1930s-1940s: Frank Owen’s later years

Sepia Saturday 414: Seventh in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

After the 1922 death of his beloved wife Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, my great-grandfather Frank H. Owen, 59, lived for more than twenty-five more years — finishing up his working life, then residing with his children during his retirement.

In 1920, Frank was working as a railroad watchman and four of his adult children — Arthur, Katherine, Joe and John — still lived with him and Elizabeth. By 1930 — the start of the Great Depression — his circumstances had changed significantly.

Francis Hugh Owen in his later years, on the porch of the Otter Lake Hotel in New York’s Adirondack region. My great-grandfather spent summers there with my grandmother — his daughter Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau — when it was her turn to house him. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

The 1930 U.S. Census of Baltimore City, Maryland (10th Ward), enumerated on April 9, shows Frank as the head of a household that only included his daughter Katherine, 32.

They lived at 1215 Preston St. — likely in an apartment of a multi-family dwelling, because two other households are listed at the same address.

Katherine, single, was working as a operator in a tailoring shop. Frank, widowed, was not working — so presumably retired.

They were paying a monthly rent of $25 (about $355 today). The census gave Frank’s year of immigration as 1883 and indicated he was naturalized.

Living with one child, then the next

Around 1930 seems to be when my great-grandfather Frank began living with one child, then the next — which he continued to do until the end of his life.

A 1930 City Directory of Baltimore lists Frank renting at 803 n. Payson — again with his daughter Katherine, who is listed as an “operator” at the same address.

Frank Owen’s sons Arthur and Joe with their wives (undated). From left, Nettie and Arthur Owen, Joseph and Alma Owen. My great-grandfather took turns living with his children as he aged. Photo courtesy of Jane (Owen) Dukovic

Six years later, a 1936 City Directory of Baltimore shows Frank renting at 2830 Clifton Ave. —  the same address as Arthur T. and Nettie M. Owen (his son and daughter-in-law). Arthur is listed as a salesman for the Baltimore Sales Book Company.

By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census of Baltimore City (9th Ward), enumerated on April 3, Frank was living at 607 E. Thirteenth Street with yet another son and daughter-in-law — Joseph C. and Alama P. Owen. Joe was a mechanic at an appliance factory, and they had four children under the age of 10.

From the Adirondacks to Illinois to New York City

During 1930s and ’40s, Frank also spent summers in the Adirondacks with his oldest daughter — my grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau, who with my grandfather Ray ran the Otter Lake Hotel. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him.

From Otter Lake,  my great-grandfather traveled by train to Illinois, where his daughter Charlotte and her husband James Wilson also hosted him for periods of time. Then he would camp out with my Aunt Kate (his daughter Katherine), who by the 1940s lived in New York City.

Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen had come a long way from Wales — and he continued to venture a long way from his Baltimore home town as his children took turns housing him in his old age. Fortunately, his vagabond existence led to some correspondence and passed-on stories about him, which I will share in the next post.

Up next: Family lore and unanswered questions about Frank Owen. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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5 thoughts on “1930s-1940s: Frank Owen’s later years”

  1. How nice he could spend summers staying with his daughter in the Adirondacks. Not a bad way to while away the warm summer days rocking on the porch of a resort hotel overlooking a lake!

  2. A lovely portrait. The railroad retirement system could be very generous. My grandfather was a yard master for Union Station in Washington DC. My grandparents always got discounted train tickets and even after his death in 1973 my grandmother retained a right to ride the rails for free.

  3. I hope Frank’s children enjoyed having him with them and were not just passing their Dad around when they got tired of him. No doubt he would have entertained them with plenty of his life stories. That’s a great photo of him sitting on the hotel porch.

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