Saturday, December 8, 2007

Of Icemen and Presidents: Photos of Northampton at the Dawn of the 20th Century

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1910, my great-grandfather, Robert Grant, was living at 61 Main Street in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wife of six-years, my great-grandmother, Mary, and his three children: Martha, the oldest at 6 years old (and the little girl who was destined to become my grandmother), Helen, 3, and son Robert, 2. In a somewhat-chilling sign of the times, the Census Bureau in 1910 included on its form the queries, under the heading, "Mother of how many children": "Number born" and "Number now living." My great-grandparents, Robert and Mary, were three for three.

Robert's mother-in-law, the widower Mary Waldron, also resided with the young family at the time of the 1910 federal census. Apparently, there was some confusion on the matter of Mary's age on the census-taker's part - perhaps a reflection of Mary's eagerness to impress her vigor upon the clip-board wielding gentleman at the door? - we'll never know. But it is a bit odd that her age is listed as 58 in the year 1910, considering the same census page also notes that she emigrated from Ireland in 1850. Had she traveled as a twinkle in her mother's eye?

Robert was 32 in 1910, and he and his wife Mary, five years his junior, owned their home at 61 Main Street free and clear of a mortgage, thanks to Robert's job as superintendent of his half-brother William's ice company, Grant Ice Company. William Grant, twenty years older than Robert, had emigrated to the United States from the family homestead in Nova Scotia over 35 years prior to that Spring day in 1910 that the census-taker knocked at his younger sibling's door, and was proprietor of the well-established Northampton business by the time Robert headed south from the village of Upper Stewiacke in 1899. In 1905, Alfred Grant followed his older half-brother William and younger brother Robert to Northampton, and into the family business, and in 1910 was employed as a foreman at the ice company. The nation's future president and her 30th, Calvin Coolidge, was mayor of Northampton.

The 1920 census shows a grimmer picture of the life of the Grant-Waldron family. Robert and Mary have added two children to the tally, Mildred, 9, and Robert, 5. But two names are missing from the census page, the empty spaces heartbreak institutionalized. Mary has followed her mother into widowhood and mourning, husband Robert and son William having both passed in the past decade, the two censuses bookends of change.

Perhaps the elder Mary had given up her coy hedges on her true lifespan by the later census, for tragedy ages all, with no reverse. My great-great grandmother, Mary Waldron had lived to see 80 by 1920, the year Silent Cal was elected Vice-President.

The photographs below capture Northampton in the first decade of the 20th Century. From the the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company Collection, these are the streets and sights that were trod upon and spied by icemen and presidents.

Main Street, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Draper Hotel, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Post Office, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

High School, Northampton, Mass. (between 1900 and 1906)

Forbes Library, Northampton, Mass. (between 1900 and 1906)
(Home of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum)

Public Library (Memorial Hall), Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1904)

Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1904?)

Main Street and Court House, Northampton, Mass. (c1907)

For more on Northampton and the Grant-Waldron clan, and a look at the folks who were my forebears, check out the earlier EWM post, 'My Paternal Pedigree.'

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care.

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Tommy said...


AlishaWestfield said...

Noho sure knows how to keep up a building. They look just as good 100 years later!

Mark T. Alamed said...

Thanks Tom.

Good to see you back!

Alisha: So true. Ideas may change, but the centuries surround us here in Western Mass.