About Me

Saturday, April 21, 2012

1940 Census, Part II: The Finley Brothers and C.A. Smith

In the first part of this series of blog posts, I told of Clarence Durbin and Alvin and Hazel Babb who worked at Rock Springs Park and lived in my neighborhood in Chester, according to the recently released 1940 U.S. Census Records. Being a big fan of the park’s history and an author of a book on the subject it was interesting to discover that many influential park workers and performers lived just a few doors down from my old stomping grounds.

Just around the bend on 3rd Street from my house growing up in Chester were The Finleys. The friendly couple lived in one of only two ranch-style homes in the neighborhood made up of mostly two-story clapboards. I passed the Finleys' house daily on my way to school or the family drugstore in town. Their home was bordered on one side by a concrete Lincoln Highway marker and on the other by a house near the old bridge over the railroad tracks which had a small monkey tied to a tree in the backyard in summer. The concrete marker was something to leap frog and the monkey was vastly entertaining to kids in the neighborhood.

The Finleys would often sit on their small front porch and greet me on my way to and from town. What I didn’t realize at the time was Mr. Finley was a member of The Finley Family in town. The Finley Brothers Construction Company built nearly every iconic building in Rock Springs Park, including the octagonal carousel pavilion, and just about every other building in Chester as well. According to Sayre Graham, Jr., whose father worked for the company, they built the Chester High School, the City Hall, and C.A. Smith’s huge cattle barn at Hillcrest (seen above) among others.

The 1940 Census tells us that the Mr. Finley I knew was not one of the original Finley Brothers, but most likely a son or nephew. Listed was Joseph Finley who owned an older home across the alley from where the ranch house would later sit. Today 315 Third Street has a pool in its side yard. In 1940, the house and property are listed at a value of $6,000 and Joseph is identified as being 75-years old and head of the household he shared with his wife Ella and two daughters. His occupation is “contractor – lumber and building” and even at 75, he was not retired with number of hours worked during the week of March 24-30 listed as forty-four.

I am assuming at this time, until confirmed, that the Robert Finley residing at nearby 253 Virginia Avenue, my old street, was another Finley Brother. At age 69 Robert with his wife “Ollie” and son Robert, Jr. age 29. (Could Robert, Jr. be the Mr. Finley I knew?) Robert, Sr. was a carpenter at the lumber company, so I am sure he was a Finley Brother of the construction trade.

If only my interest in the Rock Springs Park had been as great back in the 1970s as it is today, I’m sure all of my Finley neighbors would have had some interesting stories to tell of the park and their buildings which I so admire. I did, however, have the occasion to visit the home of the other subject of this post that of C.A. Smith.

In 1978 I was asked to meet a fellow thespian to run lines for a high school production of the musical “Oliver!” at the old Smith residence. The cast member was playing the Artful Dodger and was a cousin of the William A. Watson Family who owned the big house on the terraced hillside at the time. She was one of two female Artful Dodges to play opposite my part in the show. My interest in the house at that time was not so much the fact that it had once been owned by former Rock Springs Park owner C.A. Smith but that it had an elevator inside. When we finished practicing our parts in the living room of the largest house in town, Jack Dawkins and Oliver Twist, of course, rode the elevator to the second floor. “Consider yourself at home!”
1978 Oak Glen High School Little Theatre Production of "Oliver!" I was too old for the part of Oliver Twist (red vest right).
By the time the census was taken in 1940, C.A. Smith was no longer the lessee or manager of Rock Springs Park. Since 1926, the park had been leased to C.C. Macdonald and by 1935 managed by his daughter Virginia and her husband Bob Hand.

On the census, the 73 year-old Smith is listed as “Corporate Exec” and “Pottery Mag.” (I wonder if “mag” is magnate.) It is interesting to note that Smith is listed at the top of the census chart (see image 1, above), most likely because his was the first home, geographically speaking, along Pyramus Avenue. But it is not too difficult to picture him making it a point with the census taker to be listed above everyone else. He had that kind of influence. His home was valued at $25,000 or 1 million in today's dollars.

The Smith residence is only one of two Chester homes I have come across in the 1940 census so far to have servants. The other, listed directly below C.A. Smith on the document is brother, William Smith, pottery salesman. The C.A. Smith household lists as its permanent residents: C.A., wife Mary E., and servants Ada Mobley and William DeVaugin. Mobley, age 46, was the cook and Devaugin, age 77 Mr. Smith’s butler. Mobley lists her birthplace as Jacksonville, Florida, while Devaugin’s is Camden, New Jersey.


Joseph A. Comm said...

Some additional information about the monkey in the backyard has come to light on Facebook’s “You Grew Up in Chester” page. The girl who owned the monkey was Delores Faudree. She married Gene Lytton from Newell. Delores and Gene Lytton were animal lovers. “Jub Whitaker bought JoJo an ice cream cone at Herche's once. Jub laughed and laughed as JoJo gobbled it up.” I also learned that my Mr. Finley in the ranch house was named Paul.

Joseph A. Comm said...

My Finleys were Paul and Laverne Finley.