Tag Archives: #Indianapolis

My Grandmother’s Letters

Pearl Reed (later Cleage) about 1904.

During the past month I have been working on the forty letters I recently found written from 1903 to 1905 by my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage to her friend Homer Jarrett. Homer was a cousin of her sister Minnie’s husband, James Mullins.

After reading through the letters, I transcribed them. It wasn’t always easy because her hand writting seems hurried and is hard to read. There were a few words I couldn’t make out at first but after going back, I have figured out most of them.

Next, I looked in newspapers of the day to find out about the temperatures when she said it was hot or cold. I looked for announcements about concerts, church events and people that she mentioned. I googled the books she wrote about.  I looked for how much money a black laboring man made during those years. It wasn’t much. I’ve wondered about their Christmas and Thanksgiving menus.

Now I am trying to reconstruct the house she lived in with her older brothers and mother. I found the house in the Sanborn and Bast Atlas maps. At first I was happy with that, then I wanted to know what the house looked like. For several days I’ve been looking at pictures online of historic houses in Indianapolis, Indiana and at drawings of possible layouts. Now I’m wondering about furniture.

The letters themselves gave me a window into the life my grandmother was living back in the early 1900s. The other information helps me to light up the rooms I’m looking into. Eventually I will be ready to put it all together.

The Day Louis Cleage Died – 7 Feb 1918

In 2011 a genealogy friend of mine, Megan Heyl of Hunting Down History, was helping me find the death date and place for my great grandfather, Louis Cleage.  She wrote to the Indianapolis Public Library and asked librarian Mike Perkins if he could tell us anything.  At the time, he could not. However, on October 6, 2015, he sent a copy of Louis Cleage’s death notice from the Indianapolis Star.  That is 4 years later!

louis cleage death 1918

I wondered what was happening on the day he died.  Using  Newspapers.com, I was able to locate the full issue of The Indianapolis Star for February 7, 1918 and find out.  The first thing I noticed when looking at the full list of deaths for that day, was that 6 of the 11 people that died, died of  pneumonia.  Below is a collage made from articles and advertisements in that day’s issue of The Indianapolis Star.

feb 7 1918 news

Other posts about Louis Cleage.

Louis Cleage & Family 1880
Louis Cleage – Work Day
Louis Cleage (pronounced Kleg)
Louis Cleage (pronounced Kleg)
Louis Cleage burial Spot
Louis Cleage’s Death Certificate

Presbyterian Church Connections in the Cleage Family

Louis and Albert Cleage

Yesterday I was working like mad to complete an entry for the “Carnival of Genealogy – Our Ancestors Places of Worship”, by the midnight deadline when I came across two interesting pieces of new information.

First, even though I thought I had done this before with no success, I asked my cousins to ask their mothers what church they had attended as children in Detroit.  The answer came back – St. John’s Presbyterian Church. At first I thought there was some confusion because I knew that my father had been pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. and St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but St. Johns Presbyterian? I didn’t remember ever hearing of it before. So, I googled it and found that not only was there a St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but that my Cleage grandparents were among founders and that it was founded in 1919, the same year my Graham grandfather was participating in the founding of Plymouth Congregational Church, also in Detroit, also on the East side.  I looked for more information on St. Johns.  I searched for even one photograph of the old church. I came up with very little. I looked through the family photos for something that looked like it was taken at a church but also found nothing aside from a few where the family is on their way to church. I did find the information below.

Detroit and the Great Migration 1916-1929, by Elizabeth Anne Martin Religion and the Migrant

“We, the believers in Christ members, are very proud of our rich heritage. We rejoice always; give praise and thanksgiving to our Lord for His abundant blessings of the faithful shoulders we stand on. We accept our charge of ensuring an African-American Presbyterian witness for our Lord in the city of Detroit, Michigan and beyond to the glory of God! St. John’s Presbyterian Church was among the new congregations formed because of the migration. In the winter of 1917 Reverend J.W. Lee, “field secretary for church extension among colored people in the North,” came to Detroit hoping to establish a Presbyterian church. He was disturbed by the fact that many migrants of the Presbyterian faith had turned to other denominations because there were no Presbyterian churches in Detroit. In April 1919 Lee organized thirty-nine believers into a new congregation. He served as pastor until 1921, when he recruited a southern preacher front Alabama to take his place. By 1925 the Sunday services at St. John’s were so popular that some people arrived as much as three hours early in order to secure seats. Hundreds of persons had to be turned away at both Sunday and weekday services.”  One clarification, there were Presbyterian churches in Detroit but they were white.

Something the churches my grandparents helped found have in common is that they were both urban renewed and torn down to make way for, in the case of Plymouth, a parking structure and I’m not sure what for St. Johns but neither of the historic church buildings are standing today, although both churches are still going strong in their new buildings.

Next I decided to google the church my grandfather, Albert Cleage attended when he was growing up in Athens Tennessee. I found that he was too young to have helped start First United Presbyterian Church, it was founded in 1890 and he was born in 1883. However, his step-father, my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s second husband, Rodger Sherman, is listed as the architect of the church on Wikepidia.  Amazed?  Yes, I was.  Mr. Sherman and Celia Cleage weren’t married until 1897,  First United Presbyterian church had been standing for 5 years by then.  The church is still standing and still looking good today.

First United Presbyterian Church - 2004

From the Website “J. Lawrence Cook – An Autobiography”
“After a short time at Fisk, just how long I do not know, my father (note: J.L. Cook) entered Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee. [5] He worked to pay his expenses, and was also aided by donations from individuals back in his home town of Athens. In 1888 he received his bachelor’s degree from Knoxville College and entered Allegheny Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. [6] On 9 April 1890 he was licensed as a minister by the Allegheny Presbytery, and with this credential returned to Athens to establish a United Presbyterian mission. Fresh out of seminary, he began holding services in an old dance hall. [7]”

Other posts about church founding in my family. 
From Montgomery to Detroit, A Congregational Church – COG Our Ancestors Places of Worship

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909, Indianapolis Indiana

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909

Witherspoon Presbyterian Church 1909, Indianapolis, Indiana.

This is a photograph of the congregation of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN in 1909, two years after they organized. This photograph is from the personal collection of my cousin Vivian Vaughn McDonald.  My grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage is the third person on the top right. My grandfather, Albert Cleage is next to her.  They wouldn’t be married for two more years. Next to Albert is his brother Jacob and next to him is their brother Henry.  Directly in front of my grandfather Albert is Jacob’s wife, Gertrude. Three people over from Henry is James Cleage, their sister Josephine’s husband.  He was from a different Cleage branch.  In the second row, second from the right is Henrietta Cleage, oldest daughter of James and Josephine. Although the woman 4th from the left, front row, looks like Josephine to me, I’m told Josephine was not there for the photo but was home pregnant with Hattie Ruth, the youngest of her five children.

In the 1909 Indianapolis City Directory Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church is listed as located in Realty Hall with Rev. David White as Pastor.

Here is another photograph in front of the church.  Also from my cousin Vivian’s collection.  Josephine Cleage is on the far right, wearing a dark dress.  The history below if from the Witherspoon web page, however they seem to have taken the history section down.

On April 30, 1907 the Presbytery of Indiana of the United Presbyterian Church held a called meeting at Realty Hall in response to a petition signed by 31 persons asking to be organized into a United Presbyterian congregation.

Begins With 31 Members

Prof. David Graham of Rushville was moderator and Rev. W. W. McCall of Greensburg was secretary. Other members present were Rev. Fred W. Schmuch of Milroy, Rev. N. B. McClung of Vevay, Rev. Mr. McDill of Madison, and Dr. Cowan of Indianapolis.

The petition was discussed at some length. By unanimous vote an organization was decided upon. The 31 members who signed the petition were as follows: Henry W. Cleage, Mrs. Carrie Perkins, Mrs. Emma Moore, A. T. Roney, Mrs. Cora Donann, Mrs. Cathern Crenshaw, Mrs. Daisy L. Brabham, Albert Cleage, Mrs. Gertrude Cleage, James Myers, Mrs. A. L. McElrath, O. F. Dennis, Mrs. Hattie  Mitchell, H. M. Mitchell, Mrs. Theresa Finley, Othello Finley, Miss Edith Finley, Miss Luell E. Hibbett, Mrs. Mary Peterson, Mrs. Anna Bowman, John T. Fox, Miss Pearl Reed, Thomas H. Bransford, Mrs. O. F. Dennis, Miss Alice Mathews, Miss Hilda Reeder, W. J. Perkins, Henry Moore and H. L. Hummons.

For other fine Sepia Saturday photographs dealing with windows or lights or who knows click here.  My family seems to have a habit of starting churches.  To see a photograph of the congregation of a church started by the maternal branch of the family click Plymouth Congregational Church.

The Indianapolis Star – 20 March 1911 – Dr. Cleage on a case of suicide

Albert B. Cleage 1909

20 Mar 1911 Monday Article
Guard Body of Suicide – Policemen Hold Long Vigil. 
Estal Loc Townsend Cheats Tuberculosis by killing himself with Carbolic Acid After Attempt to End Life by Shooting Fails.

After Estal Lee Townsend, 19 years old, 227 East New York street, a driver, had committed suicide in a room at 120 North Pennsylvania street yesterday, bicycle officers guarded the body for almost three hours until coroner Durham arrived.  The officers were acting under specific instructions given earlier in the week that bodies of persons dying from other than natural causes should not be touched until seen by the coroner.

Townsend swallowed the contents of a phial of carbolic acid while visiting a friend, Frank Black, at the Pennsylvania street address.  The suicide was a victim of tuberculosis.  He tried to kill himself last Friday night.  It is said, by shooting.  He was in the act of firing a bullet into his brain when a friend knocked the weapon from his hand.  The bullet penetrated the ceiling of Townsend’s room.

Yesterday Townsend spent several hours in Black’s room and although despondent gave no hint of his intention to end his life.  About 4:45 o’clock Townsend stepped into an adjoining room.


A few minutes later Black heard groans and found his friend sitting on the floor at the side of a bed.  An empty bottle labeled carbolic acid was on the floor beside him.  Black asked Townsend if he had taken the acid and the dying boy nodded his head in the affirmative.

Black notified the police and Bicyclemen Trimpe and Bernsuer went to the room with Dr. A.B. Cleage of the City Dispensary, the policemen worked over the young man, but he died in agony within a short time.

Efforts were made to find Coroner Durham but he was not at his home or office.  Trimpe and Bernauer would allow no one to touch the body and it lay on the floor until nearly 7 o’clock.  The two officers in the meantime had been relieved by Bicyclemen Schlangen and Glenn.  Coroner Durham finally was reached and he pronounced the case one of suicide.

Relatives of Townsend said he had been suffering from tuberculosis and had realized that he could not recover.  The body was taken to an undertaking establishment and will be cared for by a sister of Townsend, Mrs. Mary Dickson, 52, West Twenty-sixth street.

An Ancestral Home on Google Maps

910 Fayette Indianapolis Indiana – two story house on the right- Google maps

I decided to accept the  Saturday night challenge. After looking and not finding anything but parking lots and weed covered land where my ancestors used to live, I found 910 Fayette standing. For several years I was confused about which house it was because the houses in Indianapolis were renumbered and it turned out it was the two story house on the right and not the little gray/blue one on the left.

My father, Albert Buford Cleage, Jr, was born in this house on June 13, 1911. His parents had married the year before after Albert completed his medical training and received his physician’s license. The three Cleage brothers, Jacob, Henry and Albert and wives Gertrude and Pearl shared the house until the following year when Albert opened a practice in Kalamazoo Michigan and moved his family there.