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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lizzie Row's Last Chapter

Elizabeth Houston Row

     My great grandmother took seriously the education of her children. Tutors were hired at considerable expense. As youngsters her children would also be sent to neighborhood schools held at private homes and Lizzie herself taught a semester at Sunshine. Shown below is a "Monthly Roll of Honor," probably from the early 1890's, that lists the names of exemplary students, including Houston, Horace and Mabel Row.

"Monthly Roll of Honor"

     The early death of Houston Row was a crippling blow to the fortunes of the Rows. However, Mabel was intelligent and capable and attended college in Richmond in the late 1800s. I have yet to find mention of which school she went to, but Mabel was the first Row to graduate from college. She came home to Sunshine in 1900 and taught school in the Chancellor district. In the picture below of Mabel's classmates, she appears near the center of the group with a pink dot on her left shoulder.

Mabel Row, c.1900

Mabel Row's college class

     Horace Row, my grandfather, was an intelligent young man and a capable farmer with good business sense. He was an indifferent student and a mediocre speller. After Houston's death in 1899 Horace became the man of the house at age 17 and managed Sunshine farm for the next forty years.

Horace Row, early 1900s

     In November 1901 Lizzie, as well as her brothers and sister in Rockbridge, at long last received their inheritances from the estate of their father, who had died without a will in 1882. It had taken years of patience and one failed attempt to subdivide and sell the family farm, Mount Pleasant, to pay the creditors of George W. Houston's estate. In the end, Lizzie's brother Will and his wife Fannie assumed the debts of the estate in return for title to Mount Pleasant. At age 47 Lizzie received her legacy.

From the estate papers of George Houston

     Mabel married Samuel T. Wakeman in 1908 and moved to the house he had built on a large tract of land next to Sunshine. Horace, of course, continued to live with his mother. While he caught the attention of some of the girls in the neighborhood (as evidenced by some postcards mailed to him) my grandfather did not seem in any particular rush to get married.
     Lizzie had used her inheritance and other money on hand to build a barn and other outbuildings at Sunshine. In early 1909 three of those buildings were destroyed by fire. There was no insurance, and the Rows had to rely on their own resources (and the kindness of neighbors who helped) to rebuild.

Richmond Times 9 January 1909

     The following year my great grandmother hired E.H. Randall, surveyor for the city of Fredericksburg, to survey Sunshine as a first step in transferring title to the farm to Horace. In his cover letter sent with the plat dated December 31, 1910, Randall indicated that Sunshine consisted of 343 acres, 32 more than had been previously supposed. In 1911 Horace bought Mabel's share of Sunshine and became the sole owner.

1910 plat of Sunshine

1910 plat of Sunshine

     In March 1917 Lizzie, now fifty three years old, was not feeling well and went to see Dr. W.A. Harris, longtime physician to the Rows. Harris (the son in law of former Spotsylvania clerk of court JPH Crismond) wrote a letter to her dated March 17 and enclosed a prescription for Kreacol. Dr. Harris also kindly mentioned Horace and his wife Fannie, who had been married in Washington, D.C. just three days before.

Dr. W. A. Harris

Dr. Harris to Lizzie March 1917

Dr. Harris to Lizzie March 1917

     Horace and Fannie's first four children--Mary, Margaret, George and Nancy--were born between 1918 and 1923 (my mother was born after Lizzie's death). While Horace and Fannie worked on the farm or attended to business in town, Lizzie stayed home to sit with her grandchildren and later to help them with their school work. After enduring so much heartache and tragedy in her life, these last years would be a joy and a comfort to Lizzie Row.
     By the 1920s the Rows were once again prosperous and had money to invest. For several years they utilized the services of Fredericksburg attorney and real estate investor Granville R. Swift. Granville had previously served in the House of Delegates and was also for a time Commonwealth's attorney for Fredericksburg. He was married to the former Lillian Rawlings of Rockbridge, daughter of Benjamin Cason Rawlings.

Granville Swift to Lizzie Row 5 May 1923

     January 2, 1928 was a bitter cold day in Spotsylvania. Lizzie and her grandchildren huddled near the stove in the parlor at Sunshine while Horace and Fannie had left for the day to attend to business. One of the children had asked their grandmother for a drink and Lizzie went to the unheated kitchen to fetch a ladle of water. She did not come back. When Horace and Fannie returned the children told them that their grandmother had been asleep on the floor for a long time. Horace found his mother lifeless in the kitchen, felled by a sudden heart attack. The water spilled from the ladle had frozen on the floor.
     Lizzie was buried in the family graveyard at Greenfield. Her headstone was selected by Horace. She lies near the graves of her two sons who departed long before.

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