Connections Across Collections: Lazear and Crow Families

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.

Newspaper clipping (circa 1969-1974) regarding the donation of a framed charcoal portrait portraying Francis Lazear [1800-1872] and his wife, Mary (Crow) Lazear [1802-1869], along with other family heirlooms to the Greene County Historical Society; item no. GCHS-AN026-0116B; Greene County Historical Society Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project.

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.

Floyd Spragg Strosnider and his wife, Alice Lazear (McCracken) Strosnider, on their wedding day 22 December 1917; image by Craft Studio, Uniontown, Pa.; item no. GCHS-AN026-0226, donated by Alice Lazear (McCracken) Strosnider [1890-1974]; Greene County Historical Society Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project.

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.”

The Downey House Fire: Locals Rally Christmas Spirit in Defiance of Tragedy

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Originally published in Greene Speak, December 2005. Updated December 2021.

Beneath a cheery holiday banner, tragic headlines led the local news on December 24, 1925.

Downey House; circa 1880-1900; item no. WBGB-AN001-0020, Waynesburg Borough Office Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

On Christmas Eve morning, the Waynesburg Republican solemnly announced “Disastrous Fire Destroys Hotel Downey, Grossman Building and Presbyterian Church: Four Young Men, Volunteer Fire Workers, Lose Their Lives by Falling Walls. Four Others Seriously Injured.” The four young men killed while fighting the fire were: Harvey Call II, William Andrew Finch, J. Thurman Long and Joseph Rifenberg. By its next printing on December 31, the Republican announced the fifth and final casualty, Victor Hoy Silveus.

The Downey House had been a prominent feature on the southwest corner of High and Washington Streets in Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania, since it was built in 1869. Located at the present site of the Fort Jackson Building, where a plaque still hangs in honor of the five men who lost their lives, the Downey House was a hotel and shopping center with over a dozen businesses located within its walls.

The fire began in the Coney Island restaurant and was discovered about 3:30 a.m. on the morning of December 23. The fire tore through the Downey House, where the restaurant was located on the first floor, and quickly spread to the neighboring Grossman Building and then via live embers carried on strong winds to the Courthouse cupola and the Presbyterian Church. The destruction of property was estimated by local papers at near $1,000,000 and the loss of five young men, only in their 20s, was inconsolable.

However, amid the devastation of life and property, the generosity of human spirit befitting the Christmas season could be observed throughout the community.

The situation might have been much worse had it not been for the courage of the volunteer firefighters not only from Waynesburg, but also from neighboring companies who rushed to answer the call for aid, these included: East Washington, Charleroi, Fredericktown, Carmichaels, Jefferson, Buckeye Coal Company, Nemacolin, Brownsville, Masontown, Rices Landing, and Bentleyville. The men battled the fire through most of the morning, gaining control of it by about 7:00 a.m. It was noted in the Democrat Messenger on December 25, that the Rices Landing company had only recently formed and received their first truck on December 22. Not yet in receipt of a hose, they borrowed what they needed from the Frick Coal Company before departing for the fire. Despite these obstacles, the young company was the third on the scene.

Firefighters were not the only people to rush to help. Among the survivors were the hotel manager and twenty-five guests who were roused by H. C. Schreiber, a jeweler, who was working in his store when the early morning fire was discovered. Mr. Schreiber’s store, located on the first floor of the Downey House, was destroyed, incurring at least $30,000 in damages, but rather than trying to save his property he rushed immediately to the second floor to sound the alarm.

Harvey Call II [1903-1925], killed fighting the Downey House fire, 23 December 1925 – son of Clyde Morris Call and Clara Martin; circa 1920-1925; item no. MORR-AN001-0012, Lynne Gough Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

Fear of the fire spreading to more buildings was strong and compelled residents of nearby apartments to evacuate. Ordinary citizens came forward to help these people quickly remove their most dear possessions from their homes before the fire could impose.

The Downey House fire had another long-term positive impact. A lesson learned, the Waynesburg community formed the Waynesburg Volunteer Fire Company on March 4, 1926. This company replaced the department run by the borough with a group of volunteers wholly organized and trained for the single purpose of fighting fires.

(See more photographs of the Downey House.)


Sources:

COVER PHOTO: Downey House and Grossman Building on the southwest corner of High and Washington Streets; circa 1905-1910; item no. WBGB-AN001-0021, Waynesburg Borough Office Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).

Democrat Messenger, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 25 December 1925, page 1.

G. Wayne Smith, History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, 2 volumes (Waynesburg, Pennsylvania: Cornerstone Genealogical Society, 1996), 2: 839-840.

“Disastrous Fire Destroys Hotel Downey, Grossman Building and Presbyterian Church” article, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 24 December 1925, page 1, columns 1-4.

Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 31 December 1925, page 1.

Rev. Luther Axtell Marriage Record Ledger, 1840s-1880s

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Rev. Luther Axtell [1820-1886] was a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in southwestern Pennsylvania. His rural circuit meant that he preached and performed the sacred ceremonies of the church across county lines, touching the lives of families living in Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties, Pennsylvania, as well as across state lines into Ohio and West Virginia. Among his many duties as a traveling clergyman, Luther performed roughly 200 marriages, which he recorded in a ledger. In 2016, Matt W. Cumberledge, now the Executive Director of the Greene County Historical Society, discovered and obtained this ledger when it was sold at auction. Matt digitized and shared the ledger pages with the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project. In 2020-2021, volunteers transcribed the ledger’s entries dating from the 1840s-1880s through the Greene Connections Archives crowdsourcing project. Today, both the digital images of the original ledger pages and the typed transcript are available to view and download in the Greene Connections Archives. Our team will now index and annotate the transcript as research continues.

It just so happens that this early recordkeeper and genealogist was my fourth-great-granduncle – what an inspiration! My personal thanks to Matt for finding and sharing this amazing record for local family history and to all the volunteers who helped us to make this typed transcript available.

Previews of the transcript and original images are below. Visit and bookmark the ledger in the Greene Connections Archives to monitor updates as the research moves forward!

Transcript (Preview)

Digital Images of Original Pages (Preview)

Let us know if you find your family in Luther’s ledger!

Finding the Women in Our History

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

FINDING THE WOMEN IN OUR HISTORY – FEATURING GREENE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS VIDEO PRESENTATION): Watch and learn as we delve into the past with the women from our local history and family trees. Understand the challenges involved in uncovering their stories. Celebrate the details – big and small – that the records reveal about their lives, families, and communities.

This presentation focuses on Greene County, Pennsylvania, but the lessons learned from these local women will help us to find our female ancestors wherever they lived.

Surnames in the presentation case studies include: Bell, Bowlby, Boyd, Burbridge, Daugherty, Davis, Garber, Grinage, Grove, Hertzog, Hunnell, Kent, Lazear, Mariner, McDonald, Meek, Miller, Moore, Myers, Pyle, Rogers, Spragg, Staggers, Stephenson, Taylor, Titus, Wade, Wood, Workman, Worley.

More families are represented in the images. All images are available in the Greene Connections Archives.

Love Stories in Shades of Greene

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Originally published in Greene Speak in two parts, February 2005 and February 2006. Updated July 2020.

Here is an old favorite revived from our Greene Speak column series. Without their love stories, for better or worse, we would not be here today. Tell us, how did your ancestors meet?


Love at First Sight

Frances Cook was born in Greene County, Pennsylvania, in 1887, but moved as a young woman with her family to Columbiana, Ohio. Ties to Greene County remained strong. Frances returned often to visit friends and relatives. On one such occasion Frances sang with her hostess in the church choir. When John Madison Livingood caught sight of the musical guest, he turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” They married 4 March 1914 in Columbiana, Ohio, then returned to Greene County to raise their family.

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The House That Cyrus Built

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

On June 7, 1870, Cyrus W. Pyle, a 26-year old carpenter, was enumerated by the Census taker in the household of Simon Rinehart, a stone cutter, in Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Compared to Simon Rinehart with thousands of dollars in real and personal estate, Cyrus had just personal estate valued at $200 and a teenage, carpenter’s apprentice boarding with him in the Rinehart house.[1] Cyrus was also a newlywed, having married Susan E. Hertzog in neighboring Fayette County, Pennsylvania, on 28 April 1870,[2] but the young couple were living separately as late as 12 August 1870, when the Census taker reached Susan at her parents’ house near Masontown, Fayette County.[3]

The Rineharts were the artisans behind many of the fine tombstones in Green Mount Cemetery, so it is interesting that their tenant, Cyrus W. Pyle, purchased a block of lots immediately across the street facing that burial ground on 1 April 1875.[4] Cyrus’s property in the Flenniken Addition of Waynesburg, contained lots 53 and 54. When Cyrus sold the property on 25 January 1882, there was a notable change of language in the Deed description to include buildings with the land.[5]

Close up of Cyrus Pyle’s property across from Green Mount Cemetery cropped from the map of Waynesburg in Caldwell’s Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas Of Greene County, Pennsylvania, 1876. Digital image courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection.
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Civil War Letters in a Family Bible

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Two letters tucked into the pages of a family Bible, reveal how a family pulled together to bring home a fallen soldier.

The Bible once belonged to William Mitchell Clemens [1851-1938] and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Grimes [1854-1937]. The couple likely bought or received the Bible at the time of their marriage in 1872, the same year the Bible was published. On it’s decorative pages, William and Elizabeth recorded the date of their wedding, births and deaths of their children, and most helpfully to the extended Clemens cousins, they pasted in a list of births and deaths for William’s parents and siblings, taking the data back the tree another generation. It is this list that corresponds to the two letters also preserved within the Bible’s pages. William’s parents, John Charles Clemens [1804-1873] and Louisa Hupp [1815-1875], are recorded with their seven children. Included on this list is their son John Hupp Clemens [1839-1864] who served in Company A, 100th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. John was killed in action 17 June 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia.

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The Long and Sad Goodbye: World War I Families Wait to Bury Their Fallen Soldiers

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

A CENTURY AGO, on Memorial Day 1920, most WWI families were still waiting to bring their sons home for burial. There were many factors involved in the long delay.

At US military bases in 1918-1919, flu deaths were followed by funerals at home in a much more reasonable period of time since international travel was not required. However, the volume and chaos of the flu epidemic still brought about delays and restrictions for those families.

In the war zone of Europe, sick or wounded soldiers who spent their final days at military hospitals were buried in graves organized nearby and so were often brought home earlier than their comrades who fell on the battlefield, even if their deaths occurred later in the war.

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Flu 1918: Greene County, Pennsylvania

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

We are living through tough times, but we have been here before. The genealogist’s approach to history is to learn about it from the local level outward. Our ability to relate, empathize, understand, and simply be interested, increases when the history is tangible: places, people, and events that we know personally. Local history reduces our degree of separation from past events, even though we are separated by time.

Knowing that our ancestors experienced similar circumstances and endured, makes it easier for us to do the same. We are here today because they survived their hard days.

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The Census – The Personal Public Record

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Originally published in Greene Speak, January 2007. Updated December 2019.

The decade-by-decade details that have been cataloged by United States Census takers since 1790, culminate in one of the most research-rich and personally insightful record sets regarding the everyday existence of our ancestors and communities. Available for public perusal for years 1790 to 1940 (excepting the damaged 1890 entries), census records indicate: where and with whom our relatives lived; when and where they were born; how they earned a living; the languages spoken at home; the values of their real and personal property; and, all of this for each of their neighbors too. As incredible as this information is, the thing that is really exceptional about the Census, is that it goes a step further – a step taken when the Census taker walked through our ancestors’ doors and into their homes.

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