One of the ongoing joys of living in a family homestead is the gift it gives of allowing one to routinely walk in the footsteps of one’s ancestors. But this is only true for one side of family. The homestead is the product of my mother’s side of the family.
Getting a bead on my father’s ancestry is more challenging. For his part, my dad has been known to say that this is because his side of the family was made up of “gypsies and horse thieves”. There’s a bit of truth to this - family members on his side moved around quite a bit, and lived in the intensely rural north-central part of the state, sometimes bleeding across the Mississippi into Missouri and Iowa.
This means that, when the opportunity presents itself to get a better understanding I try to take it. Last weekend the weather and my time conspired to allow me to take a ride along the Hennepin Canal State Park Trail. While this would have been fun in and of itself, it offered some familial connection because my Great Grandfather Percy Wade worked as a Lock Tender on the Canal. Specifically, he worked at Lock 12, which was the target of my ride.
It starts to give me a feel for this man who was previously little more than an abstract idea for me. Between the trip to Lock 12 and available records, these are the things we know about this man:
Percy Leroy Wade was born in 1896 in Bureau County, and died in 1962, nearly a decade before I was born.
Percy was one of six or possibly 8 children - 3 girls and either 3 or 5 boys - born to George Washington Wade (these types of names were popular for the era - we also have at least one Benjamin Franklin in the family) and Sarah Amelia Ireland. I say "possibly" because Ancestry.com lists two additional boys in his generation, both younger than Percy, who don’t otherwise appear on the census information from 1900 or 1910. The additional boys - Irvin Charles and James Monroe Wade (there’s another of those names) - have birthdates of 1905 and 1907 respectively, so they should be in the home on the 1910 census, but they don’t appear there:
Now it is the case that the family does run down to the bottom of the page, but the following page is also available, and they don’t appear to continue there. It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the record keepers just decided it would be too confusing to have the remaining two kids continue on the next page and, given that they would have been about five and three years of age, just chose to drop them off. There are other errors or points of confusion in the census - in 1900 George’s wife is listed as "Carrie A", and in 1910 as “Sarah A". He could have remarried, one supposes, but both women have the same birthdate...
If Ancestry were correct, Percy would have been a middle child in the group. It seems more likely that he was the second youngest. Two of his sisters - Jessie and Nina - became teachers and frequently came up in the local papers due to one school function or the other. His parents were both born in Illinois, and appear to be first generation Illinoisans - though this is sketchy, as the birthplace of both of their parents is again, different between the 1900 and 1910 census’s. According to the 1900 census, George’s parents were born in Kentucky (father) and Maryland (mother), while Sarah’s (or "Carrie’s") were from Pennsylvania (father) and Ohio (mother). In 1910 George is consistent with the information about his father’s birthplace, but now his mother is from Iowa, while Sarah’s father is now from Illinois while her mother continues to hail from Ohio. Did they change what they reported 10 years later, or did a census taker make an error? There’s quite a difference between Maryland and Iowa, and as well between Illinois and Pennsylvania...
Percy’s father was a farmer and by 1910 one of his brothers, Harry, was also working as a farm laborer. Interesting, his oldest brother is listed as working as a telegraph repairman. Percy, at 14 years of age, hadn’t yet entered the work world in 1910.
When he was 21 years old, in 1917, Percy’s draft card says he was a tall man of "medium" build (the other options were "slender" and "stout"), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was living on Rural Route 2 in Tiskilwa, Illinois, and working as a farm laborer for John Albrecht. He was already married by then. It’s unclear from what I have at the moment whether he served in the military - the First World War persisted until 1918, but his draft card was filled out pretty late in the game - June of 1917. Also, he was claiming an exemption from the draft on the card, specifically due to "support of wife", so one suspects he may have managed to avoid service.
His first wife was Anna Amelia Tolene. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, though she appears to have been born in Illinois. Her parents spoke Swedish, according to the census, and one suspects she may have as well. Together they had two children - my Grandpa Glen, and Lorene Marie Eleanor Wade. Marie, which she appears to have gone by, died unfortunately young, just shy of her 12th birthday.
When he worked as a Lockman on the canal is unclear - in 1920 his is still indicated as a farm laborer, and by 1930 he is listed as a foreman at, I believe, the Zinc Plant in DePue - his job specifically says "Lithophone Plant", I think (it’s hard to read), and the Internet says Lithophone (or Lithopone) is a pigment used in Zinc, so that’s my extrapolation.
Given the history of the canal itself, it seems most likely he worked there at some point between 1920 and 1930. What is known, through family lore, is that he worked specifically at Lock 12. Picturing this originally I would have thought of this as a basic day job - travel from home to take a shift at the lock raising and lowering barges and boats through the lock, then travel back home. What I did not realize is that this was a far larger affair. The lockmen lived on the canal, with housing provided. They were responsible for operating the locks, maintaining and repairing the canal as needed, and had workshops and outbuildings to assist them in these tasks. In the winter they cut ice off of the canal to sell; this to help fund canal operations (somewhere we have family pictures of them hauling ice - understanding this role suggests that it’s Percy in those pictures). In short, it was as much a lifestyle as it was a job.
And it would have been a rustic lifestyle. While housing was provided, the homes had neither electricity nor running water. This wouldn't, perhaps, have been terribly unusual for the era - the region was, and remains, very rural. Percy’s son - my grandfather - was born in 1918, and his daughter in 1924. One can imagine family pressures ultimately driving the decision towards taking work that offers, say, the opportunity for indoor plumbing...
I mentioned that I had an opportunity to see Lock 12, riding out to it. The house and maintenance buildings are long since gone, and the site, accessed via trike on the towpath, feels very remote. It really gives a feel for the lifestyle that one would be embracing choosing this work.
Arriving at Lock 12
Looking about it is clearly an isolated spot:
Lock 12 is somewhat special in and of itself because it was the site of one of the nine aqueducts along the canal - huge concrete troughs that carried the canal water and traffic over rivers and streams in the area. In the case of Lock 12, it rose some 20 feet or so above Big Bureau Creek. Six of the aqueducts still remain, but Lock 12 is not one of them. Instead the trough was replaced with a piping system that runs under the creek and rises up back into the canal on the far side.
Bureau Creek below, with pilings likely from the old aqueduct
Canal is walled off above Bureau Creek...
...Goes down this drain...
...and bubbles up on the other side.
Anna, Percy’s first wife, died in 1940 at the very young age of 42 years. Percy later remarried, and my father still refers at times to "Grandma Mattie" - Mattie Wade Lampkin.
Mattie survived him. Percy passed away in June of 1962, at 66 years of age. He is buried at Elm Lawn Cemetery in Princeton, Illinois, alongside both of his wives and his daughter.