Eleanor Amelia “Nellie” Martin


Eleanor Amelia Martin, along with her twin Alice Adelia Martin, was born 11 May 1849 in Winslow, Stephenson County, IL. Within a year or so of her birth, the family moved a mile or so north across the Wisconsin state line to the place along the Pecatonica River where her father would found the village of Martin (to be renamed Martintown in about 1888 when the railroad reached the community). This would be her home for the rest of her childhood.

Her twin died at less than five months of age, but Nellie thrived. Aside having an eye that did not track the same as the other, she enjoyed good health and would ultimately survive more than eighty years. In this she contrasted sharply with the majority of her siblings. Only she and her brother Elias and sister Juliette would live to be elderly. In her childhood, Nellie saw sibling after sibling die at less than three years of age. Among other challenges in her early life, she had to cope with her father’s bouts of dementia. As the eldest daughter, Nellie probably had to shoulder an unusual share of household responsibility during those periods while her mother was preoccupied dealing with those episodes -- which thankfully were infrequent. However, in general respects, Nellie’s childhood was secure and even enviable. She was the daughter of the village patriarch and major landowner. Though she had been born at a point in the 19th Century when most Stephenson County and Green County homes were still only log cabins or something equally primitive, her environment as a whole grew more economically and socially robust with each passing year.

As the eldest daughter of the wealthiest man in the immediate vicinity, Nellie was quite a prize to be had as far as suitors were concerned. But Nellie did not concern herself with her social position; she wanted a mate of good character over all else. And so she accepted the attentions of John Warner of Winslow. John, born 24 February 1847, was the son of John Warner and Marancy Alexander, both formerly of New York state, and among the region’s pioneers. John Sr. and Marancy had wed in 1841 and established one of Winslow’s original homesteads -- in fact, Winslow had not yet formally existed when the Warners had taken possession of the parcel. (Winslow was platted and founded in 1844 by land developer Cyrus Woodman.) John’s father had died before John had turned eleven. He had for several years thereafter served as the head of the household, responsible for the support of his older sister and three younger brothers, until his mother had remarried in 1862. Cast into the workforce early, John had acquired a variety of skills. Among them was an understanding of machinery and of mill equipment. (His father had been a miller.) His introduction to Nellie may well have resulted from his job helping to maintain gristmill and sawmill equipment at the Martin mills. Their relationship blossomed into a courtship and they were married 21 April 1869. Judging by surviving documentation, it may be that the couple eloped. The bureaucratic aspects of the union were dealt with ten miles northeast of Martintown in Monroe, the seat of Green County. The rites were conducted by Justice of the Peace S.W. Abbott and witnessed by a pair of Monroe residents, M.J. Gardner and Mary Reynolds. Neither of those women appear to have been individuals who knew John and Nellie well, and S.W. Abbott himself had no direct connection, whereas nearly all other Martin weddings of the era were officiated by long-time family acquaintances. Therefore it could be that M.J. Gardner and Mary Reynolds were simply near at hand when the vows were said and the paperwork processed. By the time the big wedding was held in Martintown in front of the full gaggle of kinfolk and friends, no one was in a position to thwart their becoming man and wife.

(This website contains a section devoted to the Warner family. To read a biography specifically centered on John, click here)

Nellie and John stayed in the Martintown area for most of the next thirty-five years. This was in sharp contrast to John’s siblings, who over the course of the 1870s would all head off to new homesteading opportunities in Nebraska, taking Marancy (a widow again) with them. John enjoyed a local advantage his kin did not. Nathaniel Martin owned so much land that he was able to give each of his children eighty acres upon their marriages. John farmed the parcel that came as part of Nellie’s dowry, which lay along the northern bank of the Pecatonica opposite the main part of the village. Six of the couple’s eight children were born there. The exceptions were first son John Martin Warner, born in Winslow in 1870, and seventh child Albert Frederick Warner, born in Willow Springs, Howell County, MO during the summer of 1884. (Nellie and family accompanied her sister Emma Brown and family when the Browns were based in Howell County for a period in the mid-1880s, where Cullen Brown was a lumber merchant and probably operated or helped operate a sawmill. The Warners were gone from Martintown for only a year or so.) The births occurred every other year from 1870 to 1886, with the exception of 1880. (Nellie had a miscarriage that year.) Ida Ellen, the fifth child, would pass away at only a year and a half of age and would be buried in the Martin family cemetery on the hill above Martintown, becoming the second grandchild of Nathaniel and Hannah Martin to be laid to rest there, only three months after her first cousin and playmate Edna Brown had passed away. (Ida Ellen and Edna had both been born in August, 1878.)


Taken in the early 1890s, this formal portrait shows the entire family of John Warner and Nellie Martin, with the exception of Ida Ellen Warner, who had perished more than a decade earlier. John is seated at left, Nellie on the right, with youngest sons Walter (l) and Bert (r) seated between them. Standing in the back are, left to right, Cullen, Cora Belle, Charles, John, and Emma.


Though the farm provided a certain amount of security, John did not particularly care to devote all his working time to agriculture. He usually worked other jobs as well. He had not only his own large family to support, but in the late 1870s and early 1880s he and Nellie took in Nellie’s teenaged cousins Henry Seward Martin and Isaiah Elias Martin, sons of her uncle Charles Alexander Martin. (Charles and his wife had separated.) John is likely to have supplemented the family funds by helping out at the Martin mills, and he is believed to have assisted with construction of the railway line and depot when that infrastructure was added to the town. During the 1890s he became an insurance agent, handing off the job of head farmer to second son Charles Elias Warner. He also was a Green County justice of the peace during that decade.

As their three youngest kids, all sons, were reaching adulthood, John and Nellie were suddenly faced with a crisis that wrought a vast change in their circumstances. Their son Cullen married local girl Minnie Brecklin in 1903, who gave birth to a daughter, Selma, in May 1904. While this was going on or shortly after, Minnie manifested symptoms of tuberculosis, and Cullen was soon ill as well. Nellie and John had always been nurturant parents and had kept their children close even as adults. Charles still lived at home, and the three who had married and started families in the 1890s -- those three being John Martin Warner, Mary Emma Warner Hastings, and Cora Belle Warner Spece -- had all established their households no more than a few miles away in Green County, if not in Martintown. This cohesiveness was demonstrated again as the family decided to purchase a large farm about ten miles southeast at Scioto Mills, Stephenson County, IL. (Shown at right is that house. This is believed to be a photograph taken during the period the Warners lived there.) This property allowed them to keep Cullen and Minnie isolated from the population at large, where the rest of the family could provide nursing care and look after Selma. The three married children did not move, but bachelor sons Charles, Bert, and Walter were part of this relocation along with John, Nellie, Cullen, Minnie, and Selma.

Minnie rapidly worsened. She died at the beginning of 1906. At that point, Cullen’s doctor recommended he be taken to a region with an arid climate to slow down the course of his own infection. The physician may also have made it clear that the measure would help prevent other family members from contracting the disease. The response was profound. Not only did everyone at the Scioto Mills farm choose to move, but John Martin Warner and Belle Warner Spece and their families decided to leave Martintown as well. As a group, they headed for Fresno County, having heard from Nellie’s first cousins William Patterson Frame and Jacob Silas Frame and other kin descended from Hannah Strader Martin’s sisters Elizabeth Strader Frame and Anna Catherine Strader Frame of the beneficence -- and dry heat -- of the San Joaquin Valley. Before 1906 was out, most or all of the family had completed the migration, the last (or one of the last) being Bert Warner, who had lingered in order to finish business school. Bert joined the rest in December of that year.

The first order of affairs was to acquire a piece of land that would, so it was imagined, serve as the family estate, as the Martintown-area farm had been and the Scioto Mills property might have become. Funds were ample enough to purchase a substantial spread at the edge of the Sierra Nevada foothills east of the town of Clovis. The nearest post office was at the tiny trading post of Academy. References in surviving family correspondence refer to the Warner property as the Academy ranch. They family called it Spring Book Ranch, though this name does not appear to have taken hold. When spoken of in later years, it was nearly always called the Fancher Creek place, the name taken from the seasonal stream that ran through the parcel. A house was quickly built with enough room for everyone when they were “in residence.” (Shown left, the Fancher Creek place and its main house.)

But the fact is, many family members were often not in residence. This state of affairs applied to Nellie and John themselves. The couple spent much of their time at a home they maintained in Sanger, ten miles due south of Academy. Sanger was a budding small town out in the Great Central Valley proper, a place with a robust local economy thanks to its position at the end of a flume that carried logs down from the mountains to be turned into lumber and then shipped by rail -- a major line of Southern Pacific Railroad ran right through the midst of the town. Here John continued to be a businessman. With his eldest son and namesake, he built a huge warehouse along the SP tracks. The erection of this building would in later years be cited by local historians as the moment when Sanger began to possess a town core that could legitimately be called “urban,” and for decades it remained the largest structure in the community. The business was known as Warner & Warner, from which John and John -- sometimes abetted by Charles -- sold feed grain, fuel, and hardware.

Little Selma Warner stayed with her grandparents. All of Nellie’s own children were now grown -- even Walter, the youngest, had reached the age of twenty by the time of the move to California. It was obviously impractical for Cullen to be a caregiver, nor was it common in that era for any man, whether healthy or unhealthy, single or married, to devote himself to such a responsibility. Nellie would in essence be Selma’s mother for the rest of Selma’s childhood, as she had been ever since Minnie had become an invalid. (At right, Nellie with Selma in about 1910.)

Belle and Alie Spece arrived in January, 1909 and established themselves in Sanger. About three months later in 1909 youngest son Walter, who had married Margaret Bell just before leaving the Martintown/Winslow area, acquired twenty acres near Fowler, also south of Sanger, and near the farm of Will Frame. Until that point, the couple had lived in a shack on Spring Brook Ranch.

Although Charles Warner took the main responsibility for farming the Fancher Creek land, at any given time he could be found helping at the warehouse or at the Spece feed lot. The only full-time residents of the Fancher Creek place were Cullen and Bert. When the former was feeling good, the two brothers ran cattle in the hills. The doctor had been right about the arid climate helping Cullen. Unfortunately the good luck did not last. In the spring of 1909, his case grew so severe it was obvious the end was imminent. In late April the family gathered for the death vigil at the Fancher Creek house. The group included not only the immediate Warner family, but some of the Frame cousins as well. Cullen passed away after much suffering 1 May 1909. The next day the family gathered again for the sad task of digging his grave at the Academy cemetery. Jake Frame, who was a minister, conducted the rites.

After Cullen succumbed, Bert gave up ranching and joined his kin in Sanger. He married Grace Branson, who had been the teacher at the one-room Fancher Creek District school, and they established themselves in a home in town. A place was made for Bert to be the manager -- on salary rather than an owner -- of the warehouse. His presence there was important because John Martin Warner’s wife Anna Lueck’s health was in decline. John and Anna often made trips back to Green County so that her family members could help care for her and children Leslie and Dorothy. (They had, in fact, been gone on such a trip when Cullen passed away.) Therefore John M. could not tend to the warehouse as much as his co-ownership called for, and his father was handling more than he needed to at his age. Things remained unsettled enough that in 1913 -- two years after Anna Lueck Warner passed away, and the year that John M. Warner remarried -- John the younger sold out and John the elder retired. Bert became an owner of record, and Alie Spece gave up the feed lot and farm and bought into the warehouse as the other partner. This freed John Warner Sr. to enjoy a bit of well-deserved leisure. He and Nellie probably spent this time dwelling in Sanger. Sadly, John’s “rocking chair days” did not last long. He passed away suddenly of a stroke 3 January 1916 while on a trip into the Sierra Nevada. His official place of death is recorded as Tollhouse, a small Fresno County foothill community not far from Fancher Creek/Academy.

In her widowhood, with young Selma still her dependent, Nellie moved in with Charles. Charles had always been the one of her children she was most attached to, and vice versa. Charles was at that time a Fresno County farmer, though his house would appear to have been within the city limits of Sanger. Though Nellie had some money in the bank and now started to receive a Civil War widow’s pension, she probably would have found it hard to get by if she’d had to pay all of the expenses of her own home. (The pension, for example, was only fifteen dollars a month when John died, rising to eighteen 24 February 1917 on what would have been his seventieth birthday. Even in the late 1920s during Nellie’s final years of life, the benefit was a modest forty dollars a month.)

In 1918 daughter Mary Emma Warner and her husband Fred Hastings and their three children finally made the move from Wisconsin to Sanger. It is a testament to Nellie’s nurturant qualities that all her offspring wanted to be around her and around each other, so many years after they had been her babies. (Shown at left is Nellie in the late summer of 1918 in an image from Emma’s collection, preserved by Emma’s heirs. This photo was undoubtedly taken to commemorate Emma’s arrival; the occasion must have been the first time in a dozen years that Emma had been able to pose for a group shot with so many of her siblings. The teenage girl on the far left is surely Selma Alice Warner. On the far right, the young woman is believed to be Olga Barsetti, who had married John Martin Warner’s son Leslie earlier that year, and who sadly would pass away less than three months after this picture was taken -- apparently a victim of the great flu epidemic. The middle-aged individuals in this image are Nellie’s four eldest children. In the back is Charles Elias Warner. From left to right in front are Mary Emma Warner Hastings, John Martin Warner, and Cora Belle Warner Spece.) Not long after Emma’s arrival, probably in 1919 when his brother Bert bought out Alie Spece and became sole owner of Warner and Warner feed grain warehouse, adding a gas station to the operation, Charles stopped farming and moved into town, where he worked at the warehouse.

(Nellie poses with her first cousin Jake Frame. The setting is probably Jake’s farm, though it may be Charles Warner’s place. The apparent ages of the pair make it clear the photo was taken in the 1920s.) Nellie’s role as a foster mother was cut a bit short when Selma married young -- Selma was, in fact, just shy of her sixteenth birthday when she wed William Robert Mead. Nellie and Charles became a two-person household. This development meant Charles was free to reestablish himself as a farmer. For reasons no longer known, decided to do so in San Bernardino County. He became an apple farmer outside the town of Yucaipa. In choosing to go along, Nellie was for the first time in half a century placed in a spot where she was separated from the majority of her children. It was therefore a lonely period. We have Nellie’s own words to provide a glimpse of her emotional state. The following is the full text of a birthday note Nellie wrote 2 June 1924 and sent to Barbara Ann Spece Hastings. (Ann, born less than a month after Nellie and only a mile or so away, was not only a beloved lifelong friend, but was the mother of Nellie’s son-in-law Fred Philo Hastings and nephew-in-law Frank Opal Hastings.)

“Dear Old Friend: You did not answer my last letter but I will write you a birthday letter just the same. I wish you a happy birthday and many more of them. I suppose that your son Hugh has got home by this time as I heard that he left Fresno some time ago. He looks so much like his father, don’t you think so? Charlie is like his father, too. Of course you know that I am down here with him. I like it here very much only it is lonesome when Charlie is away and I have to stay alone nights. He is away now but I expect him home today. I have stayed alone two nights. He has not sold all of his apples yet. We have had quite a hard time to sell them on account of the quarantine for the hoof and mouth disease. They have let up a little now. It sure has been hard on the farmers. I have not been so well since the sick spell I had almost two years ago, but don’t get much thinner. Oh, how I wish you would come out here and make a long visit. Wouldn’t there be some talking done. And ain’t you tired of boarding the schoolmoms? Come out and take a rest. I think you have earned a good long one. Elma came down with us the last time we were in Sanger and stayed four weeks less one day, then the rest of the family came after her. Charlie said he wanted her to stay all summer. So did I. I suppose she has written and told you about her visit up in Oregon where Selma, Cullen’s girl, is. And Aunt Maud and Uncle Joe were there to see them. Well, I will say good bye. Love and kind thoughts from your friend. -- Nellie Warner. P.S.: Write and tell me all about the old friends. I never expect to see any of them in this world, but hope to meet all the loved ones in the better land when we are done with this.”

The Yucaipa phase took up most of the remainder of Nellie’s old age, but she came back north before the end. She passed away 21 February 1930 at the home of Belle and Alie Spece on their fruit farm near Del Rey, Fresno County, CA. Her grave, shared with John, is located at Mendocino Avenue Cemetery, Parlier, CA. The plot lies between the resting place of grandson Elbert Clare Warner, who died at age four in 1913, and son Bert and his wife Grace. The headstone incorrectly lists Nellie as “Ellen A.” Warner. She had been known as Nellie for so long that apparently her family members couldn’t recall her formal name well enough when the stonecutter asked.


Children of Eleanor Amelia “Nellie” Martin with John Warner

John Martin Warner

Charles Elias Warner

Mary Emma Warner

Cora Belle Warner

Ida Ellen Warner

Cullen Clifford Warner

Albert Frederick Warner

Walter Clare Warner

For genealogical details, click on each of the names.


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