Eleanor Bonney Linsley was born on March 20, 1870 in Northford, Connecticut to Captain James Halsey Linsley and Catherine Dean (Conant) Linsley. She was the oldest of two children, with her brother Arthur joining the family four years later.
Eleanor’s father, James, had been injured during the civil war. When she was ten years old, he was listed on the 1880 federal census as a farmer in North Branford. Her mother was a housewife, Eleanor was attending school, Arthur at home, and the family employed an African American woman named Margret Mense as a servant. Margret also lived in the household.
As a young woman, Eleanor attended a private school in Vermont. She was twenty-one when she graduated in the early summer of 1891. I found the following article in the Morning Journal and Courier from New Haven, Connecticut dated June 24, 1981:
Prize Awarded a New Haven Young Lady.
SAXTON’S RIVER, VT., June 23.-A feature of the exercises at the commencement of Vermont university to-day was the prize contest in declamation. The first prize was awarded to Frank H. Spencer, Deep River, Conn.; second, Alice Parkis, North Uxbridge, Mass.; third, Eleanor Linsley, New Haven, Conn. The battalion was reviewed by Major Bond of Vermont National guard and Colonel John J. Estey and Lieutenant Gray Estey of the Estey guard.
A prize contest in declamation would mean that Eleanor placed third in a public speaking contest. I believe that Vermont University was in fact Vermont Academy, a private, co-educational school for both high school and one year of further education. The school was founded in 1876.
A few years later, we find another mention of Eleanor in the newspaper. She was twenty-four years old and back in Connecticut teaching school. This article is again from the Morning Journal and Courier – New Haven, Connecticut and dated March 29, 1894:
March 26- Miss Eleanor Linsley of the Center school has several times furnished choice flowers for Flora’s table at the grange and many thanks are due Miss Linsley for the favors. Last night the offering was lovely narcissus and dark violet heliotropes.
At some point, Eleanor acquired a passion for family history and begin to put together a large genealogy collection in 1896 when when she was twenty-six years old. In this history, she mentions that the Linsleys came to America from Laughton, West Linsley, Lincolnshire, England.
On March 16, 1899, Eleanor married Mr. Albert Brown Spalding Johnson. She was twenty-eight years old and Albert was twenty-six. The couple married in Eleanor’s hometown of Northford.
A year later, when the census takers came around on the 1st of June, 1900, they were living in Pomfret, Connecticut where Albert was listed as a farmer. Eleanor was thirty-years old and a month away from giving birth to the couple’s first child. An eighty-year old woman named Rachel Blackmore was living with the Johnson family and listed as a hired nurse. All three adults can read and write and the farm is owned free and clear.
The next paper trail that Eleanor left behind is ten years later when she shows up in the 1910 federal census. Eleanor is now forty and divorced. She is back in North Branford with her two young sons, Arthur Linsley Johnson, age 9, and Walter Halsey Johnson, age 7. Eleanor is now farming her own land and her mother, Catherine, is widowed and living with the family. The postcard at the top of the story was taken around this time in their hometown.
On May 12, 1914, Eleanor married for the second time. Her new husband was Albert Louis Rogers. Reverend W.H. McLain preformed the ceremony. Louis was forty-five and Eleanor was forty-four.
At the age of forty-five, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Katharine Jeannette Rogers. Little Kay was born in Northford on September 22, 1915.
On the 1920 United States Federal Census, the Rogers family is living in New Haven and Louis is working as a carpenter. All three of Eleanor’s children are still at home. Arthur is nineteen and employed doing office work, and Walter is seventeen and working as a farm laborer. Little Katharine is just four years old.
Eleanor was a forward-thinking woman and belonged to several organizations, including the League of Women Voters. She was instrumental in preserving the Little Red Schoolhouse in North Branford where her father had once taught school. Once moved to it’s new location, I believe she was the first librarian there. I do know she was the first Northford public librarian.
Sadly, when Eleanor was fifty-six years old, she became a widow. Louis passed away on June 29, 1926, leaving her on her own again with a ten-year old daughter.
On September 28, 1928, Eleanor’s son, Walter, died in a airplane stunt accident. From all accounts, he was a daredevil. The following is from an article dated September 29, 1928 in the New Britain Herald:
Air Stunt Man Is Killed In Fall – Walter Johnson, Known Here, Flew With Local Pilot
Chester, Conn., Sept. 29 – Walter H. Johnson of Middletown has hitched up his parachute, stepped from the wing of an airplane and pulled the rip-cord 169 times. One hundred and sixty-eight times, the parachute has opened and he has sailed gracefully to earth before admiring crowds. The 169th- yesterday-he pulled the rip-cord but the parachute failed to open. He was killed as he plunged with terrific force into Chester lake.
Johnson’s demonstration was to have been a feature of a fair. Several hundred persons saw him leap from a plane piloted by Charles L. Wright of New Britain 1500 feet in the air and drop like a plummet into the water.
Wright, unaware of the tragedy that had befallen his companion, returned to Brainard field, Hartford, according to a pre-arranged plan.
Well Known Here
Mr. Johnson, while not a New Britain man, was well known in this city. Several years ago when an air meet was held here Mr. Johnson was injured when his parachute opened slowly and he struck the ground with force enough to sprain an ankle. He was treated on the field by Dr. Edward Curran, who later became police surgeon.
Mr. Wright, the pilot, is a local boy who has never had an accident with his plane. He says he had a premonition yesterday that it was not safe for parachute jumping because of the high wind. Due to this fact Wright insisted upon Johnson signing a waiver, releasing the L.&H. Aircraft corporation from any responsibility in the event of an accident.
From family accounts, by the time the great depression rolled around, Eleanor was also a bit crippled up with bad hips and knee’s and sometimes needed crutches to get around. Both her and Kay went to live with her son Arthur and his family. That is where we find her on the 1930 federal census. The family lived in North Branford. Arthur was working as an accountant for a toy manufacturer and his wife Adele was listed as a farmer. They had three of their own children, Arthur, Jr., 8; Adele, 4; and Walter, who was just a baby. Add in sixty-year-old Eleanor and fourteen-year-old Kay and it must have been a packed household.
In 1940 when the census takers came around again, Eleanor is still in her son Arthur’s household. He is still an accountant, but now is working for the local housing authority. Arthur and Adele have added another daughter to the family, six-year-old Nancy.
On the website Family Search, Nancy has left some notes about her grandmother. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your memories! Here is some of what she said:
“Gram was a widow and came to live with us during the Great Depression....
As a young woman, Gram had been a teacher and a librarian and the facts she carried in her head were remarkable. We used her as a dictionary and an atlas. When we needed a word defined she would always say, “And what is the context?” She seemed to know all of the world’s capitals and their geography. One of my brothers once asked her, “Gram, are you the smartest person in the world?” She chortled happily.
Gram’s talents extended to watercolor painting, baking, and every kind of handiwork. In her younger years, she won prizes at the county fair for her pies and her needlework. The vision of her in an easy chair with the knitting needles or tatting shuttle flying is indelible in my mind.
In later years, Gram lived with her daughter and eventually a nursing home. She died quietly, holding a teddy bear, at the age of 94.”
Eleanor passed away in the nursing home on July 15, 1966.
If any family members can tell me where she is buried and/or have a picture of Eleanor, we would greatly appreciate you sharing that with us! Thank you in advance. Please share any memories or stories you have of Eleanor as well.
“My great-grandma, Grandma Kay’s mother, is the oldest relative I ever remember meeting. I only remember meeting her once. She was in her 90’s and blind and living in a nursing home. I was only about four and I think she died shortly afterwards. I remember being at the nursing home with my mom and Grandma Kay.” ~ Riff Niziolek
“Gram told the best childhood stories. One story was when she was a little girl, she could remember when electricity came over the mountain (just a large hill) into town. People would gather in front of the general store and watch as the one lightbulb that hung from the ceiling was turned on by pulling the cord…and the people were astounded by it. She would be floored by what we have today.” ~ Lee Niziolek