Postcards from South Worthington

by Evan Spring

This is the second in a series of four postcard exhibits from the WHS archives.

By the mid-19th century South Worthington was a distinct “mill hamlet,” with at least a dozen homes and various industries clustered around the local power supply: a rapid elevation drop in the Little River. The photographs of South Worthington below date largely from 1907 to 1913, a “golden age” of postcard writing and collecting triggered by advances in printing technology and distribution. In 1908 more than 677 million postcards were mailed in the United States.

The postcard below, facing west, shows the northern stretch of South Worthington along what is now Conwell Road. Of the three buildings on the right side of the photograph, the leftmost one is the birthplace of Worthington’s most famous son, Russell H. Conwell (1843–1925). The house obscured by trees in the lower-left corner, now 10 Conwell Road, probably also belonged to Conwell at this stage.

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The next postcard shows the same buildings, only facing south, with Conwell’s birthplace to the right. Upon close inspection the steeple of the Methodist Episcopal Church can be seen in the distance. The postmark is 1909, and the sender notes, “Worthington is an ideal spot and I am having a fine time playing golf for the first time today.”

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South-Worthington-Eagles-nest-2-LRThe photograph above was taken from this tower, whose function is a mystery. Was it just a viewing platform? A fire tower? Is that an empty flagpole projecting from the top, or a beacon or antenna for radio signals? Let us know your theory. The sign below the platform reads “EAGLE’S NEST.”

“Eagle’s Nest” also applied to the home where Conwell was born and raised, now 42 Conwell Road. Russell’s father Martin Conwell was a poor subsistence farmer who also peddled butter and eggs door to door. Martin was a devout Methodist and abolitionist, and the Eagle’s Nest was reportedly a stop in the Underground Railroad, visited by both John Brown and Frederick Douglass. Russell attended Wilbraham Academy and Yale, and went on to become a soldier, reporter, newspaper editor, world traveler, lawyer, minister, and philanthropist. But he was best known as an orator, and his “Acres of Diamonds” speech – delivered more than six thousand times over 54 years, with variations tailored for specific audiences – earned him over $5 million. As a minister he presided over the largest Protestant congregation in America: the Grace Baptist Church in his adopted city of Philadelphia, where he also founded the Samaritan Hospital and Temple University. In the first postcard below, probably from around 1910, Conwell appears to be standing next to a sundial.

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The postcard above shows Conwell enjoying the wrap-around porch he added to his boyhood home, the Eagle’s Nest. Conwell wrote that the house was originally “almost a hovel in its construction…and the unfinished half-story under the roof was reached by a rude stairway of slabs from the sawmill.” The wrap-around porch is long gone, but the building survives and is now the home of Stonepool Pottery. In the next postcard, postmarked 1909, Conwell is seen posing with his second wife, Sarah. The second and third postcards show an outdoor lamp post.

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The visitors assembled at the Eagle’s Nest in the next postcard are probably from Conwell’s Philadelphia congregation. Note also the decorative wooden “sunburst” on the roof.

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In yet another portrait of the Eagle’s Nest, facing north, the house known as “the Cairn” is seen on the right.

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The Cairn is featured in the next postcard, mailed in 1908.

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The next card shows the Eagle’s Nest and the Cairn from Little Gallilee pond to the east. Today the slope is completely reforested.

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Here are two more postcards of Little Gallilee and the boathouse, viewed from the dam.

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Methodist-Episcopal-Church-1-LRSouth Worthington’s Methodist Episcopal Church, dedicated in 1848, still holds its “Conwell Memorial Service” each year, usually on the third Sunday of August. The second card, postmarked 1907, has the photograph and message space on the same side; in that year the U.S. Post Office authorized “divided back” postcards with the address and message on the same side.

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The church looks much the same today (photograph by Kate Ewald):

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The Episcopal parsonage, now 35 Ireland Street, was built by the pastor George Moody with financial support from the hamlet and dedicated in 1903. In 1905 Moody published a history of South Worthington known as the “Moody book.” (WHS has copies of the 1912 reprint for sale.) The home was designed in the “Folk National” style and contained one of Worthington’s first indoor bathrooms. After World War II the parsonage was sold to private owners.

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In 1893 Russell Conwell bought the store and house across the road from the Methodist Episcopal church and raised it to the second-floor level, adding a school room and auditorium underneath. Thus began the Conwell Academy, a two-teacher school that emphasized (among other things) public speaking, the basis of Conwell’s fame and wealth. As of 1894 – the year Conwell also founded Temple University – Conwell Academy had 32 students, who came from as far as Huntington, Chester and Chesterfield (and had to provide their own desk and chair). The Academy closed in 1900, however, when the Town declined to provide financial support. Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Tuttle, an opera singer, later used the building to stage small operas and give singing lessons. Pictured in the recent postcard below, Conwell Academy is now the home of the Sevenars Music Festival, run by the Schrade family since 1968.

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The next postcard shows the Higgins Mill, downstream from Ireland Street on the Little River. The Higgins Mill did custom sawing and provided logs for the Episcopal parsonage.

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Just further downstream is Bradley falls, named for the last woodworking mill owner based there.

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A handwritten note on the next postcard says “Mr. Bradley’s Express.” Was this Mr. Bradley connected to the South Worthington mill? The postcard further below has a note that reads, “The Bradleys of South Worthington take a ride.” The man with the bushy mustache in both photographs could be the same person. If you can fill in any details, please leave us a comment below.

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The next postcard, copyrighted 1908 and mailed in 1910, shows the Witherell store on South Worthington Road, then the main route connecting the hamlet to Worthington Center. The sign projecting from the side of the store reads “New Eng. Tel[?] & Tel. Co. Public Telephone Station.”

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Here is a close-up detail revealing the store’s various wares, which probably included postcards. One of the ladies might be Isabella (“Lizzie”) Witherell, the subject of an earlier Corners post by Sean Barry. Nothing remains at the building site.

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Just north of Witherell’s store on South Worthington Road was a schoolhouse, built in 1856 and pictured in the following postcard. Nothing remains at the spot.

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The “Tamarack” house pictured in the postcard below is on Thrasher Hill Rd., just up the hill from South Worthington.

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The next postcard, mailed in 1947, shows the Hill-Top-Rest resort, now 1190 Huntington Road at the southernmost tip of Worthington. In 1945 Hill-Top Rest was bought by a Hungarian couple, John and Anna Sipos, who promoted it as a refuge for displaced persons following the horrors of World War II. Aside from croquet, badminton, and outdoor movies, their brochure promised “American Hungarian” fare, and Anna reportedly cooked a mean goulash. Below the postcard is a shot of the same building today (photograph by Kate Ewald).

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Hill-top-rest-todayWe conclude our exhibit of South Worthington postcards with an artful portrait of a water leak.

South-Worthington-Water-burst-in-sluice-LRTwo forthcoming installments of this postcard exhibit series will feature Worthington Center and miscellaneous views of homes, sugar houses, waterfalls, scenic drives, stagecoaches, golfers, and gas pumps.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Evan Spring, a jazz historian, freelance editor, and WHS board member, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and holds an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers. For 23 years he hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York, interviewing over 200 musicians. His main research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.

 

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17 Responses to Postcards from South Worthington

  1. Diane Brenner says:

    Another great job, Evan. You should be sure to announce these new blogs on the home page.

  2. George Bresnick says:

    Dear Evan,

    Congratulations on your first two postcard blogs…a really wonderful collection.

    I have a couple of comments on the first two postcards, and hope to offer some more at a later time.

    1. In the first post card, I agree that you can see 10 Conwell through the trees. I am fascinated by the building with cupola on the left-hand side of the photo, in about the middle of the left side. It appears to be at the top of the hill at the end of the current meadow. I believe that it is a small barn, similar to the one behind the “Cairn” in the second photo. When I lived at 10 Conwell, I exposed a foundation of stone at that site, and assumed that it was some sort of a barn structure. By now, the foundation is probably overgrown again by brush, but you can probably see it if you clear away some of the brush. There is a path behind (to the south) of this structure that leads to the Little River where there was a saw mill, and I wonder if this was used in part to bring logs from the hillside to the mill. Probably the barn was used to store farming and perhaps lumbering equipment. Also, n the post card, there is a ?wall (probably stone) running above and parallel to Conwell Rd. (above #10 Conwell); that line can be seen today as the demarcation between the lawn below and the meadow above.

    2. In the second post card, the “Cairn”, at the time of the post card, was owned by Mrs. Maria L. Stone, one of Conwell’s parishioners from Philadelphia. When I moved out of #10 Conwell, I left for your mother, among other things, fragments of a telegram sent to Maria Stone that apparently had been torn up and stuck at the base of the chimney on the second floor landing. Here are my notes on the telegram written two days after I found it on Feb. 26 2000:
    Place found: at base of chimney, second floor landing, while removing lath, plaster and plywood from around brick chimney.
    Date found: February 26, 2000

    Condition: telegram apparently torn up into fragments ½ to 1 ½ inches in size.

    Content:

    RECEIVED at

    44-P. CG S 6-paid 4;48P.M. Via North Ampton (sic)

    South Worthington Mass Dec 7th 1906

    Mrs Maria Stone/

    204_ (xxxxxx) St Phila, Penna

    Walter (xxxxx)m died, funeral Sunday

    Robert Meacham

    In the 1910 Federal Census, there is a Maria Stone living at 2040 North 13th St. Ward, 32, in Philadlephia. In the same census record, Russell Conwell lived a block and a half away, at 2020 N. Broad Street (presently on the grounds of Temple University), also in Ward 32. So, this must be the right Maria Stone. Perhaps you can decipher the name of the deceased on the original telegram; I was unable to.

    Keep up the great work.

    George Bresnick
    St. Paul, MN

  3. Donald E. Watts says:

    Dear Evan, I am enjoying your installments of postcards and commentaries about Worthington. Thank you for the work.

    Donald

  4. George Bresnick says:

    Hi again Evan,
    Here are a couple of comments on the Tower. One source for this is Jane Conwell Tuttle’s book: Life with Grandfather Conwell and his “Acres of Diamonds.” This fascinating recollection of summers in South Worthington, among other memories of Conwell, can now be read on line. here is the link: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7205042M/Life_with_Grandfather_Conwell_and_his_Acres_of_diamonds_.
    It would seem from the quotes from the book below, that Conwell built the Tower for his own and his family’s/friends’ enjoyment, and as a monument to his stubborn determination. The story about the building of the Tower is used by Jane Tuttle in the context of the building of the dam on “Little Galilee Pond” to show how single-minded her grandfather could be.

    p.41 This would have been frustrating for anyone but Grandfather [in reference to the dam building…] , and yet he managed to get the Tower built, when everyone told him how hopeless the idea was. The difficulty with the Tower was its distance from the road. It was on a steep cliff with deep woods behind it, but the teams, oxen , and men had to draw lumber in a mile from the road, and carry it by hand up the cliff. The progress was slow and the hazards many…

    p. 27. We had scarcely finished supper when Grandfather thought we had all better walk up to the tower and watch the sunset. The sunsets were magnificent from up there for the Tower itself was very high and it was perched on a high cliff. We seemed to be looking over several ranges of mountains when we got to the little platform at the top. Grandfather said that we could see Mount Monodnock (sic) from there, but no one took his tales too seriously.

    Regarding the pole on the Tower, here is a quote from “His Life and Achievements” by Robert Shackleton, published as an Afterword in Conwell’s book, “Acres of diamonds:….”, attesting to Conwell’s patriotism: An American flag is prominent in his church. An American flag is seen in his home; a beautiful American flag is up at his Berkshire place and surmounts a lofty tower where, when he was a boy, there stood a mighty tree at the top of which was an eagle’s nest, which has given him a name for his home, for he terms it “The Eagle’s Nest.”

    It would seem that Conwell had the Tower built not as a utilitarian structure, but to reconnect with his boyhood experience of the mighty tree with the eagle’s nest.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/368/368-h/368-h.htm

    I look forward to your next posting.
    George

  5. whs says:

    George, thanks very much for the information and commentary. At some point I’ll go back through and enter some of this information into the post itself. I haven’t seen that barn foundation but I’ll have a look soon. I wasn’t aware of Jane Conwell Tuttle’s book and have downloaded a copy to read at my leisure; I’ll put that link into the post as well. That explanation of the tower and the flagpole sounds entirely convincing. ~Evan

  6. Sara Upton says:

    Hi, Evan, A great job of bringing so much history out of the many boxes and displaying it for all to see. We live in South Worthington and are also fascinated by its history. We also own the 1783 Sam Hills/Follett house that was taken from the end of Sam Hill Road in 1986.
    One thing … it appears to me that the photo by Mary Randall is of the Golf Course clubhouse (Kinne Farm) on Ridge Road not Sevenars.

    Sara Upton

    • Evan Spring says:

      Sara, thanks for reading and for noticing the misidentified photo, which has been removed. ~Evan

  7. James S. Downey says:

    Evan: Splendid job on the photos, postcards and commentary that you uploaded onto the website for Sunday’s walking tour. It was thoroughly enjoyable and having acess to those images is remarkable. Thank you for all of your hard work. One very minor note, has anyone spoken with Mark Shapiro to see if the sundial that appears in the photo of Russel Conwell is still on Mark’s property? Conwell is photographed next to the sundial as you mention and it appears in three subsequent photos and iin those photos is situated just south of Mark’s home off the porch. Thank you again for all of the work.

    • Evan Spring says:

      James, thanks very much for your note. I asked Mark about the sundial, and he has no idea what became of it, unfortunately. ~Evan

  8. Julie Pike says:

    Evan, these are wonderful! (I’m from the Montgomery Historical Society group that took your walking tour of Worthington Corners last month — thoroughly enjoyable!) I’m also one of that group trying to preserve the old Methodist Episcopal Church in South Worthington, so these postcards are especially meaningful. I will be passing your link on to Russell Conwell’s three great-granddaughters (Cynthia, Gloria and Priscilla), all of whom have much interst in this broad subject! Thanks so much for doing this! — Julie

  9. Cynthia Conwell Cook says:

    Dear Evan: Thank you so much for posting these wonderful post cards – and thanks to Julie for passing on the Website to us, the last of the Conwell line. I infer from your correspondence with George Bresnick that you may have inherited the Conwell material left in #10 Conwell Road (known in the Russell Conwell era as the “White House,” formerly home of Rev. Asa Niles, in relation to the “Red House,” Conwell’s birthplace). I have been working on Conwell/Brewster genealogy and would love to be in direct contact with you and George to share information.

    Russell Conwell did acquire the “White House” when he had the means to do so, as well as several other properties around the original Conwell holding. He left the “Red House” to his son Leon (our grandfather) and the “White House” to his daughter Nima Conwell Tuttle. As children, we spent summers at the Red House, and at that time the White House was owned by Russell “Pete” Tuttle. The Red House passed from Leon Conwell and his wife Sarah Harriette Brewster to my father Charles Brewster Conwell. When he died, my mother sold the house and some of the land around it; it is probably around this time that the sundial was removed. It was there when we were children.

    I well remember the “Stone House” next door, and Mr. Witherell’s house and Jane Conwell Tuttle’s house on Ireland Road, which I passed every day during the summer going down to the bridge to pick up the mail. The house to the right (in the pictures) of the Stone House was known as “Aunt Ida’s” (I don’t know who Aunt Ida was) and the detached building to the right of it was called a “carriage house” and at that time still held a couple of disused horse-drawn carriages.

    Thank you for sharing these materials! Regards, Cynthia Conwell Cook

    • Evan Spring says:

      Dear Cynthia, wonderful to hear your recollections of the neighborhood. My mother Marjorie Johnson now lives in the “White House,” and George Bresnick, the former owner, did indeed leave her some historical materials, which she will take good care of. I’ll write you an email directly so we can be in touch down the road, and feel free to drop by for a visit. Best regards, Evan Spring

  10. Laurel Adams says:

    Love looking at these postcards and look forward to seeing more of them.

    That is my great grandmother, Agnes Adams (wife of William H) on the porch of the Witherell store. She is on the right. Guessing Mrs Witherell is on the left.

    Read the previous comments regarding the Brewster family. Wm Adams ‘s grandmother on his Dad’s side was Mary Brewster Clark (Adams). She is buried in Stephentown NY. Just wondering if she was of the Worthington Brewsters. Any ideas?

  11. Gary W. Donahue says:

    Good Afternoon Evan:

    Enjoyed your post cards & history of S. Worthington.
    Have read Russell H. Conwell’s Book Acres of Diamonds.
    I have tried locating Johnny Ring site over the years without success.

    Can you help?

    Keep UP The Good Works.

    Thanks Very Much

    “Gary”

    • whs says:

      Hello “Gary” (why the quotes?), glad you enjoyed the post. I’m not sure what you mean by the “Johnny Ring site.” Do you mean a home site? Manufacturing site? Gravesite? Diane tells me: “Neither John Ring nor his parents manufactured anything (as far as I know). The Elkanah and Thomas Ring were the manufacturers and they had factories in the Ringville area and in Knightville. They were probably only distantly related (if at all), to John Ring’s family.” John Ring’s gravestone is in Ringville cemetery. ~Evan Spring

  12. Gary W. Donahue says:

    Good Morning Evan:

    In the Book Acres of Diamonds there is a picture of Russell H. Conwell standing at the gravesite of Johnny Ring in Worthington.

    Thanks Evan,

    Keep Up The Great Works.

    “Gary”

  13. Dale Hitchcock says:

    I grew up in Worthington and remember Jane Conwell Tuttle. She visited our home to chat with my mother Mary Burr Hitchcock now and then. She was a bit of a character. Either my sister or I had one of those little pet “dime store turtles” that was named Jane Turtle which amused Jane. 🙂

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