Part 2: June 1872

Researching ancestors sometimes leads to brick walls, so that’s when imagination takes over.  

https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/35787/20180314/north-country-at-work-when-eggs-were-money-and-the-store-came-to-you

            The iron-mining industry boomed from 1860 to 1870 in Black Brook allowing the Allen family to move up in the world.  In 1865, just as the Civil War ended, Franklin Allen bought a small one-acre farm that sidled up to a crook in the stream called Black Brook.  Not too far from the house, the brook pooled where an adult could wade in waist high.  Franklin, Dinah, and their five children lived in the newly built two-story farmhouse with a large front porch on which Franklin liked to take his Sunday afternoon nap.   “It’s God’s day to rest, so it may as well be mine too!” he’d often say.

            The first floor had a large kitchen with a new cast-iron potbellied stove that had a fire burning in it year round; a dining room and parlor; even two closets, one upstairs and one down, and a cold pantry that eventually would house an ice-box; and on the land was an outhouse, a shed for the chickens, and a small barn for the one horse.  A 20-foot by 20-foot vegetable garden was ploughed on the east side of the horse barn.  This was quite a big step up from the small rented house they had in the early ‘60s.  Franklin enjoyed the prosperity; after all, he knew he deserved it.

            The morning before Ruby gave birth, Franklin took his two sons into the big town of Plattsburgh to get their portait taken and to get the week’s supplies from the J & J  Rogers’ company store.  He got a bonus slip and some cash from the iron company, the same company that built and owned the store, and this weekend was a good time to go, as Dinah told him Ruby was close.  Now, two days later, he was back home.

“Ruby, stay here and keep the baby quiet,” Dinah whispered to Ruby who was nursing the baby on the cot in the kitchen.  Dinah went into the dining room to meet the boys and told them to leave the wares on the dining room table.  She’d bring the supplies to the pantry.  “Esther!  Elizabeth!  Come and help your brothers bring supplies into the house.”

            Dinah smelled the cigar smoke before he opened the front door.  “I’m changing outta my good clothes before unloading the wagon.  Wait’ll you see what I got, Dinah!    The boys had a good time in the city.”  He let the brand new screen door slam behind him. “Frank and Lyman, start unloading, eh?” he called over his shoulder.  Then upstairs he went.

            Frankie entered first, his arms filled with flour sacks and cans.  “Ma, we brought you some jams, crackers, flour, and sugar!  Rogers’ store got in a new shipment, and ‘ol Mr. Disco gave us a good price for the eggs and potatoes we brought him.”  He gave his mother a brushed kiss on her cheek as he passed her into the kitchen, completely ignoring her earlier request.  Lyman was right behind him, uttering a smooth “Hey, Ma” on his way past.    The family got busy putting away the supplies and chatting.  They all ignored Ruby and the baby.

            Dressed in his faded corderoy overalls and clean white shirt, Franklin came back downstairs and went straight to the outside to the wagon and unhitched the horse.  He did some more chores outside and talked with his sons until dinnertime.  

            Dinah, Esther, and Elizabeth set the table in the dining room.  Cloth napkins were out, dishes of hot beef stew and fresh rolls were plated for each person.  In the middle of the table, a plate of steaming trout and carrots served as the centerpiece.  The Allens weren’t an overly religious weekly church-going family, but Dinah made sure everyone said a quick “Thank you, Lord, for providing for us” before anyone took a bite of food.   One chair, Ruby’s, was moved away from the table and placed off to the side against the pale pink painted wall. 

            “Elizabeth, I brought you some ribbons.  Don’t go losing them at school now. And, Esther, I brought you some calico for you to make a new skirt.  How is Mr. Mooney feeling?  Shame ‘bout his lame leg.”  Franklin glanced up at both daughters around the table as he said her name, guaging the response.  In the kitchen, the baby started mewling.  Franklin continued, “That Mooney boy gets a pension from being hurt in the War.  Don’t do anything stupid to muck it all up, hear? So ya won’t bring shame on my good name, unlike some in this house.”  The baby’s cries were getting louder.

            “I’ll get some more rolls.”  Dinah went into the kitchen.

              In the humid June air, the kitchen was hot and sticky.  The sun was still up, so the kerosene lamp in the middle of the table was unlit.  The one window near the back door was open, but the heat from the stove mixed with the humidity made breathing difficult.  The evening sunrays bathed the half-swaddled squirming crying newborn in the bed.  Ruby wasn’t in the room, and the back door was slightly ajar.  

                        Dinah picked up the baby. With her left hand on the back of the baby’s neck and the right holding her bottom, she walked to the empty outhouse.  No Ruby.  She looked in the barn.  No Ruby.  “Where can that girl have gone?”  Dinah went back to the kitchen and lay the baby, who had gone back to sleep, back down in the middle of the bed, out of the sunlight.  

            “Franklin!  Ruby’s gone!  You and the boys need to go find her.  Girls, go see if she’s with Aunt Mary next door.”  The tension in Dinah’s voice woke the newborn back up.

            Franklin scooped more carrots onto his plate, not bothering to look up.  “I’m not done with dinner, and I’m not going to look for nobody tonight.”  He stopped talking to pull a fishbone from his mouth, and then pierced Dinah with his steel grey eyes: “If Miss Queen Ruby wishes to run away, good riddance.  Damn tramp is dead to me anyway.  And make that bastard stop crying!”  

            All but Franklin and Frankie got up from the table.  Frankie was the mirror image of his father.  He was tall, lanky, could flash a winning thin-lipped smile at will, and a mop of sandy-brown curly hair topped his chiseled face. “Can you pass the water pitcher, Pa?”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Lyman found Ruby, clad in a corset, white cotton poplin skirt, lying down, face up, her long brown hair bobbing around her in the middle of the brook.   Her good shoes were side by side in the grass next to the brook. “It’s not any of my funeral what you’re doing here, but Ma’s worried sick about you.  Get up.”

“I want to die.”

            “Oh, bull.  Get up.”  Stepping on the few large rocks not under water, Lyman made his way out to Ruby, standing over her. Lyman had black eyes like his mother.  There was a softness to them, that belied his words.  Ruby grasped his proffered calloused hand.  She stood up and fell into her brother’s arms and hugged him. They sat down at the edge of the brook, her head on his shoulder.  “I don’t want it. I can’t stand looking at it. I didn’t think this could happen.”  She sobbed into Lymans shoulder.  “What am I going to do now?”

            The sun was going down, and because it was so humid, the mosquitos were out in full force.  Some crickets were chirping in the distance.  The brook gurgled as it rushed over rocks and some trout of frog blooped in and out of the water.  Lightning bugs flickered around Lyman and Ruby as they sat there.  A few crows flew overhead, caw-cawing to each other.  Swatting his neck for the tenth time, Lyman uttered, “Ruby, we have to go back now.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Ruby stayed in the kitchen for the next few weeks until one day her cousins came over to say good-bye.  They were moving to Williamsburgh, a town about 10 miles away.  Seeing her chance to get away, Ruby packed her best dresses, her ribbons, plaited her hair, and donned her prized Dolly Varden hat, and left in the wagon with them going north.  That was the last time Lenora saw her mother, not that she remembered it.  

            From that day on Dinah became Lenora’s substitute mother.  Every night, Dinah would rock Lenora to sleep softly singing the same song:

            I gave my love a cherry that had no stone

            I gave my love a chicken that had no bone

            I gave my love a story that had no end

            I gave my love a baby with no crying……

            ….. Story to continue next Tuesday…..

Nora Allen- Hobgoblin of Black Brook – Part 1- Black Brook in 1870s

Irwin Farm on the Patent

From the late 1960s to early 1980s, every summer without fail, my sister and I would stay with our grandparents in Peru, New York.  Exit 35 off the Northway, milemarker 144.  Once or twice a week, my grandparents would bring us “up to the farm” or “up to the Patent” where my father’s mother, Martha (I called her Oma) was born and where her mother, Grammy Irwin, Anna, as Oma called her, still lived.  Here we filled up jugs of water, “good water”, from the sink in the dining room.  We then watched Somerset, Edge of Night, and Guiding Light  in the parlor of “Gram’s part” of the house.  We talked about crocheting, cooking, and the characters on the soap operas as if they were real people.  

            During the drive to The Farm, I listened to my grandparents reminisce over who lived where, who died and when, and, oddly, what the hair textures of former residents were.  “Arch, remember Barney who lived here?  Barney’s sister- what was her name again- had the curliest hair.  Very pretty.  Boy, could Barney dance.”  Or, “That’s where Senator Stafford grew up.  He was adopted, you know.”  Or, “Down that road over there is the farm your family worked at years ago.  Poor Beth.”  Sometimes, I would listen intently to the life stories of family and strangers; othertimes, I’d look out the window and quietly sing “Cat’s in the Cradle” over and over again.  Who knows why.

On Sundays, we would make our weekly trip to the Peasleeville cemetery.  I was introduced to geneaology here, and I didn’t even know it.  At the cemetery, we would all get out of the car.  That’s a practice most families don’t do anymore, at least I don’t.  A lost pasttime: cemetery visitation.  Anyway, I wasn’t much of a fan of the cemetery- the black flies and mosquitos were annoying.  And the gnats. Ugh.  But, it was what we did.  My grandmother would first go to her father’s grave.  “Here’s Dad,” she’d say.  She’d weed around the gravemarker.  And then we’d move on to other family members.

Holice and Anna Swinyer are Anna Irwin’s paternal grandparents (My grandmother’s great-grandparents)

            “Here’s the old part of the cemetery.  Gramma Irwin is over here.  She came from Holland.  Brought a rocking chair, a chest, and her own burial stone. She and Ruth always got along,” she’d tell us, or maybe herself, I’m not sure, as she pulled a few weeds from the ground around the stone.  “I should talk to Ray about how long the grass is here,” she’d say.

            From these visits, I learned that her mother was adopted, that Anna’s parents had died when they were very young, that “Gram’s family” was from a place called Swastika (for the longest time, I had wrongly assumed she meant Swastika, Vermont, but, no, it was Swastika, New York), and that genetically, my grandmother was part Irish, English, Dutch, and perhaps Native American, as well as “who knows what else.”  There was no 23andme back then- only Bibles and stories handed down from one generation to the next.

1856 Map of Clinton County
https://tile.loc.gov/image-services/iiif/service:gmd:gmd380:g3803:g3803c:la000484/full/pct:12.5/0/default.jpg

I bet most folks have never heard of Black Brook, New York, nestled snugly and quietly in the Adirondacks. Swastika, New York, was at the upper right- hand corner of Black Brook, near the Peru border.  Swastika had its own post office until 1953, but has since been incorporated into Black Brook, and Black Brook is part of Ausable Forks today.  Over the years, hamlets have been renamed, borders have been redrawn, and residents have moved on.  Today, in 2020, Black Brook  has about 1500 residents who go to work and school, who decorate for the holidays, who, at this time, are probably figuring out whether they will cook dinner or go out to eat.  Most if not all of these residents I do not know personally, although in this town is where my story begins.  

My story, rather Lenora E. Allen Swinyer’s story, begins in 1870s, in the heydey of bustle in Black Brook, the town that mined and smelted iron in Catalan forges.  90 percent of the 3,561 town’s inhabitants settled in this area specifically for the iron industry.  Families moved here from Canada, England, and parts of New England to find jobs and new beginnings in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  

            Lenora was born in June of 1872, to Ruby J. Allen (1854-1930), daughter of Franklin and Dinah (Watson) Allen.  According to the 1870 census, Franklin (47) and  Dinah (45) lived with their five children, Lyman, 21 (although Lyman is also listed as living with Martha Banker’s family whom he married in 1872), Franklin (19), Ester, (18), Ruby (15) and Elizabeth (13)  in a farmhouse valued at $200, and personal property valued at $450.  Franklin and his two sons were bloomers in the iron forges. They lived next to Dinah’s sister, Mary (Watson) Johnson, and other family members whose surnames include Blackbird and Hanmer.  On the same road, people listed teamster, milliner, blacksmith, carpenter, and a collier as occupations.  As you can see, in 1870, Black Brook was a fairly active little community.

A picture from Martha Irwin’s photo album. I believe this to be Franklin Allen with his two sons, Franklin(L) and Lyman (R) circa 1870

“PUUUUSSSHHHH, Ruby!” 

Dinah held onto both her daughter’s hands and pulled Ruby towards her.  They had been in the kitchen for four hours, and the baby’s head was crowning. 

Along one wall, the stove was smoking from the burning wood  and a cast iron pot containing a beef and vegetable stew was simmering on top.  On the floor next to the stove was a bucket with clean rags. And next to that bucket was an empty bucket. Along the adjacent north wall, in front of the cool pantry door, a cot was placed on which Ruby lay.  

“At the next pain, one more, and the baby should be here.”  Dinah looked at her daughter’s sweat-drenched face once before addressing her other daughter, Esther.  “Get some wet cloths and bring in some clean ‘appin, eh?”  Dinah’s Yorkshire accent creeped into her speech in times like this.  Childhood habits always come back.

Esther kept staring at her sister, mouth agape.  “Esther, I’m talking to you, girl.  Close that mouth and do as I say.”  Esther darted a look to her mother, then left the kitchen, leaving her mother at one end of Ruby, and her Aunt Mary, at Ruby’s head.

Mary, anticipating the next pain Ruby would have, handed Ruby the leather strap to bite down on.  With one last agonizing muffled groan, the baby entered the world.  Ruby lay back down, eyes closed, silently crying. 

Dinah held the newborn upside down and gave it a small swat.  The baby squirmed, coughed, and started crying. She then placed the baby, covered in a whitish waxy coating, belly down on Ruby’s stomach while she cut and tied the cord.  “Mary, clean up the poor bairn.”  She placed the baby in the towel in Mary’s hands.

“A little more pain, Ruby, and then you can rest,” said Dinah, as she kneaded her daughter stomach and grabbed the empty bucket.  Meanwhile, Ester had come back into the room with the fresh bedding and towels. 

The women cleaned mother and baby, the bedding, and cleaned up all the blood.  Mary handed the swaddled infant to Dinah. “Who would’ve thought my first grandbaby was gonna be old Mother Shipton?  My, you’re a beautiful lass.”  She then turned her attention to Ruby, who was looking out the window at a flock of crows circling overhead.

“Ruby, girl, you’re going to rest for a few days and take care of this wee bairn.  That’s your job.  Now I’ll help you best I can, but you must keep the baby quiet and out of your father’s way.  In a bit we’ll figure out what next to do.”  Dinah placed the infant in Ruby’s arms.  “Has she a name?”

Ruby shifted her gaze from the birds to the bundle in her arms who started to squirm.  “Lenora.  Lenora…” she looked around the room, “Lenora….. Elizabeth” she whispered.  “I’m tired.” Just shy of her eighteenth birthday, an unwed Ruby J Allen gave birth to Lenora. Ruby would not be long in Lenora’s life.

This ends Part One. Next week, I’ll continue the story of Lenora, or Nora, as most records show as her name. I’ll tell the story of her childhood in Black Brook, how she met her husband, Charles Swinyer, and how she died. I hope you’ve enjoyed this so far, and I look forward to reading any comments you may have.

3 of Lenora Allen's children: William, Anna, and Claude
William, Anna, and Claude- 3 out of 4 of Nora’s children