Friday, May 1, 2015

Samuel Erskine Gray 1861-1953 (52 Ancestors # 17)



This week's challenge was "Prosper".  I chose to write about my great-grandfather, who was raised on a farm and worked his way up to prosperity!

My great-grandfather, Samuel Erskine Gray, was known as “Dad Gray” in the family.  Sam was born on the 10th of August in 1861 in Lost Creek, Vigo County, Indiana. He started with little, but ended up having spent his life wheeling and dealing!

Sam was born on the National Road, five miles east of Terre Haute.  His parents were David Erskine Gray and Isabel Malone.  David Gray had been born in Scotland and came to the United States with his parents and brother around 1830.  They settled in the Lost Creek area and were farmers.

Samuel was the seventh of twelve children.  The children were all raised on the family farm. By the time Sam was born one child, Franklin, had died as an infant.  Shortly after Sam was born another brother, John, died.  When Sam was five years old, his six month old sister, Drusella, died.  And when Sam was thirteen years old, his older sister, Martha died.

According to various sources, Sam “followed the plow, mowed the hay and shucked the corn.”  He attended school three months of the year in the small country school. 

In 1885, Sam married Cora Ferrel, daughter of William Henry Harrison Clay Ferrel and Mary Amanda Carpenter, at the home of Cora’s parents.  Sam was twenty-four years old and Cora was seventeen years old.  Sam operated a small store between Terre Haute and Seelyville where he also had a saw mill and grist mill.  Sam and Cora’s first child, Gladys Lorene was born almost exactly a year after their marriage.  Sadly, the baby only lived nine months.  A year later, my grandmother, Lotta Nye, was born to Sam and Cora.  Their first son, Harry was born in 1891. Sam lost another brother in that year when August Gray died at age nineteen.

Sam and Cora and their children moved to the city of Terre Haute in 1892.  At that time Sam became a deputy in the office of the Vigo County Auditor. The following year their second son, Fred was born; their last child, Bertha Marie, was born in 1896.

In 1895, Sam Gray was one of the organizers of the Central Loan Association in Terre Haute.  Throughout the years, he served as the Central Loan Association's director, appraiser and vice-president.  It eventually became the Central Federal Savings and Loan Association.  He also helped to organize the American State Bank in Terre Haute and was one of its’ directors and stockholders.

In 1898, Sam was the administrator of his Uncle William Gray’s will. There are records of Petition to Sell Real Estate Entered in Vigo County with Samuel E. Gray Administrator of the Estate of William Gray deceased vs. David Gray.  Sam ended up selling the family farm to Herman Hulman.

Tragedy again struck the family in 1899 when Sam's wife Cora died of peritonitis, leaving Sam with four small children to raise.  At the time of Cora’s death the children were ages eleven, eight, five and three years old.

In the 1900 Vigo County, Indiana Census, Sam Gray was listed as a county clerk auditor.  The family lived in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Sam’s sister, Lucy, was living with the family to help care for the children.  Sam’s father, David Erskine Gray, died in March of 1900.  His mother, Isabel, died in 1903.  Seven of her twelve children survived her.


In 1901, Samuel E. Gray was appointed postmaster of Terre Haute, Indiana by the local Congressman. He remained in that position until 1910.  In 1904, Sam “had an official directory of the Terre Haute Post Office printed and distributed with his compliments”.

Sam remarried in 1907, marrying thirty-six year old Julia Etta Ferguson.  This was a first marriage for Etta, so she jumped right into parenthood with Sam’s four children.

An article from the Terre Haute Tribune from 1908 reports that Postmaster Samuel E. Gray “has returned from a three weeks’ visit to the Isle of Pines, off the southern coast of Cuba, where he in company with several capitalists from St. Louis and Washington leased 70,000 acres of timber land, which will be converted into a winter resort for wealthy Americans.”  In the same paper in the following year it was reported that “Postmaster Samuel Gray left Tuesday for St. Louis to attend a meeting of the South Coast Company of the Isle of Pines.”

 In the 1910 Terre Haute Indiana census, Sam and his family were living in the same home as in 1900.  Sam was listed as a real estate dealer.  That same year, Sam, along with several other men, formed the Home Fire Insurance Company of Indiana.  His oldest daughter, Nye married later in 1910.

1911 was a very big year for Sam.  He became a grandfather for the first time and he also developed what was to be one of his crowning glories.  In 1911, “the plat for ‘Edgewood Grove Beautiful’ was filed in the office of the Vigo County Recorder.  Edgewood Realty Co., under the direction of Charles S. Hernley and Samuel E. Gray” was forming a subdivision of 324 residential building lots.  It was considered to be the most elite place in Terre Haute to build a home and live in.  Sam built his family home there (pictured below).


In 1912, Sam was listed as the secretary of Edgewood Realty.  He has also been on a sight-seeing and business trip to Prescott, Arizona.  “The syndicate of which the local men are members own 45,000 acres of land in Arizona on the Mexican border, which they contemplate opening up for homeseekers.”  On this same trip, the men, including Sam, “were guests of President William Howard Taft at dinner in Chicago…”

In 1915, Sam’s youngest daughter, Marie, married. His son, Fred, was attending college at Purdue University.

In 1918, along with being the Secretary of the Edgewood Grove Realty County, Sam was also the President of the Terre Haute Real Estate Board.

Sam and Cora’s son Harry married in 1919 and son Fred married in 1920.  By the 1920 census, Sam and Etta were now living without children in the home.  They had a servant living with them.

The next ten years showed Sam as General Manager of Standard Investment County, along with being the Secretary of the Edgewood Grove Realty Company.  In 1921, he purchased thirteen acres on Jordan Road in Owen County, Indiana.  In 1926, Sam bought his son Fred’s farm in Owen County, Indiana (Fred had bought property on Jordan Village Road and had built a farmhouse, barns, and a store building.  The house had indoor plumbing from a hydraulic ram bringing water from a spring in the woods. The house also had central heating from coal furnace which burned coal he dug up on the farm property).  After purchasing it, Sam rented the farm to his daughter Marie and her husband. In 1927, Sam was listed as the Treasurer of the Central Building and Loan Association.

In the 1930 Terre Haute census, Sam and Etta were listed as living in the same home, along with their granddaughter, Mary.  Sam was listed as a real estate dealer.  He was also the President of the Indiana Real Estate Association.

In 1932 Sam formed the Gray Land Corporation.  this involved the property he owned in Owen County where the farm was.  In 1935, Sam’s son Harry died.  Harry had also been a real estate dealer in Terre Haute. That same year, Sam and Etta left Terre Haute and moved to the farm in Owen County, Indiana. Sam retained his numerous offices: from1936 to1938 he was the Treasurer of Standard Investment.  And in 1939, his beloved Lake Graybrook was completed.  The lake had been developed on Sam’s property in Owen County as a WPA project.  He built a big boathouse there and a cabin for his daughter Nye on five acres.  The rest of the lake property was sold as on or two acre properties.  Nye’s five acres remains in the family today.  The old cabin is gone, but was replaced by a three bedroom summer home where the family has spent every summer visiting since 1939.

In the 1940 census, Sam and Etta were listed as living on the farm.  He was also the Vice President of Central Federal Savings and Loan in Terre Haute.


 In 1946, Sam sold the farm to his granddaughter Mary and her husband.

In 1950 Sam’s daughter Marie died and in 1951, his daughter, Nye, died.

Sam died on the 6th of January in 1953. Sadly, when he died only one of his five children was living (Fred).  Sam had six grandchildren, five living when he died.  He also had four great-grandchildren at the time of his death.  Samuel Erskine Gray was ninety-one years old.  He is buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, along with his wife Cora and his children Fred, Harry and Gladys.

I think that Sam was a generous man based on letters I have found written to my grandmother Nye from him.  In one letter he mentioned that he had provided for his grandson’s (my dad) college tuition. He certainly started out life without anything living and working on a farm.  He appeared to be a quite ambitious man through-out his life who accomplished much.




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