By the time Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton was 26 years old, she had already experienced a lifetime of tribulation. She had lost her mother at birth, been given away to the neighbors by her father, been relocated 2,000 miles from home by her adoptive parents, endured a “shotgun marriage” to a handsome ne’er-do-well, given birth to three children, lost a son to illness, and managed to obtain a divorce under the repressive laws of the 1880s.
As 1888 dawned, 26 year old divorcee and single mother Agnes Congleton was faced with the daunting task of reestablishing herself in respectable Healdsburg society. She and her two surviving children, nine year old Lula Mae and six year old Claude Congleton, had moved back onto her parents’ small farm on Bailhache Avenue just outside of Healdsburg, California. By this time, her father John Call, although only 65 years old, was already experiencing declining health and her mother Mary Fulton Call was glad to have her there to help run the household.
Meanwhile, between 1880 and 1890, Healdsburg had experienced a 30% increase in population, growing from about 1,100 to about 1,500 inhabitants. One eager young man who came to town from Oregon State that decade was Albert Allen Wilson. The lanky Albert was 5’ 8 ¼” tall with brown hair and grey eyes. He had been born October 20th, 1862 in Forest Grove, Washington County, Oregon to John R. Wilson and Miranda McNamer Wilson. His mother had died when Albert was just a young boy and his father had remarried soon thereafter. It was not long before John Wilson had begun a second family with his new wife, Rebecca Tong. So when 25 year old Albert arrived in Healdsburg in 1887 he had left his old life behind and was ready to start a new one. Agnes was also starting a new life and it would only be a matter of time before their paths would cross.
By 1889, John Call’s health had continued to deteriorate to the point that he was no longer able to participate in the activities of his beloved Masonic Lodge. Agnes’ brother Finley Call, who had arrived from Minnesota to rejoin the family in 1881, was doing his best to run the farm, but due to his physical disability it was more than he could handle on his own. It was clear that someone else would need to take over management of the ranch. Luckily there was a willing candidate available. On October 28th, 1890, 29 year old Agnes Congleton was married to 27 year old Albert Wilson by the Reverend A.R. McCullough of the local Methodist Episcopal Church.
As Agnes and Albert worked on settling into their new family life, changes continued around them. On October 24th, 1892 Agnes’ father John Call, who by this time had become completely blind and an invalid, passed away at the age of 70 years. Five months later, in March of 1893, his 47 year old son Finley joined him in death. This left the three-generational household of Grandmother Mary Call, newlyweds Agnes and Al Wilson, and the youngsters, 14 year old Mae and 11 year old Claude Congleton, living on the Bailhache Avenue farm.
The small family enjoyed socializing with their neighbors, many of whom were prominent members of the community. In January 1894 they attended John Bailhache’s son Temple’s 24th birthday gala. Among the guests were many notable Healdsburg residents including members of the Fitch, Sewell, Norton, Petray, Garrett, Sobranes, and Meyer families. Also in 1894, the newspapers reported on the Valentine’s Day party Agnes and Albert held in honor of daughter May Congleton’s fifteenth birthday, which featured a candy pull and which culminated with a supper at midnight. The Wilsons also began what would become a long tradition of spending leisure time at the Pacific coast, making extended excursions to Jenner with friends and family.
In July 1894 word reached Healdsburg that Agnes’ 36 year old ex-husband George Congleton had been killed in a work place accident in Hollister, California. The local newspaper there reported that his two sisters from Healdsburg, Sarah Congleton Greaver and Jenny Congleton Smith Cook, had declined the opportunity to claim his remains and that he had been buried on Mahoney’s Hill by Benito County as an indigent. Agnes had remained close friends with both of her former sisters-in-law over the years and it was clear that their loyalties lay with her.
In late 1895 the fraternal order of Foresters of America established a chapter in Healdsburg which they named The Sotoyome Court of Foresters, No. 142. In addition to general philanthropic activities, the lodge provided medical attention and free medicine, as well as cash benefits, to members who fell ill. As a charter member, Albert Wilson really began establishing himself in the Healdsburg community. By the time the court was four months old, it boasted seventy-two members. In December of the following year Albert was elected Financial Secretary for the ensuing term. He served again in 1899, this time as Junior Woodward.
In late 1897 an auxiliary organization, Sotoyome Circle, Companions of the Forest, was formed. Among the officers serving the inaugural year were Agnes Wilson, Deputy and her daughter Mae Congleton, Inner Guard. The main activity of that organization appears to have been holding dances every few months. However, an article in October 1898 describing an initiation of new members followed by a banquet is the last mention of the group in the local press. So it apparently was not a long term success. Nevertheless, it had provided Agnes with a path to reestablishing herself as a respectable Healdsburg matron.
Among the most festive and popular fund raising activities sponsored by the Foresters was their annual Masquerade Ball. In the December 30, 1897 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune it was reported that the grand march of those in costume had begun at 9:30 pm followed by dancing until 11:30 pm. After masks were removed and prizes awarded, a supper at the Sotoyome House had then been enjoyed until 1:00 am. After that, more dancing continued until the wee hours of the morning. Among those participating in the Christmas Eve festivities that year were 18 year old Mae Congleton in Evening Dress and 19 year old John Taeuffer dressed as a School Boy. About four years later these two young people would be married.
MORE CHANGES ON THE FARM
Tragedy struck on Saturday, November 7th, 1896 when fire destroyed the two-story home on Bailhache Avenue where John Call had established the family farm in 1874. The fire started between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm when all members of the family were in town. Neighbor Peter Schmidt discovered the blaze and all the neighbors joined in the effort to remove as many of the Wilson’s possessions as possible before the house was completely engulfed. The reason given that firemen were not called to fight the blaze was that the house was located so far from town. The assumption was made that the origin of the fire was a defective stove pipe in the kitchen. The newspaper estimated the loss of the building and contents at $2,000 and reported that there was insurance in the amount of $1,000.
Work began quickly to replace the Wilson home. The firm of Pierce & Holmes was retained to build a $900 cottage on the property. And in March 1897, Al Wilson and family moved into their new cottage on Bailhache Avenue to make yet another fresh start.
The nineteenth century had provided many adventures for Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton Wilson, but she was really just getting started. As the new century dawned, she and Albert began their involvement with a different fraternal organization when in June of 1900 Albert was elected Master of the Work for Friendship Lodge, No 91, Knights of Pythias. The friendships forged at this lodge would last throughout their lifetimes.
In October 1900 the couple’s friends surprised them with a traditional tin ware party to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Among the guests sharing in the festive occasion were Mrs. Charles Wickham, Mrs. Lou Barnes, Sophie Taeuffer, Mrs. Kennel and daughter, Katherine Grabner, Anita Fitch, Anna Lannon, Mrs. Andy Greaver, Mary Call and Agnes’ former sisters-in-law, Jenny Cook and Sarah Greaver.
A FRESH CENTURY DAWNS
By mid-1900, Agnes’ son Claude Congleton had moved to San Francisco and was working as a laborer at a Mineral Springs. In March of 1902, her daughter Mae Congleton married John Taeuffer and moved into the new home he had built for her on the Taeuffer Ranch on Magnolia Drive. Grandma Mary Call was slowing down and Agnes and Albert were settling in to the idea of enjoying their empty nest.
But that was not to be. In late 1902, 41 year old Agnes discovered that she and Albert were going to have a baby. The twentieth century was starting out with another new beginning for Agnes.
To find out what happened next, read A New Family for a New Century.