Oh, The Changes You’ll See!

Since I’ve posting the stories from Grandpa Lyle about early Wakeman days I’ve gotten more curious about his father, F.A. who was the focus of many of these stories. So, I’m going to combine a couple of ideas here to write about my great grandfather, F.A. Denman and his life.

When we first talking about doing a blog and what we would write about, Judy suggested she might write about all of the changes her mother had seen in her long life. I thought that was a good idea, and might be interesting in my family as well. Using a timeline to write about an ancestor has also been suggested as a theme, by the COG and others. So here is a capsule of F.A.’s life and some of the changes he would have experienced in his long lifetime.

F.A. August 1913

First a little background to set the stage: F.A. Denman was born December 12, 1866 in Florence Township, Erie, Ohio to John Denman and Mary Groatt Denman. He died January 22, 1960 in Wakeman, Huron, Ohio in the house that Grandpa Lyle described. He was 93 years old. F.A.’s childhood home was a house across the road from the Denman parents’ house (where he was born), surrounded by farmland belonging to the family. F.A.’s name was just F.A., not standing for anything else. It may have been that he was named after a favorite childhood playmate of his mother’s – that was always my mother’s story to explain the name. She said that his mother played with twins named M.A. and F.A. and so F.A. was named after his mother’s friend.

F.A.’s Denman grandparents and his Groatt grandmother all outlived his mother, Mary Groatt Denman, who died at age 35 when F.A. was not-yet 5 years old. F.A. had two older sisters and an older brother (4 to 9 years older than he was). His father John remarried two years after the death of his first wife, presumably needing help with the 4 children. The story is that John knew of a young woman who had lived in Wakeman but had moved to Michigan to teach. He took the 4 children up to Michigan to meet her and then married her.

Andrew Johnson was President when F.A. was born. The Civil War had ended the year before. The house he was born into did not have running water, electricity, or a telephone. It probably had gas lights, and an icebox. This is the Denman family home, built by F.A.’s grandfather, John Denman, about 1835.

Denman family house

There was a pump in the yard by the kitchen door, and an outhouse “out back”. The electric light bulb was developed when F.A. was about 13. He would have been about 12 years old when the first commercial telephone exchange in the U.S. was created. Neither of these were in common use in rural areas like Wakeman until after Grandpa Lyle was born.

My mother remembered that the house F.A. bought in Wakeman did have electricity when she was a young girl (the 1920’s) although most of the farmers in the area did not. There was no city water or indoor plumbing (although F.A. did install a toilet for his wife around 1924) even in those years. There was a telephone by this time for F.A.’s various business dealings.

F.A. lived through the administrations of 18 Presidents (Calvin Coolidge twice; I was corrected by my youngest brother: the President who served twice but not contiguously was Grover Cleveland), born when Andrew Johnson was President and dying the year that John Kennedy was elected. A newspaper story said that hie vividly recalled the day James Garfield was elected, and how some of the overly-enthusiastic Garfield supporters got drunk and spent the celebration holding up a wall of the train depot across the street from the saloon.

F.A.’s father-in-law (Charles Minor) and 4 Denman uncles were Civil War veterans. His son served in World War I; his grandson and grand-son-in-law were in World War II. He lived through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and the Korean War, never being the right age to serve in the military.

Many changes in how people moved around also happened during F.A.’s lifetime. From courting his to-be wife using horse and buggy, he saw the automobile and the airplane invented and become common transportation. F.A. was a relatively early adopter of the automobile as Grandpa Lyle proudly noted in several places in his stories about life in Wakeman. About 1914 F.A. sold the family horse and used the money to help pay for his first automobile. In 1905, F.A. took his wife and 2 children on a train trip west to visit with his 3 siblings. They went from Wakeman through Chicago to Kansas and Nebraska and as far west as Colorado on that trip. In about 1937 F.A. took another trip to vist his brother and sisters, traveling to California and back by train. This trip included an air flight over Hoover Dam and the reservoir it created. Sputnik was launched when he was 91, introducing the Space Age.

F.A. didn’t really retire from his various entrepreneurial activities until he was around to 80. He had several hobbies or long-term interests, including photography, local history, and family history (one place I inherited it from). He was the informal town historian for Wakeman; as early as 1917 he was part of the Wakeman Centennial group, helping promote a 2-day celebration in August 1917 of the town’s centennial. Although he never went further than the fourth grade in school, having to leave to help on the family farm, he was a writer, keeping various journalis for much of his life. He was always interested in how things worked.

His wife, Mamie, was 61 when she died in 1930. Their younger daughter had married the November before and I would guess that the young couple moved in with her parents at the time of their marriage or soon afterward. F.A. lived with his daughter and her family for the rest of his life, dying in the house in Wakeman that he had bought and improved so many years before.

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