|"Auntie" Ferguson and her home on Dexter Street|
What's that – you've never heard of her?
Well, it's time you met her. A former slave, she is remembered for her memorable encounter and friendship with Tom L. Johnson, the man who moved his steel mill to Lorain and changed the city forever.
I first saw her picture in the combination reprint of the Lorain, Ohio 1903 Souvenir and 1924 Tornado book at the Lorain Public Library. Under her photo (the same as shown above) the caption identified her as "our oldest resident." Unfortunately she wasn't mentioned anywhere else in the book. So, when I accidentally found her obituary late last year (while scrolling through microfilm at the library), I thought I would present it here.
It's a nice story about a real Lorain character that deserves to be told.
****"AUNTIE" FERGUSON, FULL OF YEARS, DIES ALONE IN HER OLD CABIN
Mrs. Catherine Ferguson died Saturday evening at her home on Dexter Street. Mrs. Ferguson was well known as "Aunty" and was one of the most picturesque figures in Lorain. She was said to be the oldest citizen and her age has been put anywhere from 80 to 100 years. At the time of her death she was alone and unattended.
Her son, David, who lived with her in the little old cabin beyond the gas works, took dinner with her and went out and promised to return early. When he reached home about 6:30 o'clock he found his mother sitting in a chair dead.
Mrs. Ferguson came to this city shortly after the civil war. She had been a slave and brought her emancipation papers with her. These contained the records of her birth. The family has been burned out several times and these records were lost.
There is hardly any question but the old lady was over ninety years of age, and it is estimated by her friends that she had lived about 98 years. She herself said that she was only 81 years old. She leaves two sons, Robert, aged 59 years, and David, aged 42 years, both of whom live in this city.
Long before the great steel works were built, Auntie Ferguson moved into the little cabin near the site of the blast furnaces which she occupied until her death. Ten years ago when Tom L. Johnson and A. J. Moxham were riding horse back through the woods, they were met by Auntie Ferguson, who came out of her cabin and said: "You won't drive me off the old place, will you? I have lived here many years and have learned to love it."
The great millionaire's heart was touched by the appeal and taking her hand, he said:
"As long as you live, you shall have your home here, if you want it and no one shall harm your little home." He kept his word.
Up until a few months ago Auntie Ferguson made it a practice to walk down town every day and was apparently in excellent health for one so aged. About eight months ago she complained of having the rheumatism and this troubled her all winter. Recently she has had trouble with her lungs and it was partially through weakness caused by hemorrhages of the lungs that her death was caused.
The remains of the old woman were taken to Wickens' morgue, where they were prepared for burial. The funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock in the chapel. Rev. Love, of Batavia, New York, will have charge of the services. He was Mrs. Ferguson's former pastor in this city.
While at the Lorain Public Library this past Sunday, I looked up Auntie Ferguson's obituary in the other local paper from that time period, The Lorain Times-Herald. It includes some additional information and is a nice supplement to the other account.
Notable Character Who Had Seen Lorain Grow From Early Days and Had Entertained Great Man, Dead at Advanced Age.
"Auntie" Ferguson is dead. She died on Saturday afternoon while alone. Every old resident will regret to hear of her demise. She was a character of this city and one of its oldest residents. Having seen trouble in her younger days, she has had her reward here and was particularly happy at the growth of the city. She had an unusual interest in the steel plant and its prosperity meant much to her. She was one of the first to entertain Tom L. Johnson when he visited this city with A. J. Moxham for the starting of a steel mill here. They acquired her land for the steel plant and street railway, and when the papers were signed there was an understanding that she should keep her home as long as she lived and that she should never want. The two men who promoted the industry which is making Lorain, frequently visited her at her home.
When the Lorain Street Railway ran its first car over the line with the officials and their families in the car, Mrs. Ferguson had them stop at her place and they were given a substantial lunch. In her declining years she received visits from the officials of the various interests at the south part of the city.
Mrs. Catherine Ferguson was born in 1823 on the 25th of March, near Appomattox Court House, Va. She moved to Ohio in 1856, settled at Gallipolis and lived there until Grant was elected President. She then went to Oberlin, and came to this city a short time before the building of the C. L. & W. She had lived here ever since, her residence being near the present gas plant. There were born to her 12 children. Of these only three live. They are David and C. R. of this city, and Mrs. Louise Anderson of West Virginia.
Death was due to a hemorrhage. She suffered all winter from rheumatism, but of late had been feeling well. On Saturday her son David was with her. He went to the launch as did the other members of the family. Mr. Ferguson went to the house at 6:15 and found his mother dead in her old arm chair. She had been bleeding at the nose and mouth and she had been dead some time. She was well when left alone and had eaten a hearty dinner. The funeral will be held on Tuesday at 2 o'clock sun time. Rev. J. H. Love, an old friend of Mrs. Ferguson, will come from the southern part of the state to take charge of the services. The funeral will be held at Parkside chapel, where the remains now are.
The launch referred to in the second obituary was the launch on Saturday, April 9, 1904 of the steel steamer Augustus B. Wolvin, which the Times-Herald said was "the largest vessel in the world devoted entirely to the carrying of freight." It was launched at the Lorain yards of the American Shipbuilding Company at 12:57 o'clock. Its length was more than 560 feet and was "longer by sixty feet than any boat now plying the lakes."
Anyway, "Auntie" Ferguson's story is now online for future generations. Who knows? Maybe one of her descendants will find this someday and leave a comment.