Sonnystone Saga: Before and After

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 fourteenth and final installment of the series…

When we moved in, the house was clapboard with old crank-out windows that were covered with sheets of plastic.  The fireplaces were covered and sealed with wood.  It was drafty and old Mr. Casler, who was a math professor at UE, had pushed old mimeographed test papers into the gaps in the windows.  The radiator-heating worked fine, but it needed a boost, so we put a woodburner in the front fireplace and a gas stove in the back the first winter, but our utility bills were outrageous until the following year when we put in new windows and siding.

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The laundry room is in the old garage that we call the Shed (we added a Real garage later), about 15 feet from our kitchen door.  We brainstormed for years to figure out how to connect them, finally arriving at a solution just three years ago…  It is now a fully enclosed covered room that connects the two buildings.

Walkway between house and laundry room/shed


The Big Tree in front of the south porch, where the Bird/Peace Garden is now, was a Big reason I fell in love with this house.  It was huge, seriously huge, and the first year we had a family of raccoons that lived in a hollow at its base; the babies were darling, but Casey moved them on.  After a few year, a monstrous branch fell — I can’t find the picture, but it was nearly as tall as I am — and I began to see that if I didn’t remove it, it would surely fall on my house.  I’m talking Large Tree that gave shade all the way over the house to the area where the pool is now.  It killed me (and my pocketbook) to have a crane come in and take it down.

It was a good move, though.  Just three years later 70mph straight-line winds blew in and felled the two large trees that were in the front.  They grazed our porch and took out part of the original garage roof where the pool is now.  I think the Huge tree would have smashed our whole house if it had still been standing.

the trees that fell

The hostas and ferns became a thing of the past…it’s all full sun now…and that’s why we screened in the front porch…

Over the last 17 years, the interior has been painted and carpeted a couple of times, different furniture, different arrangements.  I took very few before pictures…no phone cameras back then.  All of these “before” pictures were taken the day we first viewed the home and show the Casler’s decor…

We use the back “bedroom” as a family room…

There was a Lot of wallpaper…  We painted the cabinets 4-5 years after we moved in… I’m ready to repaint them now…this winter…

The middle room that was used as a bedroom was open to the back door–I mean, you walk in and there’s my bed and you had to walk through my bedroom to get to the fam room…  That had to change.  We put up a half-wall and made an entry area and a cozy bedroom…

The entryway formed by the half-wall changed the shotgun-house effect…

There is an entire upstairs, but we do not have “before” pictures.  It’s a cool area with two bedrooms and a full bath that features a clawfoot tub.  We’ve done work up there, but it doesn’t really show…

Some oddities:

The weird door?   It’s very small, maybe original to the cabin, but the locks are…strange…

The trap shooter… There is a foundation behind it that we’re still exploring, possibly where the shooters stood?  It is all wooded now, just to make the study challenging…

It’s been fun writing this genealogy of our home and I thank you for following along.  It isn’t just my love of the house that has motivated all this work, but also my love of historical research.

The Investigations continue!  I’ll be writing stories about my Own Ancestors and others, posting them every Monday here at Sonnystone Acres.

Stay Tuned…

Sonnystone Saga: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, again…

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 thirteenth installment of the series.

My visit to Willard Library produced a plethora of information.  I was looking for the obits of George D., Albion, and George B. Smith, but was unable to find young George’s.  What I did find filled in quite a few gaps of the years and corrected some of my assumptions.

After little Georgie’s death in 1926, the Smiths returned to Evansville and retreated to their country home.  1927 was the first year that the city directory listed their residence as “Stringtown Rd 5 miles out”; prior to then, their address was on Riverside Dr.  I speculate that they kept a place “in town”, though, since George owned the apartment building and still worked at his father-in-law’s store.

What I found on George Davis Smith was not an actual obituary…it was Front Page Lead Story…!!

You couldn’t have any easier research than that. The article is a long one, continued on p. 7 with a picture.   It covers his early life and is essentially the same info I gave you in my last post (Here) .  It does not mention the loss of little Georgie in 1926, but fills in the years after that.

In 1929, the H.E. Bacon Department Store was sold to Woolworths,  after which George and Albion spent about six months in California.   According to the 1930 census, George and Albion, now 44 and 38 respectively, are living here at Sonnystone and George is retired…but not for long.

In late 1930, George joined Harris Upham’s newly-formed Evansville branch and became its manager in 1933.  The brokerage firm had sensational growth under Smith’s management.

A lot of column inches are devoted to stories of George’s pranks…yes, he was an inveterate practical joker, often referred to as “Jokesmith”.  I abhor practical jokes, seriously avoid practical jokers, (even George Clooney) and did not find any of the pranks the least bit funny, though the writer of the article seems to have been very amused.  They were quite elaborate and there were retaliations, so the stunts went on and on.  Not funny to me, but he seems to have been very popular among Eville’s prominent businessmen.

After we started clearing off the back acres here at Sonnystone we came across a slab of concrete with a rusty skeet trap attached.  A skeet trap throws clay pigeons up in the air and shooters try to break them before they fall.  There were more of them scattered around the 20 acres that the Smiths owned.  George was an expert shot and one afternoon at a trap-shooting match with a party of friends here at Sonnystone, he played one of his practical jokes.  While everyone was breaking targets, one fellow, usually a good shot, couldn’t hit the side of a barn.  Later on he found out that George had given instructions that every time it was that guy’s turn they threw aluminum pigeons instead of clay.  very funny…ha ha ha…

But it tells me what Sonnystone was like in those days.  An avid duck and quail hunter, George kept a kennel of fine hunting dogs here.  Between duck and quail season, he hunted possums and coons at night.

Oddly enough for a duck hunter, George loved birds.  He built trail of bird feeding stations around the property and kept them filled with food for his feathered friends.

But what of Albion Smith? Her mother, Albion Fellows Bacon, died in 1933, suddenly of a heart attack.  Her obituary was a mile long, as was the viewing line at the funeral. Shortly after, her father, H.E. Bacon, who was in ill health. moved to Baltimore to live with son, Hilary, Jr., a doctor at Johns Hopkins.  He died there in 1936.

Mrs. Smith’s  obituary was much more cut and dry, but still filled in some gaps.

Quoting from the obit:  “Known as an authority on antique furniture, she had operated a shop in her home at (our address) Stringtown Road.” Later on in the obit: “She was considered an authority on period furniture and her home on Stringtown Road lent itself to the display of the furniture.  She found it simpler and easier to store and sell prints and eventually devoted her time to them.”

So which part of the house “lent itself to the display of furniture”?  It’s a mystery to me, as this house is Not Fancy.  There is no fine woodwork or trims, no classic columns or stairways; it’s a plain country house.  Albion had been raised in opulent Victorian and Edwardian homes and may have even started her shop selling her mother’s furniture, so how this house “lent itself” to display of anything other than primitive or shaker pieces is a mystery…one I continue to investigate.

George and Albion both served on various boards around the city, but were not particularly known for philanthropy and were decidedly not social activists.  They traveled broadly, according to both obits, visiting Europe and Northern Africa.  They spent time in Michigan with Albion’s sister, Joy, and in Maryland with her brother, Hilary.

One story is very telling about the Smiths:  George’s work at Harris Upham was so good that he was offered a promotion to managing the Indianapolis office, the next step on his way to the top.

As the article puts it: “It was a flattering offer, not to be scorned, but sitting on the lawn of his home, surrounded by his dogs, his ears filled with the music of the birds, he decided to reject the offer.  He explained to Mrs. Smith, “What I have here I could never find any other place in the world.”

That’s the way I feel about this place, too.  I knew from the minute I saw it that I had to live here.  I could tell that the house and grounds had been cared for and loved, then let go.  As we’ve done the “archaeology” and discovered areas that appear to have been gardens, spots where it looked like someone kept dogs, and uncovered stone walks that lead to nowhere, I’ve felt the presence of Albion and George urging me to fix it up, make it pretty, invite the birds, and be content.

George Smith died in 1955 and Albion sold the home two years later.  She divided up the 20 acres into parcels, leaving the house with four.  She moved to a home on E. Gum in Evansville.  In 1961 she became ill and went to live with her sister, Joy, in Michigan; she died there in 1962.  She and her two Georges are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, a spot on my to-visit list.

Having spent her life overshadowed by her famous mother, and having an even more-famous author aunt, I wondered if Mrs. Smith’s obit would also prominently speak of them.  Interestingly, it only gives her mother a line, but devotes an entire paragraph to her Aunt Annie. Her obit does not mention the birth and death of her son, the most important part of her story.

After the Smiths, no family lived here more than four years until 1970 when Max and Candace Casler bought the house.  The Caslers stayed until Max’s death in 2003.  Sadly, the Caslers let the place go downhill during their 33-year tenure.  Next week, I’ll show you some more “before and after” pictures.

Stay tuned…

Sonnystone Saga: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

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 twelfth installment of the series. 

I am not a fan of naming your children after yourself, but then I did name my son Michael after his father so I lost my complaining rights.  I know first-hand how confusing it gets until you finally call one Michael “Mike” and one “Mickey” or “junior”.   So I’ve tried to not get too judge-y about Albion Fellows Bacon naming her second daughter her own name: “Albion Mary”.  In 1892, the elder Bacon was 26-years-old and certainly not famous yet.  While her friends and family called her Allie or Albion, she was styled “Mrs. Hilary E. Bacon” back then; all women of society did.  So for whatever reason, the little girl born on 4 Jan 1892 to Hilary and Albion Bacon was named Albion Mary Bacon and I will call her Albion, Jr.

For the first years of Albion, Jr.’s life her mother was in a deep depression, unable to interact with her or her sister, Margaret, who was three years older.  With the house dark and silent, the girls were most likely cared for by Nannies, but there were also plenty of extended family members living very close by.   The girls’ grandmother, Mary Erskine Fellows, lived just a block away with their Aunt Lura Heilman, their mother’s oldest sister.  Aunt Lura had a big family, including two daughters around the same age as Margaret and Albion, Jr.  Aunt Annie Fellows Johnston lived just a couple of blocks away, as well. Their father’s family lived down in Roaring Springs, Kentucky and holiday visits were made there.

By the time her mother was back engaging with life again, Albion Jr was seven, Margaret was ten, and the World was entering a New Century. The family moved into a new home that was even closer to their Aunt Lura and Grandmother Fellows. Their father had formed a new partnership and in 1898 he and Adolph Lahr opened the Lahr-Bacon Company at Sixth and Main in downtown Evansville…business was flourishing.

Part of Albion Sr.’s return to living must have involved getting to “know’ her husband again, and she gave birth in 1901 to twins, Hilary, Jr. and Joy.  The twins never knew their mother to be depressed, that’s certain.  Albion, Sr.’s involvement in social and housing reformed started about 1906, when Margaret and Albion Jr were both attending Evansville High School.

Albion Jr’s older sister, Margaret, graduated from Evansville High School with honors in 1907 and went away to school at Mt. Vernon Seminary, a finishing school in Washington, D.C.  In 1909 she went to El Paso, Tx to be a bridesmaid at a school-friend’s wedding.  The night before the nuptials, Margaret Erskine Bacon collapsed and died.  It was a shock, to say the least.  No one knew she had a heart ailment that had most likely been congenital.

While that slowed Albion Fellows Bacon down for a couple of months, she powered on.  She seems to have pulled Albion jr in a little closer.

After graduating, also with honors, from Evansville High School in 1910, Albion Jr went to college, but I’m not sure where.

Albion Mary Bacon, about 18-years-old

By 1912, though, she is frequently escorted by George Davis Smith.

Smith was the only child of George Clarkson and Delia Davis Smith.  George C. Smith, with the help of his father, Jonas, a shirt manufacturer, had opened Young American News Depot in 1866 when he was only 14-years-old.  It took off like a flash and was The Place to buy books, magazines, newspapers.

In 1882, A. S. Butterfield, a successful book and stationary salesman, became partners with Smith, and the Young America News Depot became Smith & Butterfield, a company still in existence today and very familiar to native Evillians…

George C. married Delia Davis, from Michigan, in 1884, and their son, George Davis Smith, was born in 1886.  The family lived in the same neighborhood as the Bacons and George D. graduated from Evansville High School in 1908.  He then attended the University of Michigan where he studied who knows what?  Probably Business?  He was very active in the local alumnae group, according to news articles.

In 1912, Mary Erskine Fellows died…

In 1913, George Davis Smith and Albion Mary Bacon announced their engagement and it was met with rounds of parties from the social elite of Evansville.  They were married on January 14, 1914.

The couple took up residence in Audubon Apartments, a beautiful building built by the groom’s father, located two blocks from the Bacon and Heilman residences.  They seem to be a social couple and I read several paragraphs in the “Personals” over time chronicling Albion Jr’s club meetings or teas.  I’m not sure what George D. had done before the marriage, assuming he worked for his father, but by 1916, he was Treasurer for his father-in-law’s store, H.E. Bacon & Co.

In 1917, Mr. and Mrs. George Davis Smith celebrated the birth of a son, George Bacon Smith.  I feel like this announcement has to be a typo — 14 pounds!!  What a lucky child, rich with love and money.

In around 1923, George and Albion (I can surely drop the jr by now) bought a house and acres in an area that was becoming quite a fashionable area for summer places.  Just five miles out from their Audubon apartment, it was a quaint little house and some outbuildings on 20 acres that included a small pond.  Finally! we are back to Sonnystone, though my acres number only 4.

From 1923-1928, the Smith Family only used Sonnystone as a summer home, making gradual improvements.  George’s parents, George C. and Delia D. Smith, died in 1925 within months of each other, and George D. sold the Smith part of Smith & Butterfield to the Butterfields.

In 1927,  George D. and Albion, along with their 8-year-old son, George B., traveled to Europe.  While visiting Nice, France little George’s appendix burst.  Within hours he had died of peritonitis.

If I am as sad as I am reading about it, think how devastated the parents were.  I can’t.  It’s just horrible.  His little body was brought back home and buried in the family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery.

That is when George and Albion decided to move into their summer home permanently.  That is when the major improvements were made to the house and grounds.  That is when they put the S on the chimney.

George and Albion Smith lived here at Sonnystone Acres from 1923 until 1957.  I have some information about their years here, but must go to Willard to fill in some gaps.

Stay tuned…

Sonnystone Saga: Sisters again…

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 eleventh installment of the series…

The Evansville Journal reported the 10/11/1888 double wedding of Annie Fellows and Will Johnston/Albion Fellows and Hilary Bacon in great detail the next day.  “It is quite an unusual thing to witness double marriages, which fact, with the prominence and standing of the parties made the affair doubly interesting.”  Trinity Methodist was filled to standing room only.  Annie and Albion wore heavily embroidered China silk; Hilary, Will, and the ushers wore traditional black.  The Journal sums it up:  “The parties are well-known in Evansville and will receive the warm congratulations of many friends.” 

Married life in the Gilded Age came with the expectation that the wife would not work outside the home.  Albion settled into a home just doors from from where she had lived with her Igleheart relatives. She wrote later that “my husband, housekeeping, flowers, reading, music, my friends, and a pleasant social round filled up the hours.”

Her sister lived a five minute walk away –where the Penny Lane Coffee House is today.  Annie married a ready-made family; her step-children were 16, 10, and 7. When their mother died in 1883, Will had sent them to live with wealthy relatives of their mother in Pewee Valley, Kentucky, just east of Louisville.  They were thrilled to return to live in Evansville with their father and new step-mother, but considered Pewee Valley paradise and continued to spend their summers there.

Albion, though, had to start her family from scratch and she wasted no time about it.  In September, 1889, Albion gave birth to her first child, a daughter she named Margaret Erskine.  She was delighted.  Hilary’s business, now Lahr-Bacon Department Store, was booming.

Things weren’t going as well with Annie, unfortunately.  Will suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) and in 1890 his health declined dramatically.  By June, 1891, he applied for and received a Civil War Pension.  Annie struggled to keep the bills paid and care for her invalid husband on the meager pension.

Albion was as concerned as any close sister would be, but she was pregnant with her second child.  She gave birth to another daughter, Albion Mary, on January 4, 1892.  Annie’s husband, Will Johnston, died a month later on February 8, 1892.

Annie received a Civil War Widow pension, but the economics looked pretty grim.  Her oldest step-daughter, Mary, 20, had returned to Pewee Valley, but Annie wanted to keep the younger children, Rena, 14, and John, 11, with her in their home in Evansville.  In order to make ends meet, she tutored, did typing, submitted poems and stories to magazines,…and she began to write children’s books.

Just down the street, Albion was suffering from what in these days we call post-partum depression, back then called “nervous prostration”.  The books I’ve researched are old and take a great deal of time debating whether her depression was caused by the “stifling of her creative outlets” caused by the rigidity of The Gilded Age.  If it weren’t for the proximity to her sister’s plight and the birth of her second baby, I might buy that.  Given her independence and smarts, she would never have been happy just going to teas, but from her own description it sounds like deep post-partum depression and thank goodness today we understand it better and are able to help more.

She writes about it in her autobiography, “Beauty for Ashes”:

There was one long while where I could not hold them (her daughters) in my arms.  The house was hushed and darkened, and the servants went around with noiseless steps.  For months I was very ill.  Then, for nearly a year, I dragged about white and thin…weary, listless, indifferent, with no special interest in anything but my family…For hours I would sit idly, not making an effort even to read… It seemed as if the wheels of life had suddenly stopped…It was two years before I took any interest in people, two more before the shadow of the eclipse had moved off my world. It was eight years at least before all my energy and enthusiasm and joy of living returned.”

Meanwhile, Annie had her first book published in 1893.  “Big Brother” sold few copies, though.  In 1894, she won $1000.00 in a contest for the story “Joel: A Boy of Galilee”, which encouraged her.  She, Rena, and John frequently visited the children’s aunt and uncle, and cousin, Hallie, at their estate in Pewee Valley.  Annie was inspired to write a book based on Hallie.  She called it “The Little Colonel” and it was loosely based on the family, their servants, and the community.  In 1896, Annie sent off her manuscript to a new publishing house, L.C. Page in Boston, MA.  The editors began the back and forth, but there was no money exchanged.

Annie Fellows Johnston writes in her autobiography, “The Land of the Little Colonel”:

“In September, 1897, we came to a turn in the road where we could only see one step ahead at a time.  Rena joined Mary in Pewee Valley; I sold or stored our household goods and took John up to Highland Park to put him in the military school there.”

Annie took a position as a companion/governess/chaperone for a young lady, traveling for three months in Europe.  By the time she returned, “The Little Colonel” had been published and was a phenomenal success.  She moved to Pewee Valley, where she followed up her success with more success, and The Little Colonel Series eventually comprised 13 books and other merchandise, including a 1935 movie starring Shirley Temple.

I Really Love Annie, Really Really…

As Albion was coming out of her depression, Annie spent time with her compiling a book of poems they had written when they were growing up in McCutchanville.  “Songs of Ysame” was published in 1897.  That same year, Albion and Hilary moved into a their newly-built home at 1021 SE Second Street.  She joined The Women’s Foreign Missionary Society at Trinity Methodist and returned to involvement in the Ladies Aid there.  A Calendar of Events in Evansville, 1898, included two poems each by Albion and Allie.  Slowly, she was coming back to Life and when she finally began to paint again in 1899, she felt truly healed.

In 1901, Albion gave birth to twins: Joy and Hilary, Jr.  Margaret was 12 and Albion jr was 9.  The Bacons were quite rich.  Albion had two nannies for the twins, a housekeeper, cook, and gardener.  She lived in a beautiful home on a street full of beautiful homes.  She was totally unaware of anything but the life of privilege for many years, but that began to change.

Albion Fellows Bacon tells the story of how she “woke up” in her beautifully written autobiography “Beauty for Ashes”, which I urge you to read.  For purposes of brevity, I will sum it up thusly:  Realizing the plight of poor people, she especially noted that their living conditions were abominations.

Believing that substandard housing was the root of urban social problems, she tried to pass regulations to improve Evansville tenements, but failed.  She changed her tactics and began to lobby at the State level, with her goal to pass a statewide housing law.  She worked with a national group to draft legislation which was sponsored by the Indianapolis Commercial Club in return for her work lobbying the state legislature.  She attended every session of the Indiana General Assembly from 1909 to 1917!  As a result, housing reform bills were passed in Indiana in 1909, 1913, and 1917.  The 1917 housing reform bill was passed unanimously.  Albion wrote pamphlets and books on tenement reform throughout those years.

Albion’s daughter, Margaret, had died in 1909, just 20-years-old, while away at college.  It was a blow, but she persisted in her passion.  She writes that she always made family her top priority, taking her children along when she traveled to Indianapolis for the legislature sessions and when she traveled to speak at various clubs and organizations around the country.  Hilary became involved with local philanthropic causes in Evansville and was a strong support for his wife’s efforts.

I wonder what it was like to be the daughter and niece of such dynamic women–and to carry your mother’s name, no less.

Stay tuned…

Sonnystone Saga: Sisters

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 tenth installment of the series…

Mary Erskine Fellows only stayed at her Dad’s farm for a couple of years after the death of her husband and daughter in 1865. By 1870, she had returned to Evansville and was living on Gum Street with her three daughters and her sister, Anna Erskine, who was teaching school. She owned real property worth $5000 and personal property of $600, and the enumerator records her as “Mary E. Fellows, widow”. She never really cared for the city, though, and around 1873 she left again, this time building a house next to her father’s. Two of her brothers, Levi and James Erskine, lived on either side of the home on Erskine Lane, just a stone’s throw from the Methodist chapel built back in 1848. There she stayed for the next eight years.

From the 1880 Vanderburgh County Atlas…just under No5 Erskin Bros, it says “Mrs. Fellows” just next door to the “M E Church” …

Community life in the village of McCutchanville revolved around the church and the school. Mary was a very devout Christian and raised her daughters to be the same; they were in church every time the doors were opened and attended every Revival.

McCutchanville residents had built their first schoolhouse, a log-cabin affair, in 1852, not far from the Fellows’ home. In 1874, a brand new two-story, brick school building was erected. The new school had two school rooms and an upstairs auditorium that also served as a community meeting place. But the village had no streets, no stores, and the post office was the private home of Samuel McCutchan, where mail was delivered weekly. It was far from the bustle of Evansville, away from the smoke stacks that blackened the city skies, but still only an 8-mile buggy ride into town to visit with family or to shop.

Lura, Mary’s oldest daughter, went away to attend the University of Wisconsin in 1875. Her younger daughters, Annie and Allie (as Albion was nicknamed) were inseparable. They had ten cousins living close by and in addition to attending school and church together, they spent much of their childhood years together taking part in the seasonal activities of farm life: planting and harvesting, sheep-shearing, sorghum and cider-making, wheat-threshing, There was always something to be done.

In addition to attending McCutchanville School, Mary taught the girls at home where Allie and Annie read everything they could get their hands on and memorized long poems. They took to writing and when the girls were 16 and 14, they each had one of their poems published in a magazine, “Gems of Poetry”. It was a great thrill for them. Though they didn’t try to get anything else published for a long while, they continued to write and were members of “The Literary Society” a group that met in the community hall in the schoolhouse, where they shared their efforts.

In 1877, Mary’s father, John Erskine, died. Born in Ireland, Erskine was one of the original settlers of the British Settlement. He divided his assets among his many descendants.

17-year-old Annie Fellows began teaching at McCutchanville for the 1880-1881 school year. Allie had just finished elementary school, and was excited to begin Art lessons in Evansville.

Albion and Annie Fellows, circa 1880 — from the Albion Fellows Special Collection, Special Collections, Willard Library

The biggest excitement of 1880 came when their older sister, Lura, married George P. Heilman on November 2. The Heilmans were a prominent Evansville family who owned a large foundry, Heilman Plow Works, as well as other business interests. After a honeymoon in Europe, the couple moved into a beautiful home on Chandler Avenue and started their family.

Annie Fellows went off to college in 1881-1882, attending the University of Iowa where a paternal uncle was a professor. Mary and Albion moved back to Evansville that same year, moving in with Lura and George Heilman. Allie attended Evansville High School, graduating in just two years in 1883. Albion was salutatorian of her high school class and wrote the words and music to the class song, as well as delivering a stirring speech at the commencement ceremonies.

Annie returned after a year at University, and began to teach in the Evansville School System in 1883, a job she continued for the next three years.

Later on, Albion wrote that she was “crushed” that she was unable to attend college to pursue a study of Art and states that her mother’s monetary resources were scarce. I seriously question that explanation. For whatever reason, though, she did not attend, instead taking a job as a secretary in her Uncle Asa Igleheart’s law office. She learned shorthand and quickly became a well-respected court stenographer. She admitted in later years that this experience–often being the only woman in the courtroom, traveling to different counties to record trials, learning how laws are made and tested– prepared her for her future more than a college education could have. She also continued to write and had several poems published in magazines. She joined Trinity Methodist Church (where her father had laid the cornerstone) and was active in various women’s clubs with her sister, Annie.

By the mid-1880s, Allie had moved out of the Heilman house and was living at her Uncle Asa’s house at 1003 Upper Second St. Quite the independent young lady, she had several beaus, though she and Annie were still as inseparable as two working women could be.

One of the gentlemen who courted Albion was Hilary Bacon. Hilary lived just two doors down from Uncle Asa, boarding with his half-brother, Dr. Charles Parke Bacon. The doctor and his wife had helped Hilary set up a dry goods business with three partners, starting out as Keck-Miller, and Co. Thanks to a lot of hard work, it was very successful. By 1887, two of the partners sold out and the store was called Keck-Bacon, located at 207 Main, where it remained for the next decade.

Hilary was enamored of Albion, but so were several other gentlemen. She had at least one declined proposal, and wasn’t particularly inclined toward marriage. She and Annie had grand plans to travel to Europe, though their mother was pressuring them both to marry.

Then Uncle Asa died suddenly in 1887. He was mourned throughout the State of Indiana, and was sorely grieved by his niece Mary Fellows, and her two daughters. He had been their benefactor, as well as a stable, secure source of wisdom and strength to the little family.

After Asa’s death, their mother, Mary, increased the pressure on her two youngest daughters to marry. Annie and Allie gave in, and in December, 1887, they announced their engagements and plans for a double wedding. Albion was to marry Hilary Bacon and Annie was to marry William Johnston. Johnston was their cousin (cringe), son of Kitty Igleheart Johnston, who had died when he was just 9. Johnston had been raised by the old pioneer Charles F. McJohnston up in McCutchanville. He was 12 years older than Annie, a widower with three children, and an established pharmacist (then called a druggist) in Evansville. The wedding was planned for fall of 1888.

But before they married, the sisters insisted on embarking on an adventure which they had planned since they were little girls in McCutchanville: to travel abroad together. Their Grand Tour began on May 21, 1888, and they traveled for three months, seeing as many wonders as they had dreamed of in their childhood.

Returning at the end of the August, Albion and Annie Fellows began to plan their wedding in earnest and set the date for October 11, 1888.

Stay tuned…

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…


Sonnystone Saga: Erskines and Iglehearts

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 eighth installment of the series…

I just received a hard-to-find copy of Kenneth McCutchan’s book “From Then ‘Til Now: History of McCutchanville”, autographed by the author even!  This book was published in 1954 by the Indiana Historical Society and it is chock-full of interesting information such as this:

“The Erskines, the second white family to arrive in McCutchanville, came also from Ireland, but were descended from a very old Scottish family whose records go back for centuries…

It was the bitterly cold Christmas Day of 1819 when William and Mary Erskin and their four children tied up their flatboat at the Evansville landing.  They had come from Largey, in Antrim County, Ireland.  Whether they had intended going on down the river is not known, for during that Christmas night the river froze over so solidly that all traffic was brought to a halt.  Mr. Erskine was able to rent a small cabin from Hugh McGary, the founder of Evansville, and the family remained there until spring.

Perhaps during the long months while the winter wore away they began to like southern Indiana, for when the weather broke and good green days came again, Mr. Erskin went back into the hills and selected a site for a farm, which he later purchased at the Vincennes Land Office for $1.25 per acre.

With the spring, the family moved to their new estate and set to work to build a barn.  There were more hands to do the work than there had been in the McJohnston family.  The Erskin children were already grown; the two oldest boys were 22 and 23 years of age.  This barn, constructed of round hickory logs, is thought to have been the first building erected in the McCutchanville area.  It was located on the brow of the hill north of the present (McCutchanville Methodist) church at the end of what is now Erskine Lane.”

The children of William and Mary Erskine were John, b. 1797; Andrew, b. 1799; William, b. 1802; and Mary Ann, b. 1805.  The elder Erskines died in 1825, just six years after their arrival, both aged around 60.  By that time, though, the community had already come together and the “children” were integral members.

Levi Igleheart, Sr. was 37 when he settled into western Warrick County in 1823.  He and his wife, Anne, had seven children with them: Harriett, 14; Elizabeth, 12; Mary Ann, 10; Catherine (Kitty), 8; Asa, 6; Levi, Jr. 3; and Eleanor, 1. In 1825, their last child, William, was born.

The Iglehearts were not in McCuchanville. so there is next-to-nothing written about the family in Kenneth McCutchan’s book.  Their land was situated in Warrick County along the Vanderburgh/Warrick County line,  just a  short distance east of the British Settlement.

From Indiana Biography Reference Page, Levi Igleheart, Sr. :

“There is reason to believe that proximity to the British Settlement was an inducement to the elder Igleheart to settle with his family, as the leading families of the British Settlement had brought with them into the wilderness, British ideals, correct speech, musical and literary culture, with church opportunities, and all three of Mr. Igleheart’s sons found their wives in the British Settlement and two out of five of his daughters found their husbands there.”

However, Levi Igleheart, Sr. was a big deal in Warrick County. In 1825 he was appointed Magistrate in Warrick County and was elected by the Board of Magistrates to be its president. He continued in that position until after 1830, when the law was changed to form a board of three County Commissioners, to which Igleheart was perennially elected.

In 1826, Levi’s eldest daughter, Harriett, 18, married John Erskine, 29,   They set right in having babies and ended up with eight children: Joseph, b. 1827; Mary, b. 1829; James, b. 1831; Levi, b. 1833; William, b. 1835; Anne, b. 1837; Martha, b. 1839; and Sarah, b. 1846.

Soon, all of Harriet’s and John’s siblings married.  John’s brother, Andrew, had married Ann Ewing in 1825. In 1834, Harriet’s sister, Kitty, married John Johnston. In 1842, brother Asa was wedded to Ann Cowle. Youngest sister Eleanor married Amos Wright in 1843. Levi, Jr. married Susanna Ingle in 1844., and William tagged along in 1848 when he married Mary Ann Ingle (his sister-in-law’s sister).  The population was booming as they started having babies.

All of these grandchildren of Levi Igleheart, Sr. lived a typical American Frontier life, even though their grandfather owned the biggest house in the village.  The older daughters were taught to be responsible for their younger siblings at an early age, as their mother was having babies every two years.  The boys were expected to help in the fields as soon as they were able.  Formal schooling only lasted 10-12 weeks and studying had to be worked around many chores.  Their mothers picked up the slack, teaching at home and encouraged learning, and the Igleheart men were supportive of education for both girls and boys.

John and Harriett Erskine’s oldest children, Joseph and Mary, dreamed of going away to college.  In 1837 Indiana Asbury (now DePauw University) had been founded in Greencastle, Indiana, and the two siblings, with the blessing of their parents, planned to attend together in 1847.  Alas, that was not to be.  In 1846, an epidemic swept through the village, killing 37-year-old Harriett Igleheart Erskine.   Joseph, 19, also succumbed, as did little Sarah, only two-years-old.  The fever also killed Anne Taylor Igleheart, the matriarch of the Igleheart clan.

Mary Erskine, just 17, was devastated by the loss of her adored brother, mother, and grandmother. Now she had to be a mother to her younger brothers and sisters, who ranged in age from 6 to 15, and her dream of attending college seemed like just a dream.  The family, indeed the whole community, helped where they could, but the responsibility was crushing.

In 1849, Mary’s Uncle Asa Igleheart, who had been studying for years, passed the Indiana Bar Exam and received his license to practice law.  He, his wife and young children moved to Evansville, about eight miles south of the farms, where he set up a law practice.

Finally in 1852, Mary Erskine, now 23, and three of her siblings traveled the 150 miles to Greencastle, rented rooms, and began their studies. (note: the college was not co-ed; the women attended in separate buildings, called the Ladies’ Seminary)   She loved it and things went so well that in 1853 they returned, bringing with them another sister and two Igleheart cousins.

In 1853, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever that took the life of one of the cousins.  One of her sisters was very ill and Mary spent months nursing her back to health.   Though she missed a lot of classes,  she made the best of it. She had, after all, fulfilled her dream…and had also met the man who she would marry…Albion Fellows, a seminary student.

Meanwhile…back at the farms…

 Uncle Levi, Jr. moved to Evansville in 1853 where he established a saw mill.

 In 1854, Uncle Asa was appointed Judge of the Pleas Court, a position he held for the rest of his life.

In 1855, Grandpa Levi Igleheart, Sr. died,, distributing his wealth and land among his family.

In 1856, Asa, Levi, Jr., and little brother, William went into business together, establishing a grain mill at 5th and Locust in downtown Evansville (where the old Majestic Theatre was in my childhood).  They called it Igleheart Brothers, Millers.

Stay tuned…



Sonnystone Saga: the British Settlement

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 seventh installment of the series…

Soon after the death of his wife in 1817, Charles McCutchan-Johnstone sold his businesses in County Longford, Ireland, gathered up his seven children, and set out for the USA.  They arrived at Pittsburg, PA, where Charles (hereafter the family name is McJohnston) bought flatboats and traveled down the Ohio River to Evansville, IN.  Eville had little to show for itself in 1819, so McJohnston continued past it and up the Pigeon Creek until he reached Stringtown Hill road where he disembarked.  He had brought with him, besides household goods, a wagon, horses and plenty of pounds sterling…  He headed northward along Stringtown Road Ridge.  In 1819 the “road” was nothing more than a winding path through the forest from which the saplings and underbrush had been cut, but which had giant forest trees standing in its center along its entire course.

Instead of following the road northward and on toward Vincennes and Princeton, as earlier arrivals had done, Mr. McJohnston struck out eastward on an Indian trail about a quarter mile past Sonnystone, now called Petersburg Road.  The family crossed the valley, and climbed the next ridge of hills where they stopped. The land had been government property since the Indian treaties and was open to claim. He registered approximately one thousand acres at the Vincennes Land Office.  Upon those acres lay the future village of McCutchanville.

There was an influx of settlers who followed the McJohnstons.  Do you remember the Inwoods?  William Inwood, father of both of John Reed’s wives, also arrived in 1819 with his family; his son John married one of McJohnston’s daughters.   There were the Erskines, the Wheelers, the Maidlows, the Hornbecks.  McJohnston’s brother, William McCutchan, came later.  The area around McCutchanville was known in those early days as the “British Settlement”. By the end of 1820 there were 53 families who owned 12,800 acres of land and capital of $80,000…about 1.2 million today.  Not a bad start.

It was 1823 before Levi Igleheart, Sr. arrived with his family.  The Igleheart family had come to Maryland from Germany in 1740.  Levi’s father, John, had fought in the Revolutionary War and owned plantations in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  Levi and his wife were Woke!  They decided slavery was wrong and sold their slaves (you could not actually Free slaves in those days; there were Laws against free black people living in the slave states).  However, they found they couldn’t farm the property without the slaves, so they sold their land to relatives and pioneered west.  After a stop in Kentucky, they finally settled on the outskirts of McCutchanville along the eastern edge of Vanderburgh County.

The community was tight-knit.  There was a lot of work to be done clearing and building homes, barns, and mills.  Though of varying denominations, there was a circuit rider that began to visit the village in the early 1820s. The homes most often visited were those of Charles McJohnston, Sr., Levi Igleheart, Sr., Mark Wheeler, John Erskine, Sr. The preacher came on Saturday night, sometimes traveling for a month to get there. Two services were held on the Sabbath, morning and afternoon. The living room was cleared, beds were removed and slabs were brought in and set up for seats. The “congregation” had traveled anywhere from 5 to 10 miles on horseback, in wagons, and on foot. They brought cold lunches with them that were supplemented by cooking done the day before by the homeowner.

The village built their first schoolhouse in 1832.   Girls were given the same consideration for education as the boys. It was 1845 when Samuel McCutchan (McJohnston’s nephew) was appointed the first Postmaster and the community was named after him.  That same year, ground was broken to build a Methodist-episcopal church-building with $300 old Charles McJohnston had willed for that purpose.

From McCutchanville to the Evansville Court House it was about 8 miles.  The only way to get there was down Petersburg Road to Stringtown Rd, past Sonnystone Acres and down the hill across Pigeon Creek to the flatland.  We are situated about about halfway between the two places, so the residents of McCutchanville passed by Sonnystone on a regular basis on their way to town.

100 years after McJohnston blazed that trail, one of the descendants of those early settlers, Albion Mary Smith, moved into Sonnystone and she and her husband, George Davis Smith,  placed the S on the chimney.

But first, let’s meet Mrs. Smith’s ancestors…

Stay Tuned…


The Sonnystone Saga: The Millers

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 second installment of the series…

Jacob Miller was born 1812 in the Electorate of Hessia.  It’s unclear when he came over from Germany and finding a Jacob Miller/Muller/Mueller in the plethora of German immigrants who swarmed into Vanderburgh County in those days is like finding a needle in a haystack.

What’s certain is this particular Jacob Miller was 26-years-old when he married Maria Klein in 1838.  He bought his first 20 acres of land in Center Township in 1840 and opened a blacksmith shop, one of many in Mechanicsville,  on the north corner of Sonnystone, near the State Road (now Stringtown Road).  Just up the hill, they built the original Sonnystone house, and the hand hewn logs that Jacob placed as a foundation still hold the place up quite nicely today.

Maria and Jacob had five children:  Henry was born in 1840; Conrad, 1842; John, 1844; Jacob, Jr., 1846; and Mary, 1848.  The 1850 census reports that Jacob’s property is worth $2000.  That’s about middle of the property value of his neighbors.

The Miller children were educated in the schools of the time.  John died before 1860, probably right here at Sonnystone  None of the sons became blacksmiths, but they made their own way.

In 1860 the Senior Millers sold Sonnystone and moved the blacksmith shop south of Pigeon Creek near downtown Evansville.  His sons were grown and his daughter had married.

Oldest son Henry was working as a Post Office clerk in 1860, living down near the Ohio River. When the Civil War started, he found work on the steamboats and was a  Union Army Captain by the end of the war.  He married a lady from Nashville, TN in 1868 and together they had three daughters.  Henry died in 1874, just 34-years-old.

By 1870 Jacob,Sr. had retired from the smithy and the couple were living with Conrad and Jacob Jr., all of them rather wealthy according to the census.   Conrad and Jacob, Jr. started work as store clerks, but by 1871 they established a business together: Miller Brothers Dry Goods.  Maria died in 1879.  Jacob, Sr. died in 1883.

In 1885 the Miller Brothers erected a building on Main Street that was the Largest dry goods store in the state at the time and for many years thereafter.

In 1886, Conrad withdrew from the business and moved to Boston and engaged in the same sort of business, becoming a successful merchant there. After Conrad left Miller Bros. Jacob joined in with W.S. Gilbert and the name of the business became Gilbert-Miller Dry Goods.

Jacob, Jr. never married, but has a lengthy biography in the aforementioned “History of Vanderburgh County” (1889) that gushes over his character and accomplishments. He served for a year in the Civil War, 136th Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry and was also a city councilman for several years.

In the meantime (1887), Conrad, age 45 and now living in Boston, MA,  married Anna “Annie” Jenness who is a famous lady that I’d  never heard of.  She was a “dress reformer”…huh?

From Wikipedia:  Anna “Annie” Jenness Miller (January 28, 1859—August 1935) was a pioneering clothing designer and an advocate for dress reform, as well as an author and lecturer.  She basically loosened the corsets and invented “leglets” for women, making it easier for them to ride bicycles.  I think we call them pants today.    She was really cool, a member of the Massachusetts Women of Letters alongside the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone and that was before she married Conrad (17 years her senior) at age 28.  You can read more about here here.


During the 20 years that the Millers lived at Sonnystone the area had faltered commercially.  Evansville’s population, which had declined between 1840 and 1850 to only 3,235, surged to 11,484 in 1860 and businesses there were growing strong.  The areas around Sonnystone — Mechanicsville, Kratzville, and McCutchanville — were mostly farms.

John Reed bought the estate in 1860 and he and his family farmed here for 63 years.

The Reeds have a convoluted story to tell…

Stay Tuned…