Wednesday, January 25, 2006

1896 Info

While I’m waiting for paint and filler to dry there is not a lot going on right now at the old Petch House. After some recent posts by some other bloggers, and a conversation I had with a friend, I had been thinking more about the fate of the Petch Family. They abruptly disappeared in 1919. I decided to mosey on down to the library…well actually it was more like a saunter, or maybe I ambled … whatever my method of movement, I ended up at the library to do a bit of reading.

A friend had told me that they had voter, death, marriage, and birth records. I decided to see what I could find. I didn’t find much. In almost every list I found nothing between Pearson and Peterson. I’m kind of glad the Petch’s weren’t the Petersons because apparently back in the 1890s there were a zillion Petersons in the county. There may still be, I don’t know.

In 1896 they have a vague description of Thomas Petch in the voter registration records. It noted he had medium complexion, blue eyes, dark hair, and a mole on his right ear. I can just picture the handsome devil now, can’t you. The only other notice was of the marriage of the eldest son, Thomas Robert Petch, to a Mary Emma King on 12/23/1905. Two days before Christmas seems like an odd time to get married but maybe that was the style back then. Or maybe they had to get married before some unexpected event took place – if you know what I mean.

The lack of information of deaths, marriages, and births for the family was a little disappointing. Thomas Sr. was a successful business man, and Thomas Jr. was doctor. I know that Thomas Jr. had 4 kids while he and his wife lived here, so why weren’t they listed? I’m sure the records are incomplete, so that may have a lot to do with it. I also wonder if maybe it has anything to do with the fact that they were Irish immigrants. From what I’ve heard the Irish were not held in high regards at the turn of the century.

After I came up almost empty handed in the records I decided to do a little light reading in the 1896 newspaper. They have them all on microfilm. I know that the mid to late 1890s were a tumultuous time in the US and there was a major recession going on. Sure enough there was a front page article in the January 8th 1896 edition about depressed wages and slowing lumber sales. The article said that “in years past” an average mill worker could expect to take home $60 a month but that wages were closer to $20 a month now. That is a huge drop. I think this was a bit exaggerated because the article really made a point of bashing the Cleveland administration in Washington.

Last year I watched an episode of American Experience on PBS about Emma Goldman. She was a radical anarchist in the US at the turn of the century and was always trying to stir up trouble with the working class. She also published an influential anarchist magazine called Mother Earth that was devoted to politics and literature. She was pretty wild.

In the show it mentioned that she showed up here in Eureka in the 1890s trying to organize the lumberman and mill workers. It didn’t say how successful she was. She was eventually mixed up with the group that assassinated President McKinley in 1901, and was accused of masterminding the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, a business partner of the steel baron Andrew Carnegie. Frick had Pinkerton guards shoot striking workers at the coke facility in Homestead, PA in 1892. Some speculate that Carnegie was really behind the whole thing and Frick was just the fall-guy. The show gave a kind of a dreary picture of life in the 1890s for the average Joe. One of the things that struck me was it said that in 1893 more than 50 railroads went bankrupt in the US.

Also in that January edition of thee paper it had totals for lumber shipped out of the bay for the previous year. Needless to say there was a lot of redwood shipped out. They listed lumber and shingles in one area, and then finished lumber products in another. Finished products were doors, window sashes, casing, etc. By far the biggest item shipped was doors. In 1895 nearly 5000 doors left Humboldt Bay. The next closest thing was window sashes at 79. I think that was the Hammond Mill that produced all the doors. Some people around here refer to The Eastlake door as The Hammond Door. If that mill ran 365 days a year that is nearly 14 doors a day, and that doesn’t include local door consumption. That would explain the large number of the high-end Eastlake doors I see locally.

The other big topic was the rail road. There wasn’t one to this area in 1896. The feeling seems to have been that at any moment Humboldt Bay was going to be the hub of a major transcontinental railroad. That never happened. We didn’t get rail service from The Bay Area until about 1915, and after being washed out several times they finally gave up on it in 1995. Today we get our gasoline by barge once a week from The Bay Area.

Ships came and went all the time back in the 1890s. About 1000 people a month came and went from San Francisco by ship. The fare was $15 (remember the average worker made $60/month). They had statistics going back 5 years and it generally seemed that about 15% more came than went. A lot of ships filled with redwood lumber regularly went to Mexico, Australia, Hawaii, and Panama, along with SF, LA and other West Coast ports. I’m not sure if they were working on the Panama Canal at that time. I think it opened in 1915.

The coolest thing in the paper was the ad for Levi Strauss & Co. Jeans. It was always in the lower right-hand corner of the front page. It was the classic ad with the mules trying to pull the “copper riveted” jeans apart. It looked exactly like an ad you could probably find today some place, except the jeans are no longer made in SF. It was weird at first to see something so familiar in a 100 year old newspaper.


StuccoHouse said...

I wonder if weddings were celebrated close to holidays to make it more economical for out of town family memeber to travel to attend the wedding & holiday all at once. Seem to remember hearing that somewhere....

Anonymous said...

They disappeared in 1919? Would that be too late for the big influenza epidemic? What did the newspapers say about flu in your area?

John said...

It is possible that the Spanish flu could have killed them in 1919, but the worst of the flu had pretty much run its course at that point. Fall 1918 was the high tide of pandemic if I recall correctly.

If you want a more definitive answer, several excellent books have come out about the 1918 flu over the last 5-10 years. Check

Maybe the Petch family moved to another city or state. Americans are always on the move. I'd love to know what happened to them though.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the census records for your Petch family? I found them online through a subscription database with my old Colorado library card.
I found Thomas D. Petch in the 1900 census, living in the Eureka Township. Tell me where you'd like a copy sent'll let me download as a TIFF or a PDF. It's really neat to look at these old things...all handwritten and such. Looks like Thomas' mother lived with them. And what ever happened to the other son, George?

Anonymous said...

Nevermind. I see now you have the 1910 census records. Do you have the 1920 ones?

Greg said...

I posted more on the Petch family in today's blog entry.

Jenne, thanks for the offer. My brother does a lot of genealogy for my own family and downloaded many of the census records for 1900, 1910, and 1920.

Unknown said...

That was my great great grandfathers home

Unknown said...

Are you related to the perch family? That house was my great great grandfathers