Thursday, January 12, 2012

Introduction to the Sarah Jane Norton Diaries

In the spring of 1864, 24-year-old Sarah Jane Norton, her 28-year-old husband Austin, and the couple's infant son Charlie emigrated from Sharon Springs, New York, to Ypsilanti. Sarah kept a diary over the next 43 years until her death in November of 1906. At left she is pictured in 1888 at age 49.

The family's story is detailed in a 2006 Gleanings article by Austin, Dorothy, Cindy, and Dennis Norton. An excerpt from the story gives some background on the Norton family:

Toward the end of the Civil War, Austin and Sarah Jane Knapp Norton and their young son Charles got the “western fever” as it was called then, and migrated westward from Sharon Springs, New York. They arrived in Ypsilanti on March 10, 1864, to the open arms of Sarah's mother who had already moved to Ypsilanti some years before. Sarah's father, Lucius Knapp had passed away sometime prior to 1862, and Sarah's mother, Zada Jones Knapp then married Timothy Showerman a member of another long time Ypsilanti family. Timothy was the widower of Zada's sister Eunice. Also living in Ypsilanti at the time Sarah and Austin came from New York were two of Sarah's aunts, Lucinda Jones Casey, and Mary Jones Elliott. Lucinda was the wife of Sam Casey who had a large farm on Prospect near Clark Road, and Mary was the wife of Parmer Elliott. A third aunt, Eunice Jones had married Timothy Showerman and was living in Ypsilanti at the time of her death in 1862.

As was not too uncommon in those times, Zada, the widow of Lucius Knapp, and Timothy, the widower of Zada's sister Eunice, married in 1862 and were living in Ypsilanti in 1864. It is interesting to note that Nathalie Elliot Edmunds, a well known Ypsilantian, is a direct descendant of Mary Jones Elliot. So at one point in the late 1850s and early 1860s, four of the Jones sisters, Zada, Eunice, Mary and Lucinda were all living in Ypsilanti, having moved there some years before from Amsterdam, New York, just west of Albany.

After moving to Ypsilanti, Austin Norton worked as a stone and brick mason constructing cellars and chimneys. He built the foundations for many buildings which are still in existence. The diaries list the names of many well known Ypsilanti families for whom Austin built foundations and in some instances entire buildings. These include Elliott, Gilmore, Kirk, Cornwell, Dusbiber, Meanwell, Bassett, Lamb, Ellis, Lawrence and more.

Austin and Sarah's son Frank founded the Norton Flower business in 1892. The business would be continued for five generations in the family until the retirement of Austin and Dennis Norton in 1998, when the concern was transferred to the company's management team.

The 1864 diary is one of the oldest in the Archive's diary collection. It offers a rare look at late Civil War-era Ypsilanti. Over the next year Dusty Diary is serializing Sarah Jane Norton's 1864 diary with the permission of its current owner. Read along to learn about the life of this 24-year-old mother making a life for her family in an unfamiliar Michigan town over a thousand miles from her childhood home.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing another diary segment! I loved the ones you did last year and always looked forward to new installments.

Dusty D said...

You're most welcome! I enjoy them too...a lot of unexpected things always pop up that for me is very instructive. Stay tuned for early march when the young NY family acts on their "Western fever." :)

Misti said...

Thank you for doing the diary -- fascinating!

Dusty D said...

You're very welcome, Misti: and thanks also to the Norton family for permission to publish it here!