Mike and Amy McGee were awesome enough to answer my email (from a stranger at the time) and send me a copy of a Christmas letter penned by Leo “Lee” McGee in 1980. This letter was a goldmine for me and filled in so many blanks! I was struck by the fact that he mentioned several times that other people had more information, or would have been better storytellers. I wish he knew just how much his letter means to me…
Many of you may have already read the letter, but I typed a copy to save and thought this would be the place to share it. In the letter he talks about the Murphy family (his mother’s family) and mentions that they lived in a place called Pearl Creek in a home that was once a ticket station for the Railroad. A co-worker of mine lives in Pearl Creek – it is a very tiny place. She remembers it being very small and fairly run down by the time she moved there. There was a a man living there but sadly the little house that was owned by the Murphy’s burned down a few years ago. The man continued to live on the land in a camper for a time but has since moved on. Uncle Lee’s stories about working at the family store were wonderful – I will be doing some more research about it soon.
I hope you enjoy Uncle Lee’s letter as much as I did!!
In trying to supplement my sister’s recollections of her early years, I would like to add some of my memories which have remained in the back of my mind the past fifty odd years.
First of all I find Mary Ellen’s ability to communicate far superior to mine and I marvel at her storytelling talents. I will not challenge her report in any manner for even the slightest exaggeration (?) to comment on how fortunate those English III and IV high school students in Silver Co. were to have such an outstanding teacher. (Shades of Aunt Alice Murphy’s business teaching and administrative expertise in Binghampton, NY)
Later on I will try to put this narrative into a chronological sequence but before getting too involved in my personal experiences, let me try to trace my elders when I was a “wee lad”.
I was born at 225 West Buffalo St Warsaw, NY. the numbers, 225, that I made in sixth grade manual training class still adorns the front porch. However, I must admit that my artistic handicraft talents began and and ended with that one project. My father started in the grocery business because the hours were too long, the pay too little and the dangers too great in the salt mines that Warsaw was famous for when he was young. Eventually one small store prospered into a large general store that now would be called a department store. His partner, Will Cheney, died soon after the partnership was formed but the name always stayed Cheney and McGee until my father sold in 1929. At that time he signed a long term lease with a new firm (W.T. Grant) which really was a stroke of genius because the Great Depression was just getting started. The 20 year lease plus a couple of extensions permitted our family to survive the depression years in much better shape that many of our friends.
I was told that I was breaking into the business nicely by working Monday nights when they remained open until 10:00pm. I usually ended up asleep on the piles of overall until someone wanted to buy or my father woke me up to take me home. There was a stalk of bananas in the middle of the store and if anyone was looking for Bob the first thing to check for directions was the way the banana stalk was swinging. Jack’s long lets were good for deliveries and he also had a persuasive way with the horses. I can’t remember my sister’s or my mother ever being in the store but most of the clerks were relatives.
One of which was Angie McGee, a spinster, who lived with her brother George who was blind. What a pity Angie isn’t around to write this narrative. She and George were the family historians and Angie could compose a poem at the drop of a hat. I marvelled at the way she would inquire about our Christmas presents and then write a related poem that was almost as good as the dinner and gifts combined. Her brother was a real comedian and it was always a pleasure to visit with him. He was extremely well informed because he would listen to that new gadget, Radio, all day and most of the night. I was always amazed how George always knew when I didn’t complete the trimming job after mowing a large lawn. Before paying me, sometimes up to a quarter; he would send me out in back to correct some flaws. At first I corrected them, bet later on being older and smarter I would just leave the house for a few minutes. However he never let me get away with anything unless he heard the lawnmower moving.
Sunday was visit Grandma Murphy’s day and off we’d go down the road about 10 miles to Pearl Creek. Grandpa Murphy was a railroad man and they remodelled the old ticket station into their home. The quaint old building (now call Aunt Jenny’s house) still stand today and my children enjoyed playing “Andy, Andy Over” as much as I did years before. She had no modern conveniences or you might call them essentials such as central heat, telephone, water service, electric, or inside plumbing. (In fact as I grew older I had an important job after Halloween in replacing the “Out House” back onto it’s foundation) Her one luxury was a battery radio. Although Grandma came here as a young girl, she retained her Irish beliefs. She lived in both good mind and spirit until 93. In fact in the true Irish tradition, she she was to be anointed at our house by a new priest who had just arrived from Ireland, she asked him what town he came from. When he answered (Northern) she excused him from the room. Afterwards she relented and let him back in saying there might be someone good from that town but she didn’t know any when she was last there.
Also at Grandma’s house lived Aunt Jennie (1876-1973) all the time and Aunt Alice (1881-1976) when she wasn’t teaching school. They also had two brothers, Thomas (1875-?) who died about the time I was born. In fact Thomas was the link that led to my mother and father getting married. Uncle Thomas worked in the store and bragged about his nice sister. He meant Aunt Jennie but she thought John and Mary would make a better couple and so it was. Another brother James (1872-1937) lived in Pearl Creek and married Mary Donaghue (1882-1959) and they had four sons. Uncle Jim was a very active Democrat and just happened to have his sons available for appointments. John’s career was a NY State Trooper, James was a prison guard, Tom moved to Florida and Peter was my age. Tom is the lone survivor and has remained a good friend. Tom, Vivian his wife, and Guyla(?) daughter were very helpful to my family when we moved to Florida. They presently are good friends of Art’s and Mary Ellen and we usually see them when we visit in Florida. Grandma’s maiden name was Ryan and we used to visit and correspond with the Ryan’s from Olean, NY as well as those that remained in Ireland. I am afraid that we have now lost touch with each other.
Now to get back into some chronological order that I promised several pages ago. As a real youngster (six) I can remember faintly the joys and sorrows of having two brothers leaving the same day to go to college. Jack went west to Notre Dame, travelling from the Erie RR station on the West Hill and Bob went East to Rutgers, New Jersey on the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh RR from the East Hill. They had always been in the same class because Jack has lost two years of schooling as a youngster. Before completely recovering from Scarlet Fever, he was caught in the Great Flu epidemic. The other big event I remember was my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary that was held in the Wyoming Sun. That was as close to a huge family reunion as was possible in those days. The next event which I remember well was going to Jack and Bob’s graduation. The most significant part of the trip was the (?) everyone had for a family to travel so far in such a short time with that family new gadget of a 1929 Touring Buick with so few mechanical problems. The trip went to South Bend, Indiana to New Brunswick, New Jersey with a stop in between to visit the Loggies (Sp?) and check out Seton Hall College for Mary Ellen in between. Three of the things I distinctly remember are: 1. My nickname of “Sharp Eyes” because my main job was to look out for trains at all the grade level crossings. I remember counting the white crosses that publicized the fatalities at each crossing. 2. My losing with my mother how my one white shirt became so black when we stayed with the Loggies. I tried to blame it on the steel mills but she didn’t agree. 3. The choice of sleeping quarters which consisted of either a large hotel or more often a large house in a small town that offered tourist accommodations. You usually shared all the privileges with the family that lived in the house. Then came a fairly rough time in my young life. Even youngsters felt the Depression. The low point came when I lost my father. Jack lost his job in California because he came home for the funeral. Bob’s company went out of business (Marr and Colton Organs). Neither Jack or Bob could find any work and I think they remained at home for two years at least. Eventually they both began long employments in their respective fields – Jack with Government and Bob with Data Processing. Mary Ellen went on to Seton Hill and then a teacher in Silver Creek, NY. My high school career was entirely sports and and naturally a comparison to my older brother’s skills. Warsaw usually enjoyed winning seasons with McGee’s.
From Warsaw High onto Niagara University was a quick and happy four years. The next four years were neither quick or happy but I did get to travel around the United States and ended as an Infantryman in the Pacific arena. Upon returning from service, I realized it was time to catch up with my two brother and sister who were all happily married. So enter one Jeanne Elizabeth Dayton who was a Registered Nurse in the Warsaw Hospital. We were married in Auburn, NY on November 23, 1946.
Because we were geographically close (two blocks) when our family was growing up we have probably retained closer relations with Jack’s family. Bob and Ellen were not that far away in New Jersey and we enjoyed many good times and we still correspond regularly with Bobby and Bill. Incidentally I believe they have followed the usual McGee tradition of being excellent “picker-outers” in Rose and Carol. Mary Ellen and Art moved to Puerto Rico and now Florida but we always visited as often as possible. The Hau’s are blessed with nice, healthy happy and welcomed additions to their family but they sure know how to scatter in different directions. In spite of the miles that separate them, I truly believe they are as close today as they were at 43 ? Rd Grand Island, NY.
Now to offer a punch line to you “young-uns” who too soon with be “the older generation”. Keep in touch with your relatives because you’ll be happily surprised how great they are. Two recent incidents that prove my point are: 1. Jeanne and I visited Alice and Mike McCarthy in California. We certainly enjoyed their genuine hospitality and you can’t imagine the awe and respect shown by their five children to some real live relatives way back East. 2. Jeanne’s niece and husband hosting a “Fourth of July McGee Party” this year that will have to be repeated.
Now let’s start on the McGee ancestors by introducing my Great Grandparents. Thom Gill married Catherine Glancy (Clancy?) and their daughter Catherine, became my father’s mother. William McGee Margaret McConnell and became parents of my father’s father. I am not certain how my grandparents got here from Ireland (single or married) nor do I know when but I do know my grandfather became a US Citizen in 1850. My father married Mary McGinn (1866-1893) but she and their son, James, both died in childbirth. My father waited about 10yrs before he married my mother. **
As you well may surmise because both my father and I were the youngest of several children, it is apparent I needed some assistance to put this together. I first turned to Veronica Derrick Calmes, my first cousin who still lives in Warsaw. In addition to benefitting from Veronica’s astute memory I gained a terrific source of information from the grand-daughter, Brenda Reilly Leyden, who lives in Albany, NY. Brenda has gleaned information from Birth Records, Death Certificates, Census information and several other tidbits here and there confirmed by her grand-mother that has become the mainstay for my telling my version of the generation of the McGee’s.
I think I will leave enough traces that should my children of grand-children were to modernize or update they can do so. However mainly I wanted to go back into the earlier McGee history. Both Veronica and Brenda spent many hours in researching this document and deserve all the credit for assisting me in accomplishing something I never could have done alone.
My memory is dim on my Aunts and Uncles and somewhat hazy on the first cousins and very poorly informed on the children of my cousins. My paternal grandparents had six children as did my father as I will attempt to keep (unreadable). These dates can easily be verified or contradicted by some of the living member.
Uncle Bernard, dates unknown, married and had two daughters. Nellie remained single while Mattie married William Donahue who had a daughter, Helen, who married Bill? And they had a son who met an early death when I was in college.
Uncle William (1857-1926) married Martha Flynn (1865-1936) and they had two sons and one daughter. The daughter, Nora (1903-1932) married Orrin Pierce (1885-1936) and they had a son, John. One son, William (1897-1927), remained single while the other, John Norman (1894-1952), married Madeline McVay (1894-1967) and they had a son, James, who married Kay Marshall and they are presently living in Batavia, NY with their children Mary Ellen, Eileen, John and Michael.
Aunt Catherine (1858-1914) married Christopher O’Melia (1858-1914) and they had three daughters. Loretta married Lee Fleming and they had no children. Eileen married Joseph Engle and they had two daughters. One, Mary Agnes(1914), had two children and still lives in the Rochester area. The other Barbara Anne (1923?) has six children and lives around ?. The third daughter, Marie (1889-1979) married James Loggie (1885-1964) who had a daughter and son. Catherine (1919) married William Holtz and had eight children and still resides in Arizona. James (192?) and Beverly had six children and live around the the Los Angeles area.
Aunt Mary (1860-1919) remained single but probably was the matriarch of the McGee’s from the stories I’ve been told. Aunt Mary and my father kept the old homestead going and she really was the second mother to all the nieces and nephews.
Aunt Ellen (1861-1897) married William Derrick (1860-1891) and they had a daughter, Veronica (1891-1982) who married Lawrence Calmes (1891-1968). The Calmes’s daughter Eileen (1913-1975) married Brendan Reilly (1911-1973) and they had three children – Kevin, Brenda and Derek. Both Kevin (Melissa and Daniel) and Brenda (Lisa and Brian) presently have two children while Derek has remained single.
I’ll tell what little I know about my Grandfather’s three brothers and admit to knowing nothing about his two sisters (Nancy and Ellen). Of Bernard (1831-1864), his grave marker lists Donegal as his birthplace, (probably also my Grandfather’s). William (1837-1906) married Sally Malone (1844-1905) and they had three children. Mary C. (1869-1912) who married Edward Dillon (1860-1938), then Mattie (1873-?) who married James Simon and William (1877-1933) who married Maude Crawford (1882-1966). The Dillon’s and Simon’s scattered and I don’t know the whereabouts of the current generation. The William McGee family remained fairly close by Warsaw. Bill and Charles are deceased; Marjorie, Mary and Betty are around Warsaw; Dick is in Jamesville; Maurice (Mike) is in Ellicottville and the youngest Sally settled in the Mid-West. Michael (1832-1894) married Mary L (1840-1911) and had two boys and a girl. Charles (1873-1904) and George 1810-1939) were the boys and Mary Angela (Angie 1866-1942) was the girl. I have previously mentioned Angie and George who could have told more and better stories about all the McGee’s than have been mentioned before.
Now how do I conclude this narrative? I believe to oversimplify my position is to advise you to be “Proud of Your Family Heritage”. You have no idea how our anxieties are relieved because Mary Ellen, Art and Julianne are only a 100 miles down the road from Woody. You also can’t realize what a pleasure if was to take Chuck and Mike for a short vacation to Letchworth Park reminisce. Mike and Jo were listening intently while I told them about the “good old days” and Chuck and Pat watched intently while I tried to position their son to match a picture of myself at the Rail Road Station taken a few ? years earlier.
May all of you have a Happy Holiday and Healthy Christmas season and a Joyful 1981.
Dad, Brother, Uncle or Cousin
**Mary McGinn gave birth to James McGee on July 14, 1893. She died on July 2, 1893 and baby James died on August 13, 1893.
McGee, Leo Gerald. “Christmas 1980.” Letter to McGee Family. 25 Dec. 1980. MS. Lake Pinellas, Florida.