Friday, June 7, 2013

Ninety Years Earlier...A Visit

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible.
The cornice but a mound.
Emily Dickinson

Weaver's Air Service flew over Irvington in the winter of 1923 and snapped at least two aerial photos of the neighborhood.  This incredible image displayed today revealed homes along South Audubon Road, University Avenue, Oak Avenue, Dewey Avenue, and Beechwood Avenue.   While I did not have time to call upon every house in the picture, I asked Mr. Weaver to drop down so I could pay a visit to a few places.  How often does one get transported back in time?  I could not pass up this opportunity.    

Aerial Shot of southern Irvington in 1923 (click to make the photo larger)

I began my tour by trekking down the brick street of Audubon Road just south of the Irving Circle  (upper left of the photo) to pay my respects to the Thomas K. Canfield family at 269 South Audubon Road.  Mr. Canfield managed his own company and rented this lovely American-Four Square.  Adelaide Conte, a well-known music teacher, had just vacated the home. Many children in the neighborhood took vocal and instrumental lessons inside the cobblestoned dwelling.  The Canfields had just moved in so I decided not to dwell long, but I couldn't help but notice the solid stone fireplace in the living room and the beautiful oak woodwork.  

269 South Audubon Road in 1920

269 South Audubon in 2011

Next door, at 275 South Audubon Road, I noted that the Pi Beta Phi sorority girls were very welcoming.  Some young women were playing the piano while others were singing. They had only a short walk to classes at Butler University from this wonderful abode. The chapter president, Margaret Kellenbach, who welcomed me, had bobbed hair like most fashionable young women of the Roaring 20s.  The place was festooned in the colors of wine and silver blue.  Above the fireplace, hung the sorority motto, For Every Girl, A Man or Two.  Although it was difficult to leave this lively place, I decided to move on to my next stop.  

Pi Beta Phi House in 1923 at 275 South Audubon Road

Interior shot of Pi Beta Phi House at 275 South Audubon Road in 1923

Two doors down at 307 South Audubon Road, I was greeted by the Nichols.  William Nichol, the manager of the White Haine Optical Company, and his family were one of the many to call this high-class rental "home."  In fact, the place seemed to be a revolving door as at least nine other families had lived there since 1907.  It looked like the Nichols would not be staying long.  I saw that Mrs. Nichol was already packing some boxes. Another family, the Griffiths, had leased it for 1924.

307 South Audubon Road c1923

307 South Audubon Road in 2013

The tall Queen Anne home at 315 South Audubon Road had intrigued me for years.  I was surprised to learn that only three people lived here in 1923.  Forty-three-year-old Waller Filson and his thirty-two-year-old wife, Sarah, answered the door.  The couple told me that they had met back home in Pennsylvania, and that Waller's brother, Adna, who was 38, also lived here.  Both the Filson brothers worked for a local telegraph company.  Mr. Filson owned the home and of course, I knew that he and his wife would continue to dwell there for another twenty-five years.

315 South Audubon Road in 2013

I crossed the intersection of Oak Avenue and looked down the block.  I could see that the towering oaks provided a beautiful canopy for the street in 1923 just as they did in 2013.   At the southeast corner, I spotted the large Italianate at 325 South Audubon Road. Everyone in the neighborhood still called it the Howe home in 1923, although a new family, the Eberts, had just moved in.  The Howes were storied people and one of their descendants, Thomas Carr Howe, had served as the President of Butler University from 1908 to 1920.  The Eberts were very different from the Howes.  Otto and Lena both spoke German fluently.  Mr. Ebert worked as an engineer for the Irvington Ice and Coal Company on South Ritter Avenue. They raised most of their five children on Burgess Avenue, but Otto Jr. spent the majority of his teen years in this fine old home.  I bade them goodbye and was stunned when I walked out the door and headed south.

325 South Audubon Road in 2013

Where were the houses?  A huge empty lot sat south of the Howe-Ebert home.  The five bungalows that now occupy the site were not present in 1923.  In fact, there was a path that locals created to cut over to Beechwood Avenue on the vast green space.  Across the street, I saw more empty space.  Incredible! 

I crossed the intersection and paid my respects to the widow, Laura Weaver, who owned a Dutch-Colonial Revival duplex at 353-55 South Audubon Road.  Ms. Weaver had just turned 53 and had been alone for a while as her son had just moved out to start his adult life.  To make ends meet, she rented rooms on her side and leased out the other side to the Asbury family.  Joseph Asbury worked as a clerk for the rail lines.  He was 43 while his wife, Martha was 37.  Three young children certainly added a lot of life for the corner. Ms. Weaver would have been surprised had I informed her that by 2013, her home was no longer a double!  I decided that to keep that secret to myself.

353 South Audubon Road in 2013 (formerly 353-55)

My final stop for the day would be across the street.  The Hartig family dwelled at 358 South Audubon Road on the southwest corner of Audubon and Beechwood.  The tall home had been on the corner since the late nineteenth-century.  The Hartigs had been in the dwelling for at least ten years and they knew the Howes from the next the block.  Joel Hartig had a variety of jobs, but his most recent as a salesman of livestock, provided the most stability.  His son, Gravis, worked with him.  Martha, his wife, stayed home and helped to raise Marguerite, Alice, and Susanna.  I looked out a southern window in the parlor and I could see a beautiful bungalow that had just recently been built on a lot next to the Hartigs.  If Mrs. Hartig had opinion on the contrast of homes with hers towering and the new one hugging the ground, she didn't comment.  I longed to go upstairs and tour the entire place, but as I was not that familiar with the family, I did not think it pertinent to ask.

358 South Audubon Road in 2013

With so little time, I had to scurry back to Weaver's airplane.  I was disappointed that I could not jog down some of the other streets.  Off in the distance, I noted the chimney stack of the Children's Guardian Home.  I had been told that over fifty "inmates," as they were called in 1923, had refuge there.  I wished I could warn Mr. and Mrs. Oberholzter, who lived across the street from the Guardian Home on University Avenue, about the dangers that awaited their daughter Madge.  If only I could tell them that in two years the lovely State House secretary would meet a horrible fate at the hands of the brutal Ku Klux Klan leader D. C. Stephenson.  Madge, do not go to his house! Perhaps on another visit? Mr. Weaver had grown impatient with me as it was time to return to the "present."  Our plane banked right and I looked down one more time at 1923.....  

No comments:

Post a Comment