Monday, August 17, 2015

William Dickson (Part IV)

This is the fourth post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

Buffalo, New York, 1855.  William Dickson was living in Buffalo at this time and was captain of a ship that would have anchored in this harbor.
Photo courtesy of Dickinson College.

William Dickson was an affable, sociable man.  Not much given to intellectual pursuits, he preferred to spend time enjoying the company of friends and family.  He also loved being outdoors, not only on the lake while he was working, but in the countryside that surrounded his home in Buffalo, New York.  His grandson, William Dickson Young, expanded upon these tendencies in his biography of William Dickson.  I will continue to quote from this biography to give a sense of William's character.
The home on Barker Street was a center for a large and active group of young people who were sociable.  The Dickson family apparently never cared either for formal social affairs nor for books, but rather for music and informal, jolly good times.
He [William Dickson] never held any public office, and, perhaps because he was away for nine months of each year, took little part in public affairs.  He had never had much schooling in his early days and had small love for books (differing in that way from my grandfather Young), but liked the open, active work and quiet social pleasures.

According to William Dickson Young, his grandfather had a special bond with his youngest child, Elizabeth Jane Dickson (WDY's mother).  She was born in 1847, when William Dickson was 47 years of age.  Perhaps it was because she was the youngest, or that William was getting on in years and focusing more on his family and less on career at the time of her birth, that they became particularly close.  William Dickson Young's glowing memories of his grandfather must certainly have been influenced by the warm relationship William had with Elizabeth Jane.
He was especially fond of my mother [Elizabeth Jane Dickson], and in his last years, when he had retired from the lakes, used to love to have her play the piano for him (the center table in our living room is made from that piano), or read to him stories from the weekly papers of that day, and would weep openly over the sad parts, of which the melancholy stories of those times were well filled.  In the winter he would also drive her every afternoon down to the frozen lake in the Rumsey grounds (where Elmwood Ave. now cuts through Tupper and Tracy Streets), and, standing for hours in his cutter outside the high frame, watch her skate with the other young people.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

Every person has their quirks, and William Dickson's seemed to revolve around health and disease prevention.  William Dickson Young explains in his biography:
My mother tells of only one thing that her father was afraid of, and that was cholera.  This was a fearful thing in those days, for no one knew the cause of it, and it would rage even through our country here, many people dying of it.  There was one belief that it was caused by eating green vegetables, and Captain Dickson gave the most strict orders that none of his family should eat green things or raw fruit, but eat chiefly boiled rice, which was considered safe.  They did their best but became so sick of rice (in fact my mother still has a feeling about it seventy years later) that when he was away on the lakes they had to break the rules, and no one had cholera.

William Dickson was well-liked by both family and community.  While he was away on the lakes much of the year, he seems to have made the most of his time in Buffalo.
He was apparently a very happy man, tender-hearted on occasions as a child, fond of his family, in fact too fond, for his boys grew up with too much money and too little training for work (although he was of course away from them for long periods).  He was generous, a devout Episcopalian (I have his large prayer book and his old family Bible in our library).  He gave the first $1,000 to help build Ascention [sp] Church on North Street at the head of Franklin, and was at one time its Senior Warden.  He was respected by everyone, one of the leaders on the lakes, which was then the most important business in Buffalo, and an honorable, clean, fine gentleman.
Ascension Church, which William Dickson helped to found, was incorporated in 1855.  It was for more than 150 years, a thriving religious community in Buffalo.  However, in 2014, the decision was made to abandon the church and relocate its congregants to another nearby church.  In making this decision, church officials cited rapidly declining membership and the financial demands of keeping up an old, deteriorating building.  The church that William Dickson funded and loved will be converted into a senior center.

Ascension Church, photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

William Dickson Young's biography paints quite a picture of who William Dickson was as a person and what his family life was like in Buffalo.  In my next post, I'll continue to write about William's family, specifically his children.

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