What It Was Like Then - 1935-1954

by Richard Allen Rice

My maternal grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. John F. Nagel, came to Portville in the late 1890's with their daughter Lucile. I don't know exactly when they came but do know they were in Portville on January 1, 1897, and had previously been living in West Valley, NY. They were married on July 12, 1894, at Castile, New York. Grandpa was born Johann Friedrich Karl Nagel on May 3, 1872 in Luetjendorf (Mecklenburg-Schwerin) Germany and brought to this country at about six months of age. Grandma lived the first twenty-two years of her life as Dora Mary Burne. She was born on August 23, 1871, at either Rochester or nearby Leroy, New York, the daughter of Walter E. Burne and Mary M. Heath.

A couple of stories that have been passed down concerning my Great Grandfather, Karl Johann Friedrich Nagel, are interesting. In order to keep from being drafted into the German Army and be allowed to emigrate, he had to fake deafness. German agents followed him (he thought) aboard ship and even after he got to America attempting to discover his deception. It was felt that if found out, the agents would have taken him back to Germany perhaps to make an example of him.

The other story relates to their arrival in the United States. Their destination was a small railroad station near Machias, New York, where relatives were to meet them. Travel, winter weather, an infant son (my grandfather, John F. Nagel), as well as a language barrier, must have been difficult for them. To compound their problems, the relatives did not show up for several weeks, forcing them to stay in the station for that period of time.

Ultimately they settled in the Ellicottville area, had a large family, and moved to a farm on the Steam Valley Road in 1904, after their children were grown. Possibly this was to be near my grandfather and/or a daughter, Mrs. Olin (Matilda) Devore. My great grandmother's German name was Karoline Friedrike Christine Wilhezmine Kindt. She was called Minnie and died on July 23, 1919, and is buried in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Great Grandfather Nagel had died on March 27, 1916, and she was laid to rest next to him. His long German name had been shortened to Charles.

My mother, Belle Frances Nagel, was born at 34 Temple Street on November 24, 1902. Her younger sister, Marjorie, was born September 2, 1907, at 46 Temple Street, a house my grandparents had purchased in February of that year. Grandpa Nagel came to Portville to work for Nick Trenkle in his blacksmith shop on South Main Street. Later Grandpa had woodworking and bicycle repair shop at 26 Temple Street. My memories, however, are of the shop behind his house at 46 Temple where I would often go to watch him work. He was always busy sharpening lawnmowers (the reel-type), doing blacksmith work, operating his metal lathes or drill presses, working on engines, or operating a variety of other machines.

Virtually everything he did was done to perfection even though he was an old man when I was in my early years. Most of the equipment in his shop had by then been converted to electrical power. Previously everything ran off a single ten horsepower gas engine and a series of shafts, pulleys, and flat belts. Grandpa would still use the gas engine occasionally and it was amazing to see all those belts and pulley motion at one time. The engine had flywheels about four feet in diameter and used natural gas for fuel. It was located in a small attached building behind the shop, facing Anderson Court. The exhaust noise was loud enough to be heard throughout the neighborhood, but I never remember of anyone complaining.

As a craftsman, grandpa was outstanding. People still mention that John Nagel could sharpen their bits, knives, cutters, etc. better than anyone else. As a person, he could get aggravated at me from time-to-time, but essentially he was a gentle, caring individual. Often he would give me a penny or two with the admonition of spending it on something tangible, or of lasting value, not on candy. I never remember making it past the candy counter at Rowe & Pearson's grocery store just up the street. However, the concept of not wasting money on frivolous things remains with me.

Grandma Nagel was a quiet, inactive person who seldom left the house. Perhaps she was emotionally scarred from a fire that destroyed all of their belongings the night before they moved to Portville and/or a very serious illness she had during the early 1940's. 1 always enjoyed talking to her and listening to stories about Portville in the "old days". A year or two after grandpa's death on August 9, 1947, grandma moved to the house at 112 Brooklyn Street, next door to us. She died there on October 10, ]958, after years of care and help from us, but more especially from my mother. Both of them are buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

The Rice side of my family is a little more deeply-rooted in Portville, except for some of my immediate ancestors who were born and reared just across the state line in Pennsylvania. Four sons of Eliphalet and Mary (Nichols) Rice had originally moved from Cortland County, New York in ]818 and settled in the Portville-0lean-Eldred-Coryville areas. Luman Rice settled in Olean and later moved to Portville in 1822. Allen Rice built a dam across the Allegheny River and established a sawmill at what is now Weston Mills, selling out to the Weston brothers about 1851. Justus Rice, a Methodist Episcopal minister, lived near Eldred and was primarily a farmer. George Rice, the man whom I think was my ancestor, lived near Coryville, Pennsylvania, and was probably a farmer and/or a lumberman. These men were all born in Glastonbury, Connecticut in the 1770s and 1780s and moved to Cortland County, New York about 1796 with their parents.

George Rice (1779-1835) appears to have been the father of William Rice (1804-1881) who was the father of George Washington Rice (1837-1922), who fathered my grandfather, Russell Albertus Rice (1874-1950). George Washington Rice married Lucy Palmyra (Barrett) Crandall, daughter of Joseph P. Crandall and Susan Pendelton Main, of Portville. Lucy had been married previously (in 1855) to George W. Barrett of Farmers Valley, PA, who died five years later of cholera. Russell, or Burt as he was called, married Gertrude lone Wandover on December 23, 1900, at Ceres, PA and settled in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania, where my father, Forest Leland Rice, was born. They bought the farm near Main Settlement (several houses past the overpass) in 1904, probably from Elmer Crandall, a nephew of my great grandmother, Lucy. The land had been in the Crandall family since about 1830.

I remember Grandpa Rice telling about the original house burning a few years before he and grandma bought the farm. The year I seem to remember is 1896 and from the few available facts that is probably close. An article written by students at the Main Settlement School and published in the "Portville Review" on April 12, 1945, states that Ira Crandall (1828-1902) "lived in the old house and after it burned this house was built by Elmer Crandall, Iras son." I believe the Art Fisher family lives there now.

Grandpa also spoke of the new railroad being built across the farm as he

and grandma came from Port Allegany to look at the property. That railroad, the Pittsburgh, Shawmut & Northern (P.S. & N), was subsequently completed and continued to operate until it was torn up about 1947. Grandpa spoke with a bit of unhappiness that the railroad was built across such a nice flat field. The previous narrow-gauge railroad grade was up the hill a little further and had taken up less of the good level land. Also, the streetcar, still further up the hill and long disbanded, had run parallel to the Shawmut across the farm. Its grade, a concrete bridge, and even Some of the old power poles were plainly visible when I was growing up. The Shawmut ran slower than the other trains and the train people waved at us most of the time. P.S. & it was often referred to as "pretty slow and noisy".

In addition to my father a daughter, Lillian, was born in Port Allegany before the move to Portville/Main Settlement. Subsequently the following children were born on the farm. Geneva - August 2, 1904; George February 24, 1907; Carl - March 24, 1909; Ellen - April 11, 1913; Lucy - June 3, 1915; and Milton - October 24, 1916. All are living now except Lucy, who died when she was one and one-half years old, and my father, Forest, who died June 6, 1974, in a tractor accident. (Only Geneva is now living, May 2000)

I remember Grandpa Rice as a gruff, impatient man - no doubt the product of hard work and few, if any, frills. He had several cows, and sent the milk to the milk plant in Portville which was located next to the railroad tracks where Fibercell is now. He milked by hand and strained the milk into the large metal cans of the type people now have in their homes as items of decor. Then the cans were placed in a spring house and cooled until picked up by a truck each morning. Some of the milk kept for home consumption was processed through a separator so that the cream could be extracted for butter, whipping cream, cottage cheese, etc. The separator stood about four to five feet high with a "hopper" on top to pour the fresh milk in. Two spouts protruded at a lower point, one for cream, the other for skim milk. The crank on the side made it a people-powered device and it was tiring for a kid to turn. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Grandma's cooking as well as most experiences at the farm are pleasant memories.

Of their eight children, only my father stayed in Portville for any length of time. Although he and my mother lived near Olean a few months after they were married, they came back and spent the remainder of their lives on Brooklyn Street. Initially they lived at 128 Brooklyn until about 1930 when they moved to 114 Brooklyn. The move to 94 Brooklyn was about 1936 and the final move to 110 occurred in 1943. When my mother died in 1979, for the first time since 1818 there were no Rices living in the Town of Portville, to my knowledge.

As a child, I sat through many seemingly endless hours in the Portville (United) Methodist Church looking at the beautiful stained glass memorial windows. I would ask who Luman and Polly Rice were, the names on one of the windows. No one could answer me since Luman and Polly had been dead longer than even the oldest members could remember. My father would say that we were related, but did not know exactly how. It was just a few years ago that I found that Luman was a great, great, great uncle.

My Grandmother Rice was born Gertrude lone Wandover at Ceres, PA on October 12, 1881, the daughter of Charles T. Wandover (a Civil War veteran) and Ellen Jane Claire. I remember her as a kind, hard-working person. While grandpa had his cows and worked the farm with a team of horses, grandma had her chickens. They were housed in several ramshackle coops and were a lot of work. She went to Olean nearly every Saturday to sell eggs, dressed chickens, and on some occasions, freshly-churned butter. Driving a 1933 Ford that she and grandpa won in a John Deere contest that year, she was a familiar sight in Olean and Portville.

The summer of 1945 1 spent several weeks on the farm primarily to help my then-aged grandparents. I remember the hope we all had that World War II was almost over. Occasionally I would go in the house and turn on the radio for the latest news. Several times false reports came in announcing that the "Japs" had surrendered. I would run out and excitedly tell grandfather who would make some pessimistic remark about the falsity of the report - . . . " just like they had so many of in the last war," he would say, referring to World War I

The war did end That summer and even Though I was at The farm near Main Settlement, I could hear the church bells in Portville pealing out the message we all longed to hear. For the first time in most of my conscious life There was something for all Americans to rejoice over. The "boys" would be coming home soon, blackouts would end, rationing would cease, and many consumer goods, not available for years, would return to the shelves and sales floors. Automobiles not manufactured since 1942 would return and dealerships "Closed for the duration" would reopen.

I believe it was the next summer that Grandpa's horses bolted and the hay rake he was connecting them to ran over him. I had been sent to the upper part of the hay field with a pitch fork to get hay out of a ditch. Upon hearing a commotion and seeing the horses running away in a cloud of dust, I ran down and found grandpa sitting on the ground, dazed, and a bloody spot on the top of his head. I ran to get grandma who instructed me to go to the Klists, a neighboring farm, and phone the doctor.

Mrs. Klist showed me where the phone was but it was very puzzling since we did not have a phone at home. When I finally found the number and figured out how to use it, upon picking up the receiver found it was a party line. Those who were using it would not hang up even when informed of the nature of my need. Eventually they concluded a meaningless conversation and I got through to be advised that the doctor would come later. Grandpa was never right after that and was ultimately institutionalized at Gowanda, NY, where he died on November, 28, 1950.

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