The Gardners and the Wilsons in Hingham

Hingham, Wisconsin seen from “the brow of Lyman Hill.”
Home to the Gardners and the Wilsons 1869-2016.
Charles E. Wilson, Jr. (1919-2003)

Dedicated to the memory of
Charles E. Wilson, Jr.
(1919-2003)

From the boyhood summers he spent there to the closing chapters of his life, Charles Wilson loved the small town of Hingham, Wisconsin.

He also loved history and exploring and documenting his family’s roots. These pages are drawn from his extensive research and writing, honoring his devoted stewardship in hope that his many descendants will always be able to share the rich heritage he has preserved for all of us.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1847: Lovinia (Gardner) Hill and Lyman A. Hill – The Earliest Years

1868: Emery B. Gardner and Julia (Hurley) Gardner – After the Civil War

1882: The Gardner Sisters – May and Ida

1959: Bess (Gardner) Wilson and Charles Edwin Wilson

1976: Charles E. Wilson, Jr. and Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson

Lovinia (Gardner) Hill and Lyman A. Hill

The story of this family begins not in Wisconsin, but in upstate New York.

Caleb and Betsy’s youngest daughter, Lovinia Gardner, was married to Lyman Alonzo Hill. The Hills were to become the first members of the family to take up residence in Sheboygan County, WI.

Lovinia Gardner’s husband, Lyman Alonzo Hill, was born on a farm in Chenango County, NY on January 11, 1810. The Hill family struggled to make a living, and Alonzo’s formal education was minimal. He and Lovina married in 1837. Their only child, Lyman D. Hill, was born on July 28, 1838.

Lovinia’s older sister, Mary, was married to Hiram Gridley, a realtor in nearby Kirkland, NY. The Gridleys would later follow the Hills to Wisconsin and purchase the family home in Hingham.

Another sister, Eliza, was married to Nelson B. Lloyd about 1830 and had two children, Gardner and Charles. The Lloyd family settled in Chicago about 1860.

By 1845 the Hills had decided they could make a better life in Wisconsin, so in the spring of 1846 they booked passage on a sailing vessel for Milwaukee, a three-week trip across the Great Lakes.

The family stayed in Milwaukee until the spring of 1847, fitting out a Conestoga wagon with the necessities of life and assembling a herd of 12 cattle. They set out for Sheboygan County with 9-year-old Lyman walking the entire distance barefoot, driving the cattle. Wisconsin was still very much a frontier territory in 1847 and Lovinia Gardner Hill was reputed to be the first white woman ever to spend the night in the outpost of Adell.

The Hills bought an 80 acre tract in Section 36 of Lyndon (then spelled Lindon) Township from the U. S. Government agent for the price of $1.25 an acre, and built a log cabin for their home. The roof of the cabin was made from hollow logs with moss filling the gaps between them. The next few years were spent developing the tract into a good working farm.

The elder Mr. Hill was an Abolitionist, and a member of the Whig Party. He joined the Republican Party at its inception and was interested in politics all his life.

According to the Portrait and Biographical Record of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, published in 1894:

Indians were a common sight in Wisconsin at that time, and they were proverbial beggars. An old Indian by the name of Solomon often visited their home, and Mr. (Lyman D.) Hill has a photograph of the old chief.”

That photo is still in the family, framed in metal and encased with what appears to be a lock of the old chief’s white hair. A note on the back says “Indian Solomon taken at Goodridge’s, 1887 Aunt May’s friend”.

"Indian Solomon" photographed by H. Goodridge, Hingham WI (1887)
“Indian Solomon” photographed by H. Goodridge, Hingham WI (1887)

During a trip to New York State in 1868 to sell the excess wool and flour produced on the farms, he made a detour by stagecoach to hear Gerrit Smith, a prominent New York Abolitionist. In a letter home he described it as “the best speach (sic) I ever heard”.

Lovina accompanied her husband on this trip (her brother Job bought some of the wool) but her health was failing, and in one of his letters to his son, Lyman wrote “Your mother is no better than when we left holme that I know of. I some times think we had better staed at holme. If she was well we should have a pleasant visit but as it is neither of us enjoy it mutch.” The spelling is Lyman’s, and the visit was with various relatives.

Lovina’s health apparently did not improve, although she lived until August 11, 1872. The Sheboygan Times reported on August 16, 1872:

DIED – In the village of Hingham, on the 11th, Mrs. Lovina Hill, wife of L. A. Hill, aged 63 years.

Later excerpts from “Hingham Items” tell of Mr. Hill’s removal to Clark County and of his return, indicating that he had remarried, however no confirmation of this has ever been found.

The Sheboygan County tax assessment rolls for 1880 through 1887 show Lyman A. Hill assessed $600 for a property described as “house and barn” on the northeast corner of what is today the intersection of Main Street and South Street in Hingham. The elder Mr. Hill died April 15, 1888 and is buried beside his wife in the Hingham Cemetery. The white sandstone grave markers are still in good condition.

On December 4, 1858, Lyman D. Hill married Elizabeth Johnson who had come from the State of Maine. She was a sister-in-law to DeHave Norton who, after a very active tour of duty in the Union Army served Lima Township, WI for many years as Notary Public, Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

The younger Hills bought a 65-acre tract along what is today County Highway I just outside Hingham, adjacent to and south of Lyman’s father’s farm. They built a comfortable brick home on the brow of the hill that is still known locally as “Lyman Hill”, although few now know why. Some say it is the highest point in Sheboygan County.

By 1860 both families were living in the new house and operating both farms. Known as Oxford Hill Farm, it was one of the best kept and most productive farms in Sheboygan County for the rest of the 19th century and into the early 20th. The new barn was built near a flowing spring so running water was available for cooling milk. There was, however, no running water to the house.

Lyman D. Hill farm circa 1908

Lyman D. Hill became interested in breeding sheep and served the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Association in various capacities. In later years he had several Grand Champion Oxfords to his credit. He made many of his own household articles, including barrels for sugar and flour. At least one of these barrels is still in good condition.

The Hills prospered in their farming and business ventures. They sometimes combined business with pleasure; in 1876 they visited the U. S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and ordered goods from J. B. Myers, “Wholesale Commission Merchant” of Philadelphia, for various items to be shipped home.

About 1890 Elizabeth became ill and Lyman’s cousin, 22-year-old May Gardner of Hingham, moved into their house to care for her. After Elizabeth died in October, 1911, May stayed on as Lyman’s housekeeper until his death just over two years later.

Both Hills were buried in the Hingham Cemetery, and since they had no children, the farm was sold.

Lyman D. Hill is remembered as having the careful, thrifty nature that makes a good farmer.

Hingham veterinarian Jonathan “Doc” Harmeling (1897-1987) told of Mrs. Hill complaining about running out of sugar because the hired man used it in his coffee. She asked Lyman to make the spring trip to Sheboygan for staples earlier than usual. He returned from the trip with no sugar, explaining, “What we haven’t got we can’t complain about.” He ate his favorite dessert, rhubarb pie, all summer without sugar, without complaining.

Emery B. Gardner and Julia (Hurley) Gardner

Emery Bissel Gardner was born June 29, 1818 in Oneida County, New York. He was the youngest child of Caleb and Betsy Gardner and by the time Emery was just three years old, both of his parents had passed away.

It is not known who raised Emery, but his sister Mary was 14 years old when their father died and it’s likely the responsibility of caring for him fell to her. Emery’s schooling is not known either, but as a young man he went to Syracuse NY as an apprentice wheelwright for a carriage builder and remained in that city for several years.

At some point, Emery lived in a boarding house for men, owned and operated by a young widow, Lydia Morey Hammond.

Emery Bissel Gardner (1818-1887)
Emery Bissel Gardner (1818-1887)

Lydia Morey’s mother, Susanna Hall Morey, was born in Arlington, VT on December 23, 1809. She was a grand-niece of Dr. Lyman Hall, one of a group of Congregational ministers who went to Georgia about 1760 to help the convicts sent there from England. Dr. Hall went on to become Governor of Georgia and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Lydia Morey Hammond was just 22 years old and already a widowed mother when she and Emery Gardner, 17 years older than his bride, were married on December 5, 1857.

A son, John Charles Gardner, was born January 11, 1859. Emery apparently was not happy with his life in Syracuse; he and Lydia were divorced in 1864.

Emery moved to Chicago, where his sister Eliza and her husband, Nelson B. Lloyd, ran The Lloyd House, a boarding hotel in the Loop, in partnership with Michael Angelo Hurley.

Advertisement for Lloyd House Hotel
Advertisement for Lloyd House hotel
Michael Angelo Hurley
Michael Angelo Hurley
Eliza Gardner Lloyd
Eliza Gardner Lloyd

Apparently, Emery worked for the Lloyds at their boarding house, and family lore has it that Mike Hurley made a match between his 30-year-old sister, Julia, and the considerably older Emery as a way to provide a home for their mother, Mary J. Hurley.

On August 6, 1867 Emery married Julia Hurley. Months later, Emery and his pregnant wife moved permanently to Hingham, following his sister Mary and her husband Hiram Gridley who had moved there from New York state three years earlier.

Emery B. and Julia (Hurley) Gardner
Emery B. and Julia (Hurley) Gardner
Mary (Gardner) Gridley
Mary (Gardner) Gridley
Hiram Gridley
Hiram Gridley

It is not known where the Gridleys lived when they first arrived in Hingham but they may have been renting a house there.

What is known is that on March 31, 1868, Hiram Gridley purchased Lots 9 and 10 in Block 1 of Hingham – the same property where the family home stands today. The house is on Lot 9 and the garage (once a barn) is located on Lot 10.

For many years, the family assumed that the house was expanded to accommodate the arrival of Emery and Julia Gardner when they came to Hingham and shared Hiram and Mary Gridley’s home. But today there is some doubt about when the first addition was made to the house.

Hingham was first platted as a village in September 1850 by Edward Hobart after he acquired the land from Mrs. David Giddings of Sheboygan Falls, who had bought it from the U.S. government four years earlier. Lots 9 and 10 were transferred from Hobart to Thomas Tibbitts in 1854 and Tibbitts sold the land to Dennis Kennedy less than two years later. Five months after that, Kennedy sold the property to Charles Rogers, who held the deed until 1864.

Everyone seems to agree that Charles Rogers was the first merchant in Hingham, but no one has ever been able to find a record of the location of his store. The tax assessment on the Rogers home was higher than that of similar buildings elsewhere in Hingham, possibly indicating that his store was on the same property, or that the store was in the house.

Original 1856 House (Artist’s conception by C.E. Wilson, Jr.)

The original house was quite small, much too small to accommodate a store. But there is an interior north wall built from lath and plaster over wood siding, indicating that this was an outside wall for some period of time. Then, at some point, an ell was added to the north side of the house, running west.

It is unlikely that it was built at the same time as the house, because the framing materials and methods of construction are different than in the other part of the house.

Historians agree that Charles Rogers left the merchant business for the more lucrative business of farming, selling the house to Hiram Hobart in 1864. John H. Platt bought the house the following year and sold it to Hiram Gridley in 1868. If the ell was added to accommodate Rogers’ store, it is possible that Emery and Julia Gardner decided to move to Hingham because the Gridleys had excess room. Or, as was thought for many years, they went to Hingham because it was possible to make the Gridley house into a two family dwelling.

Either way, when Emery B. Gardner and his seven-months-pregnant wife Julia moved there in 1868, the Gardner family was settled on South Street in Hingham and has been ever since.

It was a good move for Emery and Julia. Their daughter May was born in Hingham on May 31, 1868.

May and Ida Gardner (1873)
May and Ida Gardner (1873)

Another daughter, Ida, arrived four years later on November 2, 1872. Both were born in the Hingham house, which was May’s principal residence all her life while Ida lived elsewhere at several periods, returning in retirement.

Hingham in the 1870s grew to become a fairly sizeable community with a variety of businesses. In 1873, the Sheboygan Times listed a census of businesses including: a printing office, a hotel, a boarding house, two general stores, a drug, book and grocery store, a tailor shop, a barber shop, three shoe shops, a milliner and dressmaker, a blacksmith shop, a harness shop, two wagon shops, two paint shops, a cooper (barrel maker), a tin shop, a pump factory, a churn factory, a cheese factory, two grist mills, and a sawmill. Local institutions included a school house, the Post Office and the Methodist church.

Having learned the wheelwright trade as a young man in Syracuse, Emery opened a “Wagon Manufactory” in Hingham, doing custom woodwork for carriages and sleighs and specializing in making wheels.

The exact location of Emery’s shop was not specified, but the Sheboygan County tax assessment rolls for 1869 through 1888 (the year after he died) show E. B. Gardner owning several lots in block 8 of the original plat of Hingham, encompassing a “wagon shop” on the current site of the Hingham Athletic Association hall, and an “orchard” that is today the vacant land just to the west of Hopeman’s and the Hingham Post Office. (The entire assessment was $245.)

The Sheboygan Times of Sept. 28, 1872 under the heading “Hingham Items” carries the following story:

SOME HEAVY WHEELING is in prospect at Hingham. We are told that Hon. Major* Shaw of that village has agreed with Emery B. Gardner that if Horace Greeley is elected president, he will wheel Gardner in a hand barrow from Maine Street to the top of the hill west of the village, which hill is some little distance away and both very long and very steep. On the contrary, if U.S. Grant is elected, Gardner is to wheel Shaw over the same ground. Although Mr. Shaw is a lightweight, Gardner may make up his mind that he has got some heavy wheeling to do next November. *Shaw’s given name, not a military rank.

On Dec.21, 1872, under “Hingham and Vicinity” the Times reported:

That wheeling match, advertised to come off after the election, between E. B. Gardner and M. Shaw, has failed to put in an appearance; from what cause I have not learned, but think that Mr. Gardner was ashamed to be seen out after the election, on the Liberal side; therefore the non-performance of his part of the contract between the handles of the wheelbarrow. Mr. Shaw looks up yet, notwithstanding, the sad disappointment in the ride anticipated. We have first rate wheeling now, and all are wishing for snow and good sleighing, and for the horses to fully get over the epizootic; and then, Christmas and New Years are almost here. “Oh, that will be jolly!”

Emery was elected town constable for Lima Township; his duties included transporting prisoners and serving summonses for the Justice of the Peace.

When the Gridleys died (1880 and 1882) the Gardners took over the entire house, for by that time, Julia’s mother, Mary J. Hurley, a native of Dublin, Ireland, was living with them.

May and Ida Gardner (1886)
May and Ida Gardner (1886)

Emery died in 1887, leaving Julia Gardner a widow at age 50 with two daughters and her mother to care for and no income. Julia rented out half of the house and they survived with help from her brother, Michael Angelo Hurley, who was by then a prominent attorney and for whom the town of Hurley, WI was named. Julia, known to the family as “Grandma Gardner” died in 1923.

Julia (Hurley) Gardner (1837-1923)

The Gardner Sisters – May and Ida

May and Ida Gardner were both born in the Gardner house in Hingham, May on May 31, 1868 and Ida on November 2, 1872. The house remained May’s principal residence for all her life, but Ida lived elsewhere at several periods, returning after her retirement.

May Gardner with her mother
Julia Hurley Gardner (1871)
Ida Gardner (1873)

Both May and Ida were educated at the Hingham elementary school, and May went on to Waldo High School and earned a Teacher’s Certificate from Plymouth Normal School. She took correspondence courses to further her education, and in 1898 she attended summer school in Plymouth to earn an advanced degree.

May taught at various area schools, notably Hingham, Stone Jug and Sunny Hill. Barbara Adams, a great-great-granddaughter of May’s father Emery, has the hand bell May used to summon her students.

May Gardner (1868-1949)
May Gardner (1868-1949)

In 1890, May moved into the home of her cousin, Lyman D. Hill, to help Mrs. Hill, whose health was failing. At Mrs. Hill’s death in 1911, May gave up teaching and kept house for her cousin. After the death of “Cousin Lyman” in December, 1913, May returned home and kept house for her ailing mother Julia who died in 1923.

From then on she lived alone, but her house was always open to relatives and friends. She was deeply interested in history and traveled extensively.

May Gardner (1890)
May Gardner (1901)

May was a devout Methodist and an active member of the Hingham Methodist Episcopal Church. Her uncle, Hiram Gridley, had started the fund for a church bell shortly after the church was built. May carried on that tradition by making house calls on church members to collect money and food to meet the pastor’s salary during the depression years, 1929 to 1940.

May was also very active in politics. She was an ardent supporter of the Temperance movement and an avid Suffragette, working diligently for the passage of the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. She served as president of the county chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and president of the Sheboygan County Red Cross.

May had a knack for getting things done. In 1918, a soldier from Hingham, Lewis Tempas, was in an army hospital in Kentucky with pneumonia. The Army had refused his parents’ request to visit him. They appealed to May in her role with the Red Cross and in a few days they received permission not only to visit but also to bring him home to recuperate.

May was elected Justice of the Peace for Lima Township in April 1922, becoming the first woman ever to be elected to public office in Sheboygan County.

May died on March 16, 1949 as the result of a massive stroke some months earlier and is buried in the Hingham Cemetery. After a disappointing romance, May had devoted her life to caring for others, her cousin and his wife, her mother and later several needy widowed friends as well as her niece, Elizabeth (Bess) Gardner.

The caring and kindness Bess received from her Aunt May, Aunt Ida and their mother “Grandma Gardner” was reflected in the care she gave both May and Ida years later in their terminal illnesses, and in the pleasure she took in living in the house from 1959 until her death in 1976; it probably also explains her reluctance to change anything in her “Grandmother’s house” as she referred to it.

Fifteen-year-old Ida Gardner departed for California in the summer of 1887 with her “Aunt Katie”, whose correspondence fills in some of the details from the year that Emery Gardner died.

Ida Gardner

In 1864, Julia Hurley Gardner’s sister, Kate Hurley, had been living in Brooklyn, NY and was married to a James Whitney.

Kate Hurley

Four years later, she was living alone, apparently in Ohio, and working in an asylum. Later she married Hiram J. Norris, a wealthy businessman from San Francisco, CA. Together they had three children.

Kate Norris brought her daughters Edith and Mabel to Hingham in 1887 for a visit with her mother and sister and presumably their brother Mike who also lived in Wisconsin by this time.

Ida returned with them to San Francisco and stayed on for six years, forging a lifelong friendship with the “Norris Girls” and receiving excellent schooling. She became an accomplished pianist and developed a talent for art; one of her pencil sketches hangs in Barbara Adams’ home. Ida’s father Emery died while she was in California.

Upon her return home it became necessary for Ida to help with the family finances. She learned typing, accounting and general business practice in Chicago while living with first with her aunt, Eliza Gardner Lloyd, and later with her half-brother John Gardner and his family.

Ida’s business education led her to working for a Wisconsin senator at a law firm in Madison, WI, referred by her uncle Michael Angelo Hurley. By 1912, she had returned to Chicago to take a position as a claims adjuster for the transit company that ran the city’s streetcars, the Chicago Surface Lines. There she met her future husband, George A. Curwen, a motorman and instructor.

They were married on December 22, 1917 and lived in Chicago but spent all their vacations and most holidays in Hingham. George Curwen enjoyed spending time in Hingham and made many friends at Ambrose O’Reilly’s blacksmith shop.

He also had the Gardner family home remodeled, including the addition of a screen porch across the front of the house.

Ida Gardner (1902)
Ida Gardner Curwen
Ida Gardner Curwen (1909)
Gardner home in Hingham, summer 1927
Gardner home in Hingham, summer 1927

In those days, long before the advent of air conditioning, George wanted a cool place to sleep at night, so he built one.

George Curwen and his sleeping porch (1931)
George Curwen and his sleeping porch (1931)

Ida and George hoped to retire in Hingham in 1936 to enjoy the fruits of their efforts in a newly improved home. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1935. Ida continued working until her own retirement in 1937, when she returned to Hingham to live with her sister. Hingham children came to know Ida as the “Candy Lady” because she always had something sweet for them.

For several years, May and Ida wintered in Chicago, renting an apartment for the season and returning to Hingham each spring.

May and Ida Gardner in Chicago, 1943

After May died in 1949, Mrs. Ella Pelishek of Adell, WI came to live with Ida. However, Ida became increasingly senile over the next ten years and Ella, at age 76, was no longer able to cope with her. Bess Gardner Wilson and her husband Edwin moved to Hingham in 1959 to care for Ida, but it was soon apparent that they couldn’t cope, either, so Ida moved into Bethany Manor Nursing Home in Sheboygan, where she died on January 21, 1962.

Ida and May Gardner with their mother, Julia Hurley Gardner (early 1920s)

Bess (Gardner) Wilson and Charles Edwin Wilson

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the Wilson family’s first contact with Hingham was in August, 1892.

An outbreak of cholera in Chicago prompted John C. Gardner to send his wife, Margaret, and their two-month-old daughter, Bessie, to his step-mother’s house in Hingham for their safety, while he stayed on his job as a Chicago policeman. The maneuver was successful, for they all survived.

John C. Gardner (1859-1924)
John C. Gardner (1859-1924)
Margaret (Jones) Gardner (1862-1936)

John’s mother, Lydia Morey Hammond Gardner, was still living in Syracuse NY, now remarried to Dr. Lyman M. Conger. John’s father, Emery, had died in 1887. So his choice of Hingham indicates he must have been on good terms with his step-mother, Julia Hurley Gardner and his step-sisters May and Ida.

Bessie Gardner (1894)
Bessie Gardner (1894)

In fact, by 1894 Ida Gardner lived with John and his family while attending business school in Chicago. She wrote to her mother and sister that “Bessie talks about Aunt May and Grandma Gardner. She is so smart and just as good as she is smart. Today she was washing the window in the kitchen – Maggie had been washing them and when Maggie saw her she said ‘Bessie you get away from those windows and keep out of the water’ – Bessie says ‘Margaret Ann, don’t you have so much to say’. She hears John call Maggie Margaret Ann. If we tell her anything that surprises her she will say ‘You—don’t—say—‘ – just like some old woman.”

Bessie’s father, John Charles Gardner, was the son of Emery B. Gardner and his first wife, Lydia Morey Hammond, born January 11, 1859. He was just five years old when his parents divorced and Emery left New York for good. John had grown up in Syracuse with a half-brother, Frank W. Hammond; their mother was married to Dr. Lyman T. Conger.

In 1884, John had gone to Chicago to start a dairy route which he later sold to Sidney Wanzer, whose company became one of Chicago’s major dairies.

John Gardner's dairy business card
John Gardner’s dairy business card
John C. Gardner

John then joined the Chicago Police Force, working out of the Woodlawn Station for many years. In his later years, he worked as an inspector at the Malleable Iron Works.

John married Margaret Ann Jones on December 6, 1886 in Chicago. Maggie Jones was born in Whitten Park, County Durham, England on March 2, 1862 and her family came to America when she was seven years old.

Margaret (Jones) Gardner and Bessie Gardner
Margaret (Jones) Gardner and Elizabeth (Bessie) Gardner

John and Margaret’s only child, Elizabeth May (Bess) Gardner was born June 27, 1892.

Some years later John and Margaret separated and divorced. Margaret secured work as a children’s nurse, living with the families by whom she was employed, keeping Bessie with her. While so employed by the Sutherland family in Pass Christian, MS, Margaret was taken gravely ill and notified her mother, Maria Jones, who lived in Chicago.

Maria came and took her daughter back home by train, leaving Bessie behind in Mississippi. Margaret recovered and resumed her work with other families, but never had Bessie with her again. She was employed by the Hawley family in Oakland CA at the time of her death in 1936.

Bessie later described seeing her mother leave Pass Christian on the train as one of the worst moments of her life. At just nine years of age she didn’t know where her father was, but she did know that a grandmother and two aunts lived in Wisconsin.

Mr. Sutherland wrote to them and May sent money for railroad fare to Wisconsin. How long Bessie lived in Hingham is uncertain and at some point she went to live with “Grandma Conger” in Syracuse. She was apparently happy there; she added her grandmother’s maiden name to her own. A bit of a stir was created at her high school graduation when her name was read out as “Bessie Elizabeth May Morey Gardner”.

About 1910, her Aunt Ida was living on Cornelia Street near Paulina in Chicago and working as a claims adjuster for the streetcar company. She invited Bessie to live with her and attend business school. After finishing, Bessie worked as a secretary for A. G. Spaulding Co., and later as private secretary to Dr. A. N. Hitchcock of the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions.

Elizabeth (Gardner) Wilson (1892-1976)
Elizabeth (Bess) Gardner)

After finishing business school, Bessie worked as a secretary for A. G. Spaulding Co., and later as private secretary to Dr. A. N. Hitchcock of the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions.

 John Charles Gardner (1869 – 1924)

While living with her Aunt Ida, Bess joined Gross Park Methodist Episcopal Church, where she met her future husband, Charles Edwin Wilson, known as Edwin.

Elizabeth (Bess Gardner) Wiloson (1892-1976) and Charles Edwin Wilson (1894-1969)

Ida, Bess and her father, John, journeyed to Hingham for Christmas in 1912 and invited Edwin to accompany them. Roy Shaver met their train at the Adell depot with his horse and carriage. Edwin enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

The next spring, he took the entrance exam to West Point and while waiting for the results he went to Hingham to help Grandma Gardner with her spring house cleaning.

Bess Gardner and Edwin Wilson, Christmas 1912
Bess Gardner and Edwin Wilson, Christmas 1912

Julia welcomed Edwin’s help for at that time Aunt May was keeping house for her cousin, Lyman D. Hill, as well as teaching school. Edwin kept a diary that details the beating of rugs, washing of floors and woodwork, painting stairs, etc. as well as taking hikes to Waldo and to Sheboygan Falls.

Edwin was rejected by West Point for physical reasons; his eyes and feet were less than perfect and he suffered from asthma. He received the news in a letter from his father; one gets a bit of insight into the family structure from the fact that the letter was signed “Yours truly, Charles H. Wilson”.

Edwin worked that summer as manager of Jackson Park Golf Course, then went to work in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. His father died suddenly in 1915 of a heart attack, and Edwin took over his real estate and insurance business in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Bess and Edwin (right) in Hingham with the Shaver family 1916

Edwin and Bess, as she preferred to be called as an adult, were married September 15, 1917. Less than three weeks later, Edwin was drafted into the army. The insurance business suffered due to his absence, and his mother filed a request for his discharge on hardship grounds. He was honorably discharged December 13, 1917 and took up his father’s business again.

Bess and Edwin lived with his mother on Bosworth Ave. between Addison and Cornelia, then in an apartment next door. In 1923, they moved to an apartment at 1817 Patterson Ave. and transferred their church membership to Ravenswood M. E. Church to stay with their favorite pastor, Dr. Abel M. White. In 1929, they moved to 6633 N. Rockwell St., and in 1944 to 4507 N. Campbell Ave., where they remained for 15 years.

The insurance business declined during the postwar depression. By 1920, the income was insufficient to support both Edwin’s family and his mother and sister. So Edwin got a job at the Davis Store in the Chicago Loop as a bill collector while maintaining the insurance business as a sideline.

In 1921, he was promoted to a position in the Davis Store’s credit department, where he stayed until Davis Store was sold to Goldblatt Brothers. He then went to work in Marshall Field’s credit department. However, the 1938 “repression” ended his job there. He then sold oil burners for Hardinge Oil Burner Co., which was purchased by Elgin Tool Co. Edwin became their purchasing agent and later, office manager until his retirement in 1959.

Edwin and Bess and their three children, Charles Edwin Wilson, Jr., Lyman Gardner Wilson and Barbara Jane Wilson, spent part of every vacation and many weekends in Hingham. The Wilson boys spent every summer with their great aunts, coming up to Hingham immediately after the school year ended and staying until Labor Day.

Bess and Edwin with daughter Barbara in Hingham 1943
Bess and Edwin with daughter Barbara in Hingham 1943

Edwin’s visits to Hingham usually involved a home improvement project. In 1923, he wired the house for electricity, and in 1925 helped raze the horse barn and build the garage. He helped install indoor plumbing in 1941. He replaced the coal stoves with an oil-burning floor furnace in 1946 and had an oil burning boiler with hot water radiators installed in 1959. He had a new propane-fueled boiler installed in 1964, doing much of the work himself. The same boiler was converted to natural gas in 1988 and was still heating the house efficiently in 2016.

Bess moved to Hingham to care for her aunts after May was paralyzed by a stroke in 1948, staying on until May’s death in 1949, when she returned home to Chicago.

Bess (Gardner) Wilson in Hingham (1953)

Edwin retired from Elgin Tool in 1959 so he and Bess could move to Hingham to care for Ida, whose health had deteriorated significantly. After Ida’s death, Edwin and Bess continued to live in Hingham, joining the Methodist Church and becoming involved in community affairs.

When the Hingham school was razed in 1961, the Wilsons bought the land and later sold the corner lot to David and Audrey Dolfin, who built their new home on the site.

The Wilsons planned a trip to California in December 1968 to spend Christmas with daughter Barbara and her family, but the day before they planned to depart Edwin was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was released from the hospital two months later, but never fully recovered.

Edwin suffered a heart attack and died March 3, 1969. Bess then lived alone in her family home, maintaining the social life they had developed. While she never had learned to drive a car, Bess had enough friends with cars that she always had transportation.

She had developed rheumatoid arthritis in 1945 and took the newly developed cortisone derivative, Metacortin, the long term effects of which were unknown at that time. Later, against the advice of several physicians, she continued taking it because it kept her pain-free and able to walk.

In the summer of 1975, she was stricken with a stomach ulcer, a result of the medication. The ulcer was brought under control, and she was persuaded to go into Pine Haven Christian Home for the winter.

The following May the ulcer reopened; she was hospitalized and underwent surgery from which she never recovered. Her death occurred June 10, 1976.

Charles E. Wilson, Jr. and Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson

The eldest of the three Wilson children was born in Chicago on February 10, 1919.

Charles E. Wilson, Jr. (age 2) and Julia Hurley Gardner (age 82) in Hingham
Charles E. Wilson, Jr. (age 2) and Julia Hurley Gardner (age 82) in Hingham

He was a city boy during the school year but when summer vacation rolled around he was very happy to be packed off to Hingham for a few months as a “barefoot country boy.”

Travel in those days was not anything close to today when the drive from Chicago to Hingham takes a bit over two hours and from New Jersey can be made in less than 15 hours.

In the early 1920s, the Wilson family in Chicago had no car and didn’t really need one. Their apartment was just half a block from the Addison Street “El” – elevated train – station and one block from Lincoln and Addison, where one could get a Lincoln Ave. streetcar or an Addison St. bus. There were transfer privileges on all three, so you could go anywhere in Chicago on the streetcar for 7 cents (3cents for kids) or a dime on the El or bus. Charles recalled that they did go anywhere in the city, day or night, with never a thought about safety.

When the family wanted to go to Hingham, Uncle George Curwen would drive, and once there they didn’t go anywhere else. George bought a new, coincidentally named Gardner Touring Car in 1923 and had a “California Top” installed to make it a sedan-type car. When he bought a new Gardner in 1926 (with “a straight eight just like the bootleggers used” Charles noted) George gave the old one to Edwin; it was his first car. Over the next several years, the family came to refer to it at “The Old Jalopy.”

Edwin Wilson and sons Lyman (left) and Charles camping with "the Old Jalopy" (1927)
Edwin Wilson and sons Lyman (left) and Charles camping with “the Old Jalopy” (1927)

At the time, the 150 mile trip to Hingham took 13 hours. The family would leave at 4 AM in order to arrive in time for supper at 5 PM. Charles recalled that after leaving Chicago, much of the road to Hingham was gravel. “When we approached a stretch of paved road we all chanted, ‘I-see-cement, I-see-cement; hope it isn’t icy, I-see-cement.’ On a paved road we could sometimes get up to 45 mph. but 25 was more appropriate on gravel.”

The Gardner had no trunk but Edwin had an expanding luggage carrier that fastened on the left running board, providing enough room for suitcases and miscellaneous luggage, but making the left hand doors useless. The car floor was high enough off the ground that the propeller shaft was entirely under the car; there was no “hump” in the floor, so both front and back seats were quite roomy and comfortable. The spare tire was on the back of the car and Edwin tied two more spares to it to allow three flat tires before he had to take out a punctured tube and patch it. On a 1928 family trip to Michigan, Charles remembered his father telling his great uncle, Alfred Braithwaite, how glad he was they only had three flat tires on the trip there so he didn’t need to repair any inner tubes along the way.

Charles, Lyman, Bess and Barbara Wilson 1931

As a boy, Charles attended Boone Elementary School in Chicago and then went on to Lane Technical High School where his father Edwin had studied as a youth.

Lyman Gardner Wilson and Charles Wilson (1932)

Continuing to follow his father’s footsteps, Charles Jr. attended the Armour Institute of Technology, which in 1940 became known as the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s west side.

He was active in the Ravenswood Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts of America, attaining not only the rank of Eagle Scout but also two “palms” for additional merit badges.

Charles Wilson with sister Barbara and brother Lyman (1937)

In 1936, Charles became an apprentice at the Chicago-based printing company R.R. Donnelley and Sons, the Lakeside Press. He would continue to work at “RRD” for more than 46 years, interrupted only by a break for service in World War II (see below).

Over time, Charles became an expert in photo engraving – the highly exact process of transferring a photo or other graphic image to the large copper plates that were actually affixed to the rotary printing press to run millions of impressions on huge rolls of paper.

With the arrival of color printing, the technology became even more complex and Charles was highly respected for his precision and steadfast devotion to perfection. There is perhaps no greater tribute to his skill and perseverance than a term that came into wide use around the photo engraving lab at Donnelley – the purest white color is the basis for metering all the other colors of the spectrum to ensure their accurate and consistent reproduction. At Donnelley’s, this was widely referred to as “Wilson White.”

Time-Life was a major client of Donnelley and for many years both weekly magazines were printed in the huge plant on the south side of Chicago. Because the color on the cover (the lifeblood of any magazine competing on the newsstands) was critical, this work was usually entrusted only to “Charlie” Wilson.

Photoengraving setup at R.R. Donnelley, the Lakeside Press.

Because of frequent changes, both on the cover and inside the magazines, dictated by late-breaking new events, his schedule was erratic. He would often be called in early, required to stay late and often worked on weekends. Yet he never complained; that was his nature in all things. He always saw things from the bright side.

Although he never discussed it, he kept in his files a letter from the head of research at Donnelley commending him and two co-workers on a process improvement idea they had submitted via the company’s suggestion system. The company was awarded a United States patent on the idea which listed Charles and the others as the originators. While the letter was warm and congratulatory, the message was also crystal clear; the idea belonged to the company and there would be no additional compensation because that was the way the suggestion box worked.

After several years of rotating shifts every six weeks, Charles elected to stay on the night shift (midnight to 8 AM) to establish a more routine home life. He remained a night worker for many years even as he continued to go in early and stay late to meet the ever changing demands and deadlines of getting his high quality work on the presses.

Margaret Jeanne Wesley was known to one and all only by her middle name; she always said she would have hated to be called “Maggie” although several of her forbears on her father’s side had been called exactly that. Jeanne and Charles met in Chicago in the late 1930s.

Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson (1921-2011)

Jeanne Wesley was born on January 25, 1921 in Evanston, IL. She was the oldest of the four children of Huber Reed Wesley (1897-1973) and Alice Mae Hetherington Wesley (1897-1967). The Wesley family lived in Villa Park, IL as Hub traveled the Midwest as an apparently successful salesman. The Great Depression hit the family hard, however, and when Jeanne was in high school they moved to Dallas, TX in search of better conditions.

Returning to Chicago to finish high school, Jeanne took business courses and landed a job as a secretary for the Chicago Title & Trust Co. in order to help support her parents, two sisters and a recently arrived baby brother.

On her 20th birthday, her engagement to Charles was announced and she received a diamond ring set in platinum as her birthday gift.

The Wilsons were married on October 11, 1941 at the Ravenswood Methodist Church in Chicago, attended by about 400 people, followed by punch and wedding cake and the traditional throwing of rice as the couple left the church. There begins an often-told family story that has endured for decades.

As they departed, a well-placed grain of rice found its way into Charles’ ear – and not just on the surface but deep into the ear canal. So instead of going to the buffet supper planned at the Wesley house, the young couple instead headed to the emergency room at nearby Ravenswood Hospital.

Jeanne recalled seeing “Chuck” (as she always called him) enter the hospital, still dressed in white tie and tails. Still in her wedding dress, she elected to wait in the car and it took some time to shake the errant grain of rice loose. Finally, it popped out and the wedding plans were back on track.

Back at the Wesley house, more than 50 people waited for dinner and viewing of gifts before the newlyweds set out on their honeymoon. Jeanne would often recall that “all the Wilson family and friends were in the living room at the front of the house and all the Wesley family and friends were in the kitchen and the back porch – we couldn’t wait to get out of there!”

After a honeymoon trip that included staying in a fishing cabin in the Ozark Mountains, a weekend in New Orleans and a trip along the Gulf of Mexico to Florida before heading home through the Smokey Mountains, the Wilsons took up residence in an apartment they had been fixing up at 6519 N. Richmond in Chicago.

The bliss of the newlyweds was soon to be interrupted by the invasion of Pearl Harbor just over a month later.

Shortly before his death in 2003, Charles wrote this memoir of his army service:

“War clouds” began to gather in earnest in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland. The U.S. Congress enacted the Selective Service System; I registered and was classified 1-A. My number was high enough that I would not be drafted for some time. We were married October, 1941 and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was reclassified 2-A; married and working in an essential industry. Donnelley’s was making aircraft recognition manuals for the military.

“By autumn 1942 I felt I should be doing more; investigation showed that the Enlisted Reserve Corps was training men in the use of radar in Chicago, although the word itself was still secret. On December 2, 1942 I enlisted in the ERC over the objections of Al Ziegelbauer, my department superintendent at Donnelley’s. Jeanne went to work for the government agency Alien Property Custodian. My first assignment was to a math, physics and science refresher course at one of the Chicago schools on the near north side. Passing that successfully, I was assigned to Class #8, Electronics, at Northwestern University, a seven-month course on antennas, vacuum tubes, tuned circuits and just about everything else pertaining to radar units. It involved 8 hours of daily classwork and a great deal of homework. In those seven months I had time for little else.

“Upon completion in June, Class #8 was assigned to Camp McDowell, just outside Naperville, IL. They had two radar sets; one long range (100 miles) and one short range (40 miles) so we got some valuable on-site training. I finished that course with the designation “Radar Repairman” and in late August was sent to a fort near Battle Creek, MI for active duty. Classes #1 thru #4 had gone on active duty as 2nd Lieutenants; #5 & #6 became Warrant Officers, but Classes 7 & 8 went in as privates. Timing is everything!

“In a week I was sent to Miami Beach for Air Corps basic training. All the hotels east of Collins Avenue had been closed to the public as a security measure, since shore lights seen from the ocean could be useful to submarines. The Air Corps had taken over the hotels as barracks, and I was quartered in the Seneca Hotel at 12th and Collins. Blackout conditions were rigidly enforced. Daybreak found everyone on the beach for physical training, ending with a 20 minute swim in the ocean, the best part of the day. Drill and field training was done in the public parks. Our meals were served in a mess hall on 12th Street, a block west of Collins. Flights marched back and forth as required, singing all the way. It rained nearly every afternoon through October so raincoats were carried every day.

“Jeanne resigned her job with the APC October 1st and came to Miami Beach. She rented an apartment on 12th Street, two blocks west of the Seneca Hotel and right across the street from the mess hall. Her roommate was Grace Wagner, whose husband John was in my flight, and everything became more pleasant for me. On Christmas Eve I was transferred to Camp Murphy, just north of West Palm Beach, and Jeanne got on a very hot, crowded bus with her baggage the same day. She registered in the guest house on arrival at Camp Murphy. Danny Kaye was on his way overseas with a USO troupe, but they were fogged in, so that night they put on a great show for us in the recreation hall. We had Christmas dinner together in the mess hall. It was a very hot and strange Christmas. Jeanne stayed at the guest house the maximum five days, then went to a hotel in West Palm Beach. A few days later she rented a house in Lake Park, just north of West Palm Beach with Maryella Wallace and Lois Hicks, each of whom had a baby. Two of the three would come out to camp each evening, and the other husband would come in to the house.

“Jeanne went to work for an importing company in West Palm Beach on the end of a long pier out into the ocean. Boats docked at the pier and unloaded bananas, rum etc. onto railroad cars right there. The numbers and size of scorpions and other insects on that pier was almost unbelievable.

“I was assigned to the long range radar set, concentrating on Ground Control of Interception (GCI), the forerunner of today’s aircraft controllers. Others at the camp were trained in gun laying, (long distance artillery control) and anti-aircraft defense. Training was intense; we had to learn the function of every vacuum tube, coil and condenser in the unit and how to recognize the problem when one failed. We had physical training and drill every day and there was entertainment in the recreation hall at night.

“The course was finished in April and I was transferred to Drew Field (now Tampa International Airport). I got a short “delay enroute” so Jeanne and I went home for a couple of days. Jeanne decided to stay in Chicago for a while since she was in the first stages of pregnancy. Upon going to Drew Field I was assigned to a platoon in the 465th Signal Battalion, Detachment 44, as a Radar Repairman, SSN 953.

“We underwent a two week combat training course and then spent several months manning the active radar station just south of Clearwater. There were four crews; each worked a six hour shift to keep the set on the air 24 hours a day. The repairman was crew chief, making out hourly reports on the performance of all units and doing such maintenance as was required. The large, (36”) circular scanning cathode ray tube that displayed all the planes in the 100 mile radius was manned by an officer who directed the operators of the three regular CRT screens to zero in on a certain plane for its azimuth, height, distance and IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) response. He would then give the pilot course changes if necessary.

“I went home on a two week furlough in August and Jeanne returned to Tampa with me, renting a room there. The platoon was notified that we would be going overseas in November, and Jeanne went home in October per doctor’s orders, since she was then seven months pregnant.

“The platoon was transferred to Pittsburg, California a few weeks later to await the arrival of our radar set from the factory in Rochester NY. Our platoon commander had an opportunity to get space for us on the USS Monterrey, a luxury liner turned troopship, so we left from Port Chicago before the radar set arrived. Bunks on the Monterrey were stacked seven deep, but it was infinitely better than traveling on a Liberty Ship. The ship took evasive action all the way across the Pacific, so it took 28 days to get to Hollandia, New Guinea. This included stops at Christchurch, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia. We were not allowed off the ship at either port due to the time constraint.

“We arrived in Hollandia December 18 and were there about two weeks. The mess hall was a big tent and the thermometer in it stood at 112 degrees on Christmas. We were notified that the radar set had been damaged in a train wreck and had to be returned to Rochester NY to be fixed. We were then sent to a camp on Biak (one of the Schouten Islands in Sarera Bay) to await its arrival. A week or so later our mail caught up with us – we hadn’t had any since leaving the States – and I learned Alan had been born from a Hallmark birth announcement that had been sent to everybody. Jeanne’s message to me thru the Red Cross came about two weeks later.

“The radar set arrived in early May. It was a Navy unit designed for use on board ship, but this unit had been mounted in two trailers, one of which had the parabolic antenna on top. Each was towed by a six ton truck, and a gasoline powered AC generator mounted in a small trailer made up the set. It was designed for use in invasions by the Marines. The plan was that we would use it in the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, but it arrived too late for that.

“The rest of our time on Biak was uneventful except for one bombing raid on another camp about three miles from ours in which about 20 people were killed. I had taken my 35 mm camera and a few rolls of black & white film along with me. The censors wouldn’t allow any undeveloped film to be sent out so I visited the supply depot and managed to get some developer, hypo and paper. A visit to a dump yielded an airplane landing light and some stuff I could use to make brackets, so I managed to construct a makeshift enlarger using the camera as film holder and lens.

“When people saw the pictures I was printing, word spread and soon truckloads of men were coming to our camp to have their pictures taken. Bob Stewart, a radar operator, was working with me, and we got some 100 foot rolls of 35 mm film from the supply depot, refilled the cartridges I had and started taking pictures of people in earnest. They were happy to pay 5 guilders ($2.50) for 3 pictures and by the time we finished I had sent home enough money for the down payment on our first house. We never did get a red safe light, but found that moonlight was a satisfactory substitute.

“We left Biak in early August on an LST, (Landing Ship, Tank) headed for a staging area in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Two days out we ran into a typhoon, a really memorable experience on an LST. The waves would force the bow of the ship up and out of the water until almost half of the ship was out of the water. It then fell with a thunderous crash, bounced a couple of times and then all was silent. About 45 seconds later the bow started out again and the process was repeated. This lasted all night, making sleep somewhere between difficult and impossible, and most of the next day. Several days later we received the news about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and by the time we reached Manila, Japan had surrendered.

“Instead of a staging area we were sent to a replacement depot where the radar set was transferred to a platoon newly arrived from the States and we all went on the list to go home. One’s place on the list depended on the number of “points” he had earned. One point was given for each month of service in the States and two points for each month overseas. Battle stars were worth five points each and points were awarded for marriage and for each child. I had a total of 62 points. There were several hundred thousand men on Luzon, most of whom had more points than I and it looked like I faced nearly a year wait. I was, therefore, transferred to a Military Police unit and sent to Korea in November as part of the Army of Occupation.

“I was quartered in a dormitory at the University of Korea in Seoul, where I had a chance to meet college students who were anxious to improve their English by talking to Americans. Two young fellows were especially eager and took me to restaurants and other places I would never have dared to visit alone. Most Koreans were very wary of Americans, fearful that we were just replacing the Japanese and would be just as oppressive. Most of the other Americans would have nothing to do with the Koreans, calling them “gooks”, but I really enjoyed associating with them and found them highly intelligent.

“One morning I was assigned to a detail where 10 of us were lined up and the officer said “Each of you take one of those trucks and follow me.” He then sprinted to the first truck and took off. I had never driven anything bigger than a Jeep, but fortunately had had friends in the motor pool who had explained double clutching to me. We drove about five miles on streets crowded with pedestrians and people pulling carts. By some miracle I kept one of the other trucks in sight and arrived at the destination safely.

“When I had an interview to determine where I would be sent, it was discovered that my 62 points were enough to send me home immediately. Most of the other Americans in Korea were newly arrived from the States and had fewer points, so in two weeks I was on the way home. The voyage home was rough; we hit another typhoon and had to detour some 500 miles around it, but the APC (auxiliary personnel carrier) I was on rode much better than an LST. The only worry started when we took on enough water to make the bottom bunks unusable.

“We got to Fort Lewis in Washington about December 19. On December 23 I found myself on a troop train bound for Camp McCoy, WI. The cars were the old ones with fixed (not reversible) seats. Every other seat faced opposite to the one before it, so four people shared a sort of square compartment, two of them riding backwards. We had three men in each compartment, with our barracks bags in the fourth seat. Sleeping was somewhat less than comfortable, but I heard no complaints; we were on our way home! Troop trains had the lowest rail usage priority, so we spent a lot of time on sidings. It was another strange Christmas. We arrived at Camp McCoy December 27.

“Things moved fairly fast (for the army) at Camp McCoy, and I got my discharge on the morning of New Year’s Eve. No time was wasted in getting to the railroad station, buying a ticket and calling home. Jeanne met me at the railroad depot that afternoon and I finally got to meet Alan. It was the best New Year ever!!!”   

          Charles E. Wilson, Jr.
         March 26, 2003