Saturday, May 5, 2012

Origins of the project: Corinne's scrapbooks

A scrapbook that Corinne's mother Edna made in the 1930s full of newspaper clippings about the pioneer settlers of Spring Prairie, Wis.

Growing up on a farm in rural Wisconsin in the first part of the 20th century, your social network was understandably limited. My grandma Genevieve had one sibling, a brother named Warren, but he was seven years younger than she was and I never got the feeling that they were particularly close. (Warren was still living on the family farm just a few miles away when Genevieve passed away in 1999, and yet I had only met him a handful of times.) So it's not too surprising that she was very close with her first cousins.

Genevieve's mother Ora (lots more on her later) was one of three sisters: the Vaughn girls. All of the Vaughn girls were close in age, and all of them had children around the same time: Hattie (the oldest) had Harriet in 1905 and Lorraine in 1909. Ora had Genevieve in 1910 and Edna had Corinne in 1912. Though Harriet and Lorraine initially lived in Milwaukee (until their father passed away, when they moved back in with Grandma and Grandpa Vaughn), and Edna and Corinne moved 120 miles away to Manitowoc in 1918 or so, the cousins grew close through regular visits to their grandparents' house in the summers.

Genevieve and Corinne remained close all through their lives, mostly through letters sent back and forth. When Genevieve passed away, I felt compelled to keep up the correspondence with Corinne, who was an only child and had no children of her own (we had a lot in common that way.) Every couple of years, my dad and I would pick a day to drive up to Manitowoc together to take Corinne out to lunch. Even in her old age, she was sharp as a tack and a wonderful hostess. She had boxes and boxes of scrapbooks and family photos in her house and she was always happy to go through them with us and tell us stories about the people in them. On one of our trips there, my dad and I took some of the photos from Genevieve's albums and asked Corinne to help us identify the people in them.

Corinne at 93, still sharp as a tack and a wonderful hostess

When Corinne passed away last summer, I ended up with many of these scrapbooks and photo albums. And it was in going through all of these things that I came to realize my family history was much richer and more interesting that I had ever imagined. The prize jewel of the lot is a scrapbook that I believe Corinne's mother Edna put together in the 1930s. She must have spent hours sending away for copies of old newspapers from the Walworth County area, because in the scrapbook, she pasted hundreds and hundreds of clippings dating back as far as the 1880s -- any mention of any family member, no matter how remotely related, as well as many clippings about people who were the earliest settlers of Spring Prairie and Honey Creek, even if they weren't related to us. There are obituaries, birth announcements, social news notices, and marriage announcements (eerily called "hymeneals" back then.) The story all of these clippings tell is a fascinating web of interaction of the first settlers to look around at this beautiful spot in Wisconsin and say, "I love it here. Let's never leave."

At Corinne's funeral last year, the pastor read an essay that Corinne herself had written for the occasion (she was nothing if not extremely thorough.) In it, she told the story of how she got her name. Her father, Thomas Clark, was the druggist in Elkhorn when she was born, and he and Edna were having trouble coming up with names they liked. (Apparently this was a common problem among the Vaughn girls - you'll remember that Ora had similar difficulty naming Genevieve.) So he put a sign in the window of the drugstore saying he would give store credit to the person who suggested the name they ended up choosing. One of the Bowerses (for whom Bowers Road was named) had a daughter named Corinne and he suggested it -- it was a hit. For a middle name, the went with Edna's maiden name, and thus she was christened Corinne Vaughn Clark.

Her father got involved with the burgeoning industry of gas stations and moved his family to Manitowoc at the end of World War I. The house that he built for them to live in would be Corinne's home for the rest of her long life. A few years ago, I wrote to her asking for any memories of her childhood. Here is her letter  back in its entirety:

Dear Annie,

I want to wish you a "Happy Birthday" as I see your name in my little birthday book. And thank you for my nice card and nice note.

Yes I had a very  nice birthday. I have just one "first cousin" now but many second cousins. Clark is the only living cousin so I invited him and his "second wife" and other second cousins to have supper with me (also  a couple friends of cousins) and then we came back to 857 (home) to have birthday cake and ice cream. Penny (one 2nd cousin) took picture and we had fun talking then. (Oh yes, Penny also made the B. cake)

I'm now 98 and still live in the house my folks and I moved into when I was about 7. We had lived across the street in a rented World War I house with no closets or bathroom and no first-floor closets - and at the time my mother had trouble with the stairs, etc. So my folks bought the lot across the street and built the garage of old lumber from a building the Clark Oil Company [her father's business] took down to build a filling station. We were to live in the garage for the summer but the house was not ready so we lived there in the garage till spring and then moved in and my dad expected to finish the 2nd floor but finally had to have it done and the carpenter made 2 bedrooms.

Then I was interested to know you were interested to know if Genevieve and I were together when we were young. Well, we lived in Manitowoc about 120 miles from her. However, Grandma Vaughn lived in Burlington (602 Lewis St.) so my Dad drove and we visited Grandma and Grandpa Vaughn and Aunt Hattie and her two girls Harriet and Lorraine usually just for a weekend. (You see Uncle Jack passed away in Milwaukee, so the Cheesemans (Aunt Hattie, Harriet and Lorraine) lived with Grandma and Grandpa Vaughn.) When my Dad drove down we always saw Aunt Ora, Uncle Clarence and Genevieve and Warren on the farms. My mother never got to drive the cars Labor Day weekend. My folks always went to Elkhorn at Fair time (Labor Day week) but I could not go as Manitowoc School started the day after Labor Day. My dad was in charge of horse racing schedules at the Fair in Elkhorn. I stayed here with my Grandma and Grandpa Clark.

However, at some time I was with Genevieve and Warren and their folks on the farm. I remember having a chance to ride their pony - playing croquet in their yard and helping (???) to lead the sheep herd from one field to another where the grass was green. Of course later when Gen and I were both teachers, we always met in Milwaukee at the Nov. convention and had lunch together.

I wonder if this is what you wanted? Lovingly,

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