As my contractor, Jonas, is pulling out all of the plaster in the house, he has been finding some surprising things in the walls. One of the most exciting finds has been three letters dated from 1914, written from Gertrude (last name unknown) to Russel Downey, while he was at Notre Dame. Gertrude was working at Lincoln Life and writing to her boyfriend Russel, whose mother Nettie grew up in the house. I am not sure how the letters came to be in Russel’s grandparent’s house, or why he saved them at all, since he and Gertrude never married. Maybe Gertrude was the one who got away, or maybe the letters just got shoved aside to be found nearly 100 years later – who knows! Russel went on to be quite successful, staying in South Bend, and founding the Marquette Lumber Company in 1919, which is still run by his family to this day. Russel’s parents, Omar and Nettie, moved from Churubusco to South Bend in 1923, and are buried in Churubusco. I have found many more exciting facts about the previous residents of the house, which I will share later.
I first read these letters with a group of Amish contractors, while we stood on the back porch of the house. We were taking turns reading snippets to each other – let me tell you the part in one letter where the car Gertrude is riding in breaks an axle and they had to take a horse and buggy home – was about the funniest thing those Amish guys had ever heard! I have to rank reading letters from 1914 with Amish guys pretty high up on my list of awesome life experiences!
The very best thing about old houses is their history. If the walls could speak, what tales they would tell. Looks like yours have spoken a bit.
I am Russel Downey’s grandson who mover from South Bend, Indiana to Florida in 1972
Hello! I have had great fun tracing your family history, down from William Geiger, who owned our house. It was very exciting to find the letters, discover what happened with the rest of Russel’s life, and connect with his family. It’s a beautiful house – or at least it will be soon!