Nathaniel Martin

Nathaniel Martin, first of the four children of Horatio Woodman Martin and Laura Martha Ann Hart, was born 21 October 1885 in Martintown, Green County, WI. He was one of several grandchildren of village founder Nathaniel Martin to be named after the prominent patriarch, but was the only one who bore both his first name and surname. In this biography he is referred to as Nate to conveniently distinguish him from his namesake. It was a nickname he is known to have used. However, this is not to imply he ever used this shortened form in any formal circumstance. All formal public documents consulted thus far -- from censuses to his World War I draft registration card -- render his name as Nathaniel Martin. In his daughter Katy’s obituary, he is called Nathan. He did not, by the way, have a middle name. (The lack of one is specifically noted on his World War II-era draft card.) In this he was again like his grandfather.

Nate spent his whole childhood in Martintown in a house next door to grandparents Nathaniel and Hannah Strader Martin. During this time his father was the main boss of the Martin family flour mill. His siblings came into the world at a somewhat leisurely rate and he did not get to enjoy having them as contemporaries, but Martintown was well stocked with first cousins almost precisely his age. He and they attended the Martin School, located right across the Pecatonica River from his home. (He is surely one of the pupils in the Martin School class photograph on the webpage devoted to scenes of Martintown, though he has only been tentatively identified in that image. Click here to go straight to the page.) In his teens he no doubt attended Winslow High School, a little south over the state border in Stephenson County, IL, an institution his children would eventually attend as well.

In 1904 or so, the family acquired new neighbors, the Bolender family, consisting of Allen F. Bolender, his wife Martha Z. (probably for Zada) Black, and their children Kittie and Robert. Allen was part of the pioneering Bolender clan of Rock Grove Township not far south of Martintown in Stephenson County. Martha (aka Mattie) was a daughter of John Andrew Black and Charlotte Tryphena Lathrop, long-time residents of Cadiz Township about a mile north of Martintown, where they had been close neighbors of Nate’s great-grandparents John Hart and Ruth Marsh. Allen became a butter maker in Martintown, probably working for Thomas Devlin at the main village creamery. This was where Nate himself was employed, so it was doubly easy to get to know the family. Kittie B. Bolender and Nate quickly developed a liking for one another. They were married 1 Jun 1905. (Allen Bolender’s name appears as Bolander in many public sources. It is possible that up through Allen’s generation, and back in Germany, the name was spelled that way. However, Kittie herself used the Bolender version when she signed her marriage certificate, and that example has been followed here.)

The wedding took place at the county offices in Freeport, Stephenson County, IL, and was conducted by a Freeport justice of the peace. That may have been because the couple were determined to “get it done” before anyone told them they couldn’t. There was in fact an obvious reason why maybe the marriage wasn’t a good idea -- at least not one done so precipitously. Kittie’s birthdate was 19 September 1891. (She had been born in Cadiz Township.) A quick bit of arithmetic reveals that even though the groom claimed on the license application to be twenty-two years old and the bride claimed to be seventeen, the reality was that they were nineteen and thirteen. Thirteen seems awfully young to those of us looking back from the perspective of the 21st Century. Although we all realize social mores were different then (though not that different, or they would have been truthful about their ages), it is all too easy to worry that Kittie may have been coerced by her much-older suitor -- that she may have been led into a union that left her at his mercy due to her lack of savvy and worldliness. To address that concern head on, it should be noted that Kittie and Nate’s life together began in a highly chaperoned way. Her parents and younger brother Robert lived with the young couple over the next few years. This is evidenced by the Wisconsin state census for 1 June 1905 (the same date as the wedding), which not only shows these family members as co-occupants, but reveals that Nate and Kittie were living next door to his parents and widowed grandmother Hannah -- no doubt in one of several houses owned by the Martin family. In the 1910 Federal Census, Nate and Kittie’s household still includes Mattie Bolender, by then a divorcée. (She would soon marry second husband James M. Cunningham.) So Kittie was no abandoned waif. She and Nate did not have offspring until she was seventeen and a half. In coming to the marriage at not quite fourteen, she was only slightly exaggerating the example set by her mother-in-law Laura, who had been fifteen when she married Horatio Martin, and by her mother. Mattie had been seventeen when she married Allen Bolender.

Nate did not remain a creamery worker for long. The job was too fraught with apron strings. His boss, Thomas Devlin, was a brother-in-law of Elwood Bucher. Elwood was Nate’s uncle, i.e. he was the widower of Nate’s late aunt Mary Lincoln “Tinty” Martin. Elwood would by early 1907, following the death of Horatio Martin from tuberculosis, become Nate’s stepfather. Nate probably itched to get out from under the scrutiny of these familial elder authority figures. By no later than the spring of 1907, he and Kittie relocated to Freeport. This community -- the seat of Stephenson County -- was rapidly acquiring a solid array of factories and it is likely Nate got a job at just such a place. However, his long-term goal was a different sort of occupation. Some of his local male relatives worked for Illinois Central Railroad. Nate decided to follow their example. Some time between the summer 1907 and the summer of 1909, he was hired by the company as a station agent. Another job description would be telegrapher because sending and receiving telegrams was one of the prime duties of depot agents in that era. Whether he might have started by working in Martintown is unknown. Eldest son Kenneth was born in early January of 1909 and his birthplace is shown in all records as being in Wisconsin, so if Nate had already begun his career with I.C.R.R. by then, his first assignment was definitely somewhere within the state.

By early 1910 an I.C.R.R. job posting caused the family to move to the Bloomington area in the heart of Illinois. They lived a little north of Bloomington itself at a locale the census describes as within the town of Normal, but a family obituary places their residence then as within the adjacent, smaller town of Kerrick. (Both references may be the truth -- Nate and Kittie may have lived in more than one house.) They did not spend a long time in Kerrick/Normal. Nate was able to get a posting closer to home some time during the mid-1910s. Assuming his youngest daughter’s obituary is correct about her birthplace, the family was still in Kerrick when she was born in November, 1916. However, soon the Martins moved in McConnell, Stephenson County, IL, only a few miles southeast of Winslow and Martintown. Nate quickly was promoted to stationmaster at the depot there. He reached this level of responsibility no later than 12 September 1918, the filing date of his World War I draft registration card, because he is shown with that occupation and status on that document.

Nate is the man at right, wearing the stationmaster cap. This photograph is probably from his McConnell days.

By 1918, Nate and Kittie’s family was complete. Their four children were Kenneth Nathaniel Martin, Roscoe Maxwell Martin (known as Max), Alice Zada Martin, and Katherine Eunice Martin (known as Katy).

As the kids reached high school age, Nate was motivated to become a trustee of the board of directors of Winslow High, a post he held from 1925 to 1931. He had plenty of cause to want the school to be well run. Not only were his own kids there during those years, but so were his nephews Leon and Lyle Smith and the offspring of his first cousin and step-brother, the late Dr. Claude Earl Bucher, plus some of the children of his first cousin Mary Lena Brown Hastings and the youngest daughter of his first cousin Mary Emma Warner Hastings. Altogether the extended clan accounted for over a tenth of the student body.

The family stayed in McConnell through the mid-1930s. By that point, the boom times of the railroad industry were fading. Roads and trucks had come to handle most short-distance freight hauling, and automobiles most passenger transport. More critical to the fate of small depots was that people no longer had to send so many telegrams. Instead they were able to use telephones. Depot telegraph desks did less and less business. So depots were closed. It happened at Martintown in 1936. In some cases even the tracks between smaller communities began to be pulled up. This happened at McConnell after its depot was closed in 1941. Nate must have seen the writing on the wall and accepted a transfer to Orangeville in 1935, 1936, or 1937. Fortunately Orangeville was only a few miles to the northeast of McConnell, and almost due east of Winslow, and still in Stephenson County. The relocation was therefore a relatively small adjustment as far as things went, made easier by the fact that Kenneth was already out of the house and, as far as can be determined, so was Max.

Nate and Kittie continued to reside in Orangeville until the very end of their lives. Nate’s twice-widowed mother Laura came to the community at about the same time they did along with her third husband Henry Hopkins. When Henry passed away, Laura and her fourth husband Samuel Heise also made Orangeville their place of residence. Laura died in 1947.

Even in Nate and Kittie’s old age, they had the companionship of offspring in their daily lives. In the mid-1920s, at age eight, their youngest daughter Katy suffered brain damage as a result of scarlet fever and could never live an independent life. She therefore stayed with her parents until they died -- and in fact remained in the Orangeville house even after their deaths, until she came down with the cancer that took her life in the mid-1980s. Nate and Kittie’s other daughter Alice also lived with them from 1943 onward, after being on her own for a few years in her late twenties. Alice was a single mother and her child was raised in that same home.

Nate suffered from emphysema for the final five years of his life and this ultimately led to his demise at St. Francis Hospital in Freeport, Stephenson County, IL during the wee hours of 20 May 1960. Kittie survived him, passing away 7 February 1963 of cardiac arrest following removal of a cancerous thyroid gland. Her death also took place in Freeport, but at Freeport Memorial Hospital. The graves of both husband and wife are to be found at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens of Freeport.

The Nathaniel Martin/Kittie Bolender family. From left to right, Katherine Eunice “Katy” Martin, Kenneth Nathaniel Martin, Kittie B. Bolender Martin, Nathaniel Martin, Alice Zada Martin, and Roscoe Maxwell “Max” Martin. This photograph appears to have been taken in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Children of Nathaniel Martin with Kittie B. Bolender

Kenneth Nathaniel Martin

Roscoe Maxwell Martin

Alice Zada Martin

Katherine Eunice Martin

For genealogical details, click on the names.

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