Showing posts with label John Irwin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Irwin. Show all posts

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sepia Saturday 201 The Irwin Houses

Today's theme is houses while I had many thoughts, I'm sharing a couple that  I have mentioned in the past, the magnificent mansions of the Irwin family, of Freeport and Clinton,  Pennsylvania.  Here is the only photo I have of the magnificent Glen Irwin, the country estate built by John R Irwin,  the wealthy grandfather of my late Uncle John R Irwin namesake of the grandfather and who married  my late aunt Virginia, Mom's sister.  More on Uncle John elsewhere on this blog.  
From a newspaper photo run in 1960 to celebrate 100 years
 history in the Valley
Here is the summary the Leader Times of Kittanning, Pennsylvania included with the above photo you can click on the photo below to enlarge and read about Glen Irwin.  

It is a life of grandeur, the likes of which would have been a wondrous tale, a lifestyle which I imagine but have only read  about in history and novels or seen in glorious movies.  That same article continued about the tragedy and the aura of the mansion and Mr. Irwin.  Stories vary but Uncle John told me that his grandfather dropped dead in the doorway as he entered the mansion the day before they were to move in, August 18, 1895. JR would never live in the fabulous Glen Irwin whose name he had carefully chosen. At one time he owned all the land that has long since become Clinton Township.   What the following article does not reveal are the tales about  the widow Irwin, Margaret Truby Burns, aka Maggie, who was Uncle John's grandmother. She was a former washer woman, previously widowed and of great size and girth who snagged the  widower John Irwin shocking the likes of all society.  He was  a wealthy  tycoon who increased his fortune hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes and building a railroad in the last decade or so of the 19th century.    

By 1942, Maggie's daughter from her first marriage, Susan Burns had fallen, broken a hip and died bequeathing the property to her niece, Mrs Margaret Matthews of Huntsville, Alabama who sold off the  estate completely to pay taxes.  Glen Irwin was put on the auction block. We are fortunate to have inherited several wonderful antique pieces from the Glen Irwin era and home and if these pieces could talk, they might protest this much less magnificent home where they abide today in Minnesota; on the other hand, I can only fantasize about the servants who kept the fancy curlicues on the furniture gleaming back then; today all that dusting falls to  me and I doubt I do as meticulous a job  as  the paid help did back in the day.  Glen Irwin was bought by a lumberman but demolished many  years later,  reportedly he razed  the grand old home and built a  much smaller single level home in place, then sold off the land  to other builders. 

The Irwin's had a town home too built in about 1888 which still survives in Freeport, Pennsylvania but has become the Redmond funeral home.  This 1912 photo is from the Valley Dispatch, 1969 Special edition. The Irwin's are reported to have purchased this for $8400 in 1907.  When he married Margaret aka Maggie, she insisted on returning from Painesville, Ohio to her old hometown of Freeport  to show off her catch of the millionaire JR and to impress  the townspeople.  It was said that Maggie weighed 400 pounds, huge for the times and certainly beyond portly today, but he doted on her and commissioned a  carriage  specially built  with a double door to accommodate her girth and so that she could enter and exit in a grand manner.  Reportedly  despite her size she was loved and admired. She had an especial fondness for carriages and owned several including the surrey of President William McKinley, after his assassination   Uncle John  said that he remembered the carriage with the magnificent gleaming black horses adorned with solid silver bridles and harnesses and how they glistened.  After JR's sudden death Maggie withdrew quietly from most activities and  developed a phobia and incessantly built one house and another until her death in 1927.  
The Irwin town home in Freeport
We took these photos in 2008 in a visit to Pennsylvania while my late aunt Virginia was still alive.  Now a funeral home, imagine the tales this wonderful house could tell.

My Uncle John's father, Edwin B was adopted by Maggie and JR.  Edwin married Jessie Ayers, whom I knew as the grand old Mrs Irwin, or Grand Dame.  From my visits with her, I learned to sit  very properly and drink tea from the finest porcelain cups and saucers, some of which reside in my hutch today.  Edwin and Jessie ran a chicken hatchery in Freeport and I really did not enjoy having to visit with her, but as Uncle John would say, "Mother insists we bring you to tea today, Patty." When she insisted there was no way to not comply.  She gave me a magnificent old English tea pot along with a sizable check when I graduated from high school; I still have that lovely teapot today.   This last  photo  taken in 2008 is the last home for the Grand Dame, in Buffalo Township, Freeport, Pennsylvania.  It has not the same sense of grandeur it had it in it's day, but they ran the hatchery successfully and enjoyed traveling.  She survived into widowhood. died in January 1963 when I was away at college and was the only Irwin I knew besides Uncle John.  I spent many uncomfortable afternoons there,  a young girl and teenager, taking tea with the Grand Mrs. Irwin; she  had a fondness for me but because I always had to mind my p's and q's in her presence I dreaded the visits. Mom always alerted me to "be at your best with Mrs Irwin."   My aunt always  warned me, "don't fidget around her and be still,"  She was a formal lady, everyone I knew addressed her as Mrs.  I remember the inside of the home as dreadfully dreary; I wish I had paid more attention and knew more. 

Click here to visit other houses and posts by the international  Sepian community

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sepia Saturday Week 70 Camel (Click here to the Sepia Sat site)

Irwin camel Amphora, ceramic circa 1900
I have a camel to share and though the photos are not Sepia, the camel itself is dating back to the early 1990’s when the John R Irwin’s, grandparents to my Uncle John Irwin, traveled extensively. Somewhere in London they had contacts and possibly a stopping by home from where they traveled all over Europe.

The camel is from the Amphora factory in Vienna Austria circa 1900, so identified for me by an appraiser and markings on the bottom. It is 20 inches tall and 15 inches wide measuring from the tip of the nose of the camel to the farthest part of the tail, mounted on a base that is 7 1/2 inches in depth.  The grandfather JR Irwin made his wealth building railroads and hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes. They acquired many unique items on their travels, some of which adorn our home today.

Our Irwin Camel, a museum quality piece is prominently displayed on our mantel, inherited from my Uncle John Irwin whom I’ve written about before on this blog and on Sepia.   John married Mom’s sister, my Aunt Virginia, Jinx, in about 1954 and life was never the same again in the family. Actually my aunt divorced him and remarried him later. I thought he was one of the funniest people I’d ever met, and I spent my childhood and adolescence laughing at him; most of his in-laws and other adults took issue with him because he was ever so fond of his whiskey shots and kept himself satisfactorily tuned. His imbibing put him at odds with everyone from my grandmother to his own mother, Jessie Ayers Irwin. I never knew him to be drunk, just enjoying life and living it his way. While I do not condone his habits, he was always someone I could talk to and despite his  human flaws I loved him dearly.

Irwin camel about 1955
This is the oldest photo I have of the camel and it is not very clear. Uncle John loved this camel which had long been in the Irwin family, but his mother determined in her utter disgust with John's fondness for alcohol that he would not inherit any of the family artifacts. Well, Life the Muse has been ever known to turn and tilt from best laid plans. John was quite unhappy about this because he had grown up coveting that camel.  He told his mother in strait terms that it was the one thing he really wanted, but Jessie would not budge. She vowed that if he would relinquish alcohol he could have his pick, but John was insulted and uninterested in the bargain.

Jessie died suddenly in 1963 while visiting her daughter, Margaret, John’s sister in Ohio. Margaret ended up with Alzheimer’s’ and this left Uncle John, surviving and thriving and still tipping the bottle regularly. Posey, Margaret’s daughter found Uncle John as funny as I did, I learned a couple years ago talking with her. We laughed that it was good we were not together as young girls in our fits of laughter at Uncle John’s antics while the rest of the family shuddered and tsked, tsked. Posey also was faced with the disposal or sale of many of her mother’s acquisitions to help subsidize care. She knew the family history, that her mother had acquired most of the Irwin estate.

About 1960 Margaret, Jessie, and Uncle John
Notice the camel behind them
Posey believed John should have some things so she contacted him and he and Virginia drove to Ohio to take their picks. The first thing John took was the Irwin camel, and as he told me later, he laughed all the way back home to Pennsylvania! I can still hear him chortling, “Hah, I’ve got it now! The Irwin Camel! Mother, you said I could not have it,  I showed you! And it will not be in the Irwin family again! “ I was awestruck by this camel the moment I saw it and listened raptly as John told about it and how he had fixed his will to ensure that when he died the Camel would not return to the Irwins. He laughed each time he said, “I only wish I could live to see the Irwin’s fussing or rolling in their graves when I kick the bucket and camel is not with an Irwin! Patty, that camel is to go to you!” I never thought too much about it until later years after Uncle John passed and I would see it in the house when I went to visit my aunt. I often wondered what I would do with it when it came to me as she reminded me it would.

In 2004 Aunt Jinx determined that I should take the camel home on one of our visits. She said that John was vehement that I have it and she wanted to ensure that happened lest he haunt her for the rest of eternity. So the camel came to the Morrison’s home in Minnesota where it is admired and its story is fondly told.  When Posey and I talked she asked me if I had the camel and when I said I did, she said she was glad that it had been John's wish it come to me.  I asked her if I could return it to her or her children but she assured me she had more than enough and I should keep it and enjoy it. 

The camel story is not yet done; there is another twist.  About a year ago, I received a mysterious email about Uncle John. I knew he had been previously married and had a son who was taken and raised by  the wife’s family when the wife/mother of the boy died quite young. John was drinking then and likely never stopped. I repeatedly asked my aunt if she had any contact with John’s son who had come to John’s funeral but few words were exchanged. She had no idea where he was nor if he was alive. In 2009, when my aunt died I tried to find John’s son again, no luck, there had been no contact for too long. But that mysterious email turned out to be from John’s grandson. We have met and he is a nice young man. I’ve been thrilled to give him many items from his grandfather that I had. There had been a vicious estrangement between his father and John; he never knew his grandfather. He holds no ill will but we have talked about imagine how it could have been.  The twists that life takes are so many.  So I have designated that the camel go to John’s grandson in our will, returning to the Irwin family. I think Uncle John would approve that it reside with an Irwin once again, I think he would have liked to have known his grandson.

As usual click on the title to this post to go to the Sepia Saturday site and enjoy others' contributions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Our Red Dragon

I drew a blank slate looking at the weight that was our Magpie prompt for this Tuesday, so instead I have gone out on my own. I have more than enough material around the house to write about and today I give you the Red Dragon Chair. It is 28 inches in height,, width and depth at its largest part, with only one barely visible point of assembly on the bottom it appears to be mostly one piece of carving.

I inherited this chair from my Uncle John R Irwin whose grandfather was a millionaire, made his fortune on railroad work and hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes in the late 1800’s in PA. Uncle John called this the Chinese Emperor’s chair so I assumed it was Chinese. I know it came from the Glen Irwin mansion in Clinton and although the exact date of purchase is unknown, I was told that they bought it on one of their many trips to England.

All the years this chair occupied the corner of my aunt and uncle's home I never remember anyone being brazen enough to sit in it, except Uncle John who would laugh at Virginia when she said, "John get out of that chair before you scratch it!"  This scolding would delight him into taunting, "too late I already did that when I was about 3 years old!" Uncle John is the only one I know who ever sat in it; and according to the story this was when he was a very little boy and his grandfather would proudly sit him in the Emperor's chair!  His royal red seat shows some two inches of wear of the lacquer across the front where Uncle John claims his feet would dangle and his shoes scuffed the chair seat. Otherwise this chair is in perfect condition. My aunt Virginia was a meticulous obsessive housekeeper who never tolerated  a speck of dust or a bit of dirt in her home. She not only dusted daily, once a week she used q-tips to give this chair the royal treatment it deserved, carefully going over each crevice. We have this chair in a corner in our formal living room where it is a conversation piece. So far no one has attempted to sit in it, but I discourage that by usually having something displayed on it. Over Christmas it provided backdrop to my hundreds of angels. I thought that was a good combo Angels and Dragons--- is that a game and where have we heard that? Oh is that dungeons and dragons, well perhaps I’m on to something here.

Uncle John came into our family by marrying my aunt when she was in her 30’s. They met at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass factory where they both worked in Creighton, PA. Aunt Jinx had a prospering career and expected to remain the old maid, living at home with her parents and providing for them in their old age. But then along came John who was a handsome cad, resembling Clark Gable and who always wore a shirt , tie and hat to go to town even if it was our town! Here is his WWII Army photo. They married to the consternation of my grandparents and for a short time all lived together in the house in Arnold that Virginia and her parents bought together. All was not well because John had a habit that the family could not accept, a love of alcohol. He just enjoyed his shots of whiskey and always had a bottle nearby. He was not a nasty or falling down drunk, nor one who could not function, but as I recall the more he drank the funnier he became! I thought Uncle John the funniest person I knew, always laughing, at least that’s the way I saw him and remember laughing so hard around him and his stories that I would get sick in the stomach. This annoyed my grandmother who disliked John’s “foolishness.” Well his own mother, the grand Mrs. Irwin, felt the same about her son and detested his drinking.

I have to suspect that his entertainment value might have been an attraction to my aunt Virginia because where there was John there was laughter, though later on she complained about his “carrying on” and would tell him to “shut up!” Aunt Virginia seldom spoke harshly so this was quite an utterance. My granpap had no use for John and called him “Chicken Head” among other names. John found this hysterically funny which aggravated my granpap more. I remember granpap swinging his cane at John which would bring more bursts of laughter. Looking back now I am surprised this did not agitate Pap to another stroke! At Granpap's funeral Uncle John had gone down the streeet to a tavern to "replenish", before they closed the casket, Uncle John spoke to  Granpap, "Pap, now there is no one around to call me chicken head no more!  But I will keep that name to honor your!"  He did too; every so often he would tell someone or his wife, "Don't you go messing with this old Chicken Head now!"  The conglomerate house was sold and they went their separate ways; my grandparents rented a small duplex up the hill and John and Virginia moved to Freeport where John became landscaper and groundskeeper in charge over the Irwin acres and had a free small house across the road from Mrs. Irwin’s home. On another Sepia Saturday I’ll relate more of my Aunt and Uncle’s history. They never had children and she was my favorite aunt, who died last year. Here they are in 1974, but I will have more of the family stories another time!

Uncle John told me when I was young  and would stand and admire the chair where he would allow me to place my dolls, “someday Patty when I am gone, I want you to have this red chair and the camel.” (The camel is another marvelous piece which is on our mantel.) He had determined this because I so admired the chair and he said, “Red is good luck!  It has been in the Irwin family since forever, I’d like to see all their faces when it is no longer part of the Irwin’s!” This was usually followed by his tale of “I’ll outlive them all!” And the truth was he did! John wasn’t treated kindly by the last surviving Irwin, his mother, Jessie who lived in the big house across the road. She often told John that she would leave him nothing in her will unless he would give up his drinking; she was a tea totaled and could not understand how my Aunt Virginia could put up with him!

I thought this red chair was one of the most magnificent things I had ever seen. I still feel that way about it as does Jerry. By the way red is considered good fengshui to have in the home! I prepared to become its owner by researching carefully for years, looking in every museum I visited. I never found anything like it. Arrival of the internet was not much more help but I carefully looked at websites and any auction with antique Chinese furniture.

Uncle John died in 1994 but I never asked my aunt for the chair. I would not have dreamt of doing so. She often reminded me that she was keeping it for me and it was to be with me ultimately. In 2004, we started our moved to our retirement home here in MN. That year we went to PA to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt Virginia and she had determined that we should take the red chair and camel and some other antiques home with us to MN. Besides she said she was tired dusting them. That same year an article appeared in the Sunday Parade magazine about the Johnny Cash estate and there was something very similar to our red chair, only in black. It was one of the estate items that were to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s and referred to as an ebonized, Chinese chair. Our red chair has dragons on the ends of the arms and the ebonized Cash chair had Fu Dogs. This is ironic in that Uncle John loved Johnny Cash because he had triumphed over addictions!  Uncle John enjoyed his music as we did, Jerry more than me because I'm not a real country western fan.  I smiled when I saw this article and thought about how Uncle John would have enjoyed this and added it to his repetoire. Maybe he had a hand in this from the beyond.

I continued my research by sending photos and letters off to Kovels and to the Antiques Roadshow. The only response from Kovels was an offer to buy some of their books! I did not renew my subscription to their magazine. Finally in 2005 I hit pay dirt! A Canadian appraiser from the Antiques Road Show online, accepted many photos and advised me that the chair and its history were almost correct. However he was certain that “…it is in fact Japanese, not Chinese and dates from the late 1800’s. This type of exotic furniture was very popular in the UK and the USA at that time and it was made specifically for those markets.” The appraised value was higher than we expected. So it occupies its corner here, evoking admiration of all. A local friend who is an antiques buff admits to never having seen the likes of the Red Dragon Chair. I continue to look in museums, in my antique magazines, and on line and have not yet found anything else like it. My cousin who helped Jerry load this in to the trailer for our transport to MN said he expects to see us on Antiques Road show! A magnificent chair. I have assembled a huge red scrapbook, about the wealthy Irwins, Uncle John, the mansions. We keep the book beside the chair so visitors can learn about the Irwins, the chair, and other antiques we have in our home.