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Another history mystery

July 10, 2014
By Jay T. Stratton , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Folks have been greatly missing Marybelle Beigh's local history columns in this paper so I have taken it upon myself to write another. It's inspired by this photo. I only know half of the answers to this "history mystery" and call upon descendants of the other men in this picture to share their stories as well. The Westfield Republican needs more expressions of our local culture.

The position of Westfield historian is empty at the present time. Marybelle has moved off to Colorado to be near her son. I was flattered when a couple of local people asked me to take on the responsibility of being historian but I had to decline. I may have some historical interests (American Indian history, Swedish Americana, Chautauqua Gorge, old-fashioned fruit, old family stories. . .) but I am not a historian. Westfield needs someone more qualified than I for this important position.

I am entitling our history mystery photo "Hartfield Summer Vacation 1918." The place is John W. Backman's cottage on the east side of Hartfield Inlet. Supposedly this was the first cottage built there, the one furthest out by the water. Can anybody recognize it?

The four young friends are aged 20 plus or minus a few years. They are from left to right Harold Hall, Willard McClelland, Arden E. Beckman and Arthur Thompson. They are all Westfield boys. They seem too fancily dressed to be going fishing, which is what they usually did in Hartfield. Perhaps they are stepping out and taking the trolley to Midway?

I can't tell you about Harold and Arthur but I do know something about Willard and Arden.

Willard McClelland was born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. His mother whom he never knew was Bertha L. Hunt of Dewittville. His father was Wells B. McClelland of New Castle, PA. Wells became an infamous lawyer and judge in Colorado Territory. After his wife's death he deemed the "wild West" no place to raise young children. Willard and his older sister Mary Julia were sent to Westfield around 1905 or so to live with their aging grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Frances Marion Hunt of 11 Spring St. F.M. Hunt had been the county poormaster for many years in the late 1800s, then retired to Westfield. Willard attended private boarding school and returned to Westfield for holidays and summer vacations.

There are no more McClellands in town. Willard ended up in Medina, Ohio where he owned a high-end clothing store. His descendants are today spread across New England. We are hoping that Willard's daughter Nancy McClelland Wilson will give us a visit here in Westfield this summer.

Arden Beckman grew up on Wells St. and married Willard's sister Mary Julia a couple years after this photo was taken. There are still today a dozen Westfielders who are "McClellands" though their last names are Stratton, Beckman, Cook and Ellis. (There are another dozen within 50 miles.) One local person is stuck with McClelland as a middle name but don't worry; I won't betray her shameful secret!

You can barely notice in the photo that Arden's left hand is a hated prosthesis, "the black leather hand." He shot his lower arm off as a teenager in an accident while climbing over a fence. This kept him out of WWI. (His brothers were probably off at war at the time of this photo, but they made it back ok.) He hated the hand because it was heavy and ugly. The straps were uncomfortable. It gave him headaches and made him walk funny. He soon discarded it.

Arden was an industrious sort. He couldn't work as a carpenter for Backman Construction Co. like his brothers did because of the hand, but he found plenty of other jobs. He had been a lantern boy for the Westfield Fire Department. There were no streetlights then. This job was to run ahead for the fire engine (wagon) to light the way for the horses. Arden sold grave sites and gravestones, plus insurance and later real estate. During the Depression he accepted carrots and butter and other bartered goods as payments on the insurance policies. Who would do that today?

In 1939 Arden founded Beckman Realty. After his retirement the realty was run by Jack and Alice Beckman, then Janet Beckman at over a half dozen different locations up and down Main and Market Sts. After three generations Beckman Realty is regrettably closing its doors this year after 75 years of service to the Westfield community.

We grandchildren never got to see "the black leather hand" but we loved "the stump." Grandpa kept it hidden under his shirt sleeve. It only appeared momentarily in summer to hold the wheel while Grandpa turned a corner in his big white Cadillac. All eyes in the back seat were on the stump as he turned into Tastee Sweet to get us ice cream cones. A glimpse of the stump was almost as exciting as the ice cream!



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