Monday, April 25, 2011

What a wild wonderful weekend!

No, not because the Easter Bunny came, but rather because of a trip to Eastern Idaho and the fun that my wife and I had visiting family that I don't get a chance to see very often, a wonderful family history quest, and teaching at the BYU Idaho Rexburg Area Family History Conference.
The weekend started off visiting an aunt in Blackfoot .  We had a good time catching up with her during the nice lunch that she had prepared.  We talked about each of our families and showed her pictures from our photo collection on my laptop. (Wonderful not to have to carry around all those photo albums, isn't it?!)
We then stayed that night near Idaho Falls with a cousin that I haven't seen in quite some time, but yet was very close to while growing up.  This cousin and her family are also caring for our 95-year-old grandmother and it was fun to talk with Grandma even though the conversation kind of had to follow her memory and train of thought as it moved through various time periods and recollections.   She has had a very full life and we shared some memories.  My cousin and I were able to also remember some stories from our times together and with Grandma.  We each got misty-eyed as I showed her my blog and family history site and she read my St. Patrick's Day post about Grandma and the four-leaf clovers.   She let me know that she had found a great uncle of ours buried just down the street in the Ammon Cemetery, and I was able to get a photo of their gravestone marker.
We also talked about some information that I had found about our GG Grandfather - Thomas Elliott, that no one in the family had been aware of until I discovered a reference in a photo that I was scanning from Grandma's collection.  I'll write more on that when I get  chance to gather some additional details during a future trip to the area.

I bring this up because one of the things we also discussed was GG Grandfather and GG Grandmother Elliott's house built about 100 years ago in St Anthony, Idaho. (about 40 minutes north of Idaho Falls).  There are several pictures in the family of the Elliott's house and it was always talked about as being right near the river, but no one remembered enough information to locate it on a map. I also looked to see if it might be in other records or on a historical landmarks list - if it still existed.  I mentioned to my cousin that I had recently realized that a street was referenced on the 1910 census for the family, but I hadn't been able to locate that street on any maps of the area - neither modern nor historical ones.  I told her that I hoped to find out anything that I could from the County Courthouse in St. Anthony about where the house might have been or if it still possibly exists.
Thomas and Agnes Burkinshaw Elliott at their home in St Anthony, Idaho
So, after my wife and I checked into the Rexburg hotel (where we stayed for the conference), we called the courthouse to make sure that they were still open and finding that they were, we headed out.  Arriving at the courthouse - a very historical building itself - we parked and went in.  Finding the County Clerks office I said that I hoped to find out some information about a street found on a 1910 census that doesn't seem to be on any maps today.  I also pulled out my laptop to show them pictures of the house that we were looking for.  One clerk said that it looked like Rexburg and we assured her that everything had always referred to St Anthony, near the river.   Meanwhile, another clerk began looking at some historic maps that he had on their computer system.  After several tries, she found one that showed the street we were looking for and when compared to a modern map show it was likely under what was today the highway.  
We were just about to leave, believing that the house probably was gone due to historical changes in the area, when another clerk said, "Let me see the picture again".  When showing her the picture she said "Wait, that looks like that house that is near the river, that has an art gallery and occasional craft show going on."  Several others agreed and another clerk printed out the tax assessment photo that had been done last year. We all agreed that if that wasn't the house it was a near duplicate version of the one that we were looking for.   We got directions to the address and off we went.
We drove up to the "potential" house and found it to look very, very much like the pictures that I had shown to the clerks. We went up the walk and admired the large porch and woodwork around the doors and windows. We went in and found three people (a couple and their daughter) who came out.  As we explained that we believed this to possibly be my GG Grandfather's house they said "Oh, would that be the Elliotts?"  We assured them that it was and we showed them the pictures that I had with us on my laptop.
The house as it is now
They were amazed to see pictures from the early days of the house and mentioned that they had a letter from a granddaughter of the Elliott's who had written to previous owners of the house to give them details to help with their restoration of some of the rooms, etc.  In this eight page letter she describes the process of how the house was designed by Thomas Elliott to be a custom built home ordered from "Sears".  The letter described how he wanted certain details and fixtures like clawfoot tubs extra-deep so that one "could almost float".  Included was also a drawing of the homes original layout that labeled the rooms and described life in the home and features of the yard. 
We then began a walkthrough of the areas of the home that were accessible.  Parts of the house had been broken up at one point into 9 apartments and an area of the main floor is still used as an apartment.  We marveled at the workmanship and the fact that someone at some point had painted the mantle which had been restored to its original beautiful wood grain.  We admired the wonderful character of the home and the large kitchen cabinets and clawfoot tubs still in place.  We relished the view of the river from the extra large picture window in back of the house where the once fully-screened back porch had been built-in sometime ago. While the mother and daughter went to get copies of the letter made for us, the father took us through the basement, old boiler and coal furnace room and a couple of the apartments that were there. We then headed out to stand and enjoy the nice weather on the banks of the river behind the house and admire the improvements that they had been working on.  I also thrilled as a fly fisherman to see the trout rising in the wonderful deep hole in the river.  I joked that I might have to miss the conference the next day and come fishing.
We then got the copies of the letter and exchanged information so that I might email them the copies of the pictures that I had, as well as some information about the family.
As we headed back I called my cousin and said, "Guess where we just got through touring?!".  She was excited and grateful that we had found it and hopes to get there soon. 
The next day as I taught several conference classes, I was able to share several things from the experience that fit the topics being discussed.  I also met many attendees and was able to discuss this exciting hobby/passion that we share.
Easter Sunday we were able to stop on our way home and have a short Easter Dinner with my Uncle and Aunt in Blackfoot along with their daughter and grandson.   It was a nice ending to a very full weekend.