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Martin Sisters: Sack of Photos Leads to Family Tale

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Amy & Jessie Martin

Sisters Amy and Jessie Martin enjoying a class picnic at Lily Pond on Sept. 3, 1934. Photo Credit: WHC 2012.011.0002

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published February 21, 2016. It is reproduced here with footnotes for reference purposes. Our story begins with a sack of pictures rescued from the trash bin. Saved by the school janitor who promptly took them home and gave them away to a friend of his wife just because she liked old stuff. The sack held over 80 Victorian era photographs including an example of a rather macabre Victorian tradition, the post-mortem photograph. The friend gave the sack of pictures to her daughter Mary O’Mara, with the idea that they could be used as ephemera in Victorian inspired craft projects. There they sat unused in Mary’s closet for 10 years until one day Mary pulled them out for a more careful examination and found that the majority of the photographs had inscriptions on the back, including names and dates. On the advice of a friend, Mary donated them to the Willamette Heritage Center where volunteers took up the research challenge. As the work progressed, the story of the Martin family gradually emerged. A family strengthened by adversity that came west to the Willamette Valley in search of a new start. Their story began on the shores of Lake Michigan in the town of Muskegon. It was here that William Martin Jr. married Rosa Cleantha Blood. William was a prosperous business owner with investments in a flour mill, grocery store, and logging. Rosa Blood was William’s second wife and they were married January 5, 1870.
[1] Over the next fourteen-year period, Rosa would bear 6 children: Jessie, Rosa, William, Charles, Amy, and Francis.[2] In 1881 William commissioned a Great Lakes schooner to be built and named it for his oldest child, daughter Jessie.[3] On November 23, 1882 the schooner ran aground on a beach near Grand Haven, Michigan. All crew members were safely removed and initial reports were that the ship was not seriously damaged.[4]
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Jesse Martin (Schooner) courtesy of Maritime History of the Great Lakes, image 61933

However, disaster struck on November 30th, the day that William Martin engaged a tugboat crew to pull the ship off the beach. According to a local paper, “the wretched vessel, pushed by the gale upon her port side and pulled by the towline upon the other, instead of coming around under the strain, was simply dragged down and rolled over like a log to starboard.”[5] As she rolled on her side she began to break apart, sending the men aboard scrambling for their lives. A heroic rescue followed, saving all but one of the men. The William Martin family fortune never recovered from this catastrophic loss. Adversity continued to plague the family with the loss of two sons, four-year-old William[6] and infant Charles[7], followed by the Depression of 1882-1885. Father William, then 56 years old, came West for a fresh start. He settled in Dayton, Oregon where he rented a small house and eventually purchased a 15 acre plot of land on the Yamhill River.[8] The family soon joined him. Daughter Amy later wrote that the land was located on the “back of another farm, but my father purchased the right of way out by way of a gulley. The struggle to make a living those days of not much market was hard and we never had money for building that road out so we followed a path along the riverbank, along the edge of another farm to get out.“[9]
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Studio portrait of Jessie Martin. Photo Credit: WHC 2012.011.0030

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Studio portrait of Amy Martin. Photo Credit: WHC 2012.011.0083

Discouraged with life in poverty on the Yamhill River farm, Rosa and the children moved to Portland for a brief time in 1894, hoping to earn money taking in boarders.[10] While in Portland all three of Rosa’s daughters earned their teaching certificates and went to work. This helped the family finances, but they still lost the 15 acre farm. In 1902 Rosa and the children moved to Salem, Oregon. William remained in Yamhill County until his death in 1904.[11] He is buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Dayton.[12] By 1908 family dynamics had changed considerably. Two of Rosa’s children, Francis and daughter Rosa, married and moved away. Jessie’s teaching career took her to Wallowa and Malheur counties, Scapoose, Washington and finally back to Salem. By the 1910 Federal Census, mother Rosa had retired and is supported by her daughters Jessie and Amy. She passed away June 26, 1920 and was buried in City View Cemetery.[13] That same year Jessie joined Amy on the teaching staff at the old Park School in Salem. Neither sister ever married.
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Park School teachers (left to right) are Grace Allen, Amy Martin, Mrs. Mills, Genevieve Anderson, Jessie Martin, Grace Hendrickson, Mrs. McEwan, Miss Sheridan. Photo Credit: WHC 2012.011.0006

In a Capital Journal article from 1954 we read, “The Misses Jessie Martin, 80 and Amy Martin, 72 taught for some 80 years. Today they live in a four room tidy house on Lee Street, but they must move soon, because the teaching pension Miss Amy receives, $84.48, is not enough to cover living expenses for both.” The sisters hoped that by selling their home they would have enough money to enter the local Methodist retirement home. “Wistfully Miss Amy spoke: ‘I always hoped we could have a place of our own to spend the rest of our lives, but I imagine it will be better this way. I won’t break as many bones and Jessie won’t have to work so hard.”[14] The sisters did raise enough money to retire to the Methodist Home where Jessie died in 1959.[15] Amy lived on for another 23 years, dying at the age of 101.[16] Both sisters are buried alongside their mother in City View Cemetery.[17] A sad ending. Not perhaps, what their father had hoped and dreamed when he christened a schooner for his daughter. And a story that might have remained untold except for the rescue of a sack full of pictures. [1] Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952, Ancestry.com [2] 1880, 1900 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com [3] “The Two Jessie Martins” http://genealogygals.com/blog [4] “Jesse Martin (Schooner) U76212 aground 24 Nov 1882”, Maritime History of the Great Lakes http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/61933/data [5] “Bad Day at Grand Haven: Wreck of the Jesse Martin.” Inland Seas 48, no. 1 (1992): 36-40. [6] Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1950, Ancestry.com [7] “About a Marriage – Part 1” http://genealogygals.com/blog [8] “About a Marriage – Part 1” http://genealogygals.com/blog [9] “About a Marriage – Part 2” http://genealogygals.com/blog [10] “About a Marriage – Part 2” http://genealogygals.com/blog [11] Oregon, Death Index, 1898-2008, Ancestry.com [12] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, Ancestry.com [13] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, Ancestry.com [14] Daily Capital Journal (Salem, OR) 13 Feb 1954, Sat Page 8 [15] Oregon, Death Index, 1898-2008, Ancestry.com [16] Oregon, Death Index, 1898-2008, Ancestry.com [17] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, Ancestry.com  

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