Essex Motto: Never Forget Where You Came From!

By Jackie Nickel (5/2/2007)

What a weekend! My house did not get cleaned, my grass did not get cut, my refrigerator is nearly empty, and laundry is piled high in the hamper. But I met dozens of wonderful Essex folks and sold lots of my new Essex history book. But this is not about me or the books, it’s about the people I’ve met while promoting the history.

First one comes to mind was the most awesome encounter of all so far. I was sitting at the doorway of Borders during a signing, thinking that mall shoppers are not much into book buying, especially Essex history, when a lady stopped and picked up the book and before she even opened it, she told me her great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper at Pooles Island. Ohmagosh, I was stunned. As I turned to two pics of Pooles Island (courtesy Dan Hubers), I admitted that while they probably didn’t belong in an Essex book, I just couldn’t resist. After all, I live on the Essex waterfront and look across the water each day at the island discovered by Capt. John Smith that later became a federal munitions target and now is strictly off limits for civilians. I’ll write more in a future article about Pooles, but as if that weren’t enough, she then told me her grandfather was the Postmaster of the old Middle River P.O. near the railroad station that stood across the tracks from Harrison Ave. in “old” Middle River. So we’ve been exchanging E-mails ever since, I sent her copies of my previous book and soon will meet her mom. Wow.

Soon thereafter, another lady stopped by to look at books and mentioned she was a descendant of the Walters family who owned the first general store at what later became known as Josenhans Corner. I feel like I’m meeting celebrities when folks with such long ancestral roots introduce themselves. My family came to the waterfront in 1916 as summer dwellers but that doesn’t hold a candle to these pioneers who actually settled the land. I also met one of the Schluderbergs that day and pointed to the old photo of the Somogyi farm on Back River Neck where the Schluderberg Kurdle (Esskay) meat company fattened up pigs and cattle in the early 1900s. He told me the animals were shipped up to Conkling St. where the slaughterhouse was located. I also mentioned to him that our families are neighbors at Oak Lawn cemetery. Doesn’t everyone know who their neighbors are at the cemetery? We have beautiful monuments at Oak Lawn and I’ve strolled among them for years, noting names, dates and unique designs.

This past weekend in Essex well over 75 people stopped by, eager to talk Essex history, tour the Heritage Society Museum, check out old photos and, of course, buy books. Several folks recognized their ancestors in old pictures in the museum’s collection, which was quite a thrill for the younger generation. Three folks to date have found deceased relatives who were members of the Vigilant Volunteers pictured on the cover of my book. Three different families commented on the memoir of Slava Matejka we recently published and related that they were her neighbors on Old Eastern Ave. and so enjoyed her story. Another lady traced her roots to the Hughes and Carback families, pioneers of Back River Neck. I’ll be gathering more information from them in the future.

Then at last, I got to meet my E-mail friend and Civil War buff Howard Smith. He and I have been going back and forth for months on his efforts to document a Civil War encampment at the railroad bridge over Back River. I haven’t been able to contribute much other than acting as a cheerleader but Howard has come up with loads of info, even reading the daily reports of various groups stationed there, noting the capture of a schooner transporting troops and goods to the Confederacy! We’ve all heard the stories of big boats traveling up river in what now is muck and mud – hard to believe, but true. Remember when remnants of a wooden ship were discovered during the construction of Route 702 in 1978? I sure would like to find the newspaper article describing that incident. Folks from Upperlanding and adjacent streets in Essex recall boats cruising right into their neighborhoods to sell fruit and produce from Baltimore. What great stories!

A few “Mystery Photos” drew lots of attention. One is of a milkshake and ice cream shop, a detached building with a large parking area with cars ca. early 50s. Bill and Bill from Catherine’s Florist dropped by and ID’d that one as the old location of the flower shop which later became a pest control office. The awning pictured was still on the building when it became a florist shop. And as if that weren’t enough detail, another visitor identified herself as a former carhop at the dairy bar and said the owner was a Georgie Sauers, whose family also owned a grocery store near S. Marlyn.

Another picture was of Willy’s Appliance housed in a familiar looking concrete block building, which we learned was on Riverside Drive not far from the Moose hall. We have lots of pics of the Moose too, and wonderful “new” old photos of the Hiway movie, inside and out, provided by Shirley and Herb Weimer, owners of the now-closed Squirrels Nest Antiques. A big thank you to them for sharing about 20 previously “lost” photos of businesses in Essex.

Another expression of gratitude goes out to Vigilant Federal Savings Bank, our first real corporate supporter, for purchasing a quantity of books for distribution to board members and employees. Thank you!

And of course sincere appreciation to the Heritage Society for opening their doors to me. I hope we brought in enough new visitors to spur on new support and volunteers for their efforts and a portion of my book sale proceeds from Sunday is being donated to them. Next Saturday, May 5, I’ll be at CnS Trading Co., Country Ridge, from noon-1 p.m. Stop by and chat – I’m writing it all down for the next edition!

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