Sonnystone Saga: The Fellows

To celebrate 17 years living at Sonnystone Acres, we are publishing  a series of posts chronicling the first three families who lived here, spanning 111 years… This is the ninth installment of the series…

Mary Igleheart Erskine had accomplished her goal of attending college despite all the hardship of an outbreak of typhoid fever, spending two years at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw) in Greencastle, Indiana.  While there she met and fell in love with a seminary student, Albion Fellows.

Albion Fellows was born in New Hampshire, but his family had moved to Dixon, IL when he was young.  He had attended Mt. Morris College, near his hometown, for a couple of years before beginning his studies in Theology at Indiana Asbury.  He and Mary were married a month after his ordination in 1854 and they began the traveling life of a Methodist minister of the times.  Rev. Fellows joined the Northwest Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, serving first in Valparaiso, then in Westville, where their daughter, Ella Delia, was born in 1856.  In 1857, he was a professor of Greek at the Methodist seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  That year, Mary and the Reverend welcomed their second daughter, Lura.  ( Mary returned to McCutchanville for the births.)

In 1859, when Mary was pregnant with their third child, the Rev was transferred to the Southern Indiana Conference, where he pastored a church in Boonville, Warrick County, Indiana, fairly close to Mary’s childhood home. Mary gave birth to a son, Wilbur, in August, 1859.   The 1860 census reveals that the Fellows Family -Albion, 32, Mary, 31, Ella, 4, Lura, 2, and Wilbur, 11 months, are living in Boonville where Albion is a “Minister, ME” with real estate valued $600 and personal property, $300.  Also living with them are Mary’s sister, Martha, who is a schoolteacher.  Sadly, baby Wilbur died later that year.

Rev. Fellows and family moved briefly to Patoka (Gibson County) and then to Mt. Vernon (Posey County) between 1860-1862.  In April, 1861, another son was born: Erwin. Erwin died just a month past his first birthday in 1862.

By 1863, the family had moved to Evansville, then a thriving town of 11,600 souls;  All of Mary’s Igleheart uncles were living there, as well as a couple of her Erskine relatives.  I’d wager she was glad to be closer to home/family, especially after the loss of her babies.

According to the 1863 City Directory, the Fellows were living at 66 SE Second Street (now the parking lot of EVSC offices); Albion is listed as “Presiding Elder, ME”.  1863 also saw the addition to the family of daughter, Anna.

Two years later, Rev and Mary were still at the same address, but he is named as Pastor of Locust Street ME Church. just across the street.  Locust Street ME had been built in 1839 and was growing strong. The congregation had made plans for a new building, had even bought the land for it on Third and Chestnut, but the Civil War had delayed the efforts.  When Fellows became Pastor, he re-invigorated the building plans.

From “Holy History/Evansville Living Magazine, May/June, 2016:

“The local architectural firm Mursinna & Boyd prepared drawings for a 150-by-76-foot, Gothic-style building patterned after St. Paul’s M. E. Church in Newark, New Jersey. In 1864 the Evansville Daily Journal asserted the building would prove “one of the very handsomest church edifices in the whole western country.

Trinity UMC Evansville IN – truly one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever attended…(sketch from 1870s)

“Work began in early 1864, with the first of 400,000 bricks set in place on May 16, 1864. A little over a month later, on June 19, the congregation laid the cornerstone — at this event Rev. Fellows praised the congregation’s faith in undertaking such a project during the Civil War.”

Ah, yes, that pesky Civil War. Evansville’s commerce along the Ohio River was reduced during the war, especially after the closure of the Mississippi to commercial trade with the South.  There was some economic recovery in Eville by providing transport to Union troops across the river, and the growing railroad network kept them afloat.  Other than the men who joined the Indiana Regiments, the city’s greatest contribution to the war effort was providing medical care for the wounded soldiers.  During the Civil War, four hospitals served the Evansville area and took in hundreds of injured soldiers from the bloody battles being fought up and downriver in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The new church building for which Rev. Fellows had laid the cornerstone was completed in 1866, but the Pastor did not live to see it completed.  It is written in the history of the church that he was “overtaxed” by the building of the church, leading to his premature death at age 37.  The family history relates that the Rev. had become soaked and chilled after a horseback ride back to town from a rural church, and subsequently came down with a fatal case of pneumonia.  Most likely both histories are true.

At the time of Reverend Albion Fellows’ death on March 4, 1865, Mary Erskine Fellows was very pregnant.  She gave birth on April 8 and named the baby girl after her deceased husband: Albion.  Tragically, Mary’s oldest daughter, nine-year-old Ella, died four months later on August 25.  Shortly after, Mary and her three daughters retreated to her father’s farm in McCutchanville.

Stay tuned…


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