Friday, November 1, 2013

Haunted Houses ?!?

Dear Grandparents,
There has recently been some discussion in the genealogy community about people starting a website documenting deaths that have occurred in a particular house. Reading about this led me to think about the simple farmhouse outside Newberg, Oregon that had been the home to three generations of my family. It seemed a little creepy to write about yesterday on Halloween, but hopefully it is more appropriate today, All Saints' Day.
House at Pine Lawn Farm showing fruit house.
About 2 miles north of Newberg, Yamhill County, Oregon
This is the house that was home to my great-grandparents William Wallace and Mamie (Hugunin) Colby. They moved into the house in the spring of 1912, leaving their farm in Kirwin, Phillips County, Kansas for Mamie's health. I do not know the origin of the fruit house, but my grandmother and their daughter Ada Grace Colby, said that her father had found a farm with a small house outside of Newberg. He agreed to buy the home if a larger house would be built before the family arrived in Oregon. In the photo above, one can see the original small house to the left. Behind and obscured from view is the larger, two-story addition.

To my knowledge, four deaths have occurred in this home. First, my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth "Mamie" Hugunin Colby October 15, 1917. Her obituaries tell the story. "In December of last year, Mrs. Colby underwent a very serious operation at the Swedish hospital in Kansas City. She rallied from this grave condition, and seemed much stronger. While convalescent, she visited for some time with her relatives and friends here (presumably Kirwin, clipping is from scrap book with out source). It seemed then that she might hope for many happy and comfortable years. During the summer, she complained of much weariness and was not so well. Her death, however came most unexpectedly. She passed from us.... still a comparatively young woman, being 49 years, 7 months and 17 days of age."
More of the story is included in the obituary published in the Newberg Graphic on Thursday, October 18, 1917. "The many friends of Mrs. W. W. Colby were shocked Tuesday morning to learn of her sudden death Monday evening. She walked into town Monday afternoon, seemingly in her usual health. Retiring at 9:30, about 10:30 she woke her husband telling him she felt very ill. He called the
doctor who reached her bedside in a few minutes but a 11 o'clock she passed away."

From left Mamie and daughters Madge, Pansy and Grace
at Pine Lawn Farm circa 1912,

The second death that occurred in the house was that of Mamie's husband William Wallace "W. W." Colby. He continued to live in the house after her death with daughters Madge and Grace. Then after Madge married and Grace went to Oregon State, with his second wife Ada May McNay Colby. After Ada's death in 1931, he invited widowed Grace and her daughters Betty and Helen to share his home.

I remember well the stories told by my Grandmother, Mom and Aunt about his death. Hoo Hoo, our pet name for my grandmother, related that in February she had noticed her father favoring a leg. He made light of the soreness. When she noticed the weakness in the leg continuing, she demanded to see it. The infection had spread terribly. She wasn't sure why he had let the infection go untreated. It was the depths of the depression and money was very scarce. She expected that Grampa Colby was concerned that there would not be enough money to pay for a doctor. Of course, seeing the condition of the leg, Hoo Hoo called the doctor immediately. It was too late, gangrene had set in and there was no hope.

My mother and Aunt remember being sent to stay with friend for the few days until he passed. It was terrifying for them. William Wallace Colby died in the house March 2, 1936.
William Wallace "W.W." Colby and granddaughter   
Betty Werst in front of the house circa 1935

The third death in the house was that of my grandmother Ada Grace Colby Werst Branchflower. Moving there as a child of 9, she had spent most of her life in the home. She was asleep upstairs when her mother died. She had seen two of her sisters married in the living room. It had been a sanctuary when she was able to reunite her two daughters and move in with her Dad. I'm sure she did all that she could to ease his suffering before he died. She struggled to buy her sisters out of their portion of Pine Lawn Farm so she could keep her home. She raised her daughters there and they welcomed her new husband Kenneth Branchflower into the home. It became a favorite retreat for grandchildren visiting from California.
Grace Colby Werst in front of the house
with daughter Betty circa 1938.

She knew that her mother, grandmother Sarah Amanda Hugunin, her Aunt Grace Hugunin Bissell, sister Madge Colby Massey and Ethel May Colby King had all died as fairly young women, many in the forties. It wasn't until she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease that the family realized that the others had probably died of the same hereditary condition. Grace controlled the disease with careful salt-free dieting for years and tried to qualify for dialysis. Alas, the doctors were not going to approve using that expensive treatment on a woman who was 70. She died of a heart attack January 8, 1973.

The last death to occur in the house, was that of my step-grandfather Kenneth M. Branchflower. With the exception of his time overseas during the Second World War, he had made the house at Pine Lawn Farm his home after he and Grace married May 23, 1944. He had grown up on a farm up the street. After Hoo Hoo died, he talked about rehabilitating his family home which had been vacant since his father's death in 1958. He built a 3 bay garage and shop on that property as the first step in that transition. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to finish the job. He died in his sleep, presumably of a heart attack February 15, 1976.
Kenneth Massey Branchflower at Pinelawn Farm 1975

Aunt Helen, my husband Ed and I drove from California to Newberg with heavy hearts arriving late at night. For some reason the power was off and the old house really did seem haunted. We ended up spending the night at good neighbor Alice Nelson's home across the street. It was the only time that I had been concerned about staying in the house.

Today, my aunt, siblings and cousins and I remember the many good times we had in the house. Though it has been rented to others for many years, the house remains in the family. Each time I visit Oregon, I make it a point to visit.

I am certain that you all know of many more stories of houses where family members lived, loved and died. Please feel free to share them with me.

No comments:

Post a Comment