This 1909 picture-postcard, advertising the 53rd annual Van Wert County Fair shows Fred Hunstead, my maternal great grandfather. Fred was a drayman (teamster), driving for the C. C. Gleason Sons & Estes Company, wholesale fruit dealers in Van Wert.
The Gleasons were early settlers in Van Wert County, arriving from New York in 1837. The several branches of this family owned numerous businesses in the county. Fred was employed, making deliveries for one of these businesses, and my mother spoke very highly of the Gleason family, claiming that they always treated her grandparents, the Hunsteads, well, and that the family, with their many businesses, made sure Fred’s son-in-law (my grandfather), had enough carpenter work to keep his family together during the depression.
In the early 1900’s, picture-postcards like this one became very popular and were widely used for advertising purposes. And, it appears that then, as now, advertising made occasional exaggerated claims. The picture was taken at the Gleason fruit warehouse, located on the west side of North Washington Street in Van Wert, just north of the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. The picture is from an original postcard in my personal collection.
The Van Wert County Fair, which this postcard advertises, was always a big deal in my small hometown of Van Wert. When I was a kid, the fair was billed as “the largest county fair in the United States.” It was always held over the Labor Day weekend, and would boast of attendance of more than 100,000 people. I know that on Labor Day, the crowd was shoulder to shoulder on the fairgrounds. It was truly the heart and soul of a rural community, for which many would spend the entire year preparing. There was something for everyone.
The fair was Americana on steroids. There were obviously the livestock shows; there was field crop judging; there were seemingly (to a boy more interested in other pursuits) miles of displays of handiwork, done by the women; 4-H and FFA displays; there was gospel singing; thrill shows; the carnival with its rides, arcade, and games of chance and sometimes even the bearded lady. And, there was food. Oh my God was there food! Fred’s wife Anna and Fred’s mother Catherine, even had a food tent at the fair. These two ladies were cooks at the Van Wert County Hospital, which was located across the street from the Hunstead home. But during the fair, they were entrepreneurs – setting up their tent outside the Art Hall, a prime piece of real estate at the Van Wert County Fair. They would arrive in the middle of the night to begin cooking for the day, and they wouldn’t go home until the last fair patron had been fed and left the fairgrounds.
Fred Hunstead was born in June 1856 on a farm in Liberty Township, Van Wert County, Ohio. His parents had both immigrated to America from Germany during the 1840’s. But, unfortunately, Fred’s father died before he was born. Both of Fred’s parents, Conrad Honstead and Catherine Emerling had been married before, and had older children from their first marriages. Conrad and Catherine were married on 11 April 1853, shortly after the death of Conrad’s first wife, Elizabeth Marbaugh and Catherine’s first husband George Gloset. Conrad’s and Catherine’s first child, Adam, was probably born in 1854. Adam and Fred were full brothers. Conrad died in late 1855, (his estate was filed for probate on 5 December 1855), and Fred was born in June 1856.
So, it seems that Fred’s mother, Catherine, was widowed for the second time in six years. Her first husband, George Gloset died about 1849, leaving her with three children, under the age of seven, to raise. She married Conrad Honstead in 1853, and he passed in 1855, leaving her with a one-year-old son, and Fred on the way. There were also Conrad’s five children from his first marriage, ranging in age from four to fourteen. In all, there were ten children, and little or no money or property to keep them. Shortly after Conrad’s death, Catherine deeded the Liberty Township farm back to the mortgage holder in satisfaction of the mortgage.
Death came easily in those days. Typically a widow would remarry relatively quickly, especially when she had small children. Partially, this was the result of the old English common law of coverture, which wasn’t fully repealed in Ohio until 1861. And partially it was because of the rigors and dangers of a woman trying to raise small children in a single-parent home on the frontier.
Single parenting was, in fact, very rare in those times. But that is how Fred and his bother Adam were raised. The closest thing they had to a father figure in the home was an elder half-brother. It does appear that at least Catherine’s oldest child, George Gloset, who would have been fourteen when Fred was born, remained close with the family throughout his life. But the older Honstead children all left Ohio and were living in Kansas by 1870.
So, what happened to this family after Conrad’s death? I have found few records that can give us much of a clue. But we have to know that they were in dire straits. Imagine a forty-year-old mother with ten children, broke (Catherine’s total inheritance from Conrad was $36.82), having lost her home, and with very few options to keep the family fed, housed and clothed. Two of the Honsted children, William and Daniel were living with Conrad and Mary Lampe in Union Township, Mercer County, Ohio in 1860. But, I have been unable to find the rest of the family in the 1860 census. We can assume that the older boys, fourteen-year-olds, George Gloset and John Honstead went to work to help support the family; maybe even twelve-year-old Christian Honstead. In 1870, Catherine’s daughter Mary Gloset was living with a neighbor as a domestic servant. Perhaps some of the other children were placed with neighbors or family. What we do know, is that by 1870 Catherine owned a ten-acre farm, where she lived with Adam and Fred, and with her son George Gloset and his wife, Lavina. And Catherine’s daughter, Mary was living nearby as a servant.
Fred married Nancy Anna Murphy on 22 May 1879. He was twenty-two and Anna had just turned twenty-one. They were quite the dashing young couple in this photograph, (also from my personal collection) which was probably taken near the time of their marriage. Apparently they took up housekeeping in the home that Fred’s mother had owned in 1870. According to the 1880 U.S. census, Fred was living in Ridge Township, Van Wert County, Ohio, with Anna and their first child, Ben. Fred was a listed as a farmer. Anna’s brother, Lewis Murphy, age 20 was also living with Fred and Anna, and he was a farmer as well. Fred owned no real property at this time, so it is unknown for whom they were farming.
Fred’s mother, Catherine, had owned this small farm in Ridge Township, just east of Van Wert, where they lived in 1870, but she sold it in 1871. With the proceeds of this sale, she bought a house on South Chestnut Street and moved into the city of Van Wert. But, it is in that old farm home, that Fred and Anna went to housekeeping in 1879.
In any event, either farming didn’t agree with Fred, or he was unable to make a go of it, because by 1900, the census listed him as a teamster, which is the only occupation I ever heard about him. It is not known when Fred and Anna left the and moved into Van Wert. In 1880, they were living on the small farm in Ridge Township. But, the birth record for my grandmother, Myrtle Hunstead, says that she was born in Van Wert in May 1881 (but the birth record also says she was a boy by the name of Michael). The birth records for Fred and Anna’s next four children, Sam, William, Estella and Jane, born from March 1883 through April 1891, say they were all born in Hoaglin Township. Hoaglin Township is where Anna’s parents, the Murphys, lived. It is northeast of Van wert. The remaining children, Hazel, Princess and Lavella, were all born in Van Wert. We do know that Anna purchased a home in Van Wert, using her inheritance from her father’s estate, in October 1904, and that Fred and Anna lived there for the remainder of their lives. That house was at 209 South Race Street, across from the old Van Wert County Hospital.
Below is another photograph from my personal collection. It is of the entire Hunstead family, and taken about 1910, around the same time as the first picture. They are identified as follows: Back Row (left to right) – Myrtle Hunstead Acheson, Ira Acheson, Belle Hunstead, William M. Hunstead, Samuel S. Hunstead, Princess Hunstead, Angelina Hinternish Hunstead, Benjamin F. Hunstead; Front Row (left to right) – Elizabeth Jane Hunstead, Carrie Hazel Hunstead, Fred Hunstead, Maurice Acheson, Nancy Anna Murphy Hunstead, Alvira Hunstead, Lavella Hunstead, Inez Hunstead, Estella Hunstead.
(c) Sumner Walters: 6 January 2018