Letter #4: May 15, 1889


I think he wanted me to know. Why else would I find this exact tidbit of information among the piles of documentation, 127 years later?  Sometimes, you gotta shake your head.

While researching my great grandma Orah, the subject of my series The Malevolent Matriarch, I discovered letters written in the 1880s by her father, my great, great grandfather, Alfred Josiah Smith. He wrote from Ironwood, Michigan, and in all, I have 14 letters spanning from January 1889 to mid-1892. I’ve been (thankfully) overwhelmed.

As with Orah’s letters, I’d rather read and share than tuck them away, again. Some of you may recall the fuel for my fire when I started the Malevolent series; we are in the possession of hundreds of letters Orah wrote in the 40s and 50s in Tacoma. Gotta share.

I’ve written Josiah’s letters here as he wrote them, with spaces between ideas due to run-on sentences. I’ve highlighted in red new or interesting pieces of our puzzle which I discuss below. Each paragraph corresponds with a page. Enjoy!

“Josiah     May 15    /89

answered                   Ironwood Mich              May 15 1889

Dear Father and Mother    I wrote you about a month ago but have not heard a word from you     we have had letters taken out of the office here      there is another man here with the same name as my self  A. J. Smith    after this write my name J. A. and I will be more sure to get them(1)     I am going to get me a box and then I will have the number of Box put on    we are all well at present    I have been at work most all the spring    I was sick one week so I did not

try to do anything    work here is good this spring or has been good   I am going to work on a new theatre building in Hurley(2) in the morning     it is to be 113 feet long by 50 feet wide     there is a good deal of building in H this season and also here    the mines here are working heavier this season than ever before    they are putting in very expensive machinery in all the mines     I am building an addition to our house  12 by 18   that will make my house one part 16 by 24 and the other part 18 by 24     we have a front room 14 by 15 inside    a bedroom 10 by 12    a closet 4 by 10    in the wing we have a dining room 11 by 12(3)  a kitchen the same    2

bedrooms and a bullery (?)    so you see we will have room enough     I wrote you about sending me some fruit(4)  I think it has got so late now that I won’t try to put out any thing till this fall    I will set us out a strawberry bed in Sept so they will get soaked this fall    they do well here   I have got some garden in and it looks like well.    got peas    are up about 2 inches high   we have lettuce potatoes radish turnips and cucumber up    we had a nice snow storm here last night and part of today   but it is all off tonight   it snowed about 2 inches.  Lew’s folks are usualy well    charley

was under the weather last Sunday but he is all right now    I think he was over here yesterday    Truman Sears from Pine River(5) stayed with us last night    He is up here at Kimballs mill(5) at work   he is talking about coming here and going to wok at carpenters work    he will work with us(5)    well it is most 10 oclock and I must close    Ida’s baby weighed 19 lbs at 3 months(6) old     love to all”   

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1. Yeah, he wanted me to know, since this one piece of information IS HUGE in research. That Alfred Josiah changed his name to Josiah Alfred makes perfect sense, the reason, though, something I had missed. Since another man with the same name lived in the area, their mail was mixed up or lost. When I search, I pull up information for both Alfred Josiah and Josiah Alfred. It’s been baffling why he was listed both ways. Yet, if not for this one letter….

2. Josiah was a carpenter having worked on many structures, including improving upon his own home. Historical accounts of most structures I’ve researched name owners, managers, and architects, but usually not builders. Still, I like to think my ancestor helped build the following, given his mention of this “new theatre building in Hurley” (built in 1889):

April 2016_Tainter theater_Hurley_ WI_mableold

Mabel Tainter theater, Hurley, WI

The dimensions Josiah wrote don’t seem to match with the photos I found; however, it may have been added to through the years. I found no other theater in Hurley built that year.

April 2016_Mabel Tainter Memorial Theater_Hurley WIMore of a close up of the theater, one can see the amount of work involved in this enormous project. If you look closely, above and to the right of the arched entry, you can see the year: ’89.

3. At the time of these letters, Josiah and Helen had three children; still, the size of the rooms caught my attention. When our three children were young and we were in the process of moving, we rented a small house for a short time. The bedrooms in the rental were the same size as Josiah’s, 10 by 12. I could hardly breathe with barely walking room around the beds. Although 127 years later, I’m amazed how people, expectations, and generally how life is perceived has changed.

4. “…sending me some fruit” once again indicates Josiah’s parents may have lived fairly close. My gut tells me this may take a good deal of digging before I locate his parents’ home during this time.

5. Josiah mentions a Truman Sears from Pine River–age 56 at this writing–and, while then working at Kimball’s Mill, was to join Josiah’s team as a carpenter. I did indeed find a Truman Sears from Pine River.

April 2016_death record_Truman Baldwin Sears_Pine River WI_1907_co worker of Josiah

It was difficult to find this particular mill in Kimball; for one thing, there were many, and Josiah wasn’t specific which type of mill. I presume lumber, but cannot be certain. Josiah mentions several times the rate of building in Ironwood and Hurley at this time. I am happy to know demands of the time provided work for his growing family.

6. It looks like baby Faith, Ida and Lew’s daughter, continued to grow like a weed. As of this writing, she was now a whopping 19 pounds at five months old, having gained four pounds since March. There was no mention of Josiah’s baby daughter in this letter. Faith was the sixth child (of seven) of Ida and Lewis Seeber (family chart is in Letter #2).

While learning the reason for Josiah’s name change, it helps and hinders. I know the reason, but with double the research hits, at times it’s more confusing. I may also never know which exact buildings Josiah worked on, I do know the area, and possibly some of the houses. I am grateful he wrote down some of the dimensions. That helps match possible sites.

Next: Letter #5–The remedy for “fearful sore hands,” adding roads and sidewalks, and…..did you say haunted?

Photo courtesy: mabel-tainter-memorial-theater_hurley-wi.png, and tainter-theater_hurley_-wi_mableold.gif

  2 comments for “Letter #4: May 15, 1889

  1. Amy
    April 10, 2016 at 6:47 am

    These letters continue to fascinate me—what a dutiful and loving son he was to write such sweet, informative letters. His parents must have cherished them to have saved them also. You must come from a long line of family historians—people who cared about preserving the past.

    My daughter currently rents a studio apartment in Boston that is 10 x 12. It is tiny!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 21, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      I too am fascinated and hope to resume my posts very soon until all 14 are posted. I recently discovered on Ancestry that Alfred’s parents wrote letters as well and those are up for family and others to enjoy. Just wow is all I can say. I have a real treasure here for sure. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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