I was reading a letter dated February 21, 1847 which was advertised as being postmarked “Manhattan.” New York, the vendor said, so I hurried through it. But halfway down the page the writer made mention of riding on the Toledo & Monroe Railroad and visiting the village of Adrian, Michigan. This piqued my interest. I rechecked cancel - somewhat blurred, but definitely Ohio. [Figure 1] Thus, the “Manhattan” in the dateline was not the island on which the city of New York is built, but the long vanished village of Manhattan, Ohio, one of the constituent villages that now make up the city of Toledo.
The letter was quite chatty. The writer was one Gideon Kelsey and was addressed to his nephew Eber L. Kelsey in New York State. As we do now, Gideon Kelsey complained about the weather. Those of us who have experienced Toledo winters can sympathize with his description:
This part of the country is very dull . . . .not snow sufficient for sleighing & the roads not good for waggons… muddy sickly gloomy winters…
Fortunately, we have overcome the next problem, as Gideon relates it:
…to this add for the present winter the small Pox which has been quite plenty of which several have died &c &c
The Toledo area was famous for its cholera, but smallpox was just as deadly. One wonders if Kelsey was making a correct diagnosis.
Gideon Kelsey liked what he saw of Adrian, just across the state line:
...had a pleasant ride & saw a very pretty village of some 3000 inhabitants most all from the Eastern States & quite yankeyfide [sic] & quite lively….
But what exactly was Kelsey doing in Manhattan, Ohio? What was his occupation? I quote from the middle of the letter:
I left the Island the last of Dec some what out of health but have since been getting better. I am now with the same family that I have stoped [sic] with every winter – 7 winters – a good kind & benevolent people. I have been twice out to the Island since - once with a sleigh & horse once on skates…
The “Island” to which Gideon Kelsey kept referring was none other than Turtle Island in Maumee Bay, which sported a lighthouse from 1832 to 1904. Although I have not discovered much about Gideon Kelsey, I have confirmed that he served as the lighthouse keeper on Turtle Island from April 23, 1839 to November 3, 1847. The letter I have quoted from dates from February of 1847, in the final year of Kelsey’s job as keeper.
As we can see from the quote, Kelsey did not spend the whole year on the island. Once Maumee Bay froze over, or “closed to navigation” as Kelsey put it, he sleighed or skated into Manhattan, and boarded with a family, the same family as in the past in 1847. One the bay was open, Kelsey would presumably return to Turtle Island.
Gideon Kelsey, who may have died in Cleveland in 1878 (if that was the same Gideon Kelsey) is the second Turtle Island lighthouse keeper I have stumbled across in recent years. The story of Gordon Wilson, a later keeper, appeared in this blog. One cannot see Turtle Island, looking out from Toledo, over a gray February lake. But I have been lucky, twice, to unearth letters from men who experienced late winter on the island 150+ years ago.