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A history mystery letter question turns into a fascinating story — part one

BeeLines

May 15, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

"Can you tell me, then, whether Davis St. was renamed Backman Ave. sometime between 1910 and 1915, or are the coincidences above just that, merely coincidences? I realize this is a very trivial matter, but it keeps bugging me! I have enclosed an SASE in case you care to respond, or please feel free to email me..."

The above quote concludes a fascinating letter from Rodney B. Fuller regarding not just some street address coincidences, but other "coincidental" names of people - historic and current - and addresses on Beckman/Backman Avenue. Of course, this historian would not only care to respond, but would love to dig into yet another "history mystery" that relates to Westfield, N.Y.

The letter begins, "My paternal grandparents, Louis Harrison Fuller & Ellen Smedley Fuller, lived at 29 Backman/Beckman for many years."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
A 1957 photo of the “Judge” Fuller House at 29 Beckman Ave., Westfield, N.Y.

"29 Beckman/Backman," I exclaimed. "That's my second cousin Ed and wife Dorothy Dibble's address."

The second sentence also caught my attention. "My sister and I spent a good deal of time last year trying to verify a piece of family lore that the house was a Sears home which my grandfather & his friends had built."

The main, middle paragraph then went on to describe Fuller's puzzling discoveries from the 1910, 1915 and 1920 U.S. and New York State Census records showing 29 Davis in 1910 and 29 Beckman in 1915 for his grandparents' address and the previous owner Charles T. Piehl's address. Fuller noted several other "coincidental" addresses - in 1910 Ross Dascomb lived at 24 Davis Street, but in 1920 at 24 Backman Avenue. In 1910 W.H. Jones lived at 16 Davis Street, but in 1920 at 16 Backman Avenue. And in 1910 Wlm. Sherman lived at 32 Davis Street, but in 1920 at 32 Backman Avenue.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net.

The next paragraph provided yet another surprise, and, for me, a coincidence, in that Fuller had just "stumbled upon Jay Stratton's piece, 'Latent Scandinavianity' in Barbara Hillman Jones' 'Our Scandinavian Heritage,' in which he states that Backman Avenue was named in honor of his great-grandfather because he built more than half of the houses on the street."

As many of you already know, Jay Stratton is my neighbor, and he actually used my home computer to type up several articles and pieces, some in Swedish, for publication in various magazines and for the above-mentioned book. My mother, Fran Anderson, and I have "devoured" the book and are presently writing book reviews about it for publication in the near future.

So, to answer Fuller's main question, yes, the street that we now call Beckman or Backman Avenue - depending on which street sign you read - was changed from Davis Street in 1914, with the street signs being authorized by the Village Board of Trustees to be changed at its May 21, 1915, meeting. One of the Backman family was a member of the board at that time. Also, the 1912 Sanborn Map shows a short, dead-end Davis Street extending about to where Second Street now junctions Beckman/Backman, while the 1923 Sanborn Map shows "Bachman Avenue" - probably a copy error with the "k" being drafted as an "h" - extending from Kent Street to Third Street.

Next, Dorothy Dibble was contacted and was excited to hear about the former owner. She recalled that when she and Ed purchased the house at 29 Beckman/Backman in 1965, older residents would exclaim, "Oh, you bought the old 'Judge' Fuller home." In further emails with Fuller, he was pleased to send copies of two photos - one of the house in winter in 1957 that shows the unique half-circular front porch, shown with this column, and one of his grandmother, Ellen Fuller, sitting at a desk near the stairway to the second floor, with an old "candlestick" style telephone on the desk.

Also, coincidentally, Stratton was home soon after the first letter arrived from Fuller, and I shared the letter with him. Stratton was delighted and offered to write to Fuller regarding his memories of playing at the house at 29 Beckman/Backman. Fuller scanned and shared the handwritten letter from Stratton with me to which he had also sent a reply.

When there was finally time to share the series of exciting snail mail and email exchanges with my mother, another "coincidence" shared by Fuller - that I am the only other person whom he knew with the same first name as his late mother - triggered an amazing outpouring of memories from mother.

To be continued.

 
 
 

 

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