred had two years of college. I’ve searched every source I can think of, but have not been able to find where he went to school. He married and went to work for Ford Motor Company as an engineer, but his subsequent life was shaped by tragedy. According to his World War I Draft Registration card, by 1917 his wife was crippled, why I do not know. She died sometime after the 1920 Census, and Fred never remarried. He ended his life back in Norwalk, living in his father’s house. [8]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Sheldon Laning Dies; Prominent City Publisher,” Norwalk Reflector, September 25, 1967, page 2, column 1; U.S. Census Records from 1910, 1920, and 1930.

[2] “Stephen Young” article in Wikipedia.

[3] Western Reserve School Directory of 1909, 1910, 1913; Cleveland City Directory, 1916; U.S. Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976, Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918; “Obituaries – Robert Venus,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, November 27, 1956, page 16, column 2.

[4] Western Reserve University Yearbook, 1911; “Arthur Young, 53, Born Here, Dies at Cleveland,” The Norwalk Reflector Herald, March 26, 1943, page 8, column 3.

[5] The Michiganensian 1913; Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918; “Homer Beattie Passes Away,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, December 13, 1950, page 1, column 5.

[6] Catalogue of Graduates, Non-Graduates, Officers, and Members of the Faculties, 1837-1921. University of Michigan, 1923; U.S. Census: Sandusky, Ohio, 1920, 1930, 1940.

[7] “Candidates for Carnegie School,” Norwalk Evening Herald, June 17, 1908, page 4, column 5; “Harry Holiday, Former Armco Official, Dies,” The Middleton Ohio Journal, April 22, 1949, page 19, column 6.

[8] Records for Fred French are sparse, especially in newspaper archives. What I know about him I’ve gleaned from U.S. World War I and II Draft Registration Card and the U.S. Census for 1920, 1930, and 1940.

 

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