Thursday, April 7, 2016

All the Fawkner News that's Fit to Print

Beginning genealogists often focus on begetting, matching, and dispatching ancestors -- that is births, marriages, and deaths. Understandably so, because those events are the foundation of any family tree. But, family history is so much more. Ancestors had lives. Lives full of twists and turns. Lives not so terribly different from lives today.

One of the best sources for the events in those lives are newspapers. Research into George Spencer Fawkner is a case in point.

George Fawkner lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, from about 1878 to about 1895. As reported in the previous two posts of this blog, he had a somewhat erratic, if not generally upwardly mobile career path in Illinois, Indiana, and now, Minnesota. By the mid-1880s, he was living in the stylish Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, not terribly far from the mansion of the railroad tycoon, James J. Hill.

Don't misunderstand, the Fawkners were several ranks lower on the socio-economic ladder, but George was making some progress. Newspaper clippings hint at the lifestyle.

  • In spring 1884, the young people's literary society of the Christian church met at the home of G. S. Fawkner, 286 Pleasant Ave. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 11 April 1884, p. 8.)
  • Among those present when the Minnetonka summer season was formerly opened at the Lafayette Hotel, was Miss Fairrie Fawkner, wearing "plumb-colored satin with lace draperies." The party lasted til midnight, with "a special train in waiting to convey the tired pleasure-seekers to their homes in the Twin Cities." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 26 June 1887, p. 5).  Lake Minnetonka was, and remains, an upscale lake resort just west of Minneapolis.
  • In the fall of 1891, "Miss Faery Fawkner gave a charming little tea party yesterday afternoon in honor of her guest..." "In the evening the young men were invited in and danced and talked and enjoyed themselves in the simplest and most delightful fashion imaginable." Among them were Capt. Braden and Tom Pease. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 16 October 1891, p. 4). Keep the Braden and Pease names in mind for next week's blog.
  • Fairy Fawkner performed in "Fantasma of Flowers" in a January 1892 benefit for the Christian chapel on Nelson and Farrington Streets. (St. Paul Daily Globe, 10 January 1892).
Then, there is the somewhat bizarre story of August 1885 that George Fawkner had just returned from a two-week tour of North Dakota, during which "he visited all of the cities and towns and drove across the country. He reported fine crop conditions and said both business men and farmers "were feeling buoyant at the outlook." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 23 August 1885). What possible business took him to Dakota? He wasn't appointed to his government surveyor job until 1889.

George Fawkner had "retired" from the real estate firm of Brown, Fawkner and Hanley in March 1887, but was apparently still wheeling and dealing two years later when he advertised his intent to purchase with cash "$50,000 to $100,000 worth of centrally located property, paying a good rental; don't apply unless willing to sell at a bargain" (St. Paul Daily Globe, 15 March 1889, p. 7).

St. Paul Daily Globe, 1 July 1889
 In any event, by summer he was Inspector of Surveys. His comings and goings as Inspector of Surveys are were reported in newspapers all across the west. He was back in St. Paul at  least briefly in April 1893, visiting his daughters, "one of whom is Mrs. Capt. Braden. Another daughter is still a pupil at St. Joseph's Academy, where she is taking a course of lessons in painting, and has made a very enviable reputation as an artist in the school." (St. Paul Daily Globe, 9 April 1893, p. 12).

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 All newspaper articles cited above can be viewed at the Library of Congress' free Chronicling America website --

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