Monday, August 08, 2011

Memories of a Humboldt Native

Anthony "Tony" Merck
Humboldt Depot agent
This reminicense by Margaret Matthew Panzer is full of memories and names of old Humboldt in the way a poem about the town was.  As you will read, there was a lot of community and fellowship as people strove to make a good life for themselves and their families, but there were also hard times (such as during the Depression)...
...My parent's farm was a little over a mile south along Highway 75 and we often walked to town and even to church on Sunday morning when the weather was pleasant.

Though my dad had a hitching post in our yard the only time I really remember a sleigh ride was on Thanksgiving when we went cross country to Len Sylvester's farm to enjoy the day. Lots of good food and crowding around her pot belly stove, playing the piano and working on the Charleston steps were all fun.

We did ride in a school bus in nice weather and a large sled during the winter weather.

Humboldt had been built on both sides of the main highway. East of the highway was really only about four large blocks. There seemed to be wide spaces between homes as some blocks had a home only on the corner.

The business section next to the highway was one building adjoining another. As we entered town there was a blacksmith shop owned by Jack McCollum that fascinated me; I loved to visit just to watch the owner at work. He seemed to make me feel at home as I watched him from a short distance. I was a quiet kind of child who was curious but knew enough not to get in people's way.

Grandma Hare's lovely big home was east on the street with no buildings in between. I spent many hours there with her and other kids who would come over to play mostly putting on programs. We learned to be creative. Others, being musical, entertained in their way and I had a lectern fixed up for my orations - mostly the Gettysburg Address. I would pound my little fist on the lectern. The others seemed to enjoy the diversity. I was very small only about 35 pounds in second grade!

We all had outdoor toilets and grandma had a nasty blackbird that would swoop down on us trying to peck on our heads each time one of us entered it; in the winter weather we had chamber pots in every bedroom that had to be emptied in the outdoor toilet! Nobody liked that job.

Sylvester's home was right next door to Hares. They had a son Warren (Hat) and a daughter Maribel who taught in our local school.

Hatherleys lived on the far end of the second block. They had one daughter Mildred. Mrs. H was related to William John Matthew who had numerous relatives in Humboldt and I will point them out as I progress.

There may have been a small two story white house on the third block but nothing else.

As one circles block 2 on the next corner was a lovely large home belonging to the (Ambrose?) Clow family who had a son Harry. He spent his time wondering about town from business place to business place. He was idle, happy, loveable and well provided for, he was not capable of holding down a job . The Clows, too, were related to William John Matthew who had married Elizabeth Ann Clow. They were both born in Devonshire, England. Again, lots of idle land between Hatherleys and Clow property but going around the corner toward highway 75 was the Professor Tri home built fairly close to Clows. I remember a son, Quinten, and knew the daughter Fidelis quite well and I believe there was a younger son. They were a Catholic family among all the Methodists.

Across the street was the large home built by Alfred and Louisa Croaker Matthew, my grandparents - son of William John Matthew...Parents of Jerry Diamond lived next to them. They too were related to William John Matthew.

Herb Diamond lived catty-corner from them (Amey, Hurdis, Harvey and Marva's dad) and diagonally across the street from Herb was Ikey Diamond (father of Pearl) both relatives of William John Matthew so you can see Prince Edward Island was well represented. There seemed to be a small business on the SW corner of the second block along highway 75.

By the late 20's my grandfather had a restaurant and barbershop next to Ikey Diamond; he still had it in the early 30's. John Easter, who was post master for several years lived next to the United Methodist church both along the highway. Easters, too, descended from P.E.I. and Wm John (...and from his father, who married a Clow, distantly related to my family! - Trish)

Easters had four children Ross, Gwen, Alice, and a younger son, George.

There was a partial third block on the north side.  Lomas Matthews lived there and had two young boys. North of them was George "Ben" Matthews (father to Lomas) with his meticulous and beautiful gas station. I shall return to the station later. East of the Lomas home was a small retirement home for Annie Matthew, wife of George Matthew, brother of Alfred, and on the far corner was Vida Knowlton who lived across the street from the school house which was built in a field along the east end of town. Vida had several children the oldest Lowell and a daughter, Peg, one year younger than I and another one or two younger children. . I have no background knowledge of a husband or what happened to him; she, too, was some relative of Wm John M. She was so proud to have attended the New York World's Fair.

At the end of the church block was a family, I believe, called Varey. We children avoided going on the block or into their yard as we felt someone in the household had tuberculosis. True or not true it kept us away. Walter Herons ,who had one daughter Celestia, lived across the street from Annie Matthew.

East of Knowlton's was the school and large yard for ball games etc.

On the west side of town was a Jenkins family; I remember a son Lorimer but most of all I remember the unique way of getting to their home which was on the south edge of town. They had their place all fenced in with no gates. They had a stile built for people to cross. We went up steps then across a platform that is over their fence then we went down steps on the other side. No railing to assist. As a little girl it was a fun experience; today I doubt I would even try to cross it.

The Great Northern Depot and railroad along with an elevator and piles and piles of lumber made that side of town a fun area. But where was the lumber yard? I was never inside one. The young boys had a tiny shed they called their club house and no girl ever saw the inside! The Tom Browns. Fred and Virgil Bockwitz (farmers), and the Maxwells lived on the west side. Mrs. Maxwell was a music teacher. Mrs. Brown had been a teacher and Mr. Brown had the Shell gas station at one time.

As I recall, the Humboldt people had a reputation of being well educated. Some were. I know the Hare girls were. Lillian Matthew, dad's sister was a teacher.  So was Maribel Sylvester. Yet as I think about the majority, who were descendants of Wm. George and Elizabeth Ann Clow1 Matthew, I do not think they were well educated. They were hard workers, shrewd, had good judgment, were sound family people and seemed to have the characteristics that brought success. I remember my grampa telling about walking across country to Emerson each morning and home at night for $1.00 a day to try to get started. And lots of available land was a plus for them.

I recall the rural families fairly well but first let me try to explain about the days when periodic smoke odors and real smoke seemed to be everywhere and came in from the east.  The wind had to be just right. I think it was peat bog fires. Peat was partially decomposed vegetation in the ground. And would sometimes start burning. We had peat between our home, barn, and the highway, Once my dad tried to carry my mom across the area and they both fell down into it. No real harm! Bothersome area to get across.

Starting from the south side people by the name of Hjeldness lived one mile south of us. Silas Matthew, a double first cousin of my dad, who was raised by my grandfather, lived on a farm a mile south and a mile west of us and Dan Meyer lived south of Silas. West and a mile north of Silas Henry Gatheridge farmed; next was a Clow cemetery then one meets up with the road going west past the Brown, Maxwell and Bockwitz homes. I have never been out on that road farther than a mile. But I knew that Manford Blagsvedt, Einar Rustad and Leslie Reese lived in that direction. People by the name of Kiriluk lived west close to a river. Stella, a daughter, boarded and roomed with my grandparents when she went to school. My grandparents had also adopted a young girl by the name of Martha.

Going north of Humboldt on the left side one would find the Stewart family. Again related to Wm. John Matthew from Prince Edward Island. The huge George Matthew home was east and north of town about a mile. It had a large deck circling the entire home on the second floor. We kids loved to run around that deck; we were all cousins. A smaller home for his son Louis and large family was in the same yard.

If one goes south again the Baldwin home was built before '29. South of it almost a mile and east a mile was a family called Moser.  I recall 2 girls and nothing else.

People did visit among themselves since it was not a world of commercialism. I had not even been to Hallock until I was about 8th grade participating in a sports activity.

What activities for the kids? May Basket Day the first of May was fun. The girls spent hours making lovely baskets and filling them with goodies. They would hang them on the door of some boy's home and then run. The idea was that the boy should chase them trying to steal a kiss. How fast did they run? Midsummer there were ball games in the school ball diamond and in midsummer was the annual town picnic. Foot races, ball games, food and socializing was enjoyed. Halloween was much fun . We went all about town soaping people's windows and making a strange noise with buttons on thread that we would hit against windows. I don't seem to remember asking for treats like today's youngsters but maybe I've forgotten. Toilets were fair game and they would push over every one they could manage. I expect people tried to protect theirs but often failed. And no Halloween passed by that a gang didn't converge on that beautiful gas station area of Ben Matthews. Why they picked on him I never knew but I watched from the periphery as usual and thought the kids were mean but I was too little and shy to say anything. Christmas was preparing programs both at school and at church -- us being little dickens until we got real serious during the program Christmas Eve and Day. We did have a little skating area in the winter. Not really much entertainment: no movies, no television. In my home we played checkers, cards, and sang while either of my folks played the old organ, dad played the jew's-harp and a little on the violin- and planted Easter eggs for us to find. Mother kept the home fires going well with lots of healthy food, white clothes, the best bread and sugar cookies.

I chose to stop my recall in 1929 the year of the stock market crash. My parents lost their beautiful farm that year. Mother tried for a teaching position in town but was told she had more than enough to do to care for a family. Married women just would not be considered for a job in those days. What now? Dad drove ahead in his Ford car to Libby, Montana where he was promised work in the lumber mills. Mother and we children came a little later by train. Garfield and Muriel Easter came to Libby too and we lived together in a duplex. That chamber pail business reemerged. Mother, so ladylike, tried every day to quietly take care of it but Garfield would usually catch her and sing "Here comes the Bride". His fun was her embarrassment! We lived there for a year until our rented home burned to the ground. We lost everything and were forced to return to Humboldt. We lived a short while with the Matthew parents until we found a rental property in the country. My mother was so sad.

About 1935 a law was enacted that permitted former owners the first chance to buy back their own farms. My folks did just that and when I was sixteen we were back on our own farm. The beautiful home had burned to the ground during our absence and a new smaller home built - but it was home!
1 - Elizabeth Ann Clow was my great great (great?) Aunt. Her brother Samuel Clow was my Great Great Grandfather. Samuel's daughter Elizabeth Jane Clow married William Fitzgerald. My grandmother (their daughter) Elizabeth Jane Fitzgerald married my grandfather Sheldon Albert Fitzpatrick, who was my Mom Harriet's Dad, and then here I am...! One more crumb of my family history linking me to so many in Kittson County!