Christian CLIMENHAGE’s Pocket Watch

Waltham pocket watch I don’t recall exactly when my father passed down my great-great-grandfather’s pocket watch to me. It must’ve been in my early twenties. At the time I didn’t really understand the watch’s true value or importance. It was just an old watch. Although passing down a timepiece within a family may seem cliché, the symbolism is rather fitting. For each of us our time here is limited. With each successive generation time begins and ends. Yet, the watch itself stretches time—across generations—and, in so doing, creates a palpable sense of connection to the past.

The pocket watch, pictured above, was purchased by Christian Climenhage in 1902.[1] It’s not worth a lot, at least not in terms of monetary value. It’s a middle of the road, well used, Waltham pocket watch—a workman’s watch. But there’s a lot more than that to this timepiece. I am reminded of a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson who, in restating the opinion of his friend Holmes, says that “it is difficult for a man to have any object in daily use without leaving the impress of his individuality upon it.”[2] This watch is no exception. What can it tell us about the man who owned it? Well, perhaps that kind of inference is best left to Sherlock Holmes. What this watch really does is to help tell the story of my great-great grandfather simply through it’s accompaniment with him during the last 25 years of his life.

Up to and Including 1902: The end of an era

Christian, or Chris as he was known, was 49 years old when he purchased his new watch. He was born October 3rd, 1853 at Bertie Township, just east of Stevensville, Ontario.[3] Being the 3rd son and 4th child of Moses Climenhage and Fannie Sider, Chris grew up in a log house[4] situated on farmland handed down from his great-grandfather Henry, through his grandfather Martin, to his father.[5] This land, located on the east side of Lot 13, Concession 10, is bordered by Black Creek, Eagle street, Sider road, and College road. Today this land is part of the International Country Club of Niagara.

Chris Climenhage family circa 1905
At Crystal Beach circa 1905. Seated L to R: William Grant, (possibly) Andrew Climenhage, Maggie (Beam) Climenhage, Chris Climenhage. Standing L to R: Sarah Ann (Beam) Grant, Bert Climenhage, Ettie May Climenhage (photo courtesy of Terry Gilmour)

The beginning of the twentieth century marked the dawn of a new age. Thus far Chris had spent the entirety of his life living in the Victorian era. Chris had witnessed the invention of the telephone, the incandescent light bulb, the modern-day bicycle, and the automobile, to name a few, as well as the birth of Canada in 1867. By 1901, with the death of the Queen, it was a new world.

Chris and Maggie Climenhage 1874
Chris and Maggie (Beam) Climenhage wedding photo 1874 (photo courtesy of Fort Erie Museum)

Up to now, Chris had been married 28 years and most of his children were grown. He was wed at the age of 21 on July 6, 1874 at Drummondville, Stamford Township, Welland County, Ontario[6] (a part of Niagara Falls today), to Margaret “Maggie” Beam who was the  daughter of Solomon Beam and Mary Ann Taylor. The wedding was a double ceremony that included Maggie’s younger sister Georgiana Beam and James Frank Dunn.  Chris and Maggie had six children—Ivora Eben (1875), Levi Solomon (1877), Charles Edwin (1881), Albert Roy (1885), Robert Arthur (1886), and Ettie May (1888).

It was in 1902 that the first of Chris’ children—son Levi, my great grandfather—was married.[7] “Lee” and wife Jennie (Huffman) later moved to Port Colborne, Ontario where Lee worked as a carpenter and a house builder.

Brass bands had become increasingly popular in the 19th century,[8] and Chris reportedly played the cornet—a brass instrument similar to a trumpet—in a local military band.[9] Interestingly, Chris’ brother-in-law J.F. Dunn, who was a bandmaster with the military band, and several brass and silver bands in the area,[10] probably had a significant influence on Chris first taking up the instrument. Since then, each successive generation in my family has played a musical instrument.

Chris and Andrew Climenhage, circa 1880
Chris Climenhage and possibly his younger brother Andrew, circa 1880 (photo courtesy of David Climenhage)

Chris was a carpenter by trade beginning at least as far back as 1874.[11] It’s not clear how Chris first took up his craft but his uncle David Climenhaga was also an avid carpenter and enjoyed making furniture, toys, stirring ladles, and the like.[12]

From about 1875 until the late 1890s Chris and his family lived and worked on Lot 11, Concession 11 in downtown Stevensville,[13] in the vicinity of East Main and Stevensville Road. This location lay just south of the first United Brethren Church of which Chris and his family were members. This location is where Chris first began his “furniture and undertaking” business.

It was there that Chris’ son Robbie died on Christmas Eve in 1887[14] and was buried in the United Brethren cemetery (aka Beams Mill) located on the original UB Church property.

By 1902, Chris was residing with his family at 3801 West Main Street in Stevensville located on the corner of West Main and Coral Avenue[15] (see photo below). Chris was a well-known funeral director in Stevensville, and from this location he carried on his prosperous undertaking business.

Although carpentry and undertaking do not, on the surface, seem compatible, the marriage of these two trades was common throughout the 19th century. While preparing a body for burial was ordinarily left to the family of the deceased, as the 19th century progressed family members often sought out someone else to “undertake” the funeral arrangements. Carpenters, particularly cabinet or furniture makers, were often called upon to build a sturdy casket for the deceased. Undertaking became a natural extension of the carpentry business. Until the twentieth century, undertaking was often a secondary rather than a primary profession.[16] This change is reflected for the first time in the 1901 census records wherein Chris characterizes his occupation as “undertaker” rather than as “carpenter” as in the previous census records.[17]

Solomon Beam Family circa 1886. Chris Climenhage is 3rd from the left at the back. In front from the left is Maggie (Beam) Climenhage holding Bert, Charlie, Ivora, and Levi.
Solomon Beam Family circa 1886.
Chris Climenhage is 3rd from the right at the back. In front, L to R is Maggie (Beam) Climenhage holding Bert, Charlie, Ivora, and Levi (photo courtesy of David Climenhage)

It isn’t clear exactly when Chris began his funerary business. Although the official Climenhage funeral home records begin in 1887[18] we know that Chris was providing funeral services as early as 1885 with his purchase of a new horse-drawn hearse that same year from a carriage maker in Rochester, New York.[19] However, Chris was presumably providing these services much earlier than that.[20] Since the end of the American Civil war arterial embalming became a popular method for preserving a body for open-casket viewing.[21] Early on Chris received training in embalming, and was said to own a portable embalming table that he would take to the house of the deceased.[22]

Climenhage Funeral Home, Stevensville Ontario
Top left: Climenhage Funeral Home, Stevensville (photo courtesy of Christine Craig). Top right: Business ad, 1914; Bottom L to R: 1885 horse-drawn hearse and 1919 REO Speedwagon hearse (photos courtesy of Larry Williams)

1904 to 1912: Troubling Times

In his early 50s, Chris was active in community affairs, serving as Reeve of Bertie Township in 1904.[23] That same year saw the construction of the second United Brethren Church in Stevensville, which was located on West Main street across from the Climenhage funeral home.[24] Chris filled a number of official positions as a member of the quarterly conference of the Niagara Circuit.[25]

Chris’ parents, Moses and Fannie, were some of the early converts to Episcopal Methodism in Bertie Township,[26] and they followed this faith until Chris was grown. Although his parents returned to the Tunker Church of their youth, Chris carried on in the Methodist tradition and joined the United Brethren Church some time before 1874.[27] In 1889, a church schism occurred breaking the UB Church into two rival factions—the Liberals, which were made up of younger men, and the Conservatives (also called Radicals) which were made up of older, more respected ministers. Following the split, the main body now encompassing the Liberal faction expelled the “Radical” ministers, assigned their own men to all the fields, and locked the doors on many churches.[28] In Stevensville, the Conservatives made up the entire congregation, and so they refused to turn over the church property to the Liberals. [29]

Chris became involved in a legal battle over the use of the original UB Church building in Stevensville, as he’d been appointed as co-trustee of the church property.[30] The legal case of Brewster v. Hendershot (1900), which ruled in favour of the Liberals, laid the matter to rest. The Conservatives turned over the church building. Suddenly an entire town congregation found itself without a church, or a meeting place.

In 1904, a new UB Church was built. According to Chris’ obituary he was “converted in 1904 and was baptized and united with the United Brethren Church in the following year.”[31] The church schism created a seemingly strange and unusual situation for Chris and his Conservative faction. Although Chris had been a member of the UB Church for at least 30 years, this “new” church, which contained the same articles of faith as the “old” UB Church was now legally a new entity. As a result, Chris, and presumably the entire Conservative congregation, was re-baptized.

The years that followed would test Chris’ faith. In 1905 his 16-year-old daughter Ettie was struck down by tuberculosis.[32] The following year his eldest son Ivora was also taken by the disease.[33] Chris was overcome with grief. Even for an undertaker who is continually surrounded by death the loss must have been devastating. It’s difficult to even imagine what he must’ve gone through.

But brighter times lay ahead with the weddings of his sons Charlie in 1910 to Ethel Stoner,[34] and Bert in 1912 to Edna Dean.[35] But again tragedy struck October 3, 1912, when wife Maggie died from an acute attack of goitre.[36] Although the 20th century ushered in a new world, for Chris, this new era had brought with it many sorrows.

1913 to 1927: To the close

Following Maggie’s death, Chris remarried on May 3, 1916 at Berlin (Kitchener), Waterloo, Ontario,[37] a widow named Pamillia Isabella “Millie” Baer. The two met through the UB Church. Millie, the daughter of Aaron Baer and Barbara Martin, was born January 23, 1861 at New Dundee, Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario.[38] She was previously married to Joel Wanner who died from apoplexy one year after they were married.[39]

That same year, Chris’ older brother Jacob became quite ill.[40] A number of years prior Chris had purchased what remained of his father’s land from his older brother and his younger sister Annie for $1000, and then granted the land to them in 1915 for the rest of their natural lives.[41] When Jacob got sick, both he and sister Annie were shipped off to the Welland Industrial Home.[42] Jacob and Annie gave a quit claim on the land allowing Chris to grant it to Aaron Morningstar.[43] The reason the land was granted to Aaron isn’t quite clear. In November of 1917 Chris’ older brother George died suddenly,[44] and the following month Jacob’s illness finally took him.[45]

Christian Climenhage grave marker
Climenhage family grave marker at St. John’s Angli­can Church ceme­tery, Fort Erie, Ontario

Despite these personal losses, the funeral home was flourishing and in 1919 Chris bought a new REO Speedwagon chassis and hired Jesse Finch, a local carriage maker (Finch Carriage Co.), to construct the hearse coachwork[46] (see photo above). The 1885 horse-drawn hearse was put into storage in son Bert Climenhage’s barn, and remained there for 70 years.[47] In 1988 the hearse was sold to Larry Williams of William’s Funeral Home in Ridgeway, Ontario, and restored in 1991. Since then, it has been used for funerals around Ontario and in New York State.[48] Larry Williams also found and restored the REO Speedwagon hearse.[49]

By 1926 Chris’ health began to fail, and he turned the operation of the funeral home over to his son Bert.[50] In 1927, on October 3rd—the same day that wife Maggie passed away—Chris died from uraemia (renal failure) and pneumonia.[51] The funeral service was conducted by the Dell Funeral Home in Ridgeway,[52] and Chris was laid to rest in St. John’s Anglican Church cemetery with his wife Maggie and his children who had predeceased him. Millie died November 27, 1949 at Stevensville,[53] some 20 years after Chris’ passing.

Final Thoughts

Sitting here now, holding my great-great grandfather’s pocket watch and reflecting on his life, I can’t help but think of all the death he was exposed to. He was immersed in it. And yet, his experience as an undertaker couldn’t have prepared him for the loss of Maggie and his three children. Still, it must have been an amazing time to be alive. It was an age of immense progress. Everything was new and exciting. It was an era that saw rapid changes and Chris appears to have adapted well.

Over one-hundred years have passed since the purchase of this family heirloom, and I feel very privileged to possess this small piece of my family’s history. True. It’s just a middle of the road, well used, Waltham pocket watch—but it tells the story, in its own way, of my great-great grandfather’s life. It connects me to the past. I cherish this artifact, but I also look forward to the day when I will pass this timepiece down to my own son. And, at that moment, time will stretch a little further.

 

 

Footnotes    ((↵) returns to text)

  1. The National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, Waltham serial numbers. Found online at http://www.nawcc-info.org/WalthamDB/walsernum.htm.(↵)
  2. Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Sign of Four. London, Spencer Blackett, 1890.(↵)
  3. The Christian Conservator, 26 October 1927, p. 15.(↵)
  4. Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1080. Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1861 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.(↵)
  5. Estate file for Henry Cli­men­hagen, pro­bated June 7, 1805, Lin­coln County Sur­ro­gate Court estate files, RG 22-A35, Micro­film MS 8408, Archives of Ontario; On 4 Nov 1864 (Reg 3 Nov 1876) a last will and testament was filed for Martin Climenhage bequeathing to Moses Climenhage the east part of Lot 13 Concession 10 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. (A4 #2842).(↵)
  6. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_16; Reel: 16. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.(↵)
  7. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_109; Reel: 109. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.(↵)
  8. Herbert, Trevor. The British brass band: A musical and social history. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.(↵)
  9. David Cli­men­hage, Orono, Ontario, Email mes­sage to author, 17 August 2013 [This mes­sage states that Christian played the cornet and that David owns the last cornet Chris played. He also states that his uncle Cliff Climenhage told him Chris played with the local militia band.](↵)
  10. Gleanings in Bee Culture, Vol. LXVII Medina, Ohio, A. I. Root Co., 1939. [“He joined the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment, as bandsman about 1880, and was bandmaster about 1885. Later he organized and taught the Ridgeway Silver Cornet Band, and found time to teach two other bands in another town.”](↵)
  11. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_16; Reel: 16(↵)
  12. Climenhaga, Asa Winger. Later family links. Address given on the occasion of his father’s 90th birthday, 1940.(↵)
  13. Year: 1881; Census Place: Bertie, Welland, Ontario; Roll: C_13253; Page: 53; Family No: 264. Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1881 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.; Year: 1891; Census Place: Bertie, Welland, Ontario; Roll: T-6375; Family No: 155. Ancestry.com. 1891 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.(↵)
  14. Robert Arthur Climenhage grave marker. Found online at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=114684151. (↵)
  15. Year: 1901; Census Place: Bertie, Welland, Ontario; Page: 4; Family No: 37. Ancestry.com. 1901 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.(↵)
  16. Beal, Eileen. Funeral homes and funeral practices: The encyclopedia of Cleveland history, 2001. Found online at  http://ech.cwru.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=FHAFP. (↵)
  17. Year: 1901; Census Place: Bertie, Welland, Ontario; Page: 4; Family No: 37. Ancestry.com. 1901 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.(↵)
  18. Climenhage Funeral Home records, Fort Erie Museum, Ridgeway, Ontario.(↵)
  19. Larry Williams, personal communication, 27 July 2014. (↵)
  20.  This refers to a lost reference regarding a funeral in the late 1870s/early 1880s in which Chris and brother Andrew Climenhage charged a fee for grave digging. (↵)
  21. Beal, Eileen, 2001.(↵)
  22. David Climenhage, personal communication, 2009.(↵)
  23.  Many voices II: A collective history of greater Fort Erie. Fort Erie Museum Board, 2004, p. 267.(↵)
  24. Photo 1 shows the second UB church in Stevensville with ‘1904’ stamped on the building; Photo 2 shows the approximate location of the UB church on West Main street in Stevensville.(↵)
  25. The Christian Conservator, 18 January 1928, p. 15.(↵)
  26. Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1080(↵)
  27. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_16; Reel: 16.(↵)
  28. Origin and history of the United Brethren Church in Christ. Found online at http://www.ubcanada.org/ub-church-history.html.(↵)
  29. Brewster v. Hendershot [1900] O.J. No. 25 at para. 17.(↵)
  30. Brewster v. Hendershot [1900] O.J. No. 25 at para. 13.(↵)
  31. The Christian Conservator, 26 October 1927, p. 15.(↵)
  32. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 123. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  33. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 128. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  34. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_151; Reel: 151. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.(↵)
  35. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_230; Reel: 230. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.(↵)
  36. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 181. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  37. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_400; Reel: 400. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.(↵)
  38. Year: 1901; Census Place: Berlin (Town/Ville), Waterloo (north/nord), Ontario; Page: 17; Family No: 170. Ancestry.com. 1901 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.(↵)
  39. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_325; Reel: 325. Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.; Archives of Ontario; Series: S935; Reel: 214. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  40. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 236. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  41. On 29 Jan 1910 (Reg 7 Feb 1910) Jacob and Annie Climenhage sold to Christian Climenhage 25 acres in the south 1/2 of Lot 13 Concession 10 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. for $1000. (A18 #14045); On 30 Mar 1915 (Reg 28 May 1915) Christian Climenhage granted to Jacob and Annie Climenhage for their natural lives 25 acres in the south 1/2 of Lot 13 Concession 10 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. for $1. (A21 #17077).(↵)
  42. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 236.; Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 354(↵)
  43. On 1 Nov 1916 (Reg 30 Nov 1916) Christian Climenhage & wife granted to Aaron Morningstar 25 acres in the south 1/2 of Lot 13 Concession 10 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. for $2 + more (A22 # 17744).(↵)
  44. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 236.(↵)
  45. ibid.(↵)
  46. Larry Williams, personal communication, 27 July 2014. (↵)
  47. ibid.(↵)
  48. Williams Funeral Home. Found online at http://www.williamsfuneralhome.ca/adv_tunnel.php (link is dead).(↵)
  49. ibid.(↵)
  50. The Christian Conservator, 26 October 1927, p. 15.(↵)
  51. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 354. Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.(↵)
  52. ibid.(↵)
  53. Niagara Falls Evening Review, 28 November 1949, p.6.(↵)
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