Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Dickson Young (Part 2)

In my last post, I shared portions of an autobiography written by Elizabeth Dickson Young. Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of my fourth great-grandparents, William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.  Her memoirs are some of the best insights we have into the Dickson family's life in Buffalo, New York.  In this post, I will continue to transcribe Elizabeth's recollections.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

In the mid-1800s, horses were the primary method of transportation in Buffalo.  William Dickson's horse Billy seems to have been a local character, as he was also mentioned in the autobiography of Elizabeth's son, William Dickson Young.  Transportation, modernization and the old horse Billy feature in Elizabeth Dickson Young's memoirs, as well.

We at old Barker Street had a farm in a small way.  We always had two horses and often three.  Old Billy, father's horse, and Kate, the one my sister Esther used for horse back and driving, and almost always one of those devilish little western ponies father brought down from Chicago for the boys.  There was always some excitement with them.  About once a week they would toss one of the boys off or father would try to break them to harness and mother usually in hysterics in the house, sure some of them would be killed. 
Everyone knew the old white horse Billy.  Father would go downtown in the cutter.  He would meet some of his friends and they would go somewhere to play dominoes and rather than to have the old horse stand in the cold, father would fold the fur robes in the bottom, fasten the lines and tell Billy to go home.  He always arrived with a cry to be let into the barn, robes all tight; no one stopped him because everyone knew Billy.  Mother would not ride with father because he would drive fast and pass everyone and mother was afraid.  So the last few years of his life I always went with him.  He would take me for an hour's skating on the Rumsey Pond, then we would ride and father would have his fun. 
When I was a little girl the only way of reaching the city, unless one drove his own horse, were the omnibuses, which were owned by Jake Miller, Charley Miller's father, and they only went as far as Cold Springs (Ferry and Main streets), turning about there and going back down Main St.  I think it was sometime between my eighth birthday and my tenth that the first horse cars were put on Main Street.  There was a little box in front to drop your money in and the driver kept his eye on each passenger until he had put his money in the box, for there was no conductor.  They stopped anywhere then, at the corners or in the middle of the block. 
When I was about ten years old we had the first illuminating gas put in the house at Barker Street, but when it was time to light it no one dared to do it.  Esther said it will surely blow the house up.  They would light matches, begin to turn it on and then back away.  Finally they let me try and as I was not much afraid of anything I was successful and we felt pretty smart.  

Horse drawn street cars in New York (left) and Ohio (right) in the late 1800s.

When the Dickson family was living on Barker Street, their neighborhood was a rather rural environment.  These days, that intersection is much more urban.  The location where the Dickson house stood now features a large apartment complex.

When my father bought on Barker Street and built there, there were very few houses about.  In my early girlhood there were quite a number.  On the corner of Main and Barker, southwest corner, Mr. Guyes B. Ritch lived, on the northwest corner Mr. Gibson T. Williams.  On the northwest corner of Barker and Delaware Mr. Stocking and on the southeast corner Mr. Stevens.1  All these lived there many years. 
My father owned a large piece of land bounded by Delaware, Bird, Forest and Lincoln Parkway-- 21 acres.  We pastured our cows there as did Mr. Castle.  Tommy Castle and Rob took them to pasture and I often went with them, riding in Tommy's little gig.  We would take our lunch and stay all day.   
I was born in the downstairs bedroom [at the Barker Street house], which faces Delaware Ave., on October 6th 1847, and was the seventh child.  Six of us lived to grow up, but I am the last one left alive, and all are buried in Forest Lawn lot, in the same lot, except my brother George, who died in California and is buried there. 
It was all country out there then and we all had such good times.  Mattie Williams and I had seven boys for playmates and we certainly could keep up with them in everything they undertook, even to playing billiards, bowling, walking tight ropes and climbing to the top of everything.  Nothing stopped us.  After Linwood Ave. was cut through, the water would collect in winter on the sides of the road and freeze and we would start at Barker Street and skate up to North Street on one side and back on the other.

The Dicksons' neighbor, Gibson T. Williams.  Photo: "History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County" by H. Perry Smith.

Above, Elizabeth mentions her brother George, who was my third great-grandfather and the ancestor who brought our family to California.

Elsewhere in her memoirs, Elizabeth notes a visit to her Aunt Sarah.  This is Sarah Dickson Armstrong, the elder sister of Elizabeth's father, William Dickson.

When I was eight years old, I took my first railroad journey (1855), with my mother, to Drumbo, Ontario, to visit my Aunt Sarah, my father's sister.  It was winter.  My mother and I left in the early morning and arrived at Paris about noon, where we had to sit in a sleepy cold railroad station for four hours for a delayed train, which would take us to Drumbo, which we reached after dark.  My cousin William was there to meet us.  It was cold winter weather, with the snow piled up everywhere.  William said, "I have come for you with a yoke of oxen," which were fastened to a large flat sleigh, with hay in the bottom, and mother and I crawled in.  I was much tickled to ride in this way. Of course they walked very slowly and as they lived some way from the station we were some time reaching there.  When we did, and the door was thrown open for us, there was Aunt Sarah, with a cap, with a very full ruffled edge on her head sitting in front of a big log fire, the kind where the logs are so big they have to be rolled on, and with a large spinning wheel in front of her, spinning.  I shall never forget it.  Outside the white snow banked up everywhere and the open door with that picture inside.  We had supper in a very large kitchen.  I should say thirty feet square, with corn in bunches hanging from the ceiling and apples dried and strung in long festoons back and forth.  It was all new to me.  We were there two for weeks and something new to see each day.

The cousin William she mentions is almost certainly Sarah Dickson Armstrong's son, William Thomas Armstrong (b. 1825).

Finally, Elizabeth recalls a brush with royalty.  On September 10, 1860, the Prince of Wales embarked on a royal tour of Canada and the United States.  The eldest son of Queen Victoria would later become King Edward VII, and the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.  It seems that the Dickson family had two audiences with the future king during his tour.

When I was about twelve years old the Prince of Wales (who was afterward King Edward VII) came to this country.  I saw him at Collingwood [Ontario].  Father, mother, Esther and I had gone up on one of the boats and the three older ones (not me) were asked to a dinner given at the hotel.  We had a fine place to watch the Prince and after the exercises Mr. McCoy, the conductor on his train, said to father, "While you are at dinner I will take your little daughter for a ride in the prince's car."  We were out about an hour and I do not think there was much I did not see.  The next day we went to Tornoto, and on the morning after the big ball were taken to the Crystal Palace to see the decorations of the ball (my sister Esther was invited to the ball) and I regretted that I did not have some bottles in my pocket, as there were two fountains of cologne and I could have filled them.

A complete account of the Prince of Wales' visit can be found in Visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the British North American Provinces and the United States in Year 1860 by Robert Cellum and Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States by Ian Radforth.

A silver-printed dance card from the Prince's reception at Osgood Hall in Toronto, which was attended by Esther Dickson.

The autobiography of Elizabeth Dickson Young provides wonderful anecdotes about her childhood in Buffalo and life in the Dickson family home.  Without her memoir, these colorful stories would be lost to time.  I am very grateful that we can still read them some eighty years after Elizabeth's death in 1935.

1 The Dicksons' neighbor, Mr. Stocking, was Thomas R. Stocking, a politician who served as a member of the Erie County Legislature and was a Buffalo city supervisor. Another neighbor, Gibson T. Williams, was a noted banker and industrialist. The neighbor referred to as "Guyes B. Ritch" was actually Gaius Barrett Rich, President of the Buffalo Commercial Bank and a well-known New York financier. The final neighbor mentioned, Mr. Stevens, was Frederick P. Stevens, a judge who served as Mayor of Buffalo from 1856-1857. He was also a member of the New York State Assembly.

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