Summary & Commentary on the Robert & Annie Gray Collection

by
Dr. David & Phyllis Gray
June 2015
(see “Kellar Hull Listing of Robert & Annie Gray Collection”
for complete archives; transcriptions & scans in progress)

On May 9, 2015 on the occasion of Ella Mae’s Grubbs’ 95th birthday party, Janet Louise Kellar Hull, granddaughter of Robert and Annie Gray, handed cousin David and Phyllis Gray a very large box of documents on loan, many of which were over 100 years old-–largely personal letters and tax and real estate documents. The following is a subjective sketch of highlights from Robert’s and Annie’s separate and joint lives gleaned from that Kellar Hull Collection. We have probably read between the lines in places and so the narrative may need your corrections and additions. It is in no way definitive or final; there are some obvious missing pieces. In addition to this narrative, a separate numbered list of the Kellar Hull items has been prepared.

Robert P. Gray 1844-1928 (84) & Annie N. Gray 1850-1922 (72)

Pre 1900

The two were born six years apart, Annie being younger than Robert . The time was about a decade and half or more before the Civil War. At 20 years of age, Robert enlisted on 6/8/1864 and had served seven months when honorably discharged on 1/3/1865. (His Father, William Sylvester, also served in the Civil War, enlisting on 9/9/1861, and serving for a little over two years.) Robert was in Company A, 6th PA Regiment, Heavy Artillery. Robert was 22 when the war was over and he was discharged. A little diary of his service days include notations of being on guard duty, setting up camp, going to church, and being disgusted with drunkenness in the camp.

The record of Robert’s life from the time of the end of the Civil War to the time of his marriage seems to be missing, a gap of 17 years. Was he busy working on the farm during that period? On November 16, 1882 Robert and Annie were married. Robert was 38 years old, and Annie was 32 at the time of their marriage.

In 1876 Robert attended the first world fair held in the United States. It was held in Philadelphia and was called the Centennial International Exhibition. A small notebook is filled with all the exciting things he had seen and what he apparently found most impressive. Robert would appear to be a thoughtful and curious person with many interests.

Three years after their marriage the first child was born, in 1885. Robert and Annie’s children appear as follows (marriages follow in adulthood):

Mary Bryce Gray, 1885 (deceased in 1886)
Edna Janet Gray, 1887 (to Howard Kellar, 1913)
William Garfield Gray, 1889 (to Bertha Bonin, 1917)
Stanley Russell Gray, 1891 (to Elma Rush, ?)
Paul Barton Gray, 1892 (to Bertha Campbell, 1916)

Early 1900’s

We have some record of Robert traveling after the youngest child was about 15 years old, but well before any of the children were married. In 1908, he was in Seattle, and getting ready to go to Skagway, Alaska. In 1909 he rented 40 acres in Parker, South Dakota, apparently to test the agricultural waters out there. The family story is that he went out to join his brother Samuel who had settled in a farm in Missouri. During a drought in Missouri apparently Samuel tried his hand in South Dakota and Robert may have joined him in that period. In 1909, William, his oldest son would have been 20 years old, and apparently able to run the Gray farm in West Deer.

We hear from Annie explicitly in 1911 at the age of 61. Anne was recuperating in a Sanitarium in Mercer, PA in the spring of 1911. There are five post cards from her addressed variously to “Janet,” “My Dear Daughter,” and “Dear Ones.’ None to RP. The Sanitarium in Mercer was dedicated to “chronic illnesses and nervous disorders.” The treatment was vocational and occupational therapy and for those able, working on the sanitarium farm. Also “electrical” treatments were mentioned by Annie with a positive effect.

She complains of her joints, and dreads when the therapist makes her walk. It would appear to be arthritis. It was common knowledge that she used a wheel chair during some of her later years. Annie was expected to be there seven weeks, but the release date hasn’t been found. She mentions that her “arms are improving significantly.” She says the people are friendly, and everyone seems to improve. She admires the oak grove which is still there today. The postcards from Annie seemed to be up beat, positive, and very coherent.

Phyllis and Dave visited Mercer Historical Society on May 27, 2015, to review their documents about the Sanitarium, and viewed the actual site of the former Sanitarium (no longer extant). The Sanitarium was for paying clients while non-paying patients went to the County Home. We approximated the bill to be several thousand dollars in present currency.

The Florida period, probably 1912 through 1922

The date when Robert went to Florida was elusive until we located a letter from Robert to Annie, dated November 22, 1921. In that letter he says, “It is 10 years again Thanksgiving since I hit Lynn Haven sand.” That would place the move to Florida in 1911 (and apparently around Thanksgiving). If this line of thinking is correct, Robert Patterson would have been 67 years old when he started his many and varied enterprises in Florida. He was not a young man to leave his home and launch out a distance like that.

In 1915, RP formally transferred church membership from Bull Creek Presbyterian to First Presbyterian of Lynn Haven. Membership was received “by Certificate.” Sounds rather permanent. A Frank Young was the Clerk of Session at the Lynn Haven Church. The name Frank Young appears on many letters between FL and PA; he along with others assisted Robert in various tax and real estate matters. Robert’s faith must have been considerably more than nominal. Ten years later when his eyes are hurting him badly, he says he still reads his chapter out of the Bible each day. He makes a number of expressions of a personal faith and redemption in Christ and anticipation of the life beyond with the Savior. Keeping rooted in a local church therefore should be no surprise. It is just the long-term significance of this transfer of Certificate that comes as a surprise to the writers.

Why did Robert go to Florida when he was 67 and his wife suffering from what appears to have been arthritis? It was the spring of that same year of his departure that Annie spent several weeks in the Sanitarium in Mercer. And why would he stay so long given those circumstances? The trove of documents throws little light on his motivation. He certainly wants to engage in commerce but that hardly answers all the questions.

Robert conducted a number of enterprises during the decade when he was in residence in FL. He seems proud of his work. He writes to Annie shortly before he comes home and says, “I wish you could see the southland,” and he mentions his grocery store in particular that he calls the “Red White and Blue Store.” He seems to be conscientious about the store and proud of what he had accomplished in Lynn Haven.

A very large proportion of the documents show considerable engagement in real estate. At various time he must have held title to around a dozen building lots in Lynn Haven and also a similar number in St. Cloud. Tax inquiries, official tax statements, tax receipts, and Deeds are numerous in the Collection. Both of these cities apparently were destinations for veterans and were touted as soldiers’ paradises. Lynn Haven, in the western panhandle, by Panama City, boasts a beautiful bay location, nice climate, and fertile land.

There is a dearth of information about how these lots were acquired, whether by veterans’ grants or regular purchases. There is no record of purchase prices in the acquisition of any of the lots. There is much correspondence and controversy about whether some of the titles were clear or not. Correspondence about re-selling the lots indicate sales were generally very slow even though Robert’s decade in Florida was before the Great Depression. St. Cloud is a couple hundred miles from Lynn Haven in central Florida and not far from Orlando. To give some idea of the value of the lots, shortly before he came home he was offered $150.00 each for two lots, and $300 for another lot, all in Lynn Haven. Robert also owned some oil stocks in an oil field in California., and interests in an Investment firm in Chicago. Some of these same lots today are worth thousands of dollars and are the sites of banks and other commercial and residential endeavors.

Agriculture was another occupation. He mentions his orange crop quite a few times, and planting potatoes with seed costing $1.00 a bushel. It sounds like this work is important but small scale because he only has a mule and a cart, but later had to deliver his oranges on foot. There is no record of how much land he tilled, but he is pleased that the growing season is all year around.

As a businessman, Robert Patterson Gray appears to be both a risk taker on the one hand and frugal on the other. His buying of numerous lots in Lynn Haven and St. Cloud were apparently speculative, as well as stocks in oil companies in California, and some investments in Chicago. On his cautious side, numerous records and letters indicate close attention to his affairs; one letter going so far as requesting an outstanding bill for 50 cents by a person in Florida, even after he had returned permanently to Pennsylvania.

Robert is patriotic and enjoys all the celebrations and Memorial Day speeches. He laments that President Wilson got us into a “fix,” but harbors more hope for Harding. Church and Sunday school are a regular part of his life and he expresses his personal faith and debt to Jesus for the price that he paid for us all.

He returns home to PA permanently in the latter part of June 1922. Leading up to his return a number of letters are exchanged between Annie and Robert. These letters seem to express far more affection than the much earlier ones. On May 30, 1922 Robert receives a letter from Annie wishing that he would come home “next month.” And on May 31 Annie receives a letter from Robert, addressed, “Dear Annie,” thanking her for the sweater she sent for his birthday. He calls her “honey” in that letter. A few months earlier he sent Annie a birthday gift, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt; he apologizes that “it is not a very dear birthday present but it is the history of one of our greatest Americans.”

On June 10 RP writes to Annie, “We are packing to go home, don’t worry about us.” The “us” is probably a reference to Uncle Paul who went down to Florida to help Robert make the trip home. Robert says he “would have liked to have stayed for the 4th of July celebrations, but he better not keep Paul waiting.” Robert is complaining about his eyes hurting, and reading between the lines, Robert may not be very stable on his feet at this point. Robert is conveying more problems with his general health in his letters.

Robert Patterson back home in PA, 1922 through 1928

Annie lived for seven months after Robert returned home: she died on December 23, 1922. This is contrary to the grapevine that he supposedly came home for Annie’s funeral. A very large number of documents largely about the FL businesses followed Robert’s death. Janet and Will were appointed joint Executrix, but it is obvious from the correspondence that Janet carried nearly the full burden of the business details. The items indicate transactions dated up to the early 1940s. The bulk of the items are tax statements and tax receipts, along with issues related to renting, maintaining, and selling properties. My mother, Bertha Bonin Gray, related more than once, but not begrudgingly or bitterly, that she took care of Annie in a wheel chair several years before she died, and that was repeated by having to take care of Robert. He was bedridden with “failing legs” for several years before his death in 1928 at 84 years of age. His considerably long confinement at the end of his life had to be a contrast to a very long active life.

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