Saturday, March 24, 2012

From Census Names to Real People

       When I started looking into Powelton history, I began with the censuses. They give the name of each resident plus a few words to describe them in terms of marital status, occupation, place of birth, etc. Some of those individuals were quite prominent. However, most Poweltonians didn't head national organizations or large companies, didn't write books, and weren't heroes of the Civil War. Digging deeper using a wider variety of sources, I occasionally find brief insights into the lives of more typical Poweltonians -- some of their history, details about their jobs or social life, or hints about what happened to them in later years.
       Here are three examples from the 3600 block of Hamilton St. around WWI. These families were neighbors who probably saw each other on a regular basis while walking down the street or waiting for a trolley.

3618 Hamilton St.
       The 1910 census lists a widow, Emma Southgate (age 58), her unmarried daughter, Eva (34), and a boarder, Samuel Zacharias (70). Zacharias is listed as a widower who was the superintendent of a trust company. A brief obituary for him provides insights into his varied past.

1915: “Samuel M. Zacharias, 74 years old, who died Sunday night at his home, 3618 Hamilton street, was for 30 years superintendent of vaults of the Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company. Mr. Zacharias was born in Lingletown, Dauphin County, and was graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1863. That year he joined the Union Army, serving in the Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. Following this he entered the grain business with his father, and later was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for Juanita, Mifflin and Snyder Counties.” (Evening Public Ledger, Jan. 26, 1915)

3624 Hamilton St.
       A few doors down the block in 1920, we find Bridget Connor (age 75). She lived with her son, Bernard (38), her married (but separated?) daughter, Genevieve, and two granddaughters. Bernard was single and the manager of a fertilizer company. However, a newspaper story about a simple robbery offers some interesting details.

       “Jewelry Taken From Crippled Victim Near His Home.
       “A one-armed man was held up by four men in a motor and robbed of jewelry valued at $4000 within a half block of his home at midnight. The victim is Bernard Connor, 3624 Hamilton street, owner of a fertilizing business at Twenty-sixth and York streets. The hold-up was at Thirty-seventh and Hamilton streets.
       “Connor looked over his shoulder when he heard the motor approaching. He saw it slow down, and three men jumped out. With his only arm, his right, he struck and knocked down the leading man.
       “The others drew revolvers and threatened their victim.
       “One of them snatched a diamond stickpin from Connor's necktie, another took off a diamond ring and the third went through his vest pockets and found a gold watch. They did not bother with his wallet which contained $45.
       “The highwaymen left in their car and Connor ran along Hamilton street until he stopped a motor and persuaded the driver to give chase. The two machines sped out to Fortieth and Baring streets where the bandits' car eluded the pursuing one”
(Phila. Inquirer, March 1, 1921)

3629 Hamilton St.
       Across the street, was Augustus Keil (age 39) and his family: wife, Rebecca (31), son Robert (10) and daughters, Henrietta (8) and Anna (2). They also have a nanny, a 35 year-old black woman who was widowed. In 1920, they have another daughter, Rebecca. Robert was then 19 and working as an electrical engineer building organs. However, two small newspaper articles give some idea of what life was like for the Keil family between the censuses.

August, 1918: “Private Keil., Company M, 109th Infantry. Reported missing in action on July 15, 1918. He was eighteen years old, and enlisted in the old First Regiment, N. G. P., in May, 1917. He received his training at Camp Hancock, and sailed for France in May, 1918. The last letter received by his parents was dated June 27, 1918. Prior to enlisting he was a student at West Philadelphia High School. He lived with his father, at 3629 Hamilton street.” (Evening Public Ledger, August 16, 1918)

January, 1919: “The War Department announced today the names of one officer and 264 enlisted men of the American expeditionary force, who have arrived in France after being released from the German prison camp at Rastatt…. Among the enlisted men from this city… Roger H. Kiel, 3629 Hamilton street….” (Phila. Inquirer, Jan. 4, 1919)

       A death, a robbery, and a POW returning home are not everyday occurrences. In each case, they reveal something about these individuals. However, they also give us some feel for the neighborhood. These events were known to all the neighbors and, to some extent, they were shared losses and celebrated victories -- shared experiences that make a neighborhood (or a village) more than a list of names with ages, occupations and places of birth.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Families and Neighbors – The Ties That Bind

       Powelton’s history includes a surprising number of prominent individuals. However, the lives of the majority of Poweltonians have never been chronicled. Despite this, the histories of many families have emerged. One such family is the Butler-Dent family, three generations of whom lived in the same house in Powelton over a period of about 100 years.
       James P. Butler was born in Connecticut about 1821. In 1850, he was living in Philadelphia. He went through a number of occupations: “cork henster” (whatever that is), bookbinder, coal dealer, and silversmith and jeweler. His first wife, Emma M. Foering, died in 1858 at age 33 leaving him with two young daughters, Mary Ella (born 1853) and Fanny (1856). He soon married Mary Baker.  In 1860, they moved to 3401 Baring St. and about 1862-‘63, they moved to 202 N. 35th St. where the family lived for about 100 years.
       About 1871, his daughter, Mary Ella Butler, married Joseph H. Dent. Dent was orphaned at a young age.  His parents, Elizabeth and Joseph W. Dent, a gold beater, apparent died in the 1850s.  In 1860, Joseph, age 10, was living with his aunt and uncle, Lydia (Hansell) and Samuel Lloyd.  Lloyd was a successful brick maker.  At age 10, Joseph was listed in the census with real estate valued at $10,000.  In 1870, he and the Lloyd family were living at 3322 Bridge (Spring Garden) St. and he was working as a store clerk.
       Mary and Joseph Dent had three children: Mary (1872), Joseph (about 1873), and Ella (1877). They also lost an infant son in 1876 when they were living at 3626 Powelton Ave. Joseph began working as a real estate agent. Tragedy struck again in 1879 when Joseph died suddenly. In 1880, Mary and the three children were living with her parents at 202 N. 35th St.
       In 1900, James Butler (now 77) and Mary (80) were still living with Mary Dent and her two daughters. Grandson Joseph H. Dent was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army living in the Philippines where the Philippines-American War was just coming to an end. On August 28, 1902, the New York Times reported

The best man,  Roswell (Ross) E. Williams, Jr., was Dent's cousin who lived at 46 N. 36th St..
        What the Times failed to mention is that the Savage family was just in Atlantic City for the summer. They lived at 3425 Race St., right across 35th St. from the Butler and Dent families.  Anna Savage was the daughter of Albert and Ida Savage. Albert was born in Virginia in 1859. It appears that he was practicing law in 1880, but by 1900 he no longer listed an occupation. They moved to Powelton about 1898.
       James Butler died in 1901 at 78 and Mary died two years later at 83. In 1930, Mary Dent was 76 and living in her parents house at 202 N. 35th St. with her daughters. Mary Emma and Ella were 57 and 52 and neither had married. Mary Emma worked as a public school teacher and then at the Board of Education. Ella never listed an occupation.
       Meanwhile, their brother, Joseph, remained in the Army until 1909. In 1910, he and Anna were living with her maternal grandparents in Baltimore. Joseph worked as a bookkeeper and, later, an auditor. When he died in the 1920s around age 50, Anna moved back to Philadelphia with three of their five children.
       In 1950, Anna Savage Dent (age 65) was living at 3425 Race St. where she spent her adolescence. Her sister-in-law, Mary E. Dent was still living across the street in her grandfather’s house where she had lived almost all of her 74 years.
       It is many families like these that make Powelton a village.

A shorter version of this appeared in the Powelton Post, January, 2012