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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Searsport Maine's Dinosaur Mansions

When I visited Searsport Maine with my husband many years ago, we saw many old Sea Captain homes - grand estates built during the time of the Searsport Sea Captains sailing the high seas from China to Cape Horn, and more.  Each house has great history.  We stayed at a B&B that was the former home of my 4th Great Grandfather, Capt. Green Pendleton.  Each house was a desirable purchase back then, but not now it would seem.

Today I came across an article about the sale of the Capt. John Willard McGilvery home at 120 Main Street in Searsport in 2014.  John was the uncle of the husband of my third great aunt, Ann L. McGilvery...obviously a distant in-law.  But it is not him that interested me, it is the fate of his home in Searsport, and that of the many other sea captain homes in that small town.

This McGilvery home was originally built in 1874 for $5000 when the average Maine home was built for $100.  It is worth about $800,000 but is taxed at $400,000 and sold recently as a result of an auction at around the $200,000 mark.  The McGilvery home is on the National Register of Homes which should be of value, right?  Evidently not so.  Why such a disparity in prices?

The home more recently was the "Carriage Inn" B&B, with many guests in its three guest rooms, which may well have been haunted according to .  

Maine artist Waldo Pierce lived there in mid 1900s and the house still has some of his murals on the walls.  Again, valuable in real estate or it should be.

The auction realtor Mike Miller said, “It’s a beautiful, beautiful home. If you like old houses, it’s a doozy but the market is inversely proportional to the cost of heating oil. The effect of that on a property like this is enormous. We call them dinosaurs. If you have 4,500 square feet of old house with horsehair plaster, you’ve got a problem.”   Ah, so heating cost and maintenance is the culprit!

This is a 13 room, 6,000 square foot house with horsehair plaster.  The home has 12 foot ceilings which eat heat!   Five fireplaces which do only some to heat and may well cause heat loss. 

So. someone got a bargain for the house (which still has the original pumpkin pine floors) and the carriage house with a studio apartment above it.  Amazing.  Oh, perhaps the new owner has rented this out the apartment to help defray the skyrocketed fuel costs!

No matter what, I will always marvel at the homes of the Searsport Sea Captains.

Thank you, Bangor Daily News for this article.

House photo:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Elmer Amos Keyser's Tin Lizzie

My brother-in-law had a great uncle who died while cranking his Model T Ford! 

I have heard jokes about people kicking the bucket when 
Times Dispatch of VA 1911 Ad
they cranked their Tin Lizzies, but this biography snippet is reality. The Tin Lizzies were manufactured from 1908 to 1927; I have no idea which model or year his was.  Some came with electric starters after 1919, so his likely was an older model.  And they all came in black about that time.

A Model-T has only two speeds - high and low.  And a Tin Lizzie has only rear wheel brakes.  And it has a spark, an important thing for it to have.

There is a lever next to the steering wheel which advances (lever down) or retards (lever up) the spark.  To start cranking, the Model T uses the lever up or retard position.  To not use the lever up position is to endanger one's personal space while standing in the path of a potential moving vehicle.  Vehicle kick.  Not good.

So, Great Uncle Elmer Amos Keyser would have set the car to retard mode (lever up).

There he would have turned the Magneto or Off or Battery switch.  That switch must ultimately be in Battery mode, unless the battery is dead; then the Magneto came in handy. 

As we all likely know, the hand crank is located in the front of the car (yep, step in front of your Model-T which is always in gear UNLESS it is remembered that the rear brakes must be fully set first!  A memory lapse means you get mowed down.  Bad start of a road trip,  Elmer Amos did not get mowed down.

And that crank is right below what could be a sizzling radiator.  Elmer Amos had to pull out a wire ring, the choke, at the lower left corner of this cold or hot radiator, all the while facing the car.

With the Magneto switch engaged properly, he would have pushed the crank in and given it a mighty turn!  He should have only needed to crank the engine one or two turns and a tad bit more till he had ignition.  Coils buzz. If the engine is warm it may start now.  Cold starting evidently could mean cranking it with his right palm only.  His fingers and thumb all needed to be on the same side of the crank.  

He likely would have quickly pulled up the crank and the engine should have powered up, so he could hop into the car and give the throttle some rev.  And the road trip begins.

Did I get all that cranking stuff right?  Hope so, but not sure!

However it should have occurred, Elmer Amos supposedly was struck in the head with the crank and ultimately he died.

On April 28, 1926 in Greenville Pennsylvania, at the age of 58, Elmer Amos Keyser died while hand cranking his Model T Ford at his farm, 5 miles west of Greenville.  The death certificate said he died of acute heart dilatation which lasted for 10 minutes.  It could have been solely from the exertion of a "cranky" car and a head injury caused by the crank itself when the Model T fought starting.  Family tradition "says" the switch was in magneto mode which would definitely indicate the car was not easy to start this time.  But it is more likely that head injury was combined with a final moment of heart disease erupting into the acute heart dilatation.  Sad.

He was born in West Virginia in 1867 , married his wife Annie White on April 3, 1889 in Belmont, OH, farmed in PA, and died there, and was returned to OH for burial.  His widow Annie died in OH three years later at age 62 of uterine and ovarian cancer.

Info on Cranking a Model T from:

Monday, May 9, 2016



Your 4th GGfather Peter Henry Heiskell was born in Winchester, VA when his mom was 30 and dad Johann Christof was 33.  He married your 4th GGmother on May 13, 1783. 
Your 4th GGmother Susanna "Susan" Weitzel was born in 1765 in Winchester VA to Christopher and Mary Bonnet Weitzel.   Susanna was 2nd generation American.  Her grandparents, Johan Jacob Weitzel and Mary Barbara Geist Weitzel were both born in Germany.  Johan Jacob died at age 100.

In 1779 Peter was commissioned as an Ensign in the Virginia militia.  He is an approved name for SAR and DAR lineages.

To me, the most fascinating thing about your 4th GGdad occurred when Thomas Jefferson's family found themselves in deep debt following his death.  After struggling for several years, they had to sell Monticello due the high debts of Jefferson.  The Executor's Sale was held in the winter of 1831. James Barkley purchased the mansion then and owned it for three years before selling to U. S. Navy Officer Uriah Levy who ultimately saved Monticello from further ruin.
When the Barkleys made their purchase, they sold off or gave away many of Jefferson's possessions that came with their purchase, including the carriage, or gig, that Jefferson had ridden to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  This gig was presented to Peter Heiskell of Staunton. This is an important and  famous gift from the Jefferson estate to your 4th Great Granddad!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Nancy Skaggs DeSpain, Daughter of The Long Hunter!

Dear Grandchildren of the Durham/DeSpain line:

Your Eighth Great Grandfather was Peter DeSpain, a 5' 5 3/4" farmer born in NC in 1764, before the Revolutionary War. 8GGdad Peter did grow in Virginia where he enlisted as a private for 18 months in the Revolutionary War. Peter served in Capt. Bentley's Company and Colonel Hawes Virginia Regiment and saw several battles including Camden, Guilford Courthouse, Ninety-Six SC and Eutaw Springs SC.  His last battle was in 1781.

Ten years later he married Nancy Skaggs in Green County, KY.  

8GGmom NANCY SKAGGS DESPAIN, born in SW Virginia in 1759,  had an interesting history also.  She was the daughter of Henry Skaggs, a Scotch-Irish pioneer known as The Long Hunter who lived to be 86...from 1724 VA to 1810 KY.  When Nancy was born her dad was 35; her mom Mary Skaggs was 20. 

As a Long Hunter, your 9GGdad Henry was a hunter, explorer and a pioneer who traveled for long periods in the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee during the 1700s.  Henry would be gone for months upon months for hunting in the Trans-Allegheny wilderness.  He eventually worked as a land agent with Daniel Boone, exploring Middle Tennessee and Eastern and Central Kentucky.  Henry became a veteran tracker as well as an Indian Fighter.  


An exploring party of 13 "Long Hunters," so named because of the long periods of time spent away from home, camped along Barren River in 1775. Their names were carved on a beech tree, a silent record of the first white men in this area. 9GGdad Henry Skaggs and Joseph Drake of this group had been among the first Long Hunters, 1769 - 1771, whose exploring helped open mid-Kentucky.  

This drawing depicts how 9GGdad might have look on the trails. 


One of your 9GGdad's many adventures was when he helped Mrs. Jenny Wiley in her escape to avoid recapture by the Shawnees in October 1789.

Jenny Wiley married Thomas Wiley, an Irish immigrant and they built a log cabin.  On October 1, 1789, her husband road to a trading post on a horse laden with ginseng.  He would barter the ginseng for necessities and would be back late that day.  He had been gone only a few hours when Thomas' brother-in-law John Borders was searching for sheep that had escaped their fencing, and heard what sounded like owl hoots when he approached his Thomas' cabin.  John knew the hooting could be caused by owls and the dreariness of the cloudy day or could be well be pre-attack signals of Native Americans who would attack at dark.  He got Jenny to agree to go to his home as a precaution.  Since attacks were fairly common and occurred at night, she lingered to do a final few minutes of weaving on a piece of cloth she was creating and to feed the livestock.  Mistake!

Eleven indians (2 Cherokees, 3 Shawnees, 3 Wyandots, 3 Delawares) stormed their Virginia log cabin during daylight, mistaking the Wiley cabin for one where an enemy lived.  Though they tried to barricade the door to the cabin, and then to fight the indians, her younger brother and all but one of her children were slain.  Jenny who was pregnant and her youngest child of fifteen months of age were taken captive. Her child became ill and he was killed while Jenny slept.  She gave birth to her baby but he was was ultimately scalped.  Jenny still lived.  She was a captive in what is now Little Mud Lick Creek in Johnson County KY.    

Jenny finally escaped when left alone, bound with rawhide, while the Indians hunted.  It was raining hard and she was finally able to escape by stretching the rawhide ties and began her arduous flight to freedom. As she neared a fort blockhouse, she screamed her name and situation.  Out of the fort emerged your elderly 9GGdad Long Hunter Henry Skaggs whom she knew as a friend of her father's!  Henry was in his 80s by now but was not daunted in his efforts to save Jenny. They both knew she was in imminent danger of recapture. To get to Henry she would have to cross a river.  Others at the fort had taken the only canoes on a hunting trip, so Henry and one of the women at the fort had to construct a rough raft as quickly as possible. Henry told Jenny to try to ford the river herself if the Indians found her before he could get to her.

Skaggs and the woman felled a dead mulberry tree which broke into three fairly even pieces, wrapped it tightly with grapevines, gathered his rifles, and he took off across the overflowing river to get to Jenny. The raft drifted far down river but Jenny kept pace and hopped onto the raft when it was finally made shore. The river was still raging enough to carry them further adrift, and the raft tried to break apart about mid-river, but they got near enough to shore to grab overhanging branches on the fort side about a half mile downriver.  

Jenny  was returned to her husband, eventually moving to Kentucky themselves.  

Harpe Brothers, America First Serial Killers (PIC BELOW):

Upon the request of Governor Gerrard in 1799, 9GGdad Henry Skaggs led an attempt to capture America's first reputed serial killers, the Harpe Brothers in Western Kentucky.  Several posses had been assembled to capture the brothers, but the only posse that found them ended up fleeing to safety.  Skaggs was "enraged" and tried to reassemble to scattered posse, to no avail.  Henry went after the brothers on his own! Henry came upon drunken men celebrating after a house raising. When hearing the news of the Harpe brothers not being captured, the drunks grabbed liquor and rifles and began the search.  The euphoria of the expedition quickly died and Skaggs had to go on alone once again.  He arrived at the cabin of Col. Daniel Trabue, another old Indian fighter, and Trabue agreed to join Henry as soon as his 13 year old son returned from an errand to borrow flour and beans from a neighbor.  The son did not return; the Harpes killed him first and discarded his body in a sinkhole.  The son's dog arrived home instead. Trabue and Skaggs hurried to find Trabue's son, finding instead his body which had been beaten and tomahawked.  Though the enraged Skaggs and Trabue searched for days, the Harpes were evidently long gone.  The attempt was woefully unsuccessful.

Your 9GGdad "Henry Skaggs was a "bold, enterprising and fearless" man, a true adventurer of the early frontier"  (Thwaites and Kelloggy, Dunmore's War p. 239).

"Be safe and keep your powder dry" *

Henry Skaggs family is Scotch-Irish.  He was not part of the Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America due to the late 1840s potato famine. Instead, they were of Presbyterian background


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

G. Fox & Company Store in Hartford, CT

Growing up in the 50s in Wethersfield CT, we would often go to Hartford.  Our Dad would drop Mom, Caren and me off and we would go to the dentist on some trips, followed by a trip to G. Fox and Co. Department Store where we loved to go up to the mezzanine and look at the books.  Often we bought a new book such as Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and the Hardy Boys.  So much fun even if the first stop was the dentist.  We would then take the city bus home typically, getting off at Silas Deane Highway near or at Mill Road in Wethersfield.

G. Fox is no longer there though the building is comprised of small retail spaces and offices I think.  G. Fox was located at 960 Main Street and was a family-owned department store which opened sometime in the 1850s and was sold to the May department store group in the mid 1960s - about 100 years.  I can't personally think of a family-owned department store like that today in America.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dewey Utsler, second husband of my Great Aunt Annie Mae Bennett

My Great Granddad Albert R Bennett
Anna "Annie" Mae Bennett is my Great Aunt.

She is the daughter of my Great Grandparents, Albert Rudolph Bennett and Mertie Mae Titcomb Bennett. Annie could be my Mom's sister instead of cousin.
Great Grandma Mertie Mae
Annie Bennett Utsler

Originally all from Maine, they moved to California to seek a better life during Maine's very tough times in the 1920s.
Dewey Myron

Although Dewey Myron Dewitt Utsler was the second husband of Great Aunt Annie, I thought his life and that of his son Dewey Rudolph "Jr" Utsler were interesting and decided to share some of my understanding of snippets of their life journeys on this blog.

Dewey Myron was born in Lockport, PA in 1898, so he was much older than Annie who was born in 1914.  At age 19 (or so he many young men accelerated their ages in order to join the fight in WWI), he joined the National Guard; actually he joined on my birth date and month (July 28) but long before I was born - 1917.  During WWI he was slightly wounded.  Also, mustard gas harmed the valves of his heart for the rest of his life.

His blessing came though when he found his long lost half brother, John E. Utsler who was also serving in this war.   Both were from Ohio - not far from one another, but it took a war to bring them together.  A wonder in life!

Dewey Myron Utsler

Great Aunt Annie married Dewey Myron when she was just a young teenager.  She and her husband, and her brother Norman Erwin Bennett (my great uncle), lived in the mountainous part of California called Springville.  My Great Uncle was a bootlegger!  He and Dewey produced their moonshine in the mountains and ran it to and from the San Joaquin Valley of California including the Santa Barbara area.

Dewey had a reputation for being a bit of a braggart, and one of his stories was that he could outrun any revenuer.  Perhaps it was true, as Norman shared similar tales, including a jail term.  This is so interesting to me because my husband's Grandmother Ruth Ridgeway died following an auto accident in which revenuers, chasing bootleggers, struck the car she was in; this happened in the District of Columbia.

All of the Bennetts tended to be short in stature.  For example my grandfather Charles Bennett (Annie and Norman's brother) was only 5'1" tall.  Evidently the Utsler side was similarly short.  Supposedly there evidently is a photo somewhere of him, the shortest man in his unit, standing under the arm of the tallest man in his unit in Europe.  I have not seen it.

Great Aunt Annie and her family, Dewey Myron, Dewey Jr, and daughter Loda, moved to Oregon ultimately. There is a family story that the farm they rented belonged to Ginger Rogers of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fame!  Since Ginger did indeed have a farm and ranch in Oregon that she purchased in 1940, this is likely very true.  The family memory is that when the Utslers went to pay the rent at her home one day, there was a bearskin rug on the floor which had a red eye and a green eye - must have been Christmas!

Dewey Jr was playing on some logs in an Oregon lumber yard, slipped, and fell in the pond. Dewey Myron rushed to save him, and did.  Either at that event, or soon thereafter, Dewey Myron suffered a heart attack and died.

Great Aunt Annie returned to California for a bit and then went back to Oregon to her children.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dr. Joseph C. Placak, Pioneer in the Treatment of Tuberculosis

Dr. Joseph C. Placak

On February 22, 1882 a child named Joseph Charles Placak was born in Cleveland to parents Anthony and Jennie Goldstein Placak of Austria. He would grow up to marry Eunice S. Emde. He would become an educated man, and a doctor, graduating from The College of Physicians and Surgeons, Western Reserve University in 1903 and receiving his post-graduate degree from the University of Prague, Austria. Joseph completed his residency as both a pathologist and a physician at Cleveland City Hospital by 1905.


On September 25, 1888 a child named Eunice Sabina Emde was born in Ohio to Fred Christian Emde and his wife Jesse Williams Emde. Eunice would grow up to marry the renowned tuberculosis expert Dr. Joseph C. Placak and they would have four children, Joseph Jr. (1907), Frederick (1910), Robert (1913) and daughter Jean (1917).

When he was 25 and Eunice 19 they wed on March 20, 1907 in Cleveland. His mother on the marriage record was listed as Grace B. Dushanek. By the time of the 1930 Census for Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Joseph was 48 and Eunice was 41. Their 4 single children ages 12 to 22 still lived at the family home valued at $50,000 '" a remarkable amount for that period of time, in a wealthy Cleveland neighborhood at 2228 Woodmere Road.


As a young married man, he was the Medical Superintendent at the 2000 acre Cooley Farms in Warrensville, which housed the municipal tuberculosis sanatorium for Cleveland '" the first person named to this position. Those infirmed here had access to the outdoors that aided their comfort while confined to the sanatorium. He worked with the disease of tuberculosis and lectured on internal medicine at the Cleveland College of Physicians and Surgeons until 1911. In 1915 he was the head of the Division of Tuberculosis for Cleveland City Hospital.


During WWI, he was a Major in the Medical Corps of the Army and Chief of Medical Services for Evacuation Hospital #5 at Coblenz, Germany.

Tuberculosis was to always be the focus of Joseph's medical career. He became the physician in charge of the Tuberculosis Dispensary in the Haymarket District, visiting pathologist for Eddy Road Hospital, and a member of the American Medical Association regarding the study and prevention of this dreadful disease.


In 1940, Joseph's relative, Dr. Harry Placak, a prominent pharmaceutical chemist from Cleveland, Ohio, with a "masked value" selective service classification, moved to Skyuka Road in Tryon, NC. His property included his home and his laboratory where he conducted research on animal feeds, including being an advocate for the soybean. He lived there until his death at St. Luke's Hospital in 1967, following breaking his hip in a fall at the elderly age of 96. Dr. Joseph C. Placak was the informant for the death certificate. More information on


In 1941 Joseph Placak held memberships with the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American College of Physicians. He was on the board of directors for the National Tuberculosis Association and on the Board of Regents for the American College of Chest Physicians. He was elected President of the Anti-Tuberculosis League of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County and named Chief of Staff at Mount Royal Sanatorium for Tuberculosis plus he consulted at Lake County Memorial Hospital and wrote many papers on chest illnesses and public health. Joseph Placak was known by many as the physician who did the most to prevent and cure tuberculosis.

WWII came and in 1942 at the age of 60 Joseph completed his Draft Registration Card listing his home as 2228 Woodmere Road, Cleveland, his wife as Eunice, and his career as physician with his place of business being the Carnegie Medical Building in Cleveland.


Six years later the Spartanburg Herald-Journal Sunday morning paper announced that noted Dr. Joseph C. Placak, head of the tuberculosis division of City Hospital in Cleveland and president-elect for the American College of Chest Physicians and Surgeons, would retire to his long-owned mountain home on Tryon Mountain on Skyuka Road, NC '" in the vicinity where Dr. Harry Placak also resided.

Under the directorship of Joseph, the Polk County Museum was started in the Tryon Depot to house records, books, photographs and artifacts. It is still open today. It is likely that Dr. Joseph Placak is the Joseph Placak that wrote an article on Polk County.

Interestingly, in March of 1970, Eunice died at the age of 88, but, if her death certificate is correct, she was no longer Joseph's wife '" they had divorced at some point. Her son, Dr. Joseph Charles Placak Jr., was the family member who handled the notification; he lived in the area and was at some point, the coroner for Columbus, NC. Eunice was cremated in Atlanta Georgia following her passing at Saluda Nursing Center in Columbus, NC. Dr. Joseph Placak, Jr., son of Joseph and Eunice, died on the 2 nd of July in 1988 in Columbus NC at the age of 80. Their son Fred Emde Placak died there at the age of 81 in 1992.
Per the Social Security Death Index, Dr. Joseph C. Placak (Sr.) died in Abington, Washington County, VA in November of 1970 at 88 years of age.