Houses are the epicenter of a family’s history. “House History” is gaining momentum within the genealogical world as people want to dive into the history of the home they live in. Who built it? Who lived in it? What happened here? From historical importance to morbid curiosities, houses can tell very unique stories. If you have questions about your own house’s history, contact me today! With the research of your home’s deeds, land records, census records, town histories, family histories, and more, we can unlock the story of its past!
This is a photograph of the Reynolds Homestead which stood for almost 100 years in Sherman, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. According to my grandfather, the first house, a small, square, simple building was built on the newly acquired family farm in the early 1840s by George A. Reynolds. He had moved to Wayne County in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania from Benton, Luzerne County, with his wife, Julia, and their nine children. One source claims that George received a land grant of 1000 acres from the federal government, though I have found no proof of that claim.
When the Reynolds family arrived, the nearby village was known as New Baltimore and was part of Scott Township. The family was accompanied by their daughter, Marinda, and her husband, Alanson Raymond and they settled in homes on either side of a road leading from the center of New Baltimore north to the New York state line. It was a sparsely populated area and had only been worked for thirty years. The land consisted of wooded hills and flowing streams, pasture land and bumpy roads leading to nearby settlements. The family set to work building, fishing, trapping, clearing fields, and improving their land.
By 1850 the family had built two dwelling houses. George and Julia lived in one with their young children, while George’s son, Devillo settled in the other with his wife, Cyrene Freeman. Her father, a neighbor named Josiah Freeman, was known locally as “the strongest man on the Delaware” for his reputation as a skilled logger and raftsman. The chief export for the area was lumber. Lumber was cut in the hills and dragged out of the woods by teams of oxen or horses. By 1879 it was reported that about 100,000 feet of lumber passed daily through Sherman on its way to a reservoir in Hale Eddy in January and February, to await being rafted further down the Delaware River during the spring thaw, when the waters moved their fastest. Throughout the summer the loggers would work their farms, and Josiah had purchased a good sized plot of farmland from George Reynolds.
In 1860 there were at least three homes on the farm. They were occupied by George, Devillo, and George’s son, Newell. Devillo and Cyrene had four children, Julia, Josiah Freeman, Ella, and Elbert. As the Civil War inhabited the minds of all the citizens of the country, so did it of the Reynolds family. As the Battle of Gettysburg was raging, the residents of Scott Township were so fearful that the war would move farther north that Devillo led the construction of a small “fort” made of drystone. Though the enemy never came near, the battle inspired many to join up. Newell Reynolds, who was married to a writer and singer named Diantha Dimmock, enlisted and was sent South. Diantha accompanied him and they spent a year in Beaufort, South Carolina teaching African American refugees. They spent a similar summer in Virginia before adopting two children and moving out west.
Devillo enlisted in the War at age 42 and died after months of illness in Fort Ringgold, Virginia. Cyrene also passed away of an illness while Devillo was away, which left their four children orphans. Though Julia and Josiah were old enough to care for themselves, Ella and Elbert needed to be taken in by nearby family members. You can see more of this family’s story in my previous blog <here>.
The “big house” pictured above was built on from one of the homes that existed in 1860. It was finished about 1870, built of quality Pennsylvania timbers, and was the largest home in the area. George and his wife passed away shortly before the home was finished. The first occupants were Josiah Freeman Reynolds, son of Devillo and Cyrene, and his wife, Marie Vaupel Reynolds. Marie was a German immigrant who had come from Hanover at the age of 16 with her three sisters after their parents died of tuberculosis. The orphaned girls were sent to Pennsylvania to live with their half-uncle, Henry W. Brandt, who owned a tannery with his partners, Brunig and Bergmiller, in the center of Scott Township.
Marie gave birth to all four of their children in the home. William was born in 1872, followed by George in 1880, Devillo in 1882, and Marion, my great grandfather, in 1886. The family managed the 90 acres of farmland with pastures, hay fields, an orchard, and a dairy barn. Water was piped to the house and the barn from a nearby quarry with an eternal spring. Pastures and meadows were separated by the quintessential New England stone walls, and Josiah found stone work so appealing that he became a trained stone mason. The original stone bridge he and his father built into the driveway leading to the big house, visible in the picture above, still remains on the old property today, as do many of his stone bridges throughout the small town.
Josiah’s sons loved growing up on the farm, but they had no desire to stay in their hometown. Sherman never grew beyond a small farm town, in fact it’s almost impossible to find it on a map today. The tannery closed in 1881 because it couldn’t compete with the larger industrial areas in the east and even the dairy farms were struggling to survive. There were simply no job opportunities in the quaint town. William and Devillo moved out to Glendale, California, in the early 1900s. Their Aunt Julia had made the trip in the 1880s by covered wagon and owned a successful orchard.
Marion was the only Reynolds to stay near Sherman, settling to the north in Binghamton, New York. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a mason, finding a good amount of business in the urban area. When he had a family of his own he insisted on taking his children for long weekend stays at the farm to provide them with the experiences he had in his childhood. My grandfather, Freeman, remembers chasing after cows and driving them in for milking, running with his cousins through the fields and swimming in the creeks, and visiting the local cemetery on Memorial Day to learn about all the Reynolds ancestors buried there.
In 1920, Josiah and Marie, in their old age, decided to make the journey to their relatives in Glendale. Devillo paid for their travel and for Marion to accompany them. They left the homestead behind, traveling by train. Marion was given a Model-T for the cross-country journey back to Pennsylvania. The picture above is taken when he arrived.
The homestead was never left vacant. It passed through the hands of several distant Reynolds cousins and longtime friends. The old farm was visited by Josiah’s grandchildren and great grandchildren over many years. My grandfather heard that it was demolished, probably in the 1970s or 80s, but wasn’t sure when. I plan to visit Sherman this summer to dig into the town land records and find more information. My grandfather did remember hearing, however, that when they tried to demolish the house, it did not come down easily!