Friday, November 17, 2006

Family History Review?

I had a visitor this morning. Teresa, the editor/publisher of the West Branch Review, stopped by for coffee and a "short visit." And, like always happens with one of those "short visits," it was quite elongated and ended up being sort of a family history type review of the families who had a lot of control over the economics of Cooper Township way back when.

How our conversation went in that direction began with Teresa asking me about a place near here she thought I had mentioned to her way back when - a mansion-type house that sits back in, sort of in the woods -can't be viewed from the road - and had I been the one to have told her about this place.

Yep - I knew exactly what place she was referring to - The Sommerville Mansion - located out in Lanse and which is situated back in the woods behind the later-day Sommerville homestead - which is also somewhat of a mansion type home itself.

The Sommerville family - in my opinion - probably could qualify I suppose one could say, as being the elite or the "royal family" of the region back around the turn of the century and that type of label could probably have been used to describe them somewhat, even today.

"Old Mr Sommerville" - I never knew the man as this was before my time - had a finger in many pies within not just the township, but also within the county. Before they came to this country from Scotland, it is quite evident from various things I have learned about them, they apparently were quite "monied" in Scotland. I figure any family that transports a suit of armor with them when they immigrated here, had to have more than a couple of coins in their coffers then, don't ya think?

But Mr Sommervile was involved early on with the coal mines of the region, had a finger in virtually every other industry too here back then. When they first came here, the family settled in the adjacent county - Centre - before migrating over to Clearfield County where they settled in the little village of Winburne. Mr Sommerville served for many years on the Board of Directors of the bank that once existed in Winburne, of which I don't know as yet when it finally bit the dust. He also was affiliated with the Clearfield Progress - the local county daily newspaper - and off the top of my head right now, I can't remember if his position there was as publisher or editor. One or the other and that should give a little indication too of his status not just in the local area but county-wide.

He had four children - three daughters and a son. THe youngest daughter is still living, in the Chicago area and to my calculations, is probably about 88-90 years old now. I never knew anything about the son whatsoever growing up, but one daughter was the librarian at the county library for years and years and another, who graduated with my younger uncle - I think she was valedictorian and my uncle was salutatorian (or vice versa), went on to become a teacher and for many years, she taught English and French in the old school where my Mom, her brother and younger sister and I all attended high school. The family was of an economic status as such that the daughters all did a "tour" - meaning they spent a summer or several months abroad during their younger years - probably college age or just after completing college perhaps.

Talking about the Sommerville family led to discussions of other families in the region who held a good bit of power, in the economic sense, due to their holdings within the coal mining industry here. Frans Kristianson - a Swedish immigrant - whose coal company later became known as K&J Coal and was a bit of a power house employer for many years here. The Rydberg Family whose company became known as River Hill Coal and is no longer owned by members of the family but still operates under that name - it's no longer as large an operation to my knowledge as it once was either.

And then, there was Andrew Frendberg - who for many years was employed as the mine superintendent for the CBC - Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company - and this company back at the turn of the century and for many years thereafter, was the real powerhouse Coal operation in this region as well as in other counties surrounding here too!

As a child, I remember -vividly - my Grandfather and his older brother - my Great Uncle Erik - talking about their years of working for the CBC and under the command of "Old Frendberg," as they usually refered to the gentleman in not very loving terms or tone of voice when discussing him. The opinion I garnered of this man, as a child, was that he was some kind of a tyrant to work for but from what I have gathered from the research I've been doing for the past two years - via the Clearfield Progress' old copies database -is that he was quite well-known and apparently a very highly respected businessman throughout the community - county-wide - from his work for the CBC Company!

Once one gets into talking about these various early companies that prevailed in this region, it is too small a community for one not to know today who are descendants of the various individuals who once upon a time wielded much power and almost a stranglehold, at times, over the various immigrants who came here in the late 1800's and early 1900's looking for a better life.

It's learning things like this about the beginnings of this community and how it all translates down to people here today that I find absolutely fascinating.

My job now is to try to find out, if possible, when the heirs to the Sommerville estate will be back in town again - hopefully sometime soon - and see if perhaps Teresa and I can have a chance to make contact with THE current Mr Sommerville and get him to give us a tour of the mansion built by his grandfather that is hidden away in the woods atop the hill as you go from Lanse down into Winburne.

I really looking forward to a tour of that place very much and please, let it be something we can arrange soon too as Teresa wants to do a story about the Mansion as well as the Sommerville family for a future edition of the paper! And, so do I!

Wish us luck, will ya?


Mike said...

Good luck finding the current Mr Sommerville. You seem to have done your homework well.

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