Category Archives: Dempsey

1889-1922: Frank Owen’s Baltimore homes

Sepia Saturday 412: Fifth in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

One disadvantage of having an urban ancestor like my Welsh great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen is the difficulty of doing a door-to-door search in census records when his name can’t be located in an index.

Fortunately, the year after his 1888 marriage to Elizabeth C. Dempsey (the daughter of my Irish immigrant ancestors), Frank started showing up in an alternative urban source: Baltimore city directories — the name-and-address catalogs that predated phone books.

http://mdhsphotographs.tumblr.com/post/75071603938/pratt-street-after-the-great-baltimore-fire-of
Pratt Street after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, looking west from near Commerce Street (1904). My Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family lived on West Pratt Street, in the far distance, at the time of this calamitous fire. Source: Maryland Historical Society

West Baltimore residents

Frank’s first Baltimore city directory entry in 1889 gave his address as 642 Portland Ave. and said he worked as a clerk.

This would also have been the first home of Frank and Elizabeth’s oldest child — my Welsh-Irish grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau, who was born on 22 March 1889.

From 1889 to 1922, despite numerous moves, Frank and his family remained in the general area north/west of Baltimore’s inner harbor. Frank’s addresses for that time period, from Baltimore city directories and one federal census, are marked on the map below

MAP INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the icon to the left of the map title for a description, sources and addresses/residence years. Click on the colored pins marking each address to see  Frank’s Baltimore city directory details. The northernmost pin is his address in the 1900 Baltimore federal census. Building icons mark the big three straw hat factories where he may have worked.

Where did Frank work?

In the last post, I discussed Frank’s job as a clerk in a straw hat factory. So I wondered whether this map might help me figure out where he worked — at least geographically.

There were many small hat shops in Baltimore during my great-grandfather’s working life. However, Baltimore’s three main manufacturers of straw hats likely provided the bulk of the jobs:

  • Brigham-Hopkins — 413-421 W. Redwood Street
  • M.S. Levy — Paca & Lombard streets
  • Townsend-Grace – 209 W. Fayette Street

So I added these company addresses as building markers to the map above — and Frank really could have worked at any of the big three. All were in reasonable commuting distance from most of his Baltimore homes.

More research ahead

More research would be needed into hat company archives to determine Frank’s exact employer. Are there rosters on which he might appear? What about payroll and other employee records?

However, mapping his addresses and those of the large straw hat manufacturers has given me a place to start.

More on the Owen household in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Frank Owen and Baltimore’s straw hat boom

Sepia Saturday 411: Fourth in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Maryland, my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Frank Owen worked as a clerk in a straw hat factory.

And this was his career for much of his life according to Frank’s listing in the Baltimore name-and-address city directories that predated phone books.

A sea of straw hats at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). The demand for straw hats in the hot, humid Mid-Atlantic region fueled a manufacturing boom in Baltimore that supported my great grandfather Frank Owen and his growing family.  By: The Library of Congress

“What kind of job is that?” I thought. “How could the manufacture of straw hats possibly provide a substantial enough income for my ancestor to raise a family on?”

Well, soon enough I discovered that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore during Frank’s working years.

Straw Hat Season

Anyone who has lived in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. knows that summers can be brutal — unbearably hot and maddeningly humid for months on end.

Now imagine a city like Baltimore with lots of people, traffic, large buildings retaining heat and, in the late 1800s, no air conditioning or sunscreen — and its not hard to see how the straw hat craze began there soon after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

A congressman and delegate shake hands at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). These two men, and a third behind them, wear the types of hats produced in the heyday of Baltimore’s straw hat boom. My ancestor Frank Owen worked as a clerk at a Baltimore straw hat factory.  By: The Library of Congress

Soon enough, May 15 became known as Straw Hat Day — opening an annual season that lasted until Sept. 15. Hot felt hats were packed away and out came lighter, well-ventilated headwear to stave off the sun’s penetrating rays (see photos here).

Turns out my great grandfather Frank Owen — who appears as a clerk, shipping clerk or hatter in federal censuses and city directories — was right in the thick of the Baltimore straw hat boom.

“But where exactly did he work?” I wondered.

The Big Three

In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article, reporter Fred Rasmussen wrote that, “During the 1870s, three concerns, which came to dominate local straw-hat making, were founded in Baltimore.”

They were Brigham-Hopkins Co., M.S. Levy and Townsend-Grace Co. — the big three in an industry that employed thousands of workers, according to Rasmussen:

The straw-hat business boomed from 1890, when 1,100 people were employed in hat making, until the mid-1920s, when more than 2,300 workers turned out 3 million straw hats annually. It was common for several generations of the same family to work in the same hat-making factory.

I wondered whether Frank’s home addresses in Baltimore city directories and censuses — along with the locations of the three largest hat manufacturers — might help me narrow down which firm he was employed by.

So I plotted them on an interactive map — which you will see in the next post.

Up next: Frank Owen’s Baltimore homes. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1900-1920: Frank Owen’s Baltimore family

Sepia Saturday 410: Third in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md., is the first in which I have found my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family — and by then he had been in the country more than 12 years and was married with children.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007683533/
Baltimore street scene showing the Lubins Building and business district (circa 1910). Horse-drawn carts, streetcars and hats worn by all the men  — these provided sources of work for my great-grandfather Frank Owen, some of his children and his Dempsey in-laws. Source: Library of Congress

At the time, Baltimore City had a population of roughly 500,000 and was the sixth largest city in the U.S. — a bustling cauldron of opportunity and challenge for a Welsh working-class immigrant with a relatively young family.

The Owen family’s 1900 federal census enumeration is excerpted in the table below. My great-grandparents likely wed in 1888, since they had been married 12 years. Highlighted is the entry of their first-born child — my grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau.

1900 U.S. Census Enumeration of Frank and Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen – 428 Govane Ave., Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md. Source: FamilySearch.org
No. Name Reln. DOB Age Married Job
27 Frank C. Owen Head Dec. 1856 43 M 12 yrs. Clerk, Straw Hat Factory
28 Elizabeth Wife Feb. 1875 35 M 12 yrs. Mother of 6 children
29 Mary Dau. March 1889 11 S At school
30 Arthur Son Feb. 1891 9 S At school
31 Charlotte Dau Jan. 1893 7 S At school
32 Catherine Dau March 1895 5 S
33 Frank Son Feb. 1897 3 S
34 Evan T. Son Jan. 1899 1 S

The next two decades

By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, Frank and Elizabeth were married 22 years and had relocated their family to 1518 Henry St. Frank was a Shipping Clerk at the straw hat factory.

There were also four more children in the Owen household: Dorothy S. and William L. (both born in 1901, apparently twins), Joseph C. (born in 1904) and John, the baby, (born in 1908). Ten children altogether!

During the 1920 U.S. census the Owen family lived at 424 Stricker St., and my great-grandfather Frank, 65, was working as a railroad watchman — perhaps a less taxing job for an older worker nearing retirement.

Elizabeth C. was 52, and only four children — Arthur T., 28, (a street car conductor), Katherine G., 23,  (a men’s hat trimmer), Joseph T., 16, (a grocery clerk) and John W., 12 — were still at home. They also had two boarders, possibly for supplemental income.

In intriguing job

My great grandfather was a clerk for most of his working life — and I have long been intrigued by his job at the “straw hat factory.”

Frank even listed himself as a “hatter” in several Baltimore name-and-address city directories — and the work must have paid enough to support the large Owen household.

Yet his job somehow never sounded like an impressive calling — at least not until I started researching for this blog post.

It turns out that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore City for quite a number of years — and my great grandfather Frank Owen was right in there during the hey-day of Baltimore’s straw hat boom.

More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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