Who were your ancestors? Are you a product
of your environment or your heritage? You decide.
Over the years, as a Wilbraham resident, I
have spent my life raising twins, hosting several exchange
students from Spain,founding and running a pet visitation
program for twenty five nursing homes in Massachusetts, and
being President of several other local philanthropic
organizations. I was too busy to consider looking into
our family history until February of 2001, when Lu Adams, a
member of the historical society in Ellsworth, Kansas,
contacted me seeking information about my great grandfather
Edward Winslow Wellington and his wife, Clara Edwards.
As luck would have it, I had recently discovered
some family photographs and fascinating history regarding
Edward and Clara and was intending to study it further when I
had time. The historian sparked my interest with her first
letter. Lu exuded an enthusiasm that I became caught up
in immediately. Researching details and writing articles
regularly for the local historical society is her passion.
To carry it a step further, she does portrayals of local
characters of interest, one of whom, is Clara. She
proceeded to enlighten me of many facts I had not known before.
I had also received from her, copies of previously published
articles and materials from the historical society archives. As
the two of us uncovered more and more details of the
extended family I became inspired try to find more information
about my predecessors.
Within a few weeks the research led further back
to other characters of interest. We extended our
exploration fourteen generations back to the Wellingtons in
London in the 1600’s. I would encourage anyone curious
about his or her heritage to indeed take the time to discover
who you are and where you came from--not just geographically.
Discover the heredity, environment and family traits that may
have influenced your life without your conscience previous
knowledge. You might be very surprised to learn how much
in common you have to some of the relatives in your lineage.
You may discover, as I have, people you would love to have
known and people who will inspire you even now.
EW and CLARA
Some make a mark in history and in the minds of
others that will remain an indelible influence.
Edward Winslow Wellington, affectionately called “EW”, was such
a person. His name is still revered, over 100 years
later--he was an inspiration to his friends, peers and family
and his legacy lives on. His enthusiasm and drive spilled
over in all walks of his life. Great grandfather,
EW was a colorful figure, instrumental in the development of
the town of Ellsworth, high ranking in the Masons and Shriners,
and even dabbled in politics. He was a man of incredible
energy and accomplishments. His wife, Clara, was a social
trendsetter in town and almost 100 years later townspeople
still talk of the elegant parties they hosted.
Perhaps his older sister, Alice Wellington
Rollins, was the first to recognize someone about to make a
mark in history when she wrote a charming book entitled,
“Story of a Ranch”, in 1885, as he was just embarking on
his long and fruitful life. Her book tells of EW’s start
on his lifelong crusade to constantly improve life for all he
encountered. He was a determined soul, full of ideas and
ambition--she humorously described him as a man, “who
desired nothing but the privilege of doing all the work”1.
Now a century later, there is much to record, for posterity, of
the endeavors of this one man act and much to add to the story
begun in Alice’s book.
EW was born in 1853 and raised in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, the middle child of three. He was
graduated from Harvard College in 1874. His law degree
followed and soon he was in practice, working with his father,
in Boston for the next few years.
By the summer of 1878, and at the age of
twenty-five, a pioneering spirit engulfed him and lured him
first to Colorado. Over the next eight years he returned
to Boston, married Clara and headed west again, this time to
Kansas, taking with him several friends from Boston and Harvard
as his new associates. He amassed an extensive
sheep/stock ranch and built many houses and ranches to
accommodate himself, friends and workers, and the livestock.
They even named a town--Carneiro.
With ever new ideas, he moved westward where he
opened a real estate and loan office and began his life’s work
of building Ellsworth, Kansas. He erected an entire
business block of which he continued to own two-thirds until
his death. Credited to his work was remodeling existing
structures and building new ones with modern conveniences of
the times including plumbing, heating and lighting. His
construction included several stores as well as apartments and
even a bowling alley. The Masonic hall was exquisitely
appointed and remains one of the loveliest in the country even
now. He also built the entire sewer system which he
ultimately sold back to the town years later.
His building and development was not confined to
businesses but also included several residences including his
own, one of the showplaces of the city, where many brilliant
social events were held, filling it’s three parlors and twenty
by thirty foot dining room. Strategically placed on a
hill, it was the largest house in town. It was quite an honor
to be invited, “up to the Wellingtons’” where it is still today
referred to as “the Wellington house on Forest Drive”.
When their son, Waldo, was married in 1909, EW gave them a
present of a handsome home just across the street from his own.
Clara’s social presence resounded throughout
central Kansas. There were elegant balls with ladies in
long gowns of fine fabrics of the turn of the century and
gentlemen adorned in their finest attire; dinner parties with
tables set with every imaginable piece of silver tableware and
fine china trimmed with wide bands of gold; and servants
beckoned by Clara with the use of a bell discreetly under the
massive dining room table with its twelve leaves. The
dining room itself was 20 x 30 feet. Clara delighted in
entertaining, especially young people, to whom she loved to
teach the social graces. A tradition was to hire an
entire train car to bring their son Waldo and about 30 of his
friends from Kansas University for a weekend every December.
The girls were housed on the second floor of the big house and
the young men on the top floor. She taught the
young men dancing so as to be suitable partners for her lady
guests. Other weekend events included horseback riding
and playing cards and rides in automobiles! Clara,
musically talented, often entertained guests with singing and
piano playing. Many other important events or musical
recitals were hosted by Clara in the big house.
All the while EW was developing the town of
Ellsworth he also managed to contribute substantially to
charity work. He held every office in the Masonic Order
in the state of Kansas and, likewise, through the ranks of the
Shriners to Potentate. He received national recognition
for his work. One of his proudest accomplishments was
orchestrating a trek up Pike’s Peak for a ceremonial for his
fellow Masons. A time capsule was immured in a rock on
the mountain top in 1899. The inhospitable barren rock,
chosen solely to be as close to God in the heavens as any
mason could possibly be, required a tour de force, involving
the cooperation of the Kansas and Colorado governments, to
build a cog railway to the very top. One hundred years
later this remains the largest venture ever achieved of the
Masonic organization. The historic spot was revisited by
members of the same Masonic lodge, in 1999, to retrieve the box
and contents and seal it again with new photos and mementos of
both the Masons and Kansas for another century. Two of
EW’s great grand daughters were honored to be on that trip to
retrieve the 100 year old memorial.
The inspiration for the original trip came to EW
one day during final preparations for a formal ceremonial with
many invited dignitaries expected and a sumptuous meal
prepared. The weather decided not to cooperate and
proceeded to dump one of the largest snow storms in
Kansas history on the momentous day. Trains were stopped
and many men complained that it would not be possible to travel
to the event to receive their degrees. EW, although
justifiably dismayed, remarked in jest, “Well if the boys can’t
stand it to wade through this snow to get the Cryptic degrees,
I’ll take them out to Colorado next summer and make them climb
Pike’s Peak for them.”2 Many did plod long
distances through the snow, however, and the event was a huge
success. Nevertheless, once the idea was born in EW’s
head, he asserted the threat would indeed be enforced.
Early Wellingtons have been traced back to
London in 1625 with the first arriving in America shortly after
the Mayflower. Several generations lived throughout the
Cambridge area and many studied at Harvard. One
descendant, Benjamin Wellington, would become a notable figure
in the American Revolution in Lexington in April 1776, when
Benjamin was the first soldier captured at Lexington. He
was on his way to join the local militia when he was
seized by two British soldiers scouting ahead of the rest of
their troops. Curious as it may seem, the British took
his weapons, then let him go with instructions to return home.
He agreed and then doubled back warning his fellow patriots who
were assembling in anticipation of the emanate arrival of the
English soldiers. The site of that capture would
ultimately become known as Independence Hill. Benjamin,
as part of Captain Parker’s Lexington militia, ultimately
was at the taking of English troops under the command of
General Burgoyne in 1777.
Further investigation has revealed several
ancestors, in Lexington and Cambridge, who established
businesses, were members of the Massachusetts General Court,
local selectmen, assessors, on school boards and otherwise
contributed to the betterment of those around them. One
was the first individual to establish a dairy for the supply of
the Boston market.
All this began with a letter from Kansas only
two short months ago in February. Subsequent trips to the
Daughters of the American (DAR) Library in Washington, D.C.,
the Boston Public Library and Massachusetts Archives in
Dorchester is providing me with so much additional material.
As a result, I hope to write a book about the fascinating
history and folklore of the Wellingtons.
I have been surprised at the parallelism along
the way. You might also be surprised to discover your own
ancestors’ stories and determine if you are a product of your
environment or your heritage.
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