Many thanks to Kate
Thomas Hancock for contributing her THOMAS Family History, written
in1948, by her
Great Aunt Sarah, which traces the family migration from Wales to Remsen, arriving there in 1838, where they remained untill 1844, when they again embarked on another journey to Wisconsin. Kate tells me that part of the original property
TO THE READER
CHAPTERS I-XI have related the
events in the lives of John D. and Harriet Thomas and their children, through
the announcement of the death of Mrs. Thomas in 1886.
Because of the wide separation of the homes of their children, the remaining chapters will be restricted largely to the experience and events of the Owen and Thomas J. Thomas families, who continued to live in the Snail Lake environment.
Chapter XII: A Home On The Grade Road, 1874 - 1887
Owen brought his family to the Grade farm, he was to pioneer all over again.
All the winter of 1874, the land toward the lake--now Pewaukee Lake--echoed
with the sounds of chopping and splitting wood; by spring, the cleared
places were dotted with piles of tan colored wood, four feet, by four feet,
by eight feet, and all the surrounding air smelled of the acrid oak sap.
The first season's crops were so large that an a addition was built on the barn, in order to store grain until prices were better. The house, too, added a bedroom and summer kitchen. For these, money was borrowed from Mr. John Kings of Delafield, and from Mr. Alexander North of Pewaukee, both elderly farmers. When they called for their interest payments, they would remain for a meal in order to cultivate the acquaintance of the new Mrs. Thomas, a stranger, and like themselves of British descent, as apart from the prevailing Welsh of the neighborhood.
Unlike the treeless, stone-less, Iowa prairie, Owen's farm must be cleared also of stumps and rocks, embedded in the ground. Dynamite was not yet available to farmers. Slowly and painfully, the yoked oxen and horse teams struggled and strained to uproot the deep stumps and boulders. Fortunately, Owen had efficient help from his former tenant, Mr. Edward Martin and two willing sons, Henry and Tom.
A year later, the piles of dried cord wood had been sold to the Ormsby Lime Kilns at Pewaukee, to be delivered as soon as possible. Two loads of cord wood a day over a four-mile road proved extremely hard for the horses; by sleigh over the ice in winter would be nearer, but dangerous. Fortunately for Owen, human ingenuity came to his aid.
Henry Davy, a young tinsmith and mechanic of Milwaukee, had just opened a hardware, plumbing, and boat building shop in Pewaukee. He was the husband of Owen's niece, Fanny Gilbert, daughter of Owen's sister Margaret. Henry placed a steamboat on Pewaukee Lake for summer tourist service between Pewaukee railway station and the Lakeside and Oakton Spring Hotels. He was a dapper young man. On water, he wore a headpiece with a red band, bearing the words "Captain Davy" in gold letters. He named his small white steamer "The Lady of the Lake" painted in large letters above the prow. During the wood cutting, he frequently moored his boat on Owen's shore to look over the work. Owen was fond of Henry and admired his mechanical ability. Henry did not fail him now. He pondered Owen's wood-carrying difficulties. One day he proposed to move the wood to Pewaukee by steamboat.
When Owen mentioned the plan to Martin, the latter shook his head, "That's a risky fellow! Your wood will float all over the top of the lake."
But every morning early Henry was down at the lake planning the carrying of Owen's wood. Soon carpenters were busy fitting planks together on the shore; the air echoed with sounds of mallet and saw, and wafted the odor of boiling tar.
Henry's plan was a complete success: two trips a day, three miles each--one trip carrying the equivalent of four horse drawn loads! Neighbors heard of the work and came to watch from land. Henry's little white steamer puffing and drawing the huge piled scow away from the shore, turning carefully into the current, and gliding smoothly towards Pewaukee. The piles of wood on the farm were fast disappearing. One day a near disaster occurred. It was a sultry warm afternoon. Just after the boat and her scow had passed Rocky Point, a light squall touched Pewaukee Lake--the tail of the cyclone that struck Waterville, Wisconsin in 1880. Suddenly on all sides the smooth surface changed to moving hills and deep valleys! The Lady of the Lake was in great danger of being crushed by her heavy consort!
Henry shut down steam and stepped to the railing of the deck to unfasten the steamer from its burden. In an instant Owen saw him sway and slip into the tumbling water! Before the terrified onlooker could collect his senses, he heard Henry yelling, "Steam! Full steam! Steer away from the scow!" and saw the captain dripping wet, climbing dog fashion, aboard. He had swum underneath the boat!
The cyclone over, the lake calmed, and by dark the mariners had unloaded their cargo at the Ormsby Docks. The fields were cleared of wood, and planted to winter wheat. The scow was dismantled, dried out, and its timbers and planks laid as grainery floorings.
Chapter XI: Years Of Fulfillment, 1870 - 1886
and early 80's were the period of greatest happiness to Mrs. Harriet Thomas.
Her children were all happily settled and prospering. In these years,
many grandchildren had been born into her family: to her son John
at Lake Crystal, another daughter, Martha; to David, also at Lake Crystal,
three sons: William, Robert, and Owen, and a daughter Hannah; to Owen,
four daughters: Annie, Sarah, Mamie, and Alice, and two sons, Robert
and John; to Jane was born one son, John; to Richard, two daughters:
Ella and Jessie, and a son Winfield; to Robert, two sons: Charles
and Frank, and one daughter, Florence, -- a total of eighteen children.
Also, three great grandchildren were born, children of her granddaughter
Mrs. Fanny Gilbert Davy: Nellie, William, and Henry. No grandmother
was ever more proud of grandchildren nor more pleased to see them in her
home than was Mrs. Thomas of "Snail Lake".
These were the experiences of life that she had hoped for in the dark time of hard work, few comforts, and little leisure after John D. Thomas' death. Now, her home was quiet and comfortable with her competent daughter Jane assuming household cares. There was now leisure for reading and resting indoors, and for enjoyment of the outdoors. She loved to sit outside of her kitchen door, watching the lights and shadows over Pewaukee Lake. There was time, also, for going visiting and for entertaining, a pastime which she greatly enjoyed. Unexpectedly, any day, morning or afternoon, a lumber wagon would drive up to her gate to discharge its guests.
They were always warmly welcomed. The parlor doors were opened; the sounds of the vivacious Welsh voices of the ladies tinkled forth, followed by the unaccustomed fragrance of the cigars of the men guests. Presently from the kitchen came delicious odors of frying smoked ham, perhaps of boiling green corn, baking potatoes, and of hot rich yellow buttermilk pancakes, the favorite company dish of the Welsh. Through the parlor door the guests could see their hostess, in her black lace cap and fresh black and white print dress, laying the gleaming white cloth and silver, ready for her tall son Thomas to reach the best china and glassware from the top shelves of the pantry.
Often a Welsh minister was among the guests; the company standing silent at chairs around the table, he would pronounce a reverent Welsh benediction. Seated, the company enjoyed much lively talk and laughter, led on by youthful host Thomas. However, company manners at Snail Lake were never loud and boisterous, - always witty and polite. Conversation was the sole entertainment of young and old. Snail Lake was a home to which friends liked to take their guests from afar.
Both Mrs. Thomas and her daughter Jane would return these happy visits. At this time she was in the prime of life, in the best of health, and able to travel. In 1879, she accompanied her son Owen to his Iowa farm to visit her daughter Harriet near Lime Springs; from there she went to enjoy for a month a reunion with her younger half-sister Mrs. William Hughes at Harmony, Minnesota, whom she had not seen since they parted in Wales in 1838. Finally she visited the homes of her two oldest sons, John and David, at Lake Crystal, Minnesota, where she met for the first time their young children.
On her return home in early summer, she resumed her entertaining. As usual, the wife and young daughter of Captain Brown of Racine, Mrs. Thomas' cousin who brought the family up the Great Lakes, came for a week. Also, Captain Williams' family of Oshkosh, refreshed themselves after finishing their own harvest; nephew David Jones of Barneveld, and his family spent a few days; the wives and children of sone Richard and Robert of Milwaukee came for a week to enjoy the fresh air; and at any time of day granddaughter Fanny and her children would come up the lake "just to have a little visit at Grandma's". It was summer "as usual" at Snail Lake.
But the early eighties saw the beginning of changes. Mr. and Mrs. Griffith Roberts bought a home nearer to Waukesha. A hired girl came to help Mrs. Thomas; faithful, competent Laura Jones of Randolph took over the burden of house work. But Mrs. Thomas was ailing. The dreaded asthma of her youth had returned and, at times, was severe as to great discomfort.
Besides her suffering, in the winter of 1882, she was to experience the shock of great grief in the deaths of her two daughters, Jane and Harriet, within a few weeks of one another. Both Mrs. Harriet Evans of Lime Springs, Iowa, and Mrs. Jane Roberts were laid to rest in the Thomas plot at Salem Cemetery. In 1884, Mrs. Thomas was again in grief upon the death of her three-year old grandson Charles, child of Robert Thomas of Milwaukee.
In the winter of 1884, Mrs. Harriet Thomas sold her farm to her son Thomas, but remained in her home as usual. Her children urged that freedom from home cares and a change from Snail Lake might benefit her health. After her son Thomas, a year later, married Miss Eliza Owen of Cambria, his mother withdrew entirely from her former cares; however, her health continued to fail. She died in December 1886, at Snail Lake, and was buried beside her husband in Salem Cemetery.
With the passing of Mrs. Harriet Thomas, Snail Lake ceased to be the gathering place of her descendants. To Thomas and Eliza were born at Snail Lake, four children: George Owen, in 1887; Edward Francis, 1889; Harriet Mary, 1890, and Irven John, 1896.
The white frame house was remodeled and enlarged; the shrubbery and the white picket fence were removed, and Mrs. Thomas' Snail Lake home had passed into history.
In 1894, John, the oldest son of John and Harriet Thomas, died at Lake Crystal, Minnesota; in 1896, Margaret, oldest daughter passed away in Milwaukee; and in a few years their brother David, of Lake Crystal, Minnesota followed in death.
Chapter XIII: A Home On The Grade Road, 1874 - 1887
the coming of the blue birds and robins, Elizabeth took her two small daughters
out to find the first flowers; buttercups, march marigolds, and wild fruit
trees in bloom. They continued these walks as the seasons advanced
until they had discovered the yellow lady's slipper in the damp midsummer
woods near the lake and the last fall blue gentians. They had also
gathered wild berries, plums, crab apples, and butter and hickory
nuts. In the early autumn, she had risen before the sun to gather,
in the cow pasture and lane, the delicious pink-lined mushrooms to cook
with salt bacon for the men's breakfast.
But after the first year, she was too busy with poultry and butter making for frequent outdoor enjoyment. She saw also that her husband was to be a successful farmer; he rarely went to town without crates of eggs to sell, and jars of fresh sweet butter too, at his brother Robert's Commission House in Milwaukee; her success with turkeys was almost the envy of her neighbors.
Though general farming was universal at that time, Owen's special crop was horses. On coming to the Grade, he had bought a brown coach mare, Liz. She became the mother of several colts, four of which were finer than ordinary horses. The oldest, Prince, white faced and white-footed, sold for a top price to the Milwaukee Fire Department. Once his former owner happened to see Prince out on a call--a splendid animal, hauled much of the material for the new house; they were later sold to the Sanborn Ice Company of Milwaukee for $500.00 Charley, a shining dappled chestnut-brown Percheron with long curly mane and tail, brought Owen $450.00. The new owner shipped the horse to Montana, where some of his descendants probably still live.
Besides these successes, Owen had a gift for seeing a future fine horse in an unattractive underfed colt. From the Watertown Fair came an awkward little one that developed into a tall finely-gaited, Cleveland Bay horse which attracted attention on the roads, but was never sold. Owen loved to drive a good horse. His last driving horse he found at an auction in a Milwaukee Livery; the colt was gray--not a fashionable color. Later Owen many times refused a good price for him; this faithful animal outlived his owner.
Home life was certainly not lonely nor dull. In the winter only one hired man was needed; for the rest of the year two young Germans were usually hired at the Oconomowoc Fair. They were increased during the harvest by others who came with packs asking for temporary work. There was always a hired girl in the bury season, and fine girls they were, generally daughters of neighbors and very familiar with farm exigencies. Once Elizabeth saw a desperate looking tramp turning in toward the house. Quickly she gathered the children inside and was locking the door when her helper, Rachel Morris, pushed the door open, went out, and stopping the stranger half way to the house, asked, "What do you want?". "A match to light my pipe," he replied. "Well, you wait here. I'll bring you one," she suggested. On receiving his match, the man turned and went on his way.
Four children were born on the Grade Farm: Mamie, Alice, Robert and John. Neighbors shook their heads at the births of the two girls, "A farmer with four girls! A farmer needs boys." But the parents only laughed.
At the birth of the first son, the four little sisters were very excited, indeed. They asked to be permitted to name him, and their parents agreed. They soon announced their brother's name: Robert Owen. A caller, wishing to tease, said disapprovingly, "He'll be called 'Robber'. Give him a better name." The little sisters stood firm, and the name remained. On the birth of the second son, the little sisters named him John Arthur.
On Sundays, the children always walked with their father to Zion Church. The services were entirely in Welsh. The little girls, however, did not become restless, even during the longest sermon. They would study the millinery and costumes of the feminine members in the congregation very minutely. On reaching home, they would give their mother a fairly accurate picture of the fashions at Zion Church. Neither did any little boys grow restless in Zion Church; on the nearby road sometimes many tall velocipedes, fancy carriages, and horseback riders from Oconomowoc summer homes could be seen from the church windows. Sunday school, however, was conducted in both Welsh and English; it was largely attended, and instruction in the Bible was excellent. None of the Thomas children learned to speak the Welsh language.
In the Zion District School, the children were fortunate to be under many excellent teachers: the late Mr. Frank Fuller, afterwards City Superintendent of the Waukesha School system, Mr. Samuel Breese, Jr., Miss Nina Smith, later Mrs. Joseph E. Wildish, Miss Mary Breese, afterwards Mrs. Dr. Frank Sharpe, and others.
As Elizabeth had been popular among the Iowa ladies, she was well liked at the Grade home. Callers usually came unexpectedly, when a ride offered. Their hostess was always pleased; she dropped her work and made the visit a festive one, ending with linen, silver, and special food on the supper table.
On two occasions, her callers were Indians. The first walked in silently at noon, took a seat at the dinner table without removing his hat, and ate his pudding first. He was a transient Indian whom Owen had known. the other Indian was an old man. He silently motioned for food. Elizabeth gave him a bundle of bread and fried pork sandwiches, and he slowly walked away.
Visits from Owen's and Elizabeth's families were so frequent that they were rather a part of everyday life than company. Elizabeth's young nephews and nieces from Portage came to spend a few weeks each summer; when they returned home the Milwaukee Brown young people took their places on the Grade farm. Often times the house was so filled that hired men slept on made-up beds in the barn. These young people were the usual city company, and did the usual things.
To the children, other guests were far more interesting. Ton Tucker, a one-legged, ex-Civil War soldier, fascinated them to awe by his peg leg and his silence. He had worked in the harvest at Snail Lake when their father was a boy. Owen would see him sitting outside the gate at the National Soldier's Home at Milwaukee and bring him out to visit at harvest time. He never spoke in the house; outdoors he would always turn the grindstone for Owen when sickles and knives were sharpened, carrying on a conversation in the meantime with his host.
After breakfast he would spend his days in the groves by the lake, bringing at supper time a bundle of straight hickory saplings.
When the supper work was over for the night, Tucker would silently and mysteriously go to the kitchen, build a hot fire in the stove to heat kettles of water in which to soak one end of the saplings. As soon as the wood would bend, he would tie one end of each stick over a block to form the crook of a cane. then he would leave the wood in the hot oven overnight to dry. Several days later, he went next to Milwaukee, Tucker would return to the Home to present canes to his cronies. The children felt freer when he went.
With the Thomas children, and perhaps, too, with their parents, the most popular guest was "Gilbert", as he was called, the divorced husband of Owen's sister Margaret. Sometimes he would remain all winter helping with barn chores and with the firewood. His manners and speech were always those of a gentleman. when spring came, Gilbert brushed his clothes, packed his valise, and went "railroading".
When he returned in the autumn, he always brought candy for the children, hoar-hound or peppermint drops. From his valise, half filled with railway time tables, Gilbert would select one, spread it out on the dining table, and he and Owen would trace all the interesting places, events, and persons he had seen and met on his trip to Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, in the far west. Perhaps he had stopped at Lake Crystal, Minnesota to visit his former brothers-in-law, John and David Thomas, and brought news of them. Owen and Elizabeth enjoyed Gilbert's recital of experiences.
In bad weather, Gilbert would entertain the children by reading to them and hearing them read from their school books and their Chatterbox. Sometimes he would sing, holding his hymn-book and beating time with his hand. His voice was tenor; he sang the beginning of each line loud and strong, dwindling almost to a whisper at the end of the line. He tried to teach his pupils long, short, and common meter tunes, illustrating by the hymn From Greenlands Icy Mountains, his favorite.
Finally, among all the various guests at Owen and Elizabeth's home was the most frequent, Miss Sarah Arthur, "Aunt Sarah" to all of the family. She was Elizabeth's sister and good angel. In sickness, she was always sent for from her Portage home. She also helped Elizabeth with the sewing of the children's clothes; usually sewing at their home so as to fit each one with a new wardrobe. Her help and pleasant companionship was never to be forgotten by the Thomas family.
Chapter XIV: A Home On The Grade Road *Continued*, 1874 - 1887
80's families of the second generation of farmers had largely outworn and
outgrown the early white frame houses, to build permanent dwellings of
brick, two full-storied large homes, designed to last for generations.
These houses are still in use, after fifty years, for example, the homes
of the late Mr. Stephen Hext on the old Territory Road, of Mr. John L.
Morris on Trunk G, and the former Thomas Richards' and Thomas Williams'
The site for the Owen and Elizabeth new house had years earlier been selected: south of the old home, a little to the west, and nearer to the road; it was to be cream colored Milwaukee brick; the main part to be square with a large chimney through the middle; and the kitchen wing to be at the north side. And it was to contain a bathroom!
In 1885, Owen borrowed $1,000.00 from Mr. Robert Parry at seven percent. Early in March, the building was begun. A neighbor's hauling bee carried the lumber and brick material from freight cars at Waukesha. Stone for the basement was gathered from farm fences and stone piles. Water table, window sill and door stones were hauled from the Johnston and Hadfield quarries by Owen's splendid young iron gray Percheron team, Pete and Fanny. the architect was Mr. George Reed of Waterville; the carpenter, Mr. John Davis of Wales, Wisconsin, with his two you men: Mrs. Thomas' nephew, Arthur Beamer of Strathroy, Canada, and Richard Salisbury recently from North Wales. The masonry was the work of Mr. John Owen of Wales, Wisconsin with several helpers. the brick walls were laid by two expert young German brothers from Watertown. By winter the outside work was finished. Next, Mr. Williams (Plasterer) and his helper, John Thomas of Waterville covered the interior walls; and finally a cabinet builder of Milwaukee installed the black walnut staircase. On December 1, 1886, before the painting was finished, the family moved into the new home.
Owen and Elizabeth were very happy as friends and neighbors called to congratulate them and to look over the new house. With their guests they would walk about the rooms listening to suggestions about the choice and placing of new furnishings.
After this first enthusiasm, Owen and his wife began to realize that both were very, very tired. For him, the building had been in addition to his farming, a great strain; for her, too, the housing and feeding of many workmen, added to the care of six children was an equally severe strain. They decided to postpone the rest of the furnishing.
By the opening of spring, Elizabeth's health had begun to fail; she suffered from extreme weariness, though at times, she appeared to be recovering and resumed her tasks. On the evening of July 13, 1887, while she was supervising the milking among her children and the hired man, she suddenly passed away.
Owen, a few minutes earlier, had been called across the road to help a sick neighbor, elderly Mr. Thomas Williams. Dr. Lange of Oakton Springs, the nearest physician, came at once to the stricken mother. He could only pronounce that she had died of apoplexy. The death of Mrs. Thomas was a shock to the entire community in which she was held in great esteem. Salem Cemetery had not yet been enlarged; Owen bought a lot in Jerusalem; here Elizabeth Arthur was laid to rest.
Chapter XV: The Education Of A Family, 1887 - 1900
weeks following Mrs. Thomas' death, her sister Miss Sarah Arthur of Portage
and her niece Miss Lizzie Brown of Milwaukee remained with the sorrowing
family until Miss Ellen Martin, daughter of Edward Martin came to be the
housekeeper. The faithful hired man, Charlie Giese, continued with
the farm work. In September, the children, except little five year
old John, attended the Zion District Number 2 School. Fortunately,
their aunt Miss Arthur remained on to care for the winter clothing needs
of the family.
When Miss Martin left at New Years to prepare for her marriage to Mr. William D. Davies of Highway 18, Owen and the children decided they would continue the home by themselves; Annie, the oldest, was fifteen; Sarah, fourteen; Mamie, eleven; Alice, nine; Robert, seven; and John, five. The girls took upon themselves the housekeeping, cooking, butter making, and care of the poultry, as their mother had trained them, enough to add to the family income; even the little boys took on part of Charlie's work so that he had a vacation at Christmas.
Later, when the older girls attended Carroll Academy at Waukesha five days each week, the four younger children bravely continued at school and kept up the home with their father's encouragement and help. Selling crops and buying supplies took Owen often to Milwaukee, sometimes for overnight. But he always arranged that the children were not alone at night; once, when Charlie was away, the school teacher, Miss Jennie Tinker of Delafield, came to spend the night with them. Their father also had repeatedly told them that if any trouble came while he was away, they were to run for help to their Uncle Thomas at Snail Lake. And the latter, often, without being summoned, came casual and smiling, to see that Owen's children were all safe at their home.
Generally, the years of 1886 to 1894 were considered "poor times" by Waukesha County farmers: dry weather, small crops, and low prices prevailed. Yet, Owen and the children, aided by suggestions from Miss Arthur completed the furnishing of the new house, - even with a grand piano. Their father also paid off his last debt. the money for the final payment came in unexpectedly, as follows:
During the winter of 1889, the Rowlands family of Lime Springs, Iowa had written to Owen that a bad fire had raged in the timber along the ravine in the latter's farm.
One morning in the following May, a stranger called at the Thomas home. Owen had very early gone to Milwaukee to return that same day. Only Charlie and the younger children were at home.
The caller explained that he had come from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad to settle for the fire damage on the Iowa farm.
The children invited the man to wait until their father's return. He accepted and fished on Lake Pewaukee until late afternoon, when he brought to the house a fine catch of sunfish and perch. The father had not yet returned; the children cleaned the catch of fish, and Mamie helped the stranger to fry them for his supper.
Still Owen had not come home. Declaring that he had enjoyed the day greatly, and thanking his young hostesses and hosts for his supper, the stranger, leaving a slip for their father, departed. Soon afterwards, Owen reached home.
A few days later, he presented the claim slip at the Milwaukee office of the railroad. When he reached home late that night, he showed his check to the sleepy children. It was for a very much larger amount than he had expected!
"I feel strange," he said thoughtfully, "I thought I never could be out of debt again. I had given up hope. I thought you children would finish paying some day."
A month later, Owen J. Thomas had paid in full his last indebtedness, $1,000.00 - borrowed for the new house - to the heirs of the late Mr. Robert Parry!
Owen and Elizabeth had for years been occupied with plans for the education of their children: each child was to be given all the educational opportunities that he would accept, - as far as his parents were able to afford. In 1889, the Waukesha County country schools adopted the system of graduation by written examination from the eighth grade, followed by diplomas admitting pupils to accredited high schools and academies. As soon as each of the Thomas children had received his diploma from the Zion District School, he was entered at Carroll College Academy of Waukesha to continue his studies under the thorough and inspiring guidance of Dr. Walter Rankin and his assistants, Professor Ray and Miss Carrie Johnson.
In September 1893, Owen spent a day at the University of his state: he was entering his daughter Sarah as a Freshman. As the father saw the serious business-like manner of some seven hundred young men and women passing to their classes on the Campus at Madison, he was very favorably impressed. Enrollment finished, the Thomas' were conducted by Professor Williams of the Greek Department, an old friend of Owen, to the Law Building to meet the President of the University, Charles Kenall Adams. He greeted the young lady with a brief hand shake; then he turned to her father with pleasant interest and inquiries about Owen's home, his work, his family, etc.,. until the parent and educator discovered that each had lived in rural Iowa at the same time; Owen as a young farmer, and President Adams as the teacher of a village school, where his father was a Congregational Minister.
In planning for their children's education, Owen and Elizabeth had been careful that school life alone was not to be their children's entire education. Sometimes they took the older ones to Milwaukee, where they visited their cousins, the Browns on Sixth Street, and the homes of Mrs. Gilbert, of Richard, and of Robert Thomas, and went shopping with their parents to the T. A. Chapman Store and others. The parents took the children to the Waukesha County Fair and to public gatherings, also to meet others of their own locality.
As the children grew older, each had visited their mother's families at Portage, and Annie and Mamie had separately accompanied their aunt, Miss Sarah Arthur, on visits to the family of their mother's sister, Mrs. Hathaway Beamer at Strathroy, Ontario, Canada. But the unforgettable event of travel was the visit to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago. The harvest over, Owen and the five youngest children walked in and among the beautiful buildings and lagoons of Lake Michigan. They saw the first automobile, the "horse-less carriage", and they talked through the first telephone of Dr. Graham Bell. They went often to the picture galleries and to the huge Horticultural Building.
Each night, they walked the length of the glittering crowded Midway to their Chautauqua Tent Encampment Hotel near the entrance of the present Washington Park. Each day at the Fair, the children found it more beautiful and wonderful. They were followed the next week by their sister Annie with Miss Arthur and cousins Lizzie and Jennie Brown having their week at the fair. In spite of aching feet and complete weariness, all were delighted with the city of Chicago and its beautiful, wonderful Fair.
By the end of the last century, all of Owen and Elizabeth's children had finished their school days; Sarah and Alice were teaching in the public schools of Sheboygan and Wausau, respectively; Mamie, a graduate of the Spencerian Business College of Milwaukee, was in the office of the Pittsburgh Glass Company at Milwaukee, and Annie and the two boys, Robert and John, were busy at their home with their father.
Chapter XVI: Real Estate, 1890 - 1916
It was during
the 90's and the years that followed, that Owen Thomas was much occupied
with real estate matters. First, he decided to improve his neglected
Iowa farm. He shipped a carload of wire fencing from Milwaukee to
Lime Springs. Soon he had fenced anew the entire farm, and then built
a complete set of new buildings. The place was immediately rented
to a tenant. Thereafter, under the owner's spring and fall visits,
the farm was prosperous.
These visits to Iowa answered another purpose also, that of a vacation to Owen. Usually one of his sons would drive him to Oconomowoc to catch the Pioneer Limited train of the Milwaukee Road, the first and only stop on signal. He was generally the only passenger to board the train. Gray-haired Conductor McQueeney of Portage came to know "Mr. Thomas", and they would chat pleasantly about old Portage days as Owen's thousand mile ticket was punched.
On arrival at Lime Springs, Owen would go to the home of his cousin, Mrs. Hugh Rowlands and family, formerly of Wales, Wisconsin, to whom he was guest from her childhood home, bringing news from the old acquaintances and messages from her aged mother, Mrs. Thomas (Salem) and her brother Thomas of Wales village. The Rowlands' young daughter Ella enjoyed driving "Uncle Owen" on his errands in her shiny black buggy drawn by her fat bay horse. Owen Thomas was still well known in Lime Springs, where Elizabeth and he had set up housekeeping many years ago. He never had forgotten nor lacked interest in these Iowa acquaintances; his absences, too, relieved him of tasks at home now done by his two capable sons.
In these same years, another real estate matter took Owen back to Portage, strangely. In 1890, Elizabeth's older brother John Arthur of Portage died; in 1898, his brother Evan Arthur also died. In probating the joint estates of these brothers of Mrs. Owen Thomas, a deed was found, according to which, their father John Arthur Sr. had willed in 1862 to his daughter Elizabeth a house on Pleasant Street in Portage, a short time before his death. The property had been managed by Messrs. Arthur as their own. the court ruled that the house belonged to Elizabeth's heirs. Their father immediately modernized and enlarge the house into a duplex; he sold the vacant adjoining lot, and through his management, this property became an asset.
By the 1890's, Owen's real estate interests had grown to include his own home farm on Pewaukee Lake. Because of the beautiful scenery around the Waukesha County lakes, this area was yearly sought by tourists. After the building of Pewaukee Lake Dam in the 70's, Snail Lake, the deeper and smaller lake to the west of it, was raised in its water level until it became a part of the larger Pewaukee Lake, except for a wooded hill of two acres of the Thomas property which remained legally part of the farm and was known as "Thomas Island".
With the higher water level, the south-west shores became firm beach bordered by oak woods of great beauty, sought by tent campers and picnic parties.
Camping soon gave way to summer cottages. Mr. George Audley was the pioneer cottage builder at the west end of Pewaukee Lake at the site of the present Buena Vista. Soon after, Thomas Thomas declared that cottagers were the only protection against trespassers who built fires, destroyed fences, trees, and could not easily be prevented. Accordingly, he built many summer homes on his mainland and on the island, the place most exposed.
Among the fine large trees on the high ground facing the long view over the lake toward Pewaukee, these summer homes were immediately much in demand by Milwaukee families with children, some of whom were to continue until a second generation of children had grown up in the summer at Pewaukee lake, eventually to buy sites for permanent homes, as did the Dwight D. Booth family of Milwaukee.
The coming of the Waukesha Beach, owned by the newly completed Milwaukee Electric Railway as far as Oconomowoc, greatly increased real estate development at the south west end of the lake. The former Schroeder and Torhorst farms were sold to make way for the Beach grounds. Other lake properties were made into "additions" or "parks", as they were called. The Auer, Hoffman, and Thomas properties remained unchanged, except for the name. The railway stop at Auer became Oakton; at the Hoffman and Owen Thomas property, Elmhurst; and Snail Lake lost its historical identity in the common place Glen Cove!
Owen, like his brother, built cottages, and attracted tenants whose children were to grow from babes to manhood in their summers at Pewaukee Lake. With the coming of rural mail, electricity, and the automobile, residents stayed on all the year around until today (1948) the beautiful lake, with its wild shore and woodlands, which so attracted young John D. and Harriet Thomas, has grown to resemble a lagoon in a city.
Chapter XVII: The Later Thomas Generations, 1916 - 19--
family gathering at Snail Lake of the Thomas families took place on Thanksgiving
Day, 1907. Of the descendants of John D. and Harriet Thomas, fifteen
were present: three sons, namely, Owen, Thomas and Robert.
There were six grandsons: Robert and John, sons of Owen; George,
Edward, and Irven, sons of Thomas; and Frank, son of Robert. Also,
six grand-daughters were present: Annie, Sarah, Mamie, and Alice,
daughters of Owen; Harriet, of Thomas; and Florence, of Robert. Others
present were the hostess, Mrs. Thomas Thomas, her two sisters, Mrs. Robert
Thomas, Mrs. Lemuel Parry, and the latter's husband Mr. Lemuel Parry.
Quite in the fashion of old Snail Lake days, nineteen persons were gathered around the long table set with glittering linen, glass, and silver. The immense brown turkey was in its center place surrounded by all the holiday delicacies. again, as of old, host Thomas led the lively conversation and laughter until afternoon when he led his two brothers to the circle of chairs before the living room fire place. Here the exchange of news was being often interrupted by the lively jollity of the cousins as they were being marchalled into groups to be snapped by the camera of Edward, University of Wisconsin Sophomore, son of the host.
A few years after, William Thomas, son of David, the second son of John D. and Harriet Thomas brought his family from Lake Crystal, Minnesota to spend a few weeks at the Thomas Thomas home. None of the guests had been there before. William's wife, formerly Miss Stella Lillie, and their two grown sons, Earl and Boyd, greatly enjoyed the early home of their father's family, though of course, it had few resemblances to the place of David Thomas' description of his boyhood Snail Lake; they were also glad to meet for the first time their Thomas cousins, including those of Owen's, Richard's, and Robert's families.
The new century was the time of great changes among the younger generation of Thomas families. There were many marriages among the grand children: Annie, daughter of Owen, was married in 1909 to Mr. William D. Williams of Genesee; Robert, son of Owen Married Miss Mamie Parry of Hartland; Florence, daughter of Robert, was married to Mr. Richard P. Howell of Racine; Frank, son of Robert married Miss Elloween Arnold of Milwaukee; Winfield, son of Richard, married Miss Minnie Higley of Waukegan, Illinois; and Edward, son of Thomas married Miss Genevieve Allen of Waukesha. As a wedding gift to his son Robert, Owen bought the William C. Jones (Batch) farm, adjoining his own.
During the early years of the new century, the Thomas family was increased also by the births of many grandchildren: to Owen five grandchildren, Owen, and Elizabeth, children of Mr. and Mrs. William Williams, also Robert, James, and Charlotte, children of Robert and Mamie Parry Thomas. To Thomas Thomas were born John Howard and Donald, sons of Edward and Genevieve Thomas. There were five grandchildren of Robert Thomas; born of Frank and Elloween, were Eleanor, Florence, and June; born to Florence and Richard Howell were two sons, Richard and Robert.
Besides the births of grandchildren, many deaths also occurred among the Thomas families in the early years of the new century.
In the spring of 1910, Owen had suffered a slight injury to his right instep followed by pain and inflammation for many weeks. His condition then was improved until he could walk with the help of a crutch.. By 1912, however, amputation was necessary to prevent the spread of diabetic complication. Again he recovered enough to visit his Iowa farm in 1913. While there, realizing that the visit was final, he sold the property, after an ownership of forty years, for $13,000.00 -- considered a good price in pre-World War I times. However, the end of his Iowa interests saddened their former owner, so that he returned home tired and listless.
His two youngest daughters, Mamie and Alice, with the management and help of their brother Robert and hired men were carrying on the farm.. But the father felt very lonely without either son at home. Accordingly the younger son, John, who had been employed with the Twin Cities Traction Company at Minneapolis, gave up his position to care for his father's interests. Owen then bought his first automobile, a six passenger Studebaker, 1915 model, at a cost of $1,000. As he was driven about nearly every day, he enjoyed his new freedom.
Owen was to feel grief in the death of his brother Robert of Milwaukee in 1912; of his five brothers, Robert, though seventeen years younger, had been closest to Owen, had in later years been his confidant and consoler.
A great shock to Owen was the First World War. "I had hoped that I should never see another war", he said trembling, "that there wouldn't be any more war!" News depressed him until finally it was kept from him. On June 22, one month before his seventy-ninth birthday, he died. He was laid to rest beside his wife in Jerusalem Cemetery.
Other deaths among the descendants of John D. and Harriet Thomas occurred in the new century. The two young daughters of Richard Thomas died in Milwaukee, Laura and Jessie; Earl, older son of William Thomas of Lake Crystal, Minnesota, was killed in an automobile accident at Minneapolis; and Martha, daughter of John Thomas died in Kansas City.
During the influenza epidemic following World War I, Robert, older son of Owen, died in 1920. He was survived by his wife, formerly Mamie Parry, and three children: Robert Jr. eight years of age, James, four, and Charlotte, one. Mrs. Thomas continued in her farm home with tenants until she bought the former Myron Warren home in Hartland, and rented her entire farm.
Here the family were living until 1931 when Mrs. Thomas was killed in an automobile accident. Her death left three children, Robert, nineteen, a student at Carroll College, Waukesha; James, twelve, and Charlotte, nine, attending the Hartland Grade School. They continued in their home at Hartland under the care of their aunt, Alice Thomas until the close of the school year. then they joined their uncle and aunts at the John A. Thomas farm home on Highway 30, adjoining their birth place.
Another death, that of the great, great grandson of John D. and Harriet Thomas, Roger Davy, took place as his airplane dropped during a training maneuver. He was twenty-? years of age and had graduated from the University of Wisconsin. Shortly afterwards, his father, William Davy, of Nashotah, great grandson of the pioneer couple, passed away; a few years later also Fanny, as the family called her, died at Pewaukee, aged eighty-six years. She was the mother of the William Davy above mentioned, the daughter of Mrs. Margaret Gilbert, and the grand-daughter of John D. and Harriet Thomas.
Of the Thomas families, only two members served in World War I, two grandsons, sons of Thomas Thomas; George served three years in the infantry in France; and Irven, three years with the navy at San Francisco, California.
During the World War I period, Richard Thomas withdrew from his Waukegan foundry and returned to enter a soda water appliance foundry on Clyburn Street in company with a Mr. Maas. Richard then went to Washington where he secured a patent on an invention on a soda water making machine, smaller than those in use. the Thomas and Maas firm made and sold the machine very successfully for a few years. But both were older men, and they agreed to retire.
Richard's health had begun to fail, and after the death of his wife Florence, he rarely left his home. In 1928, he died at his home on Nineteenth Street, Milwaukee, the last survivor, and the longest-lived child of his parents. He was buried in Forest Home beside his wife and daughters. His son Winfield and wife returned to the home; and a few years later, Amy, the youngest of Richard Thomas' daughters, was married to Mr. Boardman Ganfield of Waukesha; the couple made their home in Los Angeles, California.
The absence of Thomas Thomas' sons in the service and the increased war-time burdens upon farmers had affected the health of their father adversely. After a period of severe suffering, diagnosed as ulcer of the stomach, Thomas and his wife went to the Mayo Hospital at Rochester, Minnesota, where he died in August, 1922. He was seventy.
Mrs. Thomas and daughter Harriet carried on the farm until Irven's return from service. He married soon afterwards Miss Dorothy Ivens of Delafield. Within a few months, George, too, returned from service abroad. He located in Milwaukee, and married Miss Martha Abitz of the same city where they made their home.
Harriet and her mother then spent several weeks in travel visiting relatives and sight-seeing in New York City and state, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia; but it was by then certain that Harriet's health was rapidly failing. They returned home, but after a long illness, Harriet died on January 1, 1924. A year later, her mother also passed away. They were buried in the family plot at Salem Cemetery.
Irven and his wife had some months earlier come to the farm to relive his mother and sister; they remained farming with good success until 1928, when the three brothers decided to sell Snail Lake. George and Edward were already settled in homes of their own in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.
The Snail Lake property was sold to the real estate firm Douglas and Harwood of Waukesha as follows:
The land south of the T.M.E.R.L. right-of-way was immediately resold
to a farmer, Mr. Milton Morris; the land north of the right-of-way, and
bordering on Pewaukee Lake, including the island, was retained by the
firm and immediately developed into the sub-division called "Glen
Cove". The price paid to the Thomas heirs for Snail Lake was one
hundred thousand dollars.
In August 1945,
Messr. William and Robert Thomas and their wives of Minnesota, spent ten
days at the home of John A. Thomas and his sisters. The men
guests are sons of the late David Thomas, second son of John D. and Harriet
Thomas. In honor of the cousins, their host and his sisters invited
to their home other relatives, descendants of John D. and Harriet Thomas.
Thirty guests were present, including wives and husbands. The following
account was written for the Waukesha Freeman by Mrs. William Thomas, of
"Thomas Family Has Reunion Sunday""On Sunday afternoon, September 2, 1945, at the country home of John A. Thomas, a family reunion was held by the descendants and families of the five Thomas brothers: David, Owen, Richard, Thomas, and Robert, all reared on the Thomas farm bordering on the south side of Pewaukee Lake, now known as Glen Cove farm.
guests were Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Thomas, Calif; Mr. and Mrs. William
E. Thomas, Minn., sons of David; Mr. and Mrs. William D. Williams, daughter
Elizabeth and son Owen and Miss Sarah Thomas ; the Misses Mary, Alice and
John Thomas, all descendents of Owen; Winfield Thomas, and Mr. and Mrs.
Boardman Gandfield of Calif., descendants of Richard.
Mr. and Mrs. George O. Thomas and Carol Ann, of Milwaukee; Mr. and Mrs. Edward F. Thomas ; Mr. and Mrs. Irving Thomas, Betty Lou, and Shirley, descendants of Thomas. R. Frank Thomas and Mrs. R. P. Howell, descendants of Robert.
Other guests of the next generation were Mr. and Mrs. Robert P. Thomas, Judith and Barbara; and Corporal James A. Thomas, recently returned from overseas service.
were Mr. and Mrs. James Kemp; Mrs. Carl Rank, Denver, Colo.; Miss June
Thomas, Hines Vaughan ; Liet. John and Ensign Donald Thomas ; Richard P.
and Robert T. Howell ; Mrs. Robert Morris Stinde ; Mrs. Donald L. James,
Calif.; Dr. Harold Thomas, Minn.; Dr. Boyd R. Thomas, Minn."
Copyright © 2000
Kate Thomas Hancock
All Rights Reserved