13 September 2013

The House in the Photograph

Welcome back. How well do you rate as a listener? I’m terrible with directions or stories or peoples’ anything if I only hear them. I usually do better if I see it, whatever it is, but I still needed seven months to notice a photograph hanging on our bedroom wall.
Hand-colored version of our bedroom
photograph. Rovilla Griffith Botteen (left)
and Fred Botteen’s mother in front of
“Mabel’s house,” ca 1900-1910.

My wife Vicki took care of the apartment’s wall hangings before I arrived. Most are fine-art photographs taken by my daughter Rachel. The photograph in the bedroom was very old and of a house with two women in front, one blurred. When I asked Vicki who was in the photograph, she knew only that it was Mabel’s house.

Photo Sleuthing

I, of course, dove in to investigate. OK, it wasn’t much of a dive. Shortly after I asked, Vicki dug up three other old, mounted photographs of people at the house. These had names on the backs: Rovilla and Fred Botteen, Rovilla and Albert H. Griffith, and James Lewellyn’s children.

Given the names, I found ample information online, and Vicki’s father was a source of fact and rumor. Unlike my own family tree, it would probably be relatively easy to fill in every blank if I weren’t content with the highlights, which took me from our bedroom to a museum collection of Lincoln memorabilia.  

Mabel and Bill

Mabel lived and, in 1990, died in the house in the photograph, yet Vicki’s parents had purchased the 160 acre farm years earlier from Mabel and her husband William (Bill) A. Griffith, who predeceased her by over a decade. Their daughter has since passed away.

Regardless of Bill’s success as a farmer prior to the sale, Mabel brought home a paycheck. She commuted daily to town, where she was employed as a bookkeeper.

Rovilla Griffith Botteen and Fred Botteen in
front of “Mabel’s house,” ca. 1900-1910.
Bill had inherited the farm from his parents, Albert and Myrtle, who had inherited it from Albert’s parents, William and Rovilla. Fred Botteen entered the picture (literally) in 1898 by marrying Rovilla, widowed in 1897, the year of Fred’s divorce from a woman absent from the photographs.

Albert and Myrtle

Albert H. Griffith graduated Ripon College in the Class of 1898. (Nearly half of the graduates were women!) At some point after his father William died, Albert split the farm, married Myrtle and moved into a house on the 80 acres across the road from the house in the photograph, then occupied by his mother Rovilla and her new husband Fred. 

Albert became a renowned scholar of Abraham Lincoln. In 1930, he sold his Lincoln memorabilia collection, which included tons (really) of periodicals, for the new Lincoln Museum of Fort Wayne, Ind. That museum closed in 2008; its holdings were transferred to a consortium of the Indiana State Museum, Allen County Public Library in Fort Worth and Indiana Historical Society.

Albert (left) and Rovilla Griffith, standing
with children of James Lewellyn in front
of “Mabel’s house,” 1888.
I didn’t follow up on Fred, but after Rovilla died in 1928, Albert and Myrtle remained in the house across the road. When their son Bill married Mabel, Albert allowed them to share his and Myrtle’s house, but he wouldn’t let anyone occupy the house in the photograph. The house sat empty for 20 years until Myrtle then Albert died, and Bill and Mabel moved in.

Wrap Up

Vicki loved Mabel’s house, especially the setting. When Vicki took me to see and consider the house for a future home, it had been empty for several more years and was showing signs of vandalism. Since we were living far away, retirement undefined, and since the house needed untold fixes, I didn’t encourage Vicki’s dream.

Now that we’ve retired, it’s too late. The house in our bedroom photograph, the house that Albert H. Griffith, born 1871, labeled his “childhood and boyhood home” on each photograph, was destroyed by a volunteer firefighter arsonist.

Thanks for stopping by.


Rather than cite online cemetery records and the like, I’ll focus on Albert H. Griffith and the Lincoln collection.
- Ripon College Archives Class of 1898 (may need to copy and paste URL): http://content.mpl.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/Ripon/id/328/rec/10
(Ripon, Wis., now a city of fewer than 8000 people, was the birthplace of the Republican Party in 1854.)
- Article on Griffith in Wisconsin State Journal, 1924: www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=1&id=2378&hdl=&np=&adv=yes&ln=Griffith&fn=Albert&q=Rev.&y1=&y2=&ci=&co=&mhd=&shd=
- Paper on Lincoln read by Griffith at a 1931 conference, from Wisconsin Magazine of History: www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4630866?uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102566524327
- Report of the “Eight Collections of the Lincoln Museum,” 1931: www.archive.org/stream/eightcollections01linc/eightcollections01linc_djvu.txt
- Write up on Lincoln Museum and its closing from Everything Lincoln website: www.everythinglincoln.com/acrossamerica/LincolnMuseumFtWayne.html
- Newspaper article on 2008 transfer of Lincoln Museum collection, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. www.sj-r.com/news/x1720692299/Lincoln-collection-to-remain-in-Indiana
- The Lincoln Collection in Indiana described on the Allen County Public Library website: www.acpl.lib.in.us/LincolnCollection/

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