Moving to the Country


About 1905 my grandfather Hamilton Redfield Norvell moved his family from Buffalo to the small village of South Wales, New York. It was about this time that he took a position as head printer at the Roycroft in East Aurora.  My Aunt May Norvell, about 17 at the time, chronicled this move in her journal:

“That summer morning, my brothers and sisters rose from their childish and innocent sleep. We were to go by train; father and mother were to come later in the summer. Father inquired and learned that the train would leave at 8:30. This journey was, to our imaginative minds, like going around the world. Actually, the trip would last only an hour, about 30 miles, but to us this was high adventure.

Finally all aboard, all counted, and seated on the red plush seats, we were moving out through the outskirts of the city and soon saw the first of the country sights. Our eyes grew wide with surprise at cows munching grass in the green fields, horses hitched to the plows with farmers walking behind guiding them in long furrows. There were old unpainted houses and barns, little one-room schools, and women in farm yards pumping water. We were city children. We had never known life like this. We had gas lights, a telephone, running water, and a bathroom. Out houses were something we had never heard of; neither pumping water, learning to prime a pump, or filling a wood-box or making kindling. But, we were happy that morning for all this lay ahead and we had no way to know what life would bring.

Almost immediately, the conductor came into our car and said, “South Wales next.” The Washington Flyer had stopped at South Wales. This was something that even the oldest inhabitants couldn’t remember happening before. Their eyes were popping and their mouths were open. Who and what were these people that caused a great R.R. to stop its most important train?

Father had given us the directions and a description of the house. Slowly we started down the hill from the R.R. and shortly came out upon the main road. At a little cemetery on the corner we knew we must turn left and go on. The distance was only a mile, but the morning was hot, the dirt road dusty, and we were tired and hungry. So we trudged along looking for the square white house father had described.”

To us a trip of 30 miles is nothing today, but to the people of a century ago it was like moving across the county.

In 2009, we went to South Wales to find the house, armed with a photo, shown at the top, from about 1910, which to our amazement was exactly where Aunt May described it.   


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Elbert Hubbard, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History, Roycroft and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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