Sunday, February 26, 2017

One Summer Just Zipped By

There was always something going on in our backyard. Brother John would come up with the most interesting and sometimes crazy things to do.

One summer back in the late 1950s or early 60s, one such crazy idea my brother had was a zip line. This was long before it was called that. Nowadays you can buy kits for the back yard or go to an expensive park attraction to zip. What John did was on the cheap and totally homemade. 

We had a huge old black walnut tree at the end of the driveway and a short distance from our chicken coop on one side of our backyard. I think my grandfather had planted it around 1900. By the time brother John tied a thick rope around the upper half or so of the tree, it was really big. I think it would have taken two or three kids to wrap their arms around it, it was that big.

Anyway, a block and tackle thing something like this one pictured was threaded on the rope and the other end of the rope was secured to a smaller tree about 50 feet away (maybe more) at the edge of our stand of trees we called the little forest. The starting end of the rope was attached about 20 or so feet up the walnut tree – much lower at the other end, therefore allowing for a thrilling ride. There was another rope hanging from the pulley thing which allowed us to whip the pulley thing up to whoever was in the crook of the tree waiting their turn to zip. The person waiting would grab the pulley by the hook, he would push off from the walnut tree holding on for dear life and zip down the rope in a good clip only to end a moment later using his legs to break at the smaller tree. Once at the end, I don't think there was a problem dropping from the pulley to the ground. At least no one complained about the distance. And the ritual would start over again.

We had a short ladder propped up against the tree which reached a branch we would grab onto to boost ourselves up to another branch in order to climb the rest of the way to start our extreme sport. Waiting to ride, we would hug the trunk of the tree. I'm not sure if there was a smallish platform at the jumping off point or not.

For a long time, I was the only girl allowed to climb and ride. I guess I was somewhat of a daredevil, or just crazy now that I look back on it. There were several of my brother's friends who participated, too. It was hours of fun most of the summer. No one wore a helmet or pads. There was no break on the pulley to stop us – only our legs. No one ever got hurt either.

One instance I remember, a girlfriend of mine wanted to have a ride. So the guys helped her up the tree and onto the seat. As she was starting to zip, one of the fellows grabbed the dangling rope and held my friend in the middle of her run high enough up she couldn't (or wouldn't) jump down. She started to scream to let her down, but they held her up there for what seemed an eternity and finally released her to finish her run. She never asked to zip again!

For the longest time we were all holding on to the hook, dangling as we went down. I don't know why, but one day there was a crude seat attached to the pulley hook. The seat was a piece of wood with small ropes on each side similar to a homemade swing's seat. Zipping down wasn't the same; the adrenalin rush didn't rush as it did for us holding onto the hook for dear life. The fun pretty much subsided.

This is how I remember it. I'm sure my brother could add a lot more stories to it. I don't remember how long our fun lasted that one summer. Once it ended, I'm sure brother John was on to something else before school started. There was always something going on in our backyard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Thought I Threw It Out

My ornament isn't much to look at. It is very plain. It is paper thin and feather light. The color is gold and is wearing thin; in some spots it is nonexistent. I love it though. It was my grandma Porteous's and more than likely from around 1895.

Bob and I emptied our china cabinets and packed everything away. We were having our living room and dining room floors done. We didn't unpacked anything until we painted the two rooms several months later. Just before Christmas, everything was put back into the cabinets. All the containers emptied and packing paper thrown out.

Only one item was missing from the display in our larger cabinet. I had the leaf stand, but not my ornament! I felt so bad and a little empty. I thought we threw it out with the paper since it was so light weight. Bob assured me we didn't and said I probably just put it someplace safe and didn't remember where. For a couple months now every time I thought about the ornament, I'd look in drawers, containers, and small boxes, but didn't find it. Now it is middle of February and I was still wondering where is it.

Well, today I was in the dining room, just standing there for no reason I could think of. I have no idea why...maybe it was fate. I walked over to the big china cabinet and stared at some of my crystal dishes. I looked at my dried bridal bouquet in the large crystal snifter and saw some wadded newspaper under the bouquet. What in the world was that doing in there? Well, low and behold, there it was. I had put grandma's ornament in there for safe keeping! I quickly unwrapped it and replaced it on the stand. I thought I had lost it, but again it is safe and sound in my china cabinet. I feel better now.

Grandma Porteous's Christmas ornament. It is very thin and extremely light weight.
I believe the ornament is from around 1895.
The only thing not that old is the neck, ring, and holder.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Grandpa Porteous From a Tiny Pair of Shoes

Some may say I was a snoopy little girl when I opened my grandmother’s built-in cabinet’s drawer chockfull of wonderful things to explore, but I prefer to be called a young family archaeologist uncovering historical family artifacts from the depths of grandma’s pullout treasure chest. The drawer’s treasure helped develop my curiosity for my ancestors. 

Under the hand-crocheted doilies and embroidered napkins was a black hat – oval in shape, no brim, but had folded up flaps hugging the sides with the ribbon tails dangling from the back. This hat has long disappeared. I guess it was a Glengarry hat which goes along with the family story we were Scottish. I had always wondered about that, but I have yet to find any Portas family connecting outside of Lincolnshire, England.

Another interesting item was a pair of tiny leather shoes with a button on each to clasp the straps. They looked like a pair of girls Mary Jane's or ballet slippers. Grandma said they belonged to my grandfather and they went along with the hat. 

As the story goes, grandpa had these shoes when he came to America in 1870 at three years of age along with his parents John and Mary Ann Portus, his older sister Georgianna, and little brother John Henry. That’s 147 years ago!

William was born  22 Jan 1867 in Nether Hallam, Sheffield, Yorkshire. He’d be 150 years old now. Almost a year later on 22 Dec 1867 he was baptized in St. Michael’s Coningsby, Lincolnshire parish church although they were living in Horncastle.

William's birth entry: Twenty second January 1867, 40 Portland Street, William Dennis, Boy,
(father) John Portus, (mother) Mary Ann Portus formerly Vanplew,
(father's occupation) General labourer,
X The mark of Mary Ann Portus Mother 40 Portland street Nether Hallam,
(date registered) Twenty eighth February 1867 by Henry Bloor Registrar.

Baptism entry in the parish record of St. Michael's, Coningsby, Lincolnshire.
Dec 22 (1867), William Dennis, (parents) John & Mary Ann, Portieus,
(abode) Horncastle, (father's occupation) Labourer

Coningsby parish church St. Michael's. [photo by me]

The family sailed from England in April of 1870 aboard the ship SS Malta, arrived in New York on 3 May, and were living on Maple St. in Mechanics Grove, Illinois, (now Mundelein) in time for the 1870 federal census on 21 June. The manifest was hard to find as their name was PORTEUS and I was unsuspecting of that spelling. And only John was listed, Mary Ann was listed as M.A.  On the 1870 census, our surname looks to be spelled phonetically probably due to the heavy Lincolnshire accent of my great grandfather John. The proper Scottish spelling of our name – PORTEOUS – as our surname is now, was first seen in Lake County. In Lincolnshire, England, our surname was spelled PORTAS or PORTUS. As my genealogy advanced, I realized not to rely on one spelling.

All young William's belongings were in this wooden trunk. His name is carved on the top.

Federal Census
Fremont township in the County of Lake, State of Illinois, enumerated 21 June 1870.
Post Office: Deans Corners.
You can see our name is now spelled PORTOS, both John and Mary Ann are 28, Georgiana 4, William D. 3, John H. 1, all born in England.

I grew up in the house grandpa built for grandma as a wedding present. It was a big two-story house located next to Lincoln School on Maple St. in Mundelein. The house is no longer there, but the house across the street is one Mary Ann’s uncle John Rouse secured for them to live in temporarily before moving to the Midlothian Road house. 

Panorama view of Maple Ave. houses. You can see the W.D. Porteous house and the school next door. Evidently this image was taken before the orchard was put in.
Another view of the Maple Ave. house. Aunt Violet, my dad's older sister is
standing by the orchard where the chickens are running free.

I don’t know much about William’s boyhood in Lake County, Ill., except the family settled in a house on Midlothian Road just west of Diamond Lake in Fremont Township. It was mostly small farms and prairie there. I’m sure he had fun exploring, fishing, and hunting. My dad was good at that, too.
The Midlothian Rd. house. Sitting on the porch is great grandma Porteous; she could be holding a baby, 
standing in front of porch is great grandpa Porteous and Georgiana, 

and on the side by the driveway is William. 
I wish I had a larger image of this house, but this is the best I could get.

I have grandpa's autograph book presented to him 24 June 1883, which would make him about 16-17 years old. It was probably a birthday or graduation present from his great aunt Matilda Rouse. My grandmother Carrie Ida SNYDER wrote in it as a “friend” in 1890. I also have her book in which William wrote in 1889 “Ever remember a friend.” 

Grandpa and grandma would be married a few years later in 1895. William and Carrie had four children, three of which lived to be adults. They are Violet, Carroll (my dad), and Mildred (aunt MiMi). I don’t have a record of the fourth because he/she died at birth and maybe was never named. I heard it was a girl named Ruth, but can’t verify it. 

Marriage - 22 October 1895. William was 28 and Carrie Ida Snyder, 26.
They were married at the Snyder home.

Grandma and grandpa's wedding picture.

Family Tree!
Grandma and grandpa in front. Aunt Violet and aunt Mildred sitting in tree
with my dad Carroll standing in tree.
William became a naturalized citizen 16 March 1888. He was 21 years of age. Normally, a child would have become a citizen when his father did, but John didn’t become a citizen until two years after. 

A petition, final oath and certificate (minor).

William was a carpenter contractor. He had a ditch digging machine and had a threshing machine which he had hired men to work for him. Most of my information comes from stories told by my aunt Violet and Grandma. I have not put them all together yet. Some may be subject to my memory or to theirs – I’m currently poking around for proof. 

Ditch digging machine in front of the Maple Ave. house. Aunt Violet is standing on it.

I did learn William was a magistrate/justice of the peace, according to the curator of the Fort Hill Historical Society there. He was also AREA/Mundelein's Treasurer.

1922 Directory for AREA (Mundelein).

I have an envelope with William’s corner card return address showing the title of Village Treasurer.
Envelope with my grandfather's corner card (return address).
Village Treasurer

Obituaries can hold a lot of information. I found out more about him from his 1927 obituary. 

W.D. Porteous Dies Suddenly
The Mundelein community was deeply shocked Wednesday afternoon by the sudden death of William D. Porteous, one of the oldest residents of that village and a man prominent in the civic affairs of the community. His death was due to heart failure superinduced by over exertion when he tried to raise a ladder to the roof of his home which had been ignited by sparks from the chimney.
    The fire was discovered shortly after noon Wednesday by school children in the school yard which adjoins the Porteous home. The alarm was given by Mr. Porteous who has been under treatment for some months for heart ailment, rushed to the rear of his garage to secure a ladder. He had carried the ladder to the house and was about to raise it when seized.
    An employe of the Public Service Company who is a member of the first aid team of that organization, was working nearby and hurried to the aid of the stricken man. With the help of others who had arrived on the scene he worked for some time to rekindle the spark of life but his efforts were unavailable.
    Dr. J.L. Taylor, who had been hastily summoned, stated on his arrival that death had been practically instantaneous.
    In the meantime the fire department had extinguished the blaze with but a minor damage to the roof of the home.
    The inquest was held Wednesday night and the jury returned a verdict of death from heart failure.
    William d. Porteous was born in England and came to this country at the age of four years with his parents who settled in Fremont township. He has been a resident of the village of Mundelein for the past thirty years where he has held the office of village treasurer since the incorporation of the village under the name of Rockefeller in 1909.
    Mr. Porteous was a carpenter contractor and was actively engaged in that profession until ill health forced his retirement from active work.
    He is survived by his widow and three children, Mrs. M.A. Chandler of Mundelein, Mrs. Frank Druba of Waukegan and Carroll who lives at home. He leaves also one brother J.J. Porteous of Libertyville and one sister, Mrs. C.G.Small who is now enroute from California.
    The funeral services will be held at the home on West Maple avenue at two o'clock standard time Saturday, Rev. C. Arthur Jevene officiating and interment will be made in Ivanhoe cemetery. The services at the grave will be in charge of the Ivanhoe camp of the Modern Woodmen of which he is a member.

Headstone in Ivanhoe Cemetery. Find A Grave Memorial# 65551437.

Memorial certificate from the Modern Woodman.

Little by little I'm finding more things about my grandfather. These details and proving some of the stories will put “meat on the bones” of his life and give me a better picture of just who he was. My family history research never ends.