By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist
When the Greene County Historical Society (GCHS) established a permanent home for its museum collections at the old Greene County Poor Farm in the late 1960s – early 1970s, local families came forward to preserve their pieces of the past. Half-a-century later, a new generation of dedicated curators led by Matt Cumberledge, GCHS Executive Director and long-time Greene Connections volunteer, continue to care for and tell the stories behind these fascinating objects.
As our Greene Connections volunteer team has been digitizing the museum’s photograph and document collections, we came upon a wonderful article about one of the original donations brought to the Poor Farm, just after its conversion to a museum, by Alice Lazear (McCracken) Strosnider [1890-1974]. The Strosnider contribution is all the more interesting because a related collection shared with the Greene Connections Archives Project in 2019, by the family of Dr. Jeannette Franc Throckmorton, allows us to make connections across collections! See the article transcription and photograph captions below to follow the story.
[Newspaper clipping transcribed by Candice Buchanan, 2022.]
“Historical Society Given Pioneer Family Heirlooms
An interesting collection of family heirlooms was recently donated to the Greene-County historical Society by Mrs. Alice McCracken Strosnider, of Smithfield, a descendent of three of the outstanding pioneer families which settled in the western part of Greene County.
Included in the collection are a large number of household articles, some of which were in use by the family as long as 150 years ago. These items, including an early sausage press, a flour barrel made from home-made staves, and other items, will be on permanent display at the museum.
Perhaps the highlight of the collection is a handsomely-framed charcoal portrait of the Honorable and Mrs. Francis Lazear, [great-]grandparents of Mrs. Strosnider. The portrait was done by their [grand]daughter, Mary Lazear McCracken, who was Mrs. Strosnider’s mother.
The likeness of the father is especially well done. He is shown with a home-made crutch, which he used for many years, and Mrs. Strosnider sent the original crutch to display with the portrait.
Also included in the collection is the wedding suit of the same Mr. Lazear, which is made from homespun wool dyed black.
Mr. Lazear was president of the Farmers and Drovers Bank. One story about him centers around the “great freeze” of 1859, which ruined the wheat crop after it was well started.
Being confident of a good crop, farmers had had their reserve seed wheat ground into flour and faced disaster. In an effort to provide food to compensate for loss of the wheat crop, Mr. Lazear sent for a carload of buckwheat which could be planted in the same fields. It was placed in grain bags and stored in the banking rooms. Those who were able to do so paid for it. Others were given the grain outright, or on a loan.
Mrs. Lazear, the woman in the portrait, was the daughter of Mary [sic Michael] Crow. The story of the massacre of the crow family is well known in early county history.
These three families – the Crows, the Lazears and the McCrackens – were among the earliest settlers in Western Greene County, and in many cases their descendants still are on the original homesteads and are leaders in community affairs.
Mrs. Strosnider plans to give the society three generations of wedding dresses – that of Mary (Polly) Crow Lazear, the woman in the portrait, that of Mary Lazear McCracken, who painted the portrait, and her own. Mrs. Strosnider was married early during World War I, and on September 26, 1918, her husband Floyd S. Strosnider, was killed in action in France.
There are three generations of physicians in the McCracken family. One of them, Dr. Jesse William Lazear, sacrificed his life in 1900 in the effort by the U.S. Army to find the cause of yellow fever in order that the Panama Canal could be built.
At Quermados, near Havana, Cuba, Dr. Lazear and a Dr. Carroll, together with some others, allowed the yellow fever carrying mosquito to bite them. Dr. Carroll recovered, but Dr. Lazear died. Dr. Walter Reed was one of the doctors working on the same project.
Serving at present on the board of directors and as treasurer of the Historical Society is Raymond McCracken, a descendent of one of these early families. Until only a few months ago, Mr. McCracken had lived in the immediate community where his ancestors settled.
In commenting on her gift, Mrs. Strosnider said ‘the giving of these treasured possessions was done in the knowledge that they will be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come.'” [End of transcript excerpt.]
Alice’s World War I wedding dress remains one of my personal favorite items in the GCHS collection. Overcoming tragedy, she found a way to keep her memories alive by sharing her family’s history. Her husband Floyd’s story is honored through a Memory Medallion at his grave in Green Mount Cemetery and at the Greene County World War I Memorial.
The photos shared in the Dr. Jeannette Franc Throckmorton Collection are wonderful to compare with the charcoal portrait Alice donated of her great-grandparents, Francis Lazear [1800-1872] and his wife, Mary (Crow) Lazear [1802-1869]. Since the artist, Alice’s mother Mary (Lazear) McCracken [1858-1946], was a child when the couple passed away, she probably used photographs such as those above (item # THRJ-AN001-0016 and item # THRJ-AN001-0017) in addition to her memories to create the likenesses.
The Greene County Historical Society Museum will reopen for the season on April 30, 2022. Plan a visit to seek out the history shared by Alice and so many like her, who were willing to give their “treasured possessions…in the knowledge that they will be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come.”