Saturday, August 01, 2009


In the Family Record Book of my maternal great-grandparents, John Martin HOEKSTRA and Lillian Fern STRONG, my great-grandmother writes:
In 1907, Ma, Pa, [siblings] Frank, Ethel, Ed and I went [from Western Michigan] to live on a company ranch in Oregon; Frank Strong was the director. The ranch was a child's Eden after living in the city. It had rambling roses, pink cabbage roses, and yellow tea roses on each side of the wooden path up to the house. There were three sour cherry trees in the front yard and two big cedars. There was a big cottonwood tree over the stile Frank built (it went over the fence and we got out of the buggy and stepped over it). [The house] had a picket fence all around it.

Then in November 1907, the company ranch house burned down. Ma was sick in bed [bedridden from a stroke].

Lillian's daughter Ruth (my grandmother) later related how the family rescued Lillian's mother, Mary Lucy, by taking her out of the house on her mattress. Each of them saved one precious item from the fire: Ethel saved her teaching certificate, Ed saved his suit of clothes, and Lillian saved her canary. Lillian continues:
We lived in the old Snavely place where the rats ran and squealed in the walls all night. It made my mother so nervous that Will Chapman [a cousin living nearby] said to bring her to Woodburn [Marion County, Oregon] so he could care for her. Ethel, Ma and I went along. Pa and Ed stayed and took care of the stock on the farm.

Lillian, Ethel and Mary Lucy (WRIGHT) STRONG, Summer 1908, Clackamas or Marion County, Oregon. Original in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington. 2009.

(click on photo to access zoom features)

When I was first given this photograph from my grandmother's estate, I thought it might be the company house that later burned down. Because the date "Summer 1908" is written on the upper left-hand corner and it shows Lillian, Ethel, and their mother, Mary Lucy, I now believe it is the home near Woodburn. The reverse of the photo says the house was between Mt. Angel (Marion County) and Marquam (Clackamas County) Oregon. Both communities are to the southwest of Woodburn, and Lillian's reference that her cousin Will had them come to Woodburn may have been a vague reference to this area. Another possibility is that they lived here after staying with cousin Will.

Although everyone survived the fire, it must have been disheartening to have come out West expecting life to be better and then to endure this setback. The family had to be split up for a while. They, of course, lost everything but a few items rescued from the fire. Thankfully, their lives were spared, or I would not be here to retell the tale!

Written for the 77th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy - Disasters

1 comment:

lindalee said...

Your blog reminded me that my great great grandparents had a fire in their home and my great great grandfather had to be carried out of the burning house as he has suffered from a stroke months earlier. Everyone survived, but old family documents and the family Bible were destroyed (I'm crying here!). I found out about this tragedy in a newspaper article, not by family stories.