Saturday, February 18, 2012

Woodlawn Lost, by Pat Kinsella Herdeg

(Pictures courtesy of The Daily News article)

Two days before Valentine’s Day, the Taylors who descend from Bryant Waller Taylor and Emma Jane Carson, suffered a loss even though most of us had no idea at the time.

On Sunday morning-- February 12th-- of this week, a fire spread quickly through Woodlawn, our ancestral home. The fire fighters battled snow squalls and high winds in the cold weather as heavy smoke and fire leapt from room to room. The home is considered a total loss.

The fire is thought to be electrical in origin, caused by an electric heater plugged into an extension cord. The family renting the house managed to get out safely, although the father had to fight through heavy smoke in the upper bedroom to rescue his thirteen-month-old son.

Previously we have written up about Woodlawn (see for the full story of Aunt CB, Uncle Jack and Aunt Dot visiting) but a brief history of the home follows.

The old Taylor homestead, Woodlawn, on Macomber Rd., sits on the corner of the Batavia-Oakfield town line road, where Alabama, Batavia and Oakfield townships meet. Gideon Morehouse Taylor and his wife Phebe Walbridge Taylor, moved here from Vermont in the fall of 1829. Gideon had come out earlier, in February of 1828, and purchased the original parcel of land from the Tonawanda Indians for $372. He built first a lean-to, then a log cabin, and then this current house.

Gideon died in 1844 and his wife Phebe asked her son Daniel and his wife Cordelia if they would work the farm, with the understanding that when she died, the farm would belong to them. Daniel and Cordelia agreed and made their home in the farm that Phebe had called “The Homestead” and Cordelia called “Peace Farm”.

As they aged, Daniel and Cordelia made an identical offer to Bryant (B.W.), their eldest son, to farm the land and let them live in the house. B. W. and his wife, Emma Carson Taylor, accepted the offer and moved there in early 1893 when the twins (Lloyd and Floyd) were less than one year old. Now their turn to live in the home, they renamed it ‘Woodlawn’. Later, B.W. built an apartment for Cordelia and Daniel in the right side of the house. It had a living room, dining room and bath downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs.

Cordelia died in 1908. Daniel, who had Parkinson’s Disease, died in 1911.

Emma Carson Taylor died in the downstairs bedroom in August 1916, from a stroke. B.W. put the house and its contents as well as the farm up for auction that fall and moved to Batavia.


Both Emma and Cordelia before her wrote journals all of their lives, so we have a rich account of their lives in this house. In 1900, after staying in another home, Cordelia writes “but it is better to go back to spend the little time left to us where we have spent the most of our lives. May our last days be our best.”

One hundred and eighty years later, the wooden structure built and lived in by so many of our ancestors, called ‘The Homestead’ and ‘Peace Farm’ and then ‘Woodlawn’ is gone. I myself have never seen this corner plot of land or the house, but it survives in my head because of the many pages of journals written over a sixty year span by two remarkable women. Luckily for us, the land and the pictures and the journals and thus, the memories, remain.


Nance said...

Places and things never stay the same as in memory -- it's hard to go back sometimes because the new reality just doesn't jive. Good to have the journals and pictures to remember by.

Sue Kinsella said...

It's hard for me to grasp that this place still existed up until a few days ago. To me, it was already lost to the mists of time and appeared whole only in memories brought to life such as those written about on this blog. Kind of like the last scene in the Titanic movie, when those who died on the ship appear ravishingly alive again in the midst of its lavish beauty, welcoming the movie's Rose.

It's kind of a jolt to realize that there were contemporary people living in "our" house, people who had to escape the fire. What a close call, with the baby in a smoke-choked room. Thank goodness the father fought through it to reach him in time.

And now Woodlawn IS lost to the mists of time - but will still come alive in the stories and memories of it that are spun here. Thanks for those stories, Mom, Dad and Pat and any others who can share them, and thank you for ancestors' diaries!

Pat said...

Suzie Q,

I could not have said it better!

Love you,

Mom/CB said...

Many times I have prayed a prayer of thanks to Emma Carson Taylor and Cordelia Waller Taylor trying to reach them with the praise I have for them!! When we know how busy they were just trying to LIVE, and still they took the time to write! Emma knew she was writing for posterity as when Clara had her first break Emma encouraged her to keep a simple type journal as she began to get well In an aside to it she asks future readers to ubderstand the simpleness of it! I do so well and hope she knows how she has helped each of us, her "followers"!

Ev elyn Taylor said...

I check the blog weekly, and imagine my shock today to see that Woodlawn has been destroyed by fire. I live in this area, read the newspaper the report would have been in, but I did not recognize the connection.
Like others of the family, I have read the journals of these two women, and am grateful for the stories they told. In that way, Woodlawn lives on!
I am so happy that I have made several trips there, as have my children.

Sue Kinsella said...

Evelyn, I'd love to hear some of your memories of visiting Woodlawn!