Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gram's Story - My Maternal Grandmother Sara Meeneghan Coleman

I have many childhood memories of time spent at my grandmother's house just across the river from the village of Cooperstown. The family home on Brooklyn Avenue in Middlefield was built by Horace Colman for his bride Maggie Gilgun, and his children Bill and Bess remained there after their parents were gone. It was my grandmother's home for 45 years, but before she settled down to motherhood, she she had an active life as a working girl. Finding records available in official documents, personal letters, and newspaper reports helps me know who she was when she was not called "Gram."

Sara(h) Meeneghan
was the second child born to Irish immigrants Dominick and Ellen Broderick Meeneghan in Springfield Center, NY. The date of her birth is not recorded in the records of the Town Clerk, however, it was listed on her baptismal record as 22 June 1889. She was baptized in St. Mary’s church (Our Lady of the Lake) in Cooperstown on 21 July 1889 by the Rev. D. O’Connell. Her godparents were Thomas Cross and Mary (Mariah) Broderick, Ellen's sister.

In 1892 the Meeneghan family purchased a home on 1½ acres on the Lake Road, south of Springfield Center, where Sara and her brothers and sisters grew up.

Her siblings included Mary, born 10 October 1887; Ellen, born 22 May 1891; William, born 5 August 1892; twins, Anne and Katherine, born 20 February 1895; Margaret, born 26 March 1897; and John, born 7 October 1898. By the time she was nine, Sara was one of eight children, and at 30 her mother’s child-bearing years were over.

Her name was on the Roll of Honor of the Graded School in Springfield in November 1897 (age 8). In 1903 (age 14) she was newly registered in the “academic department” in Springfield Center.

Sara took care of children in her early adulthood, but her talent was evidently in the kitchen. In May of 1906 (age 17) the newspaper reported that she had “gone to Cooperstown for the summer.” In 1908 she “visited” at home in Springfield Center from Cooperstown. She lived in Sewickley, PA in 1909 with the family of Alleyn Stowell and Rosalie Wardwell, a Springfield girl. The Rev. Stowell, an Episcopal minister who was born in the West Indies, was the rector of St. Mary’s church in Springfield in 1906 later moved to St. Stephens in Sewickley until 1934. Sara was the cook and worked with English maid Florence Stanley, according to the 1910 census. In August of 1915 she visited from Sewickley, so this was a long term employment. She says in an October postcard to Bill Coleman, her future husband, “We were all going out there [Los Angeles] this fall but at the last minute decided not to go. We went down to Virginia where we have a cottage on an island near Old Point Comfret.” She is known to have gone as far from home as Florida, perhaps with this family.

In 1920, the census enumerates Sara and her sisters Anne and Peg working for the family of Italian sculptor Victor Salvatore in Scarsdale, NY. Sara was listed as the cook. The families were intertwined for many years. They had received notice of the 1917 engagement of Ellen Ryerson to Victor Salvatore, an early photo of their daughter Vittoria, and cared for Vicky's children in New York and Washington DC when she became a mother herself. In the 1970s I remember going with my grandmother and Aunt Anne to open the house on Otsego Lake, Swanswick, when they returned in the Spring. My mother had worked in their kitchen there as well, when she was a high school girl.

Sara married Thomas William “Bill” Coleman of Middlefield on Saturday, 27 October 1923. She was 34 years old; he was just shy of his 34th birthday. They had been acquainted for some years. The message above was sent to Bill in California in 1915 and Bill wrote to Sally from France in 1918 where he was serving during World War I.

The marriage was performed by Rev. Francis Gustomski in Blessed Sacrament church in Springfield Center, and attended by Bill's sister, Elizabeth Coleman, and Sara's brother, William Meeneghan. The wedding announcement in the local newspaper was subtitled,
Wedding of Well Known People Takes Place at Springfield Center in Church of Blessed Sacrament
The newspaper account describes the event:

The bride’s gown was blue canton crepe, embroidered in silver, and she wore a taupe hat and a corsage bouquet of white roses. The bridesmaid was attired in black roshanara crepe. Her hat was black and silver and her corsage bouquet was of pink roses. Following the ceremony a wedding breakfast was served at the bride’s home. Both house and church were decorated with yellow and white chrysanthemums.

Guests included at least five other priests, and visitors from Scranton, PA and Washington, DC.

They set up housekeeping in Bill’s childhood home in high style, purchasing silverware the next month for $68.35 including 3 desert spoons, 6 forks, 6 knives, and 6 butter spreaders from C. L. Walrath, Jeweler and Engraver.

Their children were born in Cooperstown hospitals. Mary Elizabeth “Betty” was born on Wednesday, 28 May 1924 in Mary Imogene Basset Hospital. After Betty’s birth, Sara remained in the hospital for 15 days at a cost of $2.75 per day. The delivery room cost was an additional $5, with $25 going to the doctor, Dr. Harry L. Cruttenden. Another daughter followed, Margaret Ellen “Peg” born on 8 August 1925 at the Thanksgiving Hospital.

Sally took care of her children and occasionally worked in the hospital kitchen. She remained close to her family in nearby Springfield. She was active in the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion, serving as chairman of the Cooperstown unit more than once.

Their children graduated from Cooperstown High School and pursued higher education. Betty studied nursing at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, NY. Peg studied teaching at Leslie College in Cambridge, MA. Their letters exchanged give a window on everyday life at home, full of news about the family. This one went to Peg while she was living with her aunt Ellen in Schenectady.

Postmark November 17, 1943

Wednesday morning

Dear Margaret,
I'm not coming down this week. I only sent in my bill Monday & I want my money when I go down.

I saw Hanna [Potter] yesterday. She said Alice [her daughter] was coming home this weekend & stay til Thanksgiving.

The supper I guess was a success. We planned on feeding 100 & guess we could 200. Mrs. Pratt & I went up at 2.30 after making 2 salads & a cake. I came home at 5 & got Daddy's supper, went back at 5.30 & worked til 10. Then we had a dishwasher or we would be there yet. Madam Heline had charge of the dining room. She is a schream. Mary Peters teased her to sing & right at the table she burst out. It snowed all Sunday night & Monday. Looks right smart winter. The trees were pretty when the sun came out. I have a box & cookies but can't send them. You would have crumbs. They are tole house & if you look at them they crumb.

Fergurson passed the board & they kept Jimmie Gaughan up in Utica in the hospital. Why they call him & let single men walk around. They went Monday and Jimmie wasn't home last night. Have you seen Betty? We went to the train with her, got home at three. She was home by then, the roads were slippery part of the way & right in Fort Plain no snow.

I wish Herbert [Bradley, her brother in law] had come out for the [football] game. He would never forget it. Mary didn't come down Monday or Tuesday nights, guess her darlings are ill, they had a weekend.
Why don't you go and get your coat. You know what you want. I can't help you. I'm going to get one like Anne to save my good winter coat. I hate getting the collar wet. I won't have $50.00 to put in one right away. I will save the [Freeman’s] Journal. I tryed to get a Oneonta [paper] & they were all gone. The Utica had a good account of the game only Mary wanted to send it to Dick. I don't know the date of Bobbies [Meeneghan, star of the football game] birthday. Ellen should, he was born there. It was the day before or after Thanksgiving that year. If Alice come home suppose you will be up. I have 50 tole house cookies. Must get this out in the mail box.

Love Mother

Daughter Betty worked in Albany Medical Center when her training was complete. Peg taught in the Albany area as well. Betty married Joseph Szymanowicz of Northampton, MA on 30 June 1951 in St. Mary's church in Cooperstown. The couple had two daughters, Sara Elizabeth and Ellen Margaret.

Bill Coleman died in Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown on 13 May 1953, just shy of their 30th wedding anniversary. He was superintendent of Iroquois Mills at his death, the sawmill just down the road where his father and grandfather had worked before him. His estate included stocks held by the company that went to Sara.

Peg married John Schnorr of Rochester, NY on 18 August 1960. Their children were Ann Rose and John William.

The Coleman home continued to be a family gathering place for Sara's daughters and their children, especially on holidays. Both lived within a fairly close radius, Betty in Clinton NY and Peg in Albany. Peg and Joe acquired a wooden sail boat that they sailed on Otego Lake. Although the property hadn’t been farmed for years, the buildings included the house, built by Bill’s father, barn, pigeon house, and a playhouse in the woods. The land to the south was leased to the Clark Estate and was part of a fenced enclosure for deer.

Sara died at 79 on 28 April 1969 in Basset Hospital in Cooperstown. She spent her last winters visiting with her daughters and grandchildren. She is buried in the “new” St. Mary’s cemetery in Index, with her husband, and more recently, Peg and her husband. Betty’s husband Joe is also in the plot, with space reserved for Betty.

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