Letter #7: December 27, 1889

The series continues

A letter from Josiah

INTO IRONWOOD

My mother found letters authored 129 years ago by my great, great grandfather, letters, in fact, partly responsible for the start of this blog. The author’s daughter is our malevolent matriarch.

Alfred Josiah “Si” Smith was his name and his family lived in Ironwood, Michigan. As a carpenter he worked on many local houses and businesses. He also built his home on North Street (now Evans. To see how I determined there was a North street in Ironwood, you can read about that in LETTER #5 and LETTER #6). The links take you to my other blog, Finding Merle, and links to letters 1-4 can be found on the SMITH surname page on this blog.

As with Letters 1-6, I type them here as written, with spaces between ideas or sentences, and each page as written appears as a paragraph here. I highlight in red interesting facts about their life which I discuss below.

Here are photos of the author and his parents, the recipients of these letters. Enjoy!

Since the top of page one ends with the end of page four, I’ll start with the true beginning of page one and add page four’s ending when I post page four.

Josiah answered Jan 15                Ironwood Mich Dec 27 1889

Dear Father & Mother

We recd your cabinets(1) last week & were very much pleased with them    I think they are good with the exceptance of ma’s eyes, we were glad to hear that you had left the farm(2) for we all think it will be a good deal easier for you in town than on the farm especially in cold weather   your letter found us all well and able to eat    I have had work the most of the time so far & I guess probly I can get enough to do here so we can live & keep out of debt this winter   Helen

has worked in a dress makers shop(3) here all the time since the last week in Aug till this week   She has been at home so far but she has got to go to the shop again in the morning   She gets $3 00 per week   She stays at home one day in 2 weeks to do her washing   She has 2 boarders all the time  Rail Road men(4) so you see we don’t have much to do.    Well we shall have to wish you all a Merry Christmas & a happy New year.  Lews folks(5) were all here on christmas   we had a big turkey & a big time   we had a house full all day.  at night

we went home with Lews folks & went to a christmas tree in the new Me E church in Hurley   Christmas eve we had one here in the Presbeterean church so we attended 2 this year  The children got quite a lot of presents & both of the boys got a new suit of cloth. We are having a nice winter up here    only one cold day so far & I don’t think the thermometer has been much below zero here    last week we had 2 fires here one night & one the next    one house burnt all down & the other burnt the top story out of it    it was a boarding house about 80

feet long    it burnt a hole out of the middle about 40 feet long.  There is only about 10 inches of snow only enough for sleighing    Charly & Orah are going to school this winter & are dong nicely   Orah stood 90 in her drawing class(6) next to the best in her room   there was one boy that stood 95    she has only drawn one time before this   she is real good at it    it seems to be natural for her.  We all have an invitation over to Lews ????? to eat oysters    I think you & Seb (?)(7) are almost living together    that makes it nice for you   How is Downer(7) doing in the storm   I supose he has let his place   You did not tell us who you had let your place  

What follows is the top of page one:

to.  but this looks as though I must close for this time   well love to all Helen & Si

What caught my eye

Notes and questions

  1. Received cabinets. Does this mean Charles and Maria bought cabinets for Josiah and Helen’s home and had them sent to Ironwood? Or, did Charles make them?
  2. Left the farm. This does give a narrowed time frame for when they moved from their farm.
  3. Not only did Helen work at home, she worked in a dress makers shop. Now we know the source of Orah’s fabulous sewing skills. In the 40s and 50s, Orah made dresses for her girls, Hazel, Bertha, and grandma Lalla in Tacoma.
  4. Two boarders all the time. That means they had seven mouths to feed.
  5. Lews folks. This refers to Lew Seeber, husband of Ida, Si’s sister.
  6. Orah stood 90 in her drawing class! My heavens! Orah could draw? I don’t think I’ve seen any work from her that may have been saved through the years. Sadly,  the drawing gene was not passed down.
  7. Downer refers to Downer Hale, husband of Sylvia Smith, another of Si’s sisters. Could “Seb” be a nickname for Sylvia?

What caught your eye?

Filling in the pieces

I could easily comment on most everything Si wrote, but to keep this shorter, I hit just a few. If you can help fill in the pieces of the Smith family activities, please leave a comment.

Here is the letter from December 27, 1889.

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Photo credit: Photo of Charles and Maria Smith ~ Daphne Purchase

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  1. The drawing gene was too passed down! I have a sketch of Willie Nelson on my wall that speaks to that. Fun to hear the details of their lives. We commented that house fires must have been much more common back then.

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    1. Ahem, yes (glad you can’t see my sheepish grin right now), I should have said that the drawing gene bypassed me and went directly to my oldest son. Tyler, you not only received drawing genes from Orah, you received them from your grandma Margaret and dad’s aunt Priscilla. You received a triple dose, and folks, that drawing of Willie Nelson he speaks of is awesome. Thanks for reading (and keeping me in line). 😉

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  2. I was just reading Si’s letter #7. Based on the date of the letter (1889) and Charles’ date of death 1893, along with the age of Maria and Charles in the photo, the “cabinet” photo you have at the beginning of the post is probably the photo to which Si is referring in the letter. That may be the last formal photo ever taken of Charles. The photo would have been sent to all the children probably. So, coming from a family who saved so many things, you actually might eventually come across the photo.

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    1. Thank you for posting this, and for sharing with us the likelihood that all the kids were given the photo. There are several photos of Charles floating around, and I wonder if we could determine the dates when they were taken. It may give us a clue, but I doubt I have a copy; most of the photos I have of the Smith clan are two generations down. But, I will keep my eyes peeled. 🙂

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  3. Hi. Two comments that I hope will help. First, I think the word “Cabinet” doesn’t refer to a piece of furniture. It probably refers to “cabinet cards”–a photographic method of printing a photo on thick stock with a decorated backing. It was popular in the 1860s.
    Second, Sib was definitely a nickname for Sylvia. I have it in several places in my collection.
    THANK YOU so much for sharing these letters.

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    1. It made no sense to me that a carpenter would have his father make his own furniture and then send it later. It appears as well that we have many “cabinet photos” in our vast collection, and many are elaborate. Josiah’s writing is hard to read at times but it does look like either Sib or Seb. I had no idea she used a nickname. Did others use nicknames? We know about Sate, but….??

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      1. Yes, Sate was a nickname for Sarah. I also have several places where Sarah was referred to as Surry. It was mostly the Smith family, I think, who used the nicknames. I’ve not seen them anywhere in print other than hand-written letters.

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        1. You know, as a follow up to your article about nicknames, it might be fun to write another about what you know of those nicknames such as Surry for Sarah. I’d never heard this before now. 🙂

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  4. I believe the “cabinets” actually refers to a type of photograph, which would explain why he liked them except for “ma’s eyes.” Cabinet photographs were photos mounted on stiff cardboard, usually had some elaborate designs on the front and/or back along with the name of the photographer. Your photo of Charles & Maria is a good example of a cabinet photo.

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    1. Hi, Barb. Yes, that does make more sense than actual wooden, furniture cabinets. I had not heard of that term with reference to photos. Interesting term for photos. Thanks for the input.

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  5. My grandfather’s aunt was Ora. Not a name you hear much any more.

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    1. Interesting name, huh? Her full name was Orah Myrtle Smith. I’ve seen a more current version as Aura, but I think great grandma’s version is growing on me. 🙂

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      1. Aura seems a little New Age while Ora is more like Cora and Dora and Flora.

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        1. I began seeing Aura as a first name when I was in college, so definitely more “current.” Then again, I lived in a hippy town (and loved it). 🙂

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          1. Well I spent 50 years in Oregon. Not only were people named Aura, but Sage, Flower, Bear, and so on.

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            1. Hmmm…50 years. Then you must, based on my last message to you, know which college I attended. 😉

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              1. But did you get to go to the Vortex held at McIver Park by Governor McCall to avoid clashes with the American Legion? Now that was a scene that made Eugene seem tame.😂🤣😂

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                1. Nope; Vortex was before my time. For this fairly sheltered girl from a small town, certain aspects of life in Eugene were pretty shocking.

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                2. I think they were shocking to everyone, including me. I will say Vortex cured me of any curiosity about naked men!

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  6. It is amazing that you have this letter. How was it preserved? And who saved it all these years? I wonder how cabinets were sent back then. By train? Horse and buggy? It sounds like they had a hard life, worrying about food and debt.

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    1. Amy, They (there are 14!) were in a file cabinet for many years, I think in just an envelope. When I first saw them, I saw copies; I later received the originals (in the process of being stored properly). The only reference I’ve seen to them by family members was in a letter written by Josiah’s daughter Orah who felt the letters should stay in her keep. When she passed, the letters went to her daughter, my grandma, and then my dad. They were not handled much at all hence their very good condition. I wonder if large pieces of furniture were sent by train; seems most likely. I think it was very common to have boarders, but, what besides a bed and food, was included in the arrangements?

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      1. That’s a good question. I think it probably depended on the family and the location. In a city apartment, they may have had no obligations aside from paying rent. In a rural environment, maybe they also had jobs around the house or farm. I also have wondered what is the difference between a lodger, a boarder, and a roomer! I’ve seen all three terms on various census records.

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        1. I wondered about the idea in general as, when my mother was growing up in Seattle, her parents left the front door unlocked for anyone who needed a meal. Grandma left food on the table and they were welcome to come in and eat if they were hungry. I’m not sure in this case if these people also worked around the home or grounds for food. I’ll bet back in 1889, food security was a very big deal. Good thought on rural vs. city.

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          1. Was that during the Depression? My dad talks about giving people apples.

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            1. In part, yes; I think this was just the way our grandma behaved. She was a very kind woman. 🙂

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        2. Not sure about a lodger, but a boarder got a room and meals, while a roomer just got a room, no meals. My grandmother also had boarders and I know it was hard for her to have to prepare meals for them on top of running a candy business. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t responsible for doing their laundry or anything like that — just provided a bedroom and meals.

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          1. This is a good point as is Amy’s about Roomer, Boarder, or Lodger. I imagine all three came with different expectations. I didn’t know much about Helen but I am gaining insight now. Your grandma ran a candy business? Sounds like a great story for your collection. Thanks for stopping by.

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            1. Hi Karen, My grandmother, along with her sister Bess, operated the business out of my grandmother’s house for the most part — started it in the 1920’s, managed to keep it going during the Depression and both World Wars and up until 1952. A lot of the letters in lettersfromthe1920s.wordpress.com deal with how they started and then worked at it along with raising families, etc.
              I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks for your posts.

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              1. Thank you, Barb, and for the link to those letters. What a fascinating legacy. I’m enjoying your blog, too.

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          2. Thank you for that information—that’s a very useful distinction. My great-grandmother had a boarder, and I can’t even imagine where he slept in the tenement apartment where my grandmother and her siblings and my great-grandmother lived in the Lower East Side.

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