Marshall Ellsworth Rowan was born on July 1, 1885 at Maple Summit, Fayette County, PA, the son of Allen H. and Annie (Linderman) Rowan. For four decades, he was a telegraph operator for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and his diaries provide a glimpse into a railroader’s life in the early 20th century.
On Sept. 15, 1906, Ellsworth married Jennie Steyer (1883-1946), daughter of Daniel and Celesta Ann (Growall) Steyer of Mill Run, Fayette County. They had four daughters: Lela Jordan, Bernadine Smith, Ila Marie Price and Evelyn Kremer.
Ellsworth was interested in developing his mind, and in 1903 he pursued what we know today as a high school education. Because such schools did not exist in rural Fayette County at that time, he decided to attend a boarding school called Barkeyville Academy. Operated by the Church of God, and affiliated with Findlay College, it was located in Venango County, PA, some 120 miles from home. A history of the academy, published in 1981, said: “A genuine religious spirit was the controlling influence. A Christian atmosphere was always in evidence.”
While he was away at Barkeyville, Ellsworth’s six-year-old sister Goldie died of the croup back home. Because he was unable to return for the funeral, he regretted this long, long afterward. In fact, he once penned a poem about what he imagined were his sister's final days and thoughts.
The railroads were strong and vital to the region’s economy in the early 20th century. Ellsworth focused his career in telegraphy (the equivalent of today’s e-mail) for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He pursued further education in 1904 by moving to Newnan, GA, to study at the Southern School of Telegraphy. By the following June, he had completed his schooling and was working in South Cumberland, MD. Later that year, in November, he had moved again, back home to Mill Run. Envelopes postmarked in his early adult years show him living in Bidwell, Ohiopyle, Confluence, Ursina, Rockwood and Uniontown, PA.
Railroad work for Ellsworth was not always steady, though later, when he got some seniority, his work became more steady. He records in his 1919 diary that he was “Not working. Laid off.” In his diary for August 1921, seen at left, he wrote: “Layed off as usual.” In June 1919, he wrote: “Decided since I am bumped will take vacation.” Entries for the next week included: “Went to see Mrs. Smiths House. Up in town, rented it at $6 a month…. Stayed with Grandma Steyer last night. Papa came today at noon to take us up Home. At my old home at Maple Summit today for a good old visit…. Just having a good old time…. At Sunday School in AM & prayer meeting in evening at old home church. Surely Enjoyed myself all day…. At Papa’s. Papa plowed patch for us and in PM Jennie & I planted it…. Vacation over. Feeling fine & fit for work.”
Railroad telegraphy of that day required skill, concentration and stamina. In August 1919, Ellsworth spent a “Heavy day on B&O. 10 trains Derailed.” He had to have been busy that day transmitting messages back and forth from the wreck site to B&O management and customers.
The photo seen here shows him in the left-hand window of the Bidwell telegraph office.
Ellsworth appears to have had an occasional case of wanderlust. In 1908, he seriously considered relocating with Jennie to Salt Lake City, where his uncle Solomon S. Linderman was living. The uncle wrote to Ellsworth, describing the busy-ness of city life, the healthy climate and good wages. But they never made the move. In the spring of 1911, Ellsworth traveled to Pinellas Park, FL, to evaluate farm properties. In a letter to Jennie, he wrote: “I am liking the place better every day that I am hear and I think that I will own one of these farms before I come home.” He purchased 10 acres of farmland, in Pinellas Park, near what is now Tampa-St. Petersburg, though he ultimately returned to Pennsylvania.
Ellsworth and Jennie exchanged love letters while he was away at school or for work. In 1904, she gushed: “You can not guess how happy I were to learn you are better contented and going to stand by your task and Darling since you are going to act to manly and stand by your school I will promis you I am willing to spend Xmas with you for I know the Dear Lord will be willing for us to do so.”
Yet his long absences from home had to have taken a toll. In a 1912 letter, Ellsworth’s father wrote: “Hope you will be satisfied at your job for a period at least. I am sure it is not a pleasant thing to be a way from home so much but perhaps that thing will not always last. Remember that if we put our trust in God he will manage our financial as well as our spiritual affairs.”
Jennie and Ellsworth are mentioned in the 1912 book by John W. Jordan and James Hadden, Genealogical and Personal History of Fayette and Greene Counties.
In 1929-1930, Ellsworth and Rev. H.E. Miller, the local Methodist Episcopal preacher, bought the New Enterprise Press, a printing press and print shop in Fairchance. Ellsworth did the typesetting and printing, usually after getting home from railroad work on weekends, working until the wee hours of Sunday morning getting the church newspaper ready. Ellsworth is mentioned in the 1989 book Fairchance Through the Years, which said that "New Enterprise printed business and social stationary, legal and other blank forms, as well as church bulletins, newsletters, and tickets for schools and businesses."
In 1918, Ellsworth and Jennie moved to the Uniontown area. He worked at Mt. Braddock, then moved to Smithfield, where they rented from “Mrs. Smith” for $6 per month. They were very religious and active at both the Maple Summit Church of God and the Fairchance Free Methodist Church. He helped lead the Men’s Bible Class in Fairchance. Good-hearted, and eager to help others, he once “Bought some groceries for a poor family near us” in the dead of winter. In an age when alcoholic beverages were outlawed, he once attended a church service where he “Heard Anti-Saloon man.”
Ellsworth also enjoyed writing to his parents and recorded in his diary when he “Got [a] letter from Papa & Mama.” He and his cousin Annie (Linderman) Sisler were pen pals, though they had never met, because she lived in Colorado. In a 1906 letter, she wrote: “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if we should meet and did not like each other. Although, in this age they say nothing is impossible, I know that would be, cause I just know I would love you the minute I saw you…. I wish with all my heart, and mamma extends an invitation to your mother and father to come out here. They will receive a hearty welcome, and have a dandy time.”
He also loved the beauty of nature, and working outdoors. In March 1919, he wrote in his diary that he “Had baby & Girls out for walk this AM and found 1st bunch of Posies of year.” Later, in June, “Papa & I took our lunch & went to Big Sandy run to fish but caught nothing.” Notes during the year show he enjoyed picking and peeling peaches, plums and pears, and gathering cabbage and turnips. He also made sauerkraut. His father once wrote: "I look back over our months we worked to gether with a degree of delite when you were plowing corn and we working in the hay and when you moved and we slept under the waggon….”
On Aug. 17, 1946, after 40 years of marriage, Jennie died of a heart attack.
For the last years of his life, Ellsworth resided at R.D.4, Uniontown, and was stationed in the B&O office at Oliver, PA. He died June 8, 1953 at home in Uniontown. He was buried beside his beloved Jennie at Smithfield Baptist Cemetery.
Ellsworth's story, posted on Minerd.com in 2001, was told again in January 2012 by a community magazine in Newnan, GA, where he had attended telegraphy school. In its article "Newnan and Senoia Had Telegraphy Schools in Early 1900s," author W. Winston Skinner of Georgia's Newnan Coweta Magazine used content from this biography to illustrate a story about the Southern School of Telegraphy. The illustrations include a photo of Rowan, seated in the telegraph office of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Bidwell, Fayette County, PA, and a worksheet from the school with some of Rowan's handwritten notes.
~ Daughter Bernadine (Rowan) Smith ~
Daughter Bernadine Rowan ( ? - ? ) married (?) Smith.
They made their home in Smithfield, Fayette County. In the late 1930s, she served as secretary of the Senior B.Y.P.U. of the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
~ Daughter Ila Marie (Rowan) Price ~
Daughter Ila Marie Rowan (1914-2006) married Charles W. Price. They had no children.
Said the Herald-Standard, she "was a member of the Oliver No. 3 mission church where she served as organist and at times played the guitar during services."
She passed away in Uniontown on Jan. 27, 2006. She was laid to rest at Mount Moriah Baptist Church Cemetery.
~ Daughter Lela (Rowan) Jordan ~
Daughter Lela Rowan married (?) Jordan. They were members of the Oliver No. 3 mission church, where Lela helped organize the church's "Singspiration" event.
Grandson Wilbert "Don" Jordan, seen at left, was a local historian dubbed as "the walking encyclopedia of Fairchance history" by legendary newspaper columnist Walter "Buzz" Storey of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. For many years, Wilbert was an active volunteer with the Pennsylvania Room of the Uniontown Public Library.
Wilbert's extensive collections of books, papers, photographs and other artifact materials pertaining to the Smithfield and Fairchance areas of Fayette County (seen here) were displayed in impressive fashion at Smithfield's 'Celebrate the Centuries' event in June 2000.
Wilbert's archives and incredible memory for detail have contributed enormously to our understanding of this branch of the family. Sadly, he passed away in February 2003. An unforgettable, original personality, and a unique community treasure, he is deeply missed.