Saturday, November 9, 2013

Laborers and library history, part 2: the death of John Anderson in Warren

This week, while searching the Newspaper Archive database for articles concerning the history of the Warren Library Association, I came across a story that I didn't recall finding in any published description of the library. On Monday, August 13, 1883, while the Struthers Library was under construction, a worker named John Anderson fell from a ladder and died of his injuries. The article mentioned that this was "the first accident to life since the work began," so he definitely perished while on the job (Warren Ledger, August 17, 1883, pg. 8).

The Struthers Library Building in Warren,
 soon after its completion.
Image courtesy of the 

Warren Library Association. 
The Ledger doesn't mention the man's specific occupation, or the precise circumstances or location where he met his fate. But apparently some people in the community thought well of him. Unusual for many laborers of the time, Anderson received a substantial obituary in the local newspaper. It mentioned that he and a brother had emigrated from Sweden approximately 10 years earlier, and that he was married. Although "poor and entirely ignorant of our language" when they arrived, the Andersons "by industry and economy and a strict regard for good morals ... acquired a comfortable little home, and a familiar knowledge of our language, with the respect of all who knew them." Construction on the library was halted so that other laborers could attend the funeral, and the services were paid for by the library's donor, Thomas Struthers (Warren Ledger, August 24, 1883, pg. 5).

I wanted to learn more about Anderson. From Our Scandinavian Heritage, a recent book by Barbara Ann Hillman Jones, I learned that there was a Swedish "enclave" in Warren County which extended north to Chattauqua County, New York. A search of the 1880 U.S. Census via Heritage Quest showed there were at least 3 men named John Anderson who were born in Sweden and living in Warren County in the 1880s -- never mind additional men with variant spellings of the surname! Comparing their home addresses to an 1878 map of Warren County, the likeliest was a John Anderson who lived in Conewago Township, which at that time included North Warren, where "my" John Anderson was residing when he died in 1883. Other bits from this census record matched the obituary: John Anderson of Conewago Township was born in Sweden, a laborer, and married to a woman named "Sharlott." Also, an Erick Anderson (possibly the brother mentioned in the obituary?), also born in Sweden, a laborer, married, and in his 30s, lived next door. Given how common the name is, however, I can't be sure.

It isn't my task to uncover every detail of such men's lives. Hopefully a descendant or local historian will find this post and figure it out. But I think it's important for people in Warren and beyond to know the bodily sacrifices some families made in building the institutions we enjoy today.

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