Saturday, March 6, 2010

91st COG--A Tribute to Women--Mary Louise Hill VanGilder

The topic for the next edition of the COG will be: A Tribute to Women! March is women's history month and a great time to honor the women on our family trees. Thank you to Jasia at Creative Gene for again hosting this event.This is will be the 4th annual edition on this topic so we're going to change it up just a bit to keep it fresh... Write a biography about a woman on your family tree starting with a timeline of their life. The timeline can be a separate post that you link to from your biography (which can itself be a series of articles) but please just submit one post to the COG.

     This is my first effort writing about my paternal great great grandmother, Mary Louise Hill VanGilder. Of late, she has been poking into my blogs.....a photo for a Smile event, a tombstone for the Tuesday meme and many mentions when I have blogged about some of her children.

     Before I begin, I do need to be honest with the reader. I never met my great great grandmother nor have any family stories been passed down. As chatty as my paternal grandmother was....I don't remember her ever regaling me with tales of her own grandmothers.....and mores the pity. The life and times of Mary Louise Hill VanGilder is solely derived from all the research I could lay my hands on, an extensive timeline I put together on The Life of Mary Louise Hill VanGilder on TimeToast and reading between all the lines.

Pioneer Background--The Hills and The Houstons

     Mary Louise Hill was born in her parents log cabin not far from the ever growing town of Morgantown, now West Virginia on November 21, 1832. Her parents were Joseph Davidson Hill and Sarah Houston.

     She was a family member of pioneer settlers in Monongalia County. Her paternal grandparents, Robert Hill and Rebecca Caldwell Hill removed from Frederick County, Virginia after Robert received 400 acres of land in Monongalia County for his service in the Revolutionary War. The Hill records in the county date back to 1789. Although Robert Hill died many years before Mary was born, her paternal grandmother, Rebecca Caldwell Hill, lived on the old family farm known as Hill Farm, not too far away and was alive until Mary was eleven (Hackney, 40).

    Her maternal grandparents were Purnell Houston and Mary Tomlinson. The Houston's were also pioneer settlers of Monongalia County having removed from Sussex County, Delaware and arriving in the county about 1790 (Hackney, 12). Mary was too young to remember much of her maternal grandfather, Purnell Houston even though he moved in with the Hills before Mary was born and he died when she was three (Pension File).

Mary and Morgantown Coming of Age

     Mary's father had a sizable piece of property given to him before his father died in 1822. Mary grew up living the life of a farm girl. She was the youngest child in a family of nine brothers and sisters; born when her mother was 41. I imagine she was doted upon by everyone. There were subscription schools in the county and perhaps that is where Mary was taught to read and write.

     During Mary's formative years she watched Morgantown grow from a community dependant on goods being brought from other towns to a self sufficient area. By 1850 turnpikes wound their way around the county, Morgantown was a port on the Monongehela River with steamboats arriving daily, steam engines were available for transporting people and goods. There was a primary school system in place along with two academies--one male--one female (Core, 327-341).

     In 1842, the first circus arrived in Morgantown. Certainly every citizen headed in town to see the various animals and oddities. From historical accounts, the elephants lumbering through town was a big event. I can only imagine little Mary's wide eyes as they passed by. I would venture a guess that most folks living in Morgantown had never seen an elephant before the circus visit (Core, 231).

Mother Mary

     On July 14, 1853, at the age of 21, Mary became the wife of John Oliphant VanGilder, a chair maker from Morgantown. They were married by the Methodist minister, Reverend Ben Ison. John, also the son of Monongalia County pioneers, had been living on his own for several years. His father died when he was about ten and John was apprenticed to a wheelwright and at age 21, he was working as a chair maker.

     Having children was no problem for Mary. I found no record of any VanGilder stillbirths. From 1854 to 1875, Mary carried to term, 11 children--4 sons and 7 daughters--her last child having been born when Mary was almost 43. Fortunately, John's income was sufficient for her to have some domestic assistance as evidenced in their 1860 federal census.

Children of John Oliphant VanGilder and Mary Louise Hill VanGilder:

-Anna Bell VanGilder born November 11, 1854
-Jacob Young VanGilder born July 12, 1857
-Joseph Hill VanGilder born November 23, 1858
-George Ethelbert VanGilder born January 27, 1861
(my paternal great grandfather)
-Sally Ellsworth VanGilder born March 11, 1863
-Robert Ross VanGilder born March 19, 1865
-Mary Frances VanGilder born November 19, 1866
-Betty Levada VanGilder born July 26, 1868
-Emma Leona VanGilder born November 26, 1870
-Lida Edna VanGilder born April 26, 1873
-Lena Gertrude VanGilder born October 08, 1875

     I have gleaned from obituaries, history books on Monongalia County and newspaper articles that family, education, work, religion and public service were important foundations in the VanGilder family. These attributes would have been fostered by both Mary and John.

Hill Sisters circa 1895
Note the Bibles

     Mary's first loss of a close family member was the death of her father, Joseph Davidson Hill on August 24, 1860, followed over a decade later by the passing of her mother, Sarah Houston Hill, on March 18, 1872. After her mother's death, Mary's older, unmarried sister, Sophia Hill, moved in with the VanGilders.

VanGilder Farm in 1886

     By 1870, John Oliphant VanGilder had turned to farming the property and was not making furniture in the Hennen Furniture Factory in Morgantown. Into the early 1900's the farm was listed as a dairy farm.

VanGilder Sisters

     The VanGilder children were beginning to marry and have children of their own. Mary's first grandchild, William Evans VanGilder, was born on December 2, 1882 in Morgantown, West Virginia. During her lifetime a total of 27 grandchildren were born and after her death four additional were added.

     Grief followed the birth as Mary's oldest daughter, Anna Bell VanGilder, died on August 4, 1883. During her lifetime, Mary saw the passing of three of her children; Anna Bell, Robert Ross VanGilder on September 26, 1890 and my great grandfather, George Ethelbert VanGilder on May 24, 1904 all in Morgantown. Two grandchildren also died, Charles Edward Boyd on May 25, 1903 at the age of four months and Mildred A. Boyd on November 20, 1906 at age eight.

     The VanGilder's also suffered a devastating tragedy when their home on Stewart Street burned on December 8, 1902. John was carried out of the burning house on a cot as he had been left immobile by a stroke. Lost in the flames were most, if not all, the priceless heirlooms from Mary's paternal grandparents, Robert and Rebecca Caldwell Hill as well as a great portion of the house, which was the original Hill log cabin. What a sorrow for Mary to see portions of her history on fire as well as rooms that held special memories from her childhood and adult life.

     She lost her husband on Valentine's Day 1904. He died several months before their son George Ethelbert. These were clearly years that Mary turned to her church and family for support. Mary was a life long member of the Methodist Church in Morgantown.

VanGilder's gathered on the front porch

     The history surrounding the VanGilder home as reported in the Morgantown newspaper in Mary's obituary and the fire devastation seem to be somewhat confusing. As an ancestor, I have read and reread them trying to make some sense of it all. The 1902 fire articles state that the VanGilder home was originally the Hill cabin--where Mary grew up. That John VanGilder had torn off the front portion of the home and added a modern frame structure. The house could not be saved as the water lines did not reach out to the Stewart Street. Mary's obituary, six years later, reported that she died in the old Hill cabin where she was born and had lived her entire life. Perhaps some of the house was saved in the fire and family and neighbors rebuilt the damaged rooms.

     The Hill/VanGilder cabin was located on the Stewart Street. Several of the VanGilder girls, when married lived in homes on Stewart Street on the VanGilder farm property. Today there is a VanGilder Avenue perpendicular to the Stewartown Road marking where the VanGilder home aka old Joseph Davidson Hill cabin once stood. This property was part of the original land grant received by Robert Hill.

     Mary Louise Hill VanGilder died from bronchial troubles at home, alone on January 24, 1908 at the age of 75. She had lived a long and rewarding life as a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. She suffered numerous losses in life and property. She saw her hometown grow from a rural, pioneer outpost into a thriving town.

     Funeral services were held at the VanGilder home and Mary was buried on January 26, 1908, beside her husband in Mt. Union Cemetery, Union District, Monongalia County, West Virginia. The cemetery is located north of Morgantown. Surrounding her are all her grandparents, her sister, Sophia, several of her children and grandchildren.

     Mary's story will not be included in any historical books, not even in Monongalia County or Morgantown. Her obituary did run on the front page above the fold which tells me that she was a prominent and well respected individual in the Morgantown area. She was typical of most women living in pioneer areas of America. She married, raised a large family, lived with few conveniences, was active in her church and watched as her town grew from an outpost of civilization to a place with modern turn of the 20th century improvements--running water, electricity, gas lines, department stores, streetcar lines, the growth of industry--the age of industrialization had come to Morgantown.

     Mary Louise Hill VanGilder's memorial is the everlasting tribute paid to her daily by the lives that were enriched by her presence. Those teachings continue on through the generations and each descendant goes forth having learned from their link back to Mary......mothers, fathers, teachers, laborers, civil engineers, doctors, farmers, chemists, salesmen, artists, managers, ministers, and on and on.....

Rest in peace Great Great Grandmother VanGilder

-1850 Virginia Federal Census, Morgantown, Eastern District 36, Monongalia County, page 255.

-1860 Virginia Federal Census, Morgantown, District 2&3, Monongalia County, Virginia, page 274.

-1870 West Virginia Federal Census, Morgantown, Morgan District, Monongalia County, West Virginia, page 24 (381).

-1880 West Virginia Federal Census, Morgan District, Monongalia County, ED 95, page 3 (200A).

-1900 West Virginia Federal Census, Morgan District, Monongalia County, ED 83, sheet 8A (139).

-Atlas of Marion and Monongalia Counties, West Virginia. Morgan Magisterial District, Monongalia County, West Virginia, D.J. Lake and Company, Philidelphia, 1886. -Bible of Joseph Davidson Hill, transcribed by George Ethelbert VanGilder, 1898.-Core, Earl L., The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History, III. Discord. McClain Printing Company, Parsons, West Virginia, 1979.
-Hackney, Carrie B., The Houston History, Morgantown, West Virginia.

-Monongalia County, West Virginia Birth Records

-Monongalia County, West Virginia Marriage Records

-Morgantown Weekly Post, Morgantown, West Virginia, Thursday, December 18, 1902, page 9.

-Revolutionary War Pension File of Purnell Houston,

-The New Dominion Post, Morgantown, West Virginia, Friday, January 25, 1908, Front Page.

A special thank you to my VanGilder cousin, Laura Zavodny, who shared some of the VanGilder family photos used in this blog.© 2010, copyright Linda Hughes Hiser

Updated October, 2023

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU. All comments are welcome; however, if they are inappropriate, they will not be published.    PLEASE post your e-mail in the comment section if you would like to network about a particular surname or topic. I will capture it for my use only and not include it when I publish your comment.
© 2010, copyright Linda Hughes Hiser


  1. WOW OH WOW!

    Well researched, well written. Congrats!!

  2. Awesome! You put your heart and sole into this post! Very interesting and well written.

  3. Outstanding research, presentation, illustration, and source citation. Very impressive!

  4. Great story! This is exactly why I enjoy reading your blog so much....wonderful writing!

  5. Interesting story and wonderful pictures!

  6. For simply "reading between the lines", you have done a fantastic job of presenting your great-great-grandmother. I love how you included documents and those photographs - what family resemblance! It was a pleasure to read. Well done!

  7. You did a terrific job with this biography and timeline Linda! I really appreciate how you used the history of Morgantown to move the story along. Nicely done!

  8. Great post and what a compelling story. A very nice job on the research of not only Mary Louise, but also on surrounding events that surely had an impact on her life.

  9. This is a WOW tribute to Mary Louise, Morgantown, her family ---- and a WOo HOO to you for a great job in bringing this story to us. Thanks.

  10. Yes, Linda, you did a fantastic job with this bio and timeline. I loved the photographs and newsclippings that helped tell her story. I feel like I've learned a lot from you about how to do this sort of research and post.

  11. I just recently start our family. I am very impressed with your research and greatly appreciate the stories. What year did the Van Gilder name actually get changed from its original spelling? I hope someone in your family takes over all your hard work.