Thursday, January 18, 2018

Is it him? Or is it not him? That is the question...

                I have pined away for a Revolutionary War Patriot in my lineage for a long time, but have come up disappointed at every turn.  My husband, however, can boast of several.  My best hope for a patriot is my direct-line ancestor Joseph Lair.

                Lair, the son of German immigrants, was born in Philadelphia in September of 1745, and by 1768 had purchased land in Rockingham County, Virginia.  In 1788, he contributed horses to Captain Richard Ragan’s company, so he did at least something toward the effort.  The DAR database confirms his contribution.  Maud Ward Lafferty and Helen Lafferty Nisbet, in their book “Background of the Lair Family,” state that he no doubt served as well, in addition to his brothers, and that his service was likely documented in Virginia.

                I first took up the quest to find information on his service about 15 years ago, long before websites like were available.  I had made note that he attained the rank of Corporal, but did not note the source of that tidbit.  In the limited resources available at the time, I was unable to find much, so I made a few notes and stuck them in a folder.  Now, I’m going through that folder and have picked up the job of looking for his service.

                The first stop was Fold3.  I was pleased to get an immediate “hit” – and discover a Joseph Lair who rose from the rank of Private to Corporal in the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Continental Troops, commanded by Caleb Gibbs.  Caleb Gibbs was a “right hand man” of George Washington, and it was his duty to not only protect Washington, but to engage in battle as well.   This was a big deal!  Perhaps waiting all these years to discover a patriot was well worth it with a story like this for the family tree!  However, the reference envelope pictured below notes that the cards are filed with “Law, Joseph.”  And herein begins a whole new struggle.

                I looked at every muster roll available for this group, and beginning with July 1777 until July 1780, either a Joseph Lair or a Joseph Law shows up, but never both at the same time.  A few of the listings are clearly “Lair,” more are clearly “Law,” and some could go either way.  This man starts out with the rank of Private, and ends up as Corporal.  Because both “Law” and “Lair” never show up separately, I have to conclude that this is the same man.

That's a nice "Lair"!!

Ugh.  That's a good "Law."  The loop at the end of the "w" is consistent with handwriting in other parts of the document.

                 My Joseph Lair was born in Pennsylvania, but purchased land in Rockingham County, Virginia in 1768, and lived there until at least until 1792.  Caleb Gibbs was associated with the 14th Massachusetts Regiment, but served elsewhere in his capacity with George Washington’s Guard, and since Washington lived in Virginia, it would not be inconceivable that Virginia men, such as Joseph Lair, were involved.  It was noted that after the war, Gibbs returned to Massachusetts.

                So – who was this man?  Was it Joseph Law, or Joseph Lair?  And if it IS Joseph Lair, is it MY Joseph Lair?  These are the problems that stand between me and a Revoultionary War ancestor.

                I wondered if I could document a Joseph Law as having served in the war, so it was back to Fold3 with a new search.  That search brought up a widow’s pension file associated with a Joseph Law who served with a Connecticut regiment under Colonel Chandler, for three years commencing from 1777.  My hopes rose!  Yes, there was a Joseph Law, but he was tied in up Chandler’s regiment during the time in question.  Continuing on through the numerous documents in the file, I found another that stated he was transferred into Gen. George Washington’s Corps of Guards.  Shoot  (no pun intended).  I am back to my previous condition of not having a patriot in my family tree.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Menzie House Hotel - An Early Problem Property

     The town of Huron, in Dakota Territory, was a growing, bustling little town situated along the tracks of the Chicago and North Western railroad.  In the early 1880s, the influx of settlers, businessmen, and railroad workers produced a demand for lodging, and numerous hotels sprang up to fill that need.

     On the corner of what was then First Street and Kansas avenue sat the Menzie House, one of Huron’s many early hotels.  A two-and-a-half-story building, it also included a livery stable further down the street.   Like other hotels in booming towns along the railroad, it saw its share of guests.  And in the case of the Menzie House, it saw its share of trouble, too. 

Above: The red "X" shows the location of the Menzie property, with the hotel to the left, and the livery stable to the right.
Below: the same area, with the red "X" marking the location of the hotel.  

The hotel was opened by New York native John W. Menzie in 1883, and was described in the local newspaper as “well-kept and furnished, with large, bright rooms.”  Mr. Menzie, the article elaborated, “takes pains in making his house inviting in its arrangements, its cleanliness and the splendid table regularly set before his guests.   As a host Mr. Menzie has the happy faculty of making his guests feel at home, and pays strict attention to the many details that help to make a hotel a success, and which disregarded are sure to bring failure.”  But, at some point details were indeed disregarded.

What brought the Menzie family to Huron isn’t known, but their tenure in the town, and in the hotel business, was about 10 years.  And in that time, they lost a barn to fire, a child to death, had another child abducted, had one employee kill another, had a patron claim to be drugged and robbed, and another patron died refusing to divulge his identity.  In addition, Mr. Menzie was arrested several times on charges relating to his operation of the hotel.

Perhaps good help was hard to find in those days.  Or perhaps Mr. Menzie wasn’t particular about his employees.  It was in August of 1886 that Menzie’s livery employee, Nathan Freeman, described as easily angered, killed Joseph Kessler, another Menzie employee.  Kessler, also described as  “high-strung and quick-tempered,” was in charge of the general operations at the hotel.  Kessler was critical of Freeman’s handling of the horses, and his expletive-laced “suggestions” to Freeman were not well-received.  An argument with “coarse words” and a scuffle broke out, but they eventually separated with little physical harm done, except for a scratch on Kessler’s face which infuriated him.  Kessler made some threats, and threw a punch.  Freeman headed for the hotel building to find Mr. Menzie, intending to resign, but by the time he got there he decided to go home to have his mother sew his ripped shirt and return to his duties in the livery.  Before returning to work, however, he grabbed a revolver and took it back to work with him.  Back at the livery, witnesses say that Kessler continued to harass Freeman, and Freeman could be heard telling Kessler, “Don’t come near me – keep away from me!”  But Kessler continued toward him, so Freeman took out his gun and raised it to fire, but Kessler hit Freeman’s hand to try to knock the gun from it, and it discharged, entering Kessler’s left temple.  He fell to his knees, then prone to the floor.  Dr. Huff did all he could do, but the bullet was lodged deep in Kessler’s brain, and he  never regained consciousness.   He died a few hours later.  Freeman was arrested for murder, but was later acquitted of the charge.

The site of the old Menzie Livery, where Joseph Kessler was killed.

A few years later, the Menzie’s four- year-old adopted daughter, Edith, was abducted.   Mrs. Menzie had been out shopping, and picked up a letter at the post office from the child’s birth mother, Ada Hawthorn, telling her that she “need not be surprised should Edith disappear at any time.”  In fact she might be gone before the letter even reached Mrs. Menzie.  Ms. Hawthorn clearly stated numerous reasons why the child should no longer remain in the Menzie family, but the primarly reason was that the Menzie House was not a proper home for her.  It was late in the afternoon when Mrs. Menzie got the letter from the post office, and returning home, she began looking for Edith, but no one had seen her “for some time.”  The police were summoned and felt confident that the child would be found and returned, and apparently at some point in time she was indeed returned to the Menzies.

In 1893 J. Rosenthal took over the Menzie House and dubbed it “Hotel Columbia” and let the town know that it had been “thoroughly cleaned and repaired, and will be kept in first-class order.”  What, exactly, happened after that isn’t clear, but it appears that John Menzie was back at the helm a short time after that.

In January of 1895, Menzie House was raided, and beer and other liquors were found.  The house was closed “by injunction” and the Menzie family was forced to find shelter elsewhere.  The police had been watching the hotel for some time and the local paper commented, “One would think that the frequency with which Menzie and his establishment get into trouble that he would become tired and cry ‘give us a rest.’”  But there was no rest.  Menzie was arrested at least once for selling liquor without a license, was fined at least twice (and his wife and son each at least once) for “keeping a disreputable house.”   After his wife’s arrest, Menzie “sniffed trouble” and left town, despite having his own similar charge pending in court.  Said the local newspaper, “Menzie left for parts unknown on a former occasion and remained away from Huron for two or three years.  The moral atmosphere of the town was not improved by his return.”

The Menzies made their way to Indiana, where they opened a used furniture store in Muncie, and opened another "Menzie House" hotel in Matthews, as well as adopted another daughter.  By 1910, they had moved to Ashtabula county, Ohio, where Mr. Menzie died in 1922.

The current site of the old Menzie House hotel, on the corner of what is now
Market Road and Kansas ave.
By 1896, the hotel building in Huron was owned by Richards Trust Company, and the business was being advertised for rent with the statement, “A good chance for a good man.”  By 1898 it briefly housed the “Farmers Home” and in 1899 was purchased by James McWeeny and dubbed  the “McWeeny House.”

Sanford Fire Insurance Map of Huron, South Dakota 1884 - 1898
The Daily Huronite – numerous issues from 1885 - 1936
Sioux Falls Argus Leader - Nov. 19, 1890; Jan. 5, 1895; Jan. 26, 1895; March 13, 1895.
1900, 1910, 1920 Federal Censuses
Muncie, Indiana City Directory 1899-1900
The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana, Aug. 28, 1905
“Huron Revisited”
Google Earth