I took a drive down old Hwy 98 this weekend through the old home village. I drove down the sideroad beside our old place next to the Ruscom River and very slowly approached the barely marked railway crossing that ran behind our place, carefully looking both ways for a train as I’d always done.
I need not have been so cautious. Because the trains are gone.
I had no idea. Last year when I visited the ancestral homeland, I never saw a train. But I assumed they were still running. Maybe they weren’t. The impact of the realization that they were gone hit me .. well .. like a freight train. I can’t explain why it was such a shock, except maybe to say that it triggered a whole set of memories. Trains in the night. The rumble of an approaching train, and then feeling it gradually get closer as it shook the house and demanded our attention with its loud whistle.
I sometimes felt a bit afraid as the train got closer. There were some very dramatic accidents that happened at those crossings, both behind our place and my grandparents. And there were some fun stories too. My father still tells about the Mail Flyers and the Wolverines and the other names they would have for the trains that came by. My mom used to take the train home from school in Ridgetown. One time, she tells me, she brought two baby goats home on the train. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the rail line was double tracked. There were no passengers trains but lots of freight. You could sometimes see two trains coming at each other on different tracks from different directions. There were a lot of trains.
This summer, I want to walk the rail line all the way from South Woodslee, through Ruscomb, to Comber. A long slow way to experience my birthplace at a leisurely pace and maybe experience the place from a different perspective. I’ll look at the surrounding land, imagining what it must have been like to be riding on one of those trains, whistle blowing, pistons pumping, flying along on the hard, flat countryside. I’ve never seen the place from the perspective of the rail line before. It would have been a little dangerous to do that a few years ago.
But now, I can walk along the rail line without having to listen for that distant rumble. I won’t have to get off the rail line. Because now, there are no trains …. just the silence of the fields. And my memories.
I have been corresponding with Dennis Cotter of Woodslee who has been trying to track down some long lost relatives.
The above picture, is the Great Southern Hotel in Woodslee — Writes Dennis — “This hotel was owned by my great grand parents Ed and Margaret Cotter, Edward (Ned) died in 1892 and Margaret ran it until she sold it to her nephew Simon Hogan in 1896. The lady on the far left is Emma Cotter Maier, one of Edward’s younger sisters.”
He is also trying to track down some missing branches of the family tree.
“My Cotter’s were from Ontario, I think near Tilbury. My grandfather, John Peck was supposedly adopted by Charles & Mary Ann Pique from around Chatham Tilbury district. I think now that there was no adoption that far back. My grand father was born in 1866 in Canada. All he knew was his real parents name was Cotter & they were too poor to keep him. Probably had other children too.
I’m wondering if there is any way to trace them. I have written to Chatham, Toronto and Ottawa and none could help. I’m glad to know two things, the name and the area. These Piques’ took him when he was a baby. My grandfather and mother’s name should have been Cotter if he wasn’t adopted.”
If anyone has any information to contribute, post a comment on this post and I’ll put you in touch with Dennis.
And thanks, Dennis, for sending me this request. I like it when people add to the knowledge that has already been collected by my grandmother. It means that our heritage and history is constantly growing. And therefore, the past, and our ancestors, still live on.
This was an exciting discovery — the ship’s manifest from the ship Virginia. It was sent to me by a Dodson cousin, Jan Briggs McGowan, who I connected with recently over Ancestry.ca and our common ancestors.
My grandmother’s history said that the Dodsons came over, 17 in number on The Virginia, on July 3, 1841. I suspected that she had the name wrong. After all, there must have been hundreds of ships over the ages named Virginia. Turns out she was right. (I think it might have been 1842 … since the ship was brand new and registered in October 1841. Or maybe its first voyage was before it was registered? I don’t know … it’s the right name, the right family and approximately the right date, so everything else about the story is consistent)
And her story of 17 of my ancestors coming over in one shipload was also right. She actually says it was 17 Dodsons and Parrs that came over together.
Jan sent me the names of the Dodson/Parrs on the manifest. It turns out that this was a very tightly intertwined family tree. Three Dodson siblings married three Parr siblings. The families must have been very close. My imagination starts spinning. Did their parents betroth their children to each other when they were born? Or did they live next door to each other and the kids had such a good time playing with each other that they decided to do it for the rest of their lives? A charming story whatever the truth is.
So here are the names of the shipload of Parr/Dodsons: (I counted 18 .. maybe one of them was born on board ship). Can you imagine 6-8 weeks on a ship with 12 children???!!
Jan’s line — Richard Bates RB Parr and his wife Mary [Dodson] and their children Richard, Mary Ann, Rose, Priscilla, John & George
Mary’s brother Wm Dodson Jr and his wife Elizabeth [Parr, sister of RB] and their children Susannah, Eliza and John (not sure if he was bn England – maybe he was born on board ship)
My line: Mary’s brother George Dodson his wife Esther [Parr, sister of RB] and their children John, George and Richard Elisha
As for the good ship Virginia:
The U.S. ship VIRGINIA, 649 tons, was built at Nobleboro, Maine, in 1839, and registered at the port of New York on 1 October 1841. In 1845, James Eaton, master, she was advertised as sailing in J. Elwell’s line of coastal packets between New York and New Orleans, and in 1848, Benjamin Salisbury, master, she was advertised as sailing in Nesmith & Walsh’s packet line between New York and Liverpool.
And as my grandmother wrote, the Virginia did go down in a storm. Not until ten years after the Dodsons/Parrs had arrived in the New World. So there’s a big grain of truth even though the specifics weren’t accurate.
(This part of the letter begins by Adella talking about her life in Texas, where she moved to be with her daughter, Shirley Brueggerhoff. Music is the theme of this part of the letter, and her beloved piano)
“They both (Shirley and her husband) both sing in the Presbyterian Choir and Gary in the junior choir. She (Shirley? Not specific) brought my mother’s organ (1875), solid walnut and not high, and wants my parlour grand. I don’t play and sing too much any more but would be lost without it. I must tell you about my piano. It’s no ordinary piano and was maybe tuned only once or twice but the copper strings brot from Germany are long as a baby grand. That’s why it’s so high and was built for the Toronto Ex and came directly to me as present from my father in 1902. Mine is a Knabe but I’ve never played on a better one than it.
The dining room suite cost $1200 and is beautiful. When Shirley and I went home in ’64, my grandpa Thompson’s large bible was all to pieces upstairs in the hall .. I took out two pages (where it was written) where they were married in ’37 in Muddy York (Toronto). They had 7 children. Ma was the youngest and born in 1856, so she got a lot of furniture when grandma (Thompson) died in 1892 and Grandpa came to live with us. The front page, I left .. (where it was written) “Given to John Thompson in 1846″.
By last spring (1965), ALL had been taken, also my sister’s huge hope chest, tall lamps and many things. We gave the new washer to Sherwood (Simon), but one of the other two is a real museum piece.
The walnut cupboard with glass doors in the dining room and 2 walnut drop leaf table came from Langton Norfolk Co. My mother’s old home. We brought the cherry chairs, Grandma’s, with the original cane seats and numerous things. My grandpa made the trunk in then front hall upstairs. Maybe in Ireland.
There was so much to be done and I am glad to hear you are repairing things, papering, painting etc. Shirley put some stoneware, English, in the top of the cupboard (glass) in the kitchen thinking she’d go up when she sold, but it happened at the same time she was moving so she was too busy. The big white potato dish is over 80 years old as are the other dishes.
I have my Grandma’s paisley shawl that my grandfather’s brother bot in Paisley, Scotland in 1847 and cost $37.00. My grandparents (Thompson) came from Armah and Enniskillen, Ireland. When built in 1901, our house was the finest home between London and Windsor.
Hope your not too bord reading this.
Yours most sincerely,
Adele Taylor (Knister)
(ed note: There are another couple of pages in the letter about the politics in Texas. The letter contains some very spicy comments about Lyndon Johnson’s family. I’m not going to repeat them here because our story is not about either LBJ or American politics. Okay, there’s one line I can’t resist “I hate LBJ like poison but I’m a Democrat so I’ll vote for him”. And “With our Socialist Commy government I don’t know how long he will last.” And also because I don’t know how libel laws pertain to people who are dead, I won’t repeat what she said about LBJ’s sister. Many of the women of Ruscomb had very definite opinions about politics. Adele was one of them.
Thanks to Barb Ayearst for sharing this wonderful letter).
This is part 2 of a letter written to Barbara and John Ayerst from Adella Knister Taylor about the grand home of her childhood. See previous post for part 1.
“Staunton Knister’s dad was a first cousin to pa, and when he had a sale, they bought the TERRIBLE green and gold dresser in the back bedroom which came from England and is walnut (so his wife, Pearl told me). But one of pa’s housekeepers painted it green and gold — wasn’t that awful? …
We gave bushels of things to three museums and others too numerous to mention ..Ethel’s sewing machine and dressers and big table upstairs were left. After her husband died, Ethel moved down to the farm and I went home and washed all the downstairs woodwork and dishes etc. Ethel never had much time for housework — she’d rather be out of doors and tend her cats. I guess that’s why I don’t like cats. Ha.
The two and a half thick stone walls in the basement came out of Amherstburg Quarry in the Detroit River and hauled there on flat cars and it has never frozen in that house with no fire. None o fher her fruit ever froze. We took cars full of things to the Salvation Army in Windsor and left boxes full in the kitchen for them to get but they did not want to come in the house with no one there.
I am thrilled someone bought the place who appreciates it, I could not even think of it for a long time. I was in hospital and bed at Shirley’s for 7 weeks with nervous breakdown. They took a dozen xrays and said it was “fatigue” but found nothing. Memories have no aches and pains. Just Memories.
I think Dr. Charles and Will Knister whose fathers were pa’s brothers, knew how I felt but I went home last May and buried my only sister and came through it fine.”
Next: Part 3 and Adele’s piano.
Written by Mrs. W. G. (Adele Knister) Taylor
February 4, 1966
Written to the Ayearst Family shortly after they bought Adele’s childhood home.
You’ll be surprised hearing from me, but as I am the only one left who lived in my old home, I thought I’d better tell you a little about the house. I washed the dishes for the carpenters, painters etc in 1901, as we of course boarded them. After the painters had 8 quarts of varnish and rub downs on woodwork, the architect would not accept it and 3 more were put on, making 11 in all.
Of course, the quarter cut oak doors and wainscotting and 2 floors came off our “other place”. Many times the dog and I went for the cows in the woods across the creek. I gathered mushrooms there on this side of the creek (Ruscom River October 62). While Shirley loved the place it was my home over 60 years, while (sister) Ethel and I each owned the farm on the 6th concession. (I sold 50 acres to Russel Simon for much less than he got for freeway (ed note: Highway 401).
It went on Shirley’s* tuition at Alma College where she graduated in Interior Decoration in 1944 at age 18, and afterward at Texas University. I gave the other 50 acres to my sister Ethel (married name Pembleton) where the barn burned. Some one was kind enough to throw a cigarette on the straw stack while the threshing was in progress, so burnt the barns, stock and all.
Ethel sold her farm about 10 years ago with the stand of oak wood walnut. My cousin Dr. Charles Knister said they sold $12,000 of timber off it.
My mother and brother died in 1917, then my father had housekeepers and alwasy hired men. My father died in 1930.
Tomorrow: the opulent furniture in the house, and the not so opulent green and gold dresser.
* Shirley was Adele’s daughter, who eventually married and stayed in Texas. Adele moved down to Texas to live with her daughter, which is where the letter was written.
There were two houses, each built by a Knister brother. One of the houses was on the Middle Road (now County Road 46). The other was on Middle Road North, which was one road back. Both houses looked very similar, except that the big house on Middle Road North had a TOWER.
When I was a child in the 60s, this house was very spooky. It was abandoned. The owner, Ethel Knister Pembleton was in “a home”, we were told. In the late 1960s, the house was bought by John and Barb Ayerst.
Barb no longer lives there but is still a friend of my aunt. When she heard I was collecting the history of Ruscomb, she sent me a letter that Adele Knister wrote to her about the magnificent house that her father, John Knister, had built in 1901.
John Knister was born in 1857. His wife, Mary Thompson Knister was also born around that time. They had three children, Ethelda (Ethel) born abt. 1884. When I was a child, she was still living. Her name was Pembleton. I found a marriage certificate for an Ethelda Knister to Karl Kendrick in 1914. So it appears that Mr. Pembleton was a second marriage. Adele, born Nov 16, 1885 in Ruscom, married Walter George Taylor on June 5, 1912. Cecil, the youngest child, was born on June 19, 1892. He died on May 23, 1917.
The house was built in 1901 after all three children were born. The letter tells us about the house. It also tells a lot about the life that went on in that house. What is interesting to me is that it provides a glimpse into the lives of Ruscomb’s wealthiest family. All of the old families of Ruscomb did well for themselves and their descendants but the Knisters did much better than most. I don’t know anything about the line of business they were in, other than farming. Maybe they were wealthy immigrants and brought money with them from Germany when they arrived in the earlier part of the 19th century. One way or another, they built a couple of very grand houses.
In the next few posts, I will share that letter that Adella wrote about her memories of the house with the tower.
Edward Hazel (1750 – 1821) was the father of:
Julia Hazel Delaurier who was: 1780-1851
Father of Gilbert Delaurier 1841-1919
Father of Fred Delaurier 1867 – 1937
Father of Madeline Delaurier Wallace (my grandmother)
I have found references to Edward Hazel in many local Essex County history books, but they were always for an Edward Hazel from Malden. So I didn’t think it was the same Edward Hazel. Thanks to Debbie Honor, who posted a comment, I now know that Malden Edward Hazel is indeed our Edward Hazel: (I quote Debbie)
“During the American Revolution time period Edward Hazel lived in Detroit. There was no one living in the Leamington area at that time. After the war, a group of men,Loyalists, were given a gift of land from the naitves in what we now call Malden Township, a part of Amherstburg. At the northern end of that grant was the property given to Capt. Bird who became Edward Hazel’s brother-in-law through marrying two sisters. Capt. Bird returned to England bacause he inherited land in Wales. He rented the Amherstburg property to his two other sisters-in-law, Agnes Hazel and Judith Ramsey. In 1796, Detroit was handed over to the Americans because the border was settled going through the Great Lakes and the British decided to build Fort Amherstburg on Capt Bird’s property. So they kicked Edward Hazel off. He was compensated for his crops though. Capt. Bird got nothing for the land.
Edward Hazel and Alexander Wilkinson (who married daughter Ann Hazel) were also living on Matthew Elliott’s land in Malden Township during the War of 1812. If you read the story of Alexander’s cabin being burnt in the Essex Biographical book, that is the location. I have a map from the 1960′s made by David Botsford, former Curator of Fort Malden, that shows the location. Edward Hazel was part of the Indian Department and Matthew Elliot was basically his boss. It would have been difficult to do his job if he just lived on his property in the Leamington area. So I’m thinking his cabin at Elliot’s house was a place to stay when he was working. Hazel was the British government’s contact person with the Wyandotte Indians and he often went on raids with the Wyandottes before the War of 1812 to show the British support.
Edward Hazel, as a Loyalist also had a track of land given to him in Colchester in the New Settlement, Lot 77. He was later granted Lot 6 Concession 1 in Mersea Township where my ancestor, Mary Jane Hazel was born. That is where Seacliffe Park and up to Oak Street is today. I have found a reference to him getting land at Point Pelee but I’m not sure if this last piece of property would be considered part of Point Pelee in those days. (VF Note: Our family history says that Jean Baptiste Delaurier and Julia Hazel Delaurier didn’t actually have a deed to the land. In otherwords, they were squatters. Which wasn’t such a low life thing to do in the early 1800s as it would be today. Even so, thank you for restoring the family honour, Debbie, by acknowledging they were there legally. Because we all know how important “family honour” is to all those old county families. By the way, the Delaurier Homestead is now a museum in Point Pelee National Park — though my aunt says Julia and Edward didn’t live there .. it was a cousin. Still need to get to the bottom of that story)
You should see what I have found about Edward Hazel during the American Revolution! Did you know he fought in Georgia and Florida for about two years?”
Thanks Debbie. More material for a book. I am starting to realize that I don’t have to go further than my own family for subjects to write about.
In recent years, it’s become more important me to recognize the passing of family members even if I didn’t know them very well. Or even at all.
I think it’s because of having been born in and connected with the place where all of my ancestors lived … and where my grandparents lived all their lives. My grandmothers, particularly Grandma Fenner, always filled us in on all the news about the relatives. She’s been gone since 1992, but I still feel connected to my vast collection of family members, at least in the abstract, because she talked about them so much.
So it is with sadness that I recognize the passing of two members of the Fenner family.
Robert Fenner, first cousin of my dad, passed away a few weeks ago. Robert studied journalism, was a lover of words and the first adult to tell me I was a good writer. The last time I saw Robert and his wife Patricia was at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party. It was very touching that they drove all the way from Toronto to Essex County to come see her. Grandma left us 8 months later, and I am really glad we had the party so she knew how many people loved her (although I think she knew it even without the party). Robert was also the son of my very favourite great aunt and uncle … Uncle Vester and Aunt Lavina Fenner.
The other Fenner who has recently passed away was John Wilcox, grandson of my Aunt Beatrice Fenner Wilcox. I had never met John, but I am in contact with his daughter Lisa Wilcox. We connected through Ancestry.ca since we were both looking to fill out the branches of our family tree. I asked my dad if he remembered John, and he said that yes, he remembered Johnny and his brother Jimmy. They were the sons of Aunt Beatrice’s son Oliver Wilcox, who was killed in the armed forces during World War 2. Dad (who was a teenager at the time) remembered Oliver’s funeral, which was a military funeral at Aunt Beatrice and Uncle John’s at the tracks on the Malden Road in Woodslee. The 21 gun salute was memorable, my dad says, and it was a beautiful day.
Oliver’s son John and his brother Jim were raised by their grand parents, Dad said. And now, Lisa tells me, John’s ashes will be brought back to the Woodslee Cemetery in early November, to be placed in the cemetery next to Aunt Beatrice and Uncle John.
Rest in peace, Fenner cousins.
Once again, real life gets in the way of history. Too busy making my own history to get back to posting stories.
I’ll get back to it next week … promise! In the meantime, it’s great to see that this site is getting steady readers. Fascinating to see what search terms people are using which land them here.
Most recent searches … Hedricks of Ruscom (they were neighbours); Chloe Delaurier (my great great aunt). Lots of searches for Irish people in Comber for some reason (Comber people were always much better at preserving their history than Ruscomb and Woodslee were. Trying to do something about that).
Other topics that have come up that are interesting …. Mr. McDermott, the photographer from Comber who took a lot of photos of local people. I have a whole envelope of mystery photos that Grandma Fenner collected. Most of them, I have no idea who they are …
And of course, Raymond Knister, Ruscomb’s poet laureate continues to be a subject of interest. If you haven’t heard the piece “After Exile”, based on Raymond’s poem which was broadcast on CBC Radio’s Living Out Loud, you can hear it here …
And my story about Great Great Grandma Fenner proceeds .. slowly … but it least it’s proceeding.
More later .. winter is coming. Lots of time for writing in front of the fireplace.