Polky’s Wall

Filed under: Family History — Chamberlain @ 11:46 pm
No. 134

Wednesday, the 19th of May, will mark the seventh anniversary of the death of Wm Julius Polk, better known to us of course as ‘Uncle Polky’. This was a loyal, generous, wise and complex man, a man with innumerable devoted friends. In his thoughtfulness and care he improved immeasurably the lives of his family. It is appropriate for us to celebrate him on this occasion. To do so we’ve produced a collection of photos from his February 2003 book signing (Uncle Polky:Memories of St Louis, Virginia Publishing, December 2002) at the St Louis Racquet Club.



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Many of those in attendance were well known family friends, but as you will note, some we had difficulty identifying. If you can help us remedy this we will add missing names and correct mistakes on ‘Polky’s Wall’.

Here is a book review of ‘Uncle Polky’ which sums up the affection felt by so many of his friends:

“Although we were not related, I had the good fortune of being able to call this entrancing and generous man “Uncle Polky.” He and my father enlisted in the Navy on the same day (just before WW II), and Uncle Polky was easily the favorite character from my childhood. I only wished he would visit my parents in Washington more often. Polky had extraordinary stories–all true–some of which appear in this memoir. I recommend it highly; your only disappointment will be that it is not much longer.”
By Farnham Blair, Blue Hill Maine

He is sorely missed…


Our Iowan Connection

Filed under: Agriculture,Family History,Family Places,Kudos — Chamberlain @ 3:22 pm

Kudos from the Clan to Calvin and Barbara Gatch. The Gatch-Schrup Farm (Mosalem Township, Dubuque County, Iowa) has recently been honored by an official listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the distinction of this listing, this farmstead has fascinating historical links to the Chambers-Mullamphy-Walsh family. But first, to get oriented, here is a map of the Dubuque Iowa vicinity:



Most of us are aware of land holdings of the Chambers and Walsh ancestors, including ranches in Texas (San Angelo) and in California (Colusa County – see the biographical essay on Richard Walsh in our Library). But probably unknown to most of us, the family had land holdings in Iowa also. The following excerpts are from the descriptive narrative submitted to the National Register. They not only describe the architecture of the farmstead, but also reveal that St Louisans John Mullanphy and Auguste Chouteau had been early owners of this very same farm which now belongs to Barbara and Calvin.


Architectural classification: Stone Limestone, Luxembourg
Period of Significance: 1854 – 1885

Narrative Description:

The John and Marie (Palen) Schrup Farmstead Historic District is located at 10086 Lake Eleanor Road in the South West ¼ of Section 7, Mosalem Township, Dubuque County, in eastern Iowa. The rectangular farmstead district is approximately 3 acres.

The John and Marie (Palen) Schrup Farmstead Historic District includes the original farm house, stone barn and stone well-house, all of which share many typical mid-nineteenth century Luxembourgian vernacular characteristics. Each is constructed from both field stones and cut stones. Each mirrors the spare, simple and graceful design of farm buildings of Luxembourgian influence. The farmstead district includes the current windbreak and stone retaining walls on the north side of the well house and the south side of the house. The Farmstead Historic District also includes the land set aside for the vegetable garden and the family orchard.

Contributing buildings include three stone structures: the house, barn and well-house. One non-contributing structure is a small storage shed at the southeast corner of the house.

The farmstead district is part of the original farm of 193 acres settled by John and Marie (Palen) Schrup. The farmstead district is located within the original Julien Dubuque land claim, negotiated with the Mesquakie Tribe by Julien Dubuque in 1788 and confirmed in 1796 by Governor Baron Francisco Carondelet for the Spanish government. Julien Dubuque sold title to this land to Auguste Chouteau of St. Louis in 1804, who in turn sold half-interest to John Mullanphy, the great-great-great-great grandfather of one of the current owners and occupants, Calvin F. Gatch, Jr.

The heirs of Chouteau and Mullanphy lost their claim to the land in 1853 as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that Julien Dubuque did not possess fee simple, but merely the right to mine the lead. There is a vertical lead mine shaft located within a quarter of a mile of the farmstead district, and the 1858 Mineral Map of Dubuque and Vicinity indicates the presence at that time of a lead furnace just north of the farmstead district.

However, the Luxembourgers who started migrating to Dubuque and Jackson County in the 1850’s were drawn not so much by the opportunity to mine lead as by the opportunity to build lives akin to the ones they had left behind in Luxembourg. Many settled in the nearby town of St. Donatus and some settled on farms in Dubuque County’s Mosalem Township and Jackson County’s Tete des Morts Township.

The distinct architectural styles of the Iowa Luxembourgian houses and barns and the strong religious ties with the Catholic Church make clear the extent to which the early Luxembourg settlers clung to their cultural and religious traditions.

As agriculture and rural life has changed in the 150 years since the early Luxembourgian settlers arrived, old limestone houses, barns and well-houses are simply not practical. Although there are scattered buildings still standing, there are few farmsteads intact. Most of the original Luxembourgian buildings have been torn down to make room for more modern farm houses and barns. The John and Marie (Palen) Schrup farmstead is one of the few remaining farmsteads that represent the Luxembourgian settlement of the second half of the 19th century.

The farmstead district is located on one of the highest spots of the original 193-acre farm with a view of the countryside to the ridge-tops several miles to the south and west. The principal farming activity has always revolved around dairy cows. The rock barn and well-house allowed early settlers to milk a few cows and store the cream in the well-house until it could be delivered to the creamery.

The farmstead stone house, barn, and well-house are architecturally significant because they compose one of few well-preserved Dubuque County Luxembourgian immigrant farmsteads settled in the mid-nineteenth century.



It is amazing to learn that this farm belonged to Auguste Chouteau (a Walsh ancestor of Mary Corley Dunn) and then to John Mullanphy (Chambers ancestor) some 200 years ago. Here are some photos of this beautiful site:


Scenic view of surroundings from farmstead’s high ground

Stone barn and outbuilding

Main dwelling – note: green thumbs have been here…

Patio and flower beds complement rock construction

Kitchen/Dining Area

Original joists and wooden lintels

Library/Music Room

Another view of surrounding countryside




What a beautiful relic of the family past. To end, here is a map showing just where Luxembourg is located – something I couldn’t recall.

Congratulations Barb and Cal – the immense time and effort you’ve devoted to this ancestral farmstead is clearly evident.


Amaryllis at last…

Filed under: Family History,Horticulture — Chamberlain @ 12:43 pm

The cold, sunless days of winter in Wisconsin receive a February surprise in Calvin and Becky’s farmhouse. The gift is from our dear departed Granny (Delphine Polk Gatch) who for many years was kind enough to send amaryllis bulbs in December to all her children and grandchildren. That added up to a lot of amaryllis plants. Not all of them survived. It takes time to take care for amaryllis and even if they are planted in the spring – who remembers to dig them up and pot them each fall before the frost?

Becky Gatch is our family amaryllis expert, having saved and brought the bulbs back to bloom each winter since 2001. Each February the Gatch family is rewarded with a magnificent display of beautiful blooms. Daisy, Abbey and now Cal IV have grown up posing with each year’s huge blooms. Mother Gatch would indeed be gratified by and proud of Becky’s efforts and the blossoms that emerge in the farmhouse in February.

If you ask Becky her secret, she will gladly tell you – horse manure!

Editor’s Note: amaryllis comes from the Greek word ἀμαρύσσω which means “I sparkle, twinkle”.

Shaw’s Garden Retrospective

Filed under: Family History — Chamberlain @ 6:05 pm

Rumpusing through old super 8 films I came across this nugget. Old Granny takes the clan to Henry Shaw’s Garden, summer 1976. The Pentlands, Hollos, Judys, Dunns and Fehligs are well represented, as well as Robert Dunn Sr, Grizelda Skinner and Raymond Scott.



A marvelous way to cool down on a sultry summer day. This tradition is alive and well.


The Camp

Filed under: Family Events,Family History,Family Places — Chamberlain @ 5:03 pm

In the summer of 1984, Aunt Grizelda, with the help of Sarah Dunn (and numerous other aunts and uncles – Aunt Anne, Aunt Jennie, Aunt Sarah, and probably others to whom we apologize), organized a boy’s camp at Moone Athy to which all the boy cousins were invited. Photographs taken from this (including several of cousin Jack Cromie) have been placed in the History section of our blog’s Library ( ‘The Camp – Moone Athy, 1984’). Here is a link.

Aunt Grizelda at Moone Athy

Old Granny

Filed under: Family History — Chamberlain @ 3:26 pm

For our 100th posting to OurRumpus, something special is in order.

As you may know, there is an ongoing family archive project directed by Eleanor Withers. Volunteers have been culling family letters, audio tapes, photographs and memorabilia for inclusion into a formal archive. Recently, family recollections have been solicited. For this occasion we present one which is especially poignant.


Sarah Eliza Chambers Polk

by Lemoine Skinner III

I remember the world that Granny created for us when we were little. The original part of Taille de Noyer was an old farm house purchased by John Mullanphy, Granny’s great great grandfather from Hyacinth, a French fur trapper. It had a screened front porch and a front door with a window that could be protected in the case of an Indian attack by a wooden flap put up to keep out arrows. We had breakfast on the porch in the summer.

The front door led to a front hall where Calvin and I had wrestled for top command of our army. Granny broke up the wrestling match after Calvin pinned me, and she resolved the argument by making one of us General of the Armies and the other an eight star general. Our army was top heavy. The next ranks were corporal held by Sarah Dunn and buck private held by Cynthia. When Bill came along we made him buck sergeant.

On the right of the hall was the library where Baupau read Uncle Remus to us. We would sit on his lap in an easy chair. His rack of pipes was at his side. This room later was the center of games of caroms and checkers. And Baupau’s reading was followed by Granny’s readings of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, The Deerslayer, and The Pathfinder. Barnaby Rudge, The Pickwick Papers, and Kenilworth Castle came later. Granny also taught us to play bridge and canasta in this room.

On the left of the front hall was the dining room where formal dinners were held. When we were little after Christmas Mass at the Cathedral and opening presents at home, we drove out to Taille de Noyer for Christmas dinner with Granny. It was a second Christmas. She had a small Christmas tree on a table in the living room, which could be reached from the library by a small stairway. It was decorated with ornaments and angel hair that looked like spun glass. Grandmother, grandfather, and Uncle Claiborne came as well; and the grownups had dinner in the dining room, while the children had dinner at a table in the front hall. There was a second opening of presents.

Further down the front hall was the kitchen on the left and the laundry room on the right. Granny’s cook when we were little was Mary. She and her husband and two sons, James and John, lived behind Taille de Noyer in what formerly had been a slave cabin. This was where each of Granny’s cooks and her family lived. James and John were friends of Calvin and me. We used to chase the horses together. They had a television, which neither Granny nor my family had, and I loved to watch Howdy Doody on their television.

Behind the original farm house was a cistern and a well with a pump. Next to this on the left was a summer kitchen that had been converted into living quarters for Mr. Hope, a mechanic at McDonald Aircraft, and his wife. Mr. Hope kept the grass cut on the place. Next to the summer kitchen was a big garage with Granny’s car and Uncle Polky’s Studebaker that had only a front seat. There was a big grindstone for grinding knives in the garage.

Upstairs in the original farm house were Uncle Polky’s bedroom with great closets for all his clothes, Baupau’s bathroom with a leather strap that he sharpened his razor on, Granny’s bathroom where one summer I saw a children’s nurse holding Anne have a heart attack and drop Anne, and Baupau’s bedroom.

We spent most of our summers, except the month we spent in Michigan and the summers Granny took us to Europe, at Taille de Noyer. When we were little, it included over 100 acres. Part of it was farmed by a Thatcher cousin of Granny’s. There were two barns (one of them later burned down) and horses, most of whom were pastured on the farm by other people. We played in the hayloft of the barn that did not burn down and loved to chase the horses. We learned to ride on Pegasus, a mustang from Texas that belonged to Baupau and Granny, who was very gentle but liked to buck. We built forts and foxholes and took our army on maneuvers against Jenny and Sarah Fehlig, who were the enemy. There was a hammock we loved to swing in and an oak tree we loved to climb. There was a doll’s house big enough to hold us that we made a clubhouse.

Aunt Alicia and the Withers girls came up from Georgia by train every summer to join us at the farm. We met them with much excitement at Union Station.

Next to the original part of Taille de Noyer was an ante bellum addition built by John Mullanphy with a colonnaded front porch. The first floor included the living room used at Christmas, a small bedroom, and a parlor that had been turned into a lumber room. Upstairs were Granny’s bedroom where when I was little she rocked me to sleep with lullabies like My Old Kentucky Home, Old Black Joe, and Down Went McGinty to the Bottom of the Sea. Down the hall on the other side was a guest bedroom that became Aunt Alicia’s bedroom on her visits. This was the room where Baupau died. At the end of the hall was a bedroom on the right with a double bed with a goose down quilt that was warm to sleep under on fall and winter nights when you could hear the wind whistling outside. Opposite this was the nursery with a great bed that was fun to share with house guests. I found another nurse dead in this bed from a heart attack the same summer as the nurse who held Anne in Granny’s bathroom died. The ambulance drivers must have wondered what was going on at the farm that summer.

Outside the nursery was a sleeping porch we all took naps on and slept on at night when we were little. The naps were policed by Granny’s or Aunt Alicia’s “Sh’s.” During the day you could hear the chirp of the crickets, and at night you could see the navigation lights of the planes coming to and from Lambert Field. Later this porch became the girls’ sleeping porch, and Calvin and I shared the smaller sleeping porch behind Baupau’s bedroom. I remember reading books Granny had given me to read during naptime like G.H. Henty’s Through the Sikh War and a book on famous cavalry leaders.

Down the middle of the second floor was a hall in which we used to play “Dark Hall.” In the game all the lights were turned out, and we jumped out of hiding places to scare each other. We also played Hide and Seek and Sardines in which the object was to see how many people could fit in a small space. Above the second floor was an attic with chests of old clothes – I remember Chinese pajamas—that were used as dress ups.

Our days were spent exploring the pasture, the creek, and the fields. There was an abandoned tennis court that had reverted to jungle and an arbor with a gazebo at the end. Baupau had planted beautiful evergreen and flowering trees. There were extensive flower gardens that became the site of Easter egg hunts. The forsythia bushes were the fort of Jenny and Sarah Fehlig. Granny had a vegetable garden from which she harvested rhubarb. There was a chicken house and pen. I remember when I was little seeing Granny twist a chicken’s head off and it running around the pen without its head. There was a spring in the pasture called the Indian Well that had been a gathering place of the Osage nation. I still have an arrowhead found near there. In the evenings we would play Kick the Can and Cat and Canaries. I can’t remember the difference between them now. When we were older we played a war game called “Calvin Gatch Shot.” I had a birthday party at the farm based on that game in which everyone was given water pistols.

On hot summer days, Granny would bundle us into her car and take us to Cousin Joe’s to swim. Cousin Joe was Joe Desloges. His house Vouziers was built in the style of a French chateau. The property, which was on the Missouri River, included about 2,000 acres. There was an underground ball room. The pool was a great oval pool in the woods fed by an artesian well with water that smelt like sulphur. We would bring a picnic lunch.

There was a farm near Florissant where Granny took us to pick strawberries. We could eat strawberries as we picked. She also bought asparagus there. We saw baby pigs there. Granny made strawberry jam by putting the strawberries and sugar in trays out in the sun. There were pecan orchards on the Missouri river where we had picnics. There were mud banks there where we took mud baths.

I remember Mass at St. Ferdinand’s in Florissant. The pastor was an old Jesuit. I remember his sermons as angry exhortations that I thought were directed at Granny. I remember Granny taking us to a Corpus Christi procession in Florissant and meeting some of the old Florissant families there.

One summer we put on a play Hansel and Gretel with back drops painted by Aunt Delphine. I was Hansel, Sarah Dunn was Gretel, Calvin was the Sandman, and Jenny was the witch. We practiced The Barber of Seville but never put it on.

On summer evenings at Taille de Noyer, there were sometimes barbecues. The grownups would grill thick steaks char broiled on the outside and rare inside. They would stand around talking and drinking mint juleps with mint from Granny’s garden or other high balls while the steak cooked. Before going to bed we would play Hocus Pocus going round in a circle with our eyes closed and opening them at the words “Jack Robinson” to find candy in the center of the circle. The rhyme we said while going around in the circle was “Hocus pocus, Fifth and Locust.” I think Dad’s office was at Fifth and Locust in downtown St. Louis.

On summer evenings the record player in the front hall of Taille de Noyer would play, and the girls, especially Anne and Sarah Withers would dance on the front lawn. The dance was a free form of ballet. Calvin and I would turn somersaults. I remember the year My Fair Lady opened in New York – the music from it played all summer.

On weekends during the school year, we had dates with Granny. We saw Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedies, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in On the Road movies, John Wayne in The Quiet Man , Alec Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob , Danny Kaye comedies, and many more movies like these. We went to the Pevely Dairy Fountain, a fountain lit by colored lights, for ice cream cones. There were trips to Shaw’s Garden and the Jewel Box and visits to the Jefferson Memorial and the Art Museum with runs down Art Hill. Later when we were older we went to the Symphony with Granny. In the summer she organized nights at the Muni Opera, and on the 4th of July, there were fireworks at the Country Club.

When I was seven Granny and Baupau rented a house in the South of France for the summer. Granny, Baupau, my mother, sisters, baby brother, Bill, and I crossed the Atlantic in the George Washington, a converted troop carrier that sailed from New York to Le Harvre. Before we left we saw the sights of New York, including the Empire State Building, and Granny took us to dinner at the Pierre Hotel. The house in the South of France was at Les Isambres in the Maritime Alps near St. Maxime. The beach belonged to a hotel called La Residence. I spent my days on the beach learning to do the breast stroke and snorkeling. There was a raft that I was able to swim to by the end of the summer. At night you could see the golden path of the moon on the sea. We had a French au pair Francoise Malegre who came back to live with us at Westminster Place. Granny took Jennie and me to visit Italy. We visited Genoa and Venice, where we stayed at the Danieli and a waiter taught me how to eat spaghetti. On the way back from the South of France, we visited Paris staying at the Continental or the George V, and from there took a train and train ferry to England. I remember seeing the trunks of the Duchess of Windsor in the train station in Paris and being told that she was not allowed in England. In England we visited the English cousins. I remember supper after high tea at the Cookes and a deer on the kitchen table at Cousin Bobby and Dellie Petre’s that was being cut up for venison.

In the fall we took trips with Granny to the Ozarks to see the leaves change color. We had picnics with her at a log cabin at Vouziers in the middle of the woods. There were trips to apple orchards in Illinois – to get across the Mississippi river, we took a car ferry. We visited Nauvoo, Illinois to see the caves in which blue cheese was made and learned about the massacre there of Joseph Smith, the leader of the Mormons.

We took an automobile tour with Granny of what had been the Western Confederacy. We saw the Polk mansions in Tennessee. We visited Atlanta and saw the Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta. We saw Vicksburg, beautiful azalea gardens, and the ante bellum mansions of Natchez, Mississippi.

I remember when Baupau died. I was 10. It was the only time I met Baupau’s brothers. Granny served them sherry in the drawing room. I wanted her to come live with us.

The next summer Granny took all of us, the Withers, the Gatches, and the Skinners with her to Europe. We had a Pullman sleeping car to ourselves on the train trip from St. Louis to Montreal. I remember swinging from upper birth to upper birth. In Montreal, we boarded the Ascania, a Cunard liner that took us to Liverpool. The passage was 8 or 9 days. There were dances, horse races, and a costume party. I remember Aunt Alicia winning a prize for her Carmen Miranda hat. There were Royal Canadian air force officers on the ship who played great ping pong. When we arrived in England, Granny rented a red bus with a driver in which we toured England and Scotland. We stopped to visit Ampleforth where Anthony and Christopher Cooke showed us around and we met Frs. Columba, Timothy, and Luke, the monks who started the St. Louis Priory. At Oxford, Charlie Petre had us up to his rooms for Orange Squash. From England we went to France via Holland. In France, Granny rented a house at St. Palais Sur Mer on the Atlantic Ocean, near Bordeaux, where we swam and played tennis. We had meals outside in the garden. There was an open air market in the town. We had wonderful picnics on the rocks on Sundays. Aunt Alicia sang songs like A Man Without A Woman and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me. We took expeditions in a large black Citroen Granny had rented to Angouleme, Sainte, and La Rochelle. We visited Paris and saw its sights before returning home.

Granny gave us a rich and wonderful childhood.

Granny was interested in ideas and books and loved classical music. She was interested in the debate over Existentialism in the 1950’s. She was a devout Catholic but quite worldly at the same time. She used to quote de La Rochefoucauld, “Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” She used to tell me that the intemperance of my language vitiated the force of my argument. When her sight weakened she read books and newspapers in big print.

She was interested in each of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She believed in building them up where they were weak. She sent money for a swing set for Kate and Sophie when they were little. They loved the swing set. Kate would unwind on it when she got back from school. I can still see in my mind’s eye the shadow Kate made against the shed in our backyard as she swung.

Granny had a strong and independent spirit. I remember as a little boy after part of the farm had been taken for a school that a contractor working on the driveway said something to Granny as she drove up the driveway that upset her. She drove back and made a figure eight with her car in the new asphalt. I had run down to watch out for her and saw it.

She was interested in providing for future generations. I remember trips we took in Missouri looking at farms to replace Taille de Noyer and the purchase of MooneAthy. She arranged to have it put in trust for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She encouraged us to plant trees there to be harvested by future generations.


Thanks to Tersh for putting together this very special recollection of “Old Granny”.


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