Sunday, August 31, 2014

The train to Mt. Savage...steam, cinders, belching black smoke and all.

Today we rode the steam engine train from Cumberland to Frostburg, via Mt. Savage. It was a similar engine and the exact rails that George and his family probably rode many times to Cumberland, 16 miles away.

The trip took 1 hour to go from Cumberland to Frostburg. Mt. Savage was a little more than halfway between the two. The view from the mountainside of the town was awesome! As we boarded the train we went through a car that had open windows - the mail car. The mail car was where the railway postal clerks grabbed the bags of mail from each station and sorted it into new bags before the next one to send the mail on its way. It was also the car that was the target of train robbers, since the safe with the gold and payroll money was transported in this car. The postal clerks were issued 38 revolvers as part of their uniforms to protect the United States Mail.

Looking through the open sides of the car, we could inhale the black, belching, sulpher-smelling, acrid smoke all along the ride. The cinders from the stack floated through the air and landed on our heads and faces. The leaves fell profusely from the trees  as we steamed through the wooded mountainside. Riding along the tracks, we rocked back and forth in a comforting way. When I closed my eyes I could imagine my grandfather riding this same way, to Cumberland to visit his girl, Christina Miller, to ride as a soldier into battle...incredible!

When we disembarked from the train in Frostburg, Jeff and I visited the Thrasher Carriage Museum that was across from the depot. It was rather eerie, since the first thing we saw upon entering was an open hearse wagon with a simple pine casket in front of it. This wagon was typical of the type of hearse they had in 1850's. George's father, John Ordner, died in 1858. I have a copy of the receipt for his funeral and this wagon was probably similar to what his father was carried in his coffin to the cemetery in Mt. Savage. (My photo didn't turn out of the hearse and pine coffin, or I would have posted it! Hopefully the one on Jeff's camera turned out.)

After we rode the train back to Cumberland, we decided to hike up to the east of the city to try and find the other two houses that George and my g-g-grandmother, Dena, lived in while in Cumberland. The first one was at 3 Davidson Street. We hiked across Baltimore street (the main historic business district) and up about 4 blocks to Davidson. The hill to the house was STEEP! It was really hard to walk up the sidewalk, almost vertical. The view was unbelievable though! Two guys were working on their house across the street. We told them what we were looking for and they said that the vacant lot across from them was probably the house. It was much older than his 1925 built house. Wouldn't you believe it though, they had just torn the house down a month ago! Missed it by a few weeks! They told us the old woman who lived there had died, it took a week to find out that she had died and she had 22 cats in the house. How the city condemned the house and tore it down last month.

View from where the house at 3 Davidson was
 before being torn down in July 2014.

I believe that George and Dena moved from their house on N. Mechanic street that was close to their son, Charlie, after he left Cumberland to move to Minnesota. The neighborhood was probably better up on the hill. (The view sure was!) George, who was working at the railroad depot, was still just 6 blocks from his work. They moved in 1901 to a new address, 81 1/2 Decatur Street, just one block down and a two blocks to the left from their house on Davidson. After walking the street to the houses, I believe they moved because the hike up the hill was hard for George every day. After all, he was 60 years old by this time and it was hard for us!

Their house on Decatur is the house that George died in on June 14, 1904. My cousin, Dick Ordner, has a receipt for their rent in April of 1904 which was paid May 2, in the amount of $13.00. A hundred years ago, rent for a really nice house was WAAAAY cheaper than today!

This house was likely George and Dena's last residence in 1904.
George died in this house.
Once again, it was an incredible day. To think we are finding the paths that they walked everyday, the places where they lived, and the views that they experienced 100 years ago is so amazing!!!

Tomorrow, we are headed to Mt. Savage, the town where George Washington Ordner was born on February 22, 1843. We are meeting, Dennis Lashley, the president of the Mt. Savage Historical Society after the town's Labor Day parade. Dennis emailed me yesterday saying, "Look forward to meeting you. I think we have lots in common. Will explain when I see you." 

Intriguing...what will we discover tomorrow in Mt. Savage?
Until tomorrow....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cumberland, Maryland - George lived here from 1890's until his death in 1904...found some cool things today!

Cumberland, MD

Today we started out the morning walking down the C & O Canal path to the Allegheny County Museum. It was very interesting to learn all about the transportation in this area - the canal boats, the National Road and the B & O Railroad.

George W. Ordner was listed as a "clerk" for the B&O Railroad in the Cumberland City directory in 1899, 1901 and 1902. I am not sure precisely what type of Clerk and what role he held. I have a few ideas, but I have to check them out at the National Archives in Washington DC. So later I will tell you what I find out!

We did manage to find a few of the original buildings where George lived with his wife, Christina (Dena) Miller in Cumberland. The first house where they lived was 242 1/2 N. Mechanic Street. While their actual building is no longer there, the house next door and several across the street still exist.

House next door to where George and his wife, Dena lived in 1896 - 1901.
They lived in a similar house on the upper floor.
The arched door on the left are the stairs to the upper rooms.

Their house was one block south from St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Their son, Charles W. Ordner, was married in this church on June 13, 1901 to a Miss Charlotte Banks, daughter of George Banks, head miller at the R.D. Johnson Milling company of Cumberland.

We also found Charlie's house where he lived in 1897 at 142 1/2 N. Mechanic St. just one block from where his parents were. The coolest thing we discovered today is that within 6 blocks were their houses, their church, the Potomac River, the B & O Train station, and the girl he was courting! Easy to walk it all, which we did, traveling the same sidewalks and seeing several of the same buildings they would have seen every day. It was like going back 100 years.

Charlie Ordner's house 142 1/2 N. Mechanic St, Cumberland MD.
Charlie lived in the upper rooms, and would have gone through the arched doorway, up the stairs to his rooms.

On our walk, we also took an historic stroll down Washington Street - the fashionable and wealthy block in town. (Which was 4 blocks south from Mechanic St.) Here we discovered the original site of Ft. Cumberland which was a main fort in the French and Indian war and where George Washington, our nations first president, (Remember, whom my grandfather was named after?) camped in 1755 as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock.

Then a few houses down Washington St, we discovered that one of the houses at 108 Washington (now the Board of Education building) was built in the 1860's by the Walsh family. So what? Well, George's first cousin, Marian Shane married the Honarable William Walsh who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in late 1870. The house was also the birthplace of the world-renown Bishop James E Walsh, who was held prisoner in Red China for 10 years. Knowing this and seeing the building, that perhaps George and his family celebrated holidays in, made me want to see the inside. avail, it was closed.

The Honorable William Walsh's house, built in 1860's.
108 Washington St, Cumberland, MD.

Further down the street (about 5 or so houses) one of the houses was a historically renovated house, the Gordon-Roberts house, which was built in 1867. This one was open so we decided to head in for a tour. Here we met the wonderful tour guide, Lindsay Lindsay (seriously that is her name! She married a man who had her first name as his last name! See Lindsay, I told you I would write about you...)

Lindsay took us all through the house and explained what life would have been like when the house was built and during Victorian times (late 1800s) when my Great-grandfather Charlie was courting my future great-grandmother Charlotte. (My mother is named after her.) In the parlor, Lindsay explained, was a courting sofa. Each of the couple would sit on the ends of the sofa and the parents would sit in between while the young man came to court their daughter. They could not sit together until they were engaged...In the parlor was also a table of checkers and a card game, Flinch, which was from 1901. I have one of these card games. In the love letters that Charlie wrote to Charlotte, he often mentioned playing cards. Perhaps they played this game!

Parlor room in the Gordon-Roberts house.
Today was a day filled literally walking the streets and seeing the same views that George and his son Charlie would have seen. Unbelievable!

After resting our tired feet, we decided to visit the small local winery in the canal shops about 100 yards from our hotel room. Charis Winery, whose owner is Chuck Parks, is a wonderful place right on the canal and right next to the Railroad depot. We tasted several of the red wines (exceptional! We really liked the Iron Horse and the Mountain Thunder wines...enough to buy several bottles!) So we sipped and visited and shared with Chuck what we were doing here in Cumberland, regaling him with several stories of my family. When we told him about what we saw today and that the Walsh house was built by a relative of ours...he laughed. Apparently he is an IT worker for the Board of Education and works every weekday in the building I wanted to see inside! So this week we are going to visit him at work and get a tour of the inside of the house!

Busy day - awesome experiences and great people! Tomorrow we are riding a steam engine train on the very tracks my grandfather's would have ridden from Cumberland to Mt. Savage...more adventures await! Until tomorrow...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Wheeling, West Virginia - 18 year old boy joins the Grafton Guards to fight for the Union in 1861

Today we headed to Wheeling, West Virgina to visit the Independence Hall Museum.

Why here?

Well, on May 25, 1861 18-year-old George Washington Ordner, was officially mustered in to the 2nd Virginia Infantry in Wheeling by Major Oakes. He was part of Company B that was lead by Captains George R. Latham, Daniel Wilson, and Amos Hammer. I believe he joined with his first cousin, John W. Moore who was 22 years old and possibly a friend from Mt. Savage, James Callahan, who was also 22 years old.

If GWO was living in Mt. Savage at the time, how did he join up with Company B - known as the "Grafton Guards" which were organized as a company in Grafton, Virginia? And why did they go to Wheeling to muster in?

Upon entering the museum today, Jeff and I met Travis Henline, the Site Manager for the museum. He was exceedingly knowledgeable and very helpful in sharing what was happening in Wheeling in 1861.
When learning of our purpose for visiting the museum (finding more about my grandfather's civil war journey) he took us to see the photograph of Major General, Benjamin Franklin Kelley, who was the General who lead the Union Victory at Phillippi, VA. This battle was the first land battle of the war and my grandfather participated in it. General Kelley was severely wounded during this battle. (We are planning to visit the Phillippi battle field and I will write more about it later.)

Travis also explained to us that Wheeling was a key place for the armies to train. Wheeling Island, in the middle of the Ohio River that flows right through the city, had a training area on the north end named Camp Carlisle in honor of the US Senator, John Carlisle, who was instrumental in creating West Virginia as a new state. So now it made sense that my grandfather went to Wheeling to learn how to be a soldier.

But how did he end up in Grafton? 
After looking at the exhibits in the museum and talking more with Travis, we discovered that the B&O Railroad had a direct line from Cumberland, MD (only a few miles from Mt. Savage) into Grafton. So George likely rode the train from Cumberland to Grafton where he joined in with the Company that was organizing there. From Grafton it is only a short train ride, once again on the B&O Railroad (yes, the same one in the Monopoly game!) to Wheeling. The B&O Railroad Depot is actually directly across the street from Independence Hall. 

There is also a notable suspension bridge in Wheeling (just 6 blocks north of the Depot and the Hall) that according to the guidebook, was built in 1848 is 1,010 feet long and is one of the world's longest of its kind. 
This bridge crosses to the island where Camp Carlisle was. Can you imagine? George, a young man who has only experienced ferries to cross rivers, walking over this enormous bridge a hundred feet or more over the river to get to the soldier training camp?


We learned that in 1861 when the first army was called to the front of the war in Phillippi where the confederates were camped. The soldiers, GWO was one of them, were marched from Camp Carlisle across this bridge, parading down Main Street to the cheering of the towns 14,000 citizens, 6 blocks to the B&O Railroad station to board the trains to Grafton. The Civil War was the first time the railroad was used to move troops quickly to where they were needed in battle. 

We were also thrilled to discover that the museum had the largest collection of West Virginia regimental flags. And guess what? In January of 1864, George's regiment the 2nd Virginia was provided horses and became the 5th West Virginia Calvary. In the museums collection they had the flag, or "guidon" that George's regiment carried into battle. The ACTUAL flag that my grandfather likely rode behind and saw clearly in battle. How cool is that? Here is the photo of the flag. Gave me chills....

So, today spent in Wheeling, WV was a gold-mine! I did not know that Wheeling housed the closest military training grounds and it makes perfect sense that my grandfather would have ended up in Wheeling to learn how to be a soldier!

We are now in Cumberland, MD. This is the place where he lived the last 10 years of his life. We are staying near the waterfront and close to the train station. In the next few days we plan to visit several museums and historical society libraries, find his grave, and ride a steam-engine train (which GWO rode on) from Cumberland, through Mt. Savage to Frostburg and back.

Stay tuned for more adventures and discoveries!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

start of the journey...

We left Minneapolis at 5:30 am at dawn and drove 15 hours and arrived at Zainesville, Ohio at dusk. We drove 82 miles, stopped at 3 truck stops along the way, and 7 toll booths f or a total of $13.10 of toll. Coming home we already decided to skip the toll booths and find a different route :O)

We are beginning the adventure to find and follow my great-great-grandfathers life. Tomorrow, we head to Wheeling, WV. There, on May 25, 1861 he mustered in to the Union army with the "Grafton Guards" of the 2nd Virgina Infantry. We are also heading to Morgantown, WV where an ancestor of mine left papers on the geneology of the Ordner (my maternal grandfather's side) family from the Revolutionary War.  Check back tomorrow to see what I discover...

Right now my husband Jeff and I are having wine and cheese and toasting to our adventure!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In the beginning...

Lithograph of Mt. Savage, Maryland in 1848 courtesy of the Mt. Savage Historical Society

On the birthday of the United State's first President, February 22, 1843, George Washington Ordner was born in Mt. Savage, Maryland. He was the first born son of John Charles Ordner and Isabella Cecilia Ways. 

John and Isabella grew up in Frederick, Maryland and were married on Thursday, April 15, 1841. New iron producing blast furnaces opened in 1838 west of Cumberland in the small mountain town of Mt. Savage - the Mt. Savage Iron Works were looking for workers and expanding the town.

The Ordner's decided the opportunity was right to open a dry goods store "on the National Road a few miles past the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad (CPRR) depot" in Mt. Savage.

Mt.  Savage Historical Society - CPRR

Jeff and I are traveling to Maryland for two weeks on August 28, 2014. We plan on being in Mt. Savage on Labor day and connecting with the president of the Mt. Savage Historical Society, Mr. Dennis Lashley. Mr. Lashley offered to provide a tour and any assistance researching my Grandfather while we are visiting. Can't wait!

A few things I want to discover while visiting Mt. Savage:
  • Where was their store located? Is there any documentation on the store?
  • George worked in the Iron Works as a Steel Smelter - what was it like? What did he do?
  • What school did he attend?  He could read and write well. What was a day in school like?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Starting My Grandfather's Journey

Recently I discovered that my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Ordner, kept a diary of his last year as a Union soldier in the 5th West Virginia Calvary during the Civil War from October 1863 - June 1864. This spurred me on to learn more about my maternal grandfather. I wondered...

  • Where did he live? 
  • Who were his parents and siblings?
  • What was his family like?
  • Why did he join the war?
  • Who did he join with?
  • What did he experience in the war? Which battles was he in?
  • What did he do after the war?
  • Why did he marry my great-great-grandmother, Christina Miller?
  • and so much more....

In a few weeks I will visit the places where he lived, where he fought, where he worked, where he loved and where he died.

Follow my journey...