A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Monday, July 21, 2014

History: Old Fagan Homestead Destroyed by Fire (1932)

The 12 Feb 1932 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 1 col 2) carried this story about a house fire in Freneau.

Without Water Firemen Could Not Cope with the Blaze

The house known as the old Fagan Homestead, an old landmark in the Freneau section of Matawan Township, was destroyed by fire Wednesday morning. The several fire companies of the township and borough were called out at about 4:30 for the blaze, but could do little to fight the fire with chemicals and without water could but watch the complete destruction of the building.

The house of two and a half story frame construction was built about 50 years ago by George Fagan for his grandson, George Fay. The building was owned and occupied by Frank Tiernan. Mrs. George Deitz was a former owner. It is thought the fire originated from the furnace. The estimated loss is about $15,000.

The Fagan Household

The newspaper said George Fagan built the "old Fagan homestead" for his grandson, George Fay, but I suspect he built it for himself and his family when he was flush with cash in the 1870s or earlier. His grandson was too young circa 1882 to have a house built for him. The 1880, 1895 and 1900 censuses all showed the Fagans and Fays living together, so there was likely only one "old Fagan homestead."

The house likely passed from George Fagan to his daughter Stephanie between 1895 and 1900 and then to grandson George Fay. The grandson evidently sold it to George and Anna Dietz before he moved to Vermont. Since Anna F Dietz and Frank Tiernan lived on Wilson Avenue in the 1930 census, that was presumably where the Fagan house was located.

The records below provide a rough outline of the likely inhabitants of the Fagan homestead in the last half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The Fagan and Fay ownerships are blended in the documentation. They are followed by the Dietz and Tiernan occupancies.

In the 1850 Federal Census, George Fagan (30 East Indies) was a painter living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Also in the household were his wife, Lydia (28 NJ), daughter Eliza (9 NY) and sons James (8 NY), George (5 NY), Elias (4 NY) and a newborn son (1/12 NY). (Eliza appeared in 1860 as Fanny and in 1870 and later censuses as Stephanie and Stephanie E.)

In the 1860 Federal Census, George H Fagan (44 East Indies) was an artist living in Matawan. Also in the household were his wife, Lydia A Fagan (43 NJ), daughters Fanny (19 NY) and Lydia A (4 NJ), and sons James (18 NY) , George (15 NY), Elias (13 NY), and Henry (10 NY).

In the 1870 Federal Census, James C Fagan (28 NY) was a shades manufacturer living in Manhattan (14th District, 19th Ward, New York County, NY) with wife Isabella and son William. Also in the household were his father, George H Fagan (56 East Indies) and brothers George H (25 NY) and Henry (19 NY), all also noted as shades manufacturers. James had real property worth $30,000 and personal property worth $5,500. The father had real property worth $10,000 and personal property worth $3,000.

The 9 Jul 1870 edition of The Matawan Journal carried the above ad (pg 3) and this interesting piece (pg 2) about George H Fagan:
"We call attention to the advertisement of G H Fagan and Son, in another column. The senior member of this firm has perhaps seen more of the vicissitudes of human life than any other man in this vicinity. In his youth he enjoyed the luxuries that British wealth can give, and the benefits of British and French Universities. He came
to this country and has enjoyed affluence since his residence here, but a number of years since he lost everything and was compelled to seek a home wherever he could get it at a moderate rent. This brought him, with his family, to Matawan about twelve yeas ago. Since his residence here, he has been treated friendly by some, but unfriendly by others. Now, fortune seems to be smiling upon him again, and we wish him abundent success."

There was a separate listing in the 1870 census for a George H Fagan (53 England) who was a manufacturer living in Matawan with a wife Lydia (47 NJ) and a daughter Lydia (15 NJ). He had personal property worth $6,420 and real property worth $10,000. This could be a distinct person or a second enumeration.

Luther C Fay (27 VT), grocer, was enumerated in Matawan with wife Stephany E (28 NY) and daughter Jennie M (1 NJ) in the 1870 Federal Census.

The 3 Oct 1874 edition of The Matawan Journal referred to George H Fagan, of Mount Pleasant, who had "a field of the largest corn we have seen this season. . . ."

The 2 Oct 1875 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that Edward Schuberth & Co, New York, published a new piece titled "Gleaming Threads of Silver Hue Shade Through Your Curls of Gold," words and music by George H Fagan, of Matawan.  (Image above from the Library of Congress)

The 29 Apr 1876 edition of The Matawan Journal spoke of James C Fagan, son of George H Fagan. James was successful in the gold mining industry in Colorado.

The 5 Oct 1878 edition of The Matawan Journal brought news of the unexpected death of George's son, Elias P Fagan, who was working James Fagan's mines in Bald Mountain, Colorado.

"One of the saddest records of death that we have been called to chronicle is that of Mr Elias P Fagan, at Bald Mountain, Colorado, on Saturday morning, Sept 21st. In April last he was married in Matawan to Miss Libbie Roberts, and with his bride started to for new house in Colorado. He was prospering, and letters from himself and his wife were full of bright anticipations. But suddenly he was taken ill, and the telegram received on the 21st ult. announced his death after only three days of sickness. He was the son of Geo. H Fagan, Esq, of Matawan, and was the first child Mr and Mrs Fagan ever lost. He was employed at the time of his death in connection with his brother's gold mines on Bald Mountain. The blow comes with great severity to the family here, and to the desolate widow in that far-off country."

The 26 Jul 1879 edition of The Matawan Journal had an amazing snakes story that happened to mention George H Fagan's property as adjoining Charles Layton's property, which was on the road leading to Henry Henninger's mill. The mill clue suggests Mill Road, but the Willson name also suggests Wilson Avenue.

All three men appear on the same page of the 1880 Federal Census.  Here are Layton's and Henninger's details:
  • Charles Layton (62 NJ), farmer and wife Abby (59 MD England MA)
  • Henry Henninger (34 Germany), miller, wife Odelia (30 Germany) son Henry (6 NY) and daughters Emma (4 NJ) and Odelia (1 NJ).
"... Mr. Charles Layton lives on the road toward Heninger's mill (formerly Willson's), his property adjoining that of Mr. Geo. H. Fagan on the west. On Thursday afternoon he was turning over some peat on the meadow at the back part of the property, when he opened up a nest of snakes, among them a black
snake about five feet long, with a body as large as an ordinary wrist, and two yellow snakes of some species, one of which also was five feet long and of equal size of body. Besides these there were a number of young snakes that came 'snaking' out of the throats of the maternal serpents, much to the consternation of the young man who was standing near. Mr. Layton, with true courage, took the spade that he held in his hand aud killed every one of them, big and little. As true as George Washington cut the cherry tree, so true is this
snake story."

In the 1880 Federal Census, George H Fagan (66 East Indies Ireland France) was a retired merchant living in Matawan. Also in the household were his wife, Lydia A Fagan (64 NJ NJ NJ), son George (27 NY East Indies NJ), daughter Lydia (24 NJ East Indies NJ), and widowed daughter Stephanie Fay (38 NY East Indies NJ) with George's granddaughter Jennie Fay (11 NJ VT NY) and grandson George Fay (9 NJ VT NY).

George H Fagan was listed as a 1881 tax delinquent by Matawan Township, according to the 18 Feb 1882 edition of The Matawan Journal. At $21.88, his tax debt was the fourth highest in the township.

George H Fagan, his son George H Fagan, Jr, and George C Fay and his sister Jeannie Fay were enumerated together in Matawan in the 1895 New Jersey State Census.

In the 1900 Federal Census, George Fagan was a boarder in his widowed daughter's home in Matawan Township. Much of the following information from this enumeration is incorrect. Stephanie Faye was born in Feb 1841 (59 years old) in New York to parents from NJ and NY. Her son George Faye was born in May 1873 (27 years old) in NJ to parents from NY. George Fagan was born in Nov 1850 (49 years old) in NY to parents from England and NJ. George Faye was a salesman and George Fagan was a farmer. George Fagan would have been between 74 and 86 years old, according to earlier censuses, a full 24 to 36 years older than this enumerator recorded.

George Calvin Fay was born 4 Aug 1870 in Matawan Township to Luther C and Stephanie Fay, according to the NJ Births and Christenings Index at Ancestry. He was living with wife Emma in Matawan in Matawan in the 1910 Federal Census, after which he was enumerated in Sharon, Vermont in 1920, 1930 and 1940. George Fay he died 17 Nov 1951 in Hartford, Vermont, according to Vermont Death Records at Ancestry. The death record provided his dob as 14 Aug 1870.


George A Dietz, 52 years old and born in Pennsylvania, was a wholesale druggist who lived on Mill Road in Freneau in the 1920 Federal Census. Also in the household were wife Anna F (50 NY NY NY) and five children ages 10 to 17, all born in NY.

In the 1930 Federal Census, the widow Anna F Dietz and family were enumerated on Wilson Avenue in Freneau just above Frank Tiernan, 41 years old and born in NJ, and his wife Katherine (36 Irish Free State).

UPDATE: There is a George Hickson Fagan (18 Aug 1810 - 23 Nov 1876) who is listed in The Peerage. He served in the Bengal Engineers. He's not a match to our George but you wonder how many George H Fagans there could have been in the East Indies.

George H Fagan was a First Lieutenant in the 28th Regiment Native Infantry, Bengal, India as of June 1818, and was a member of the Asiatic Society, according to the East India Register and Directory, by W H Allen (London, 1819), pp 94, 122.

George H Fagan was a First Lieutenant in the Bengal Corps of Engineers from 30 May 1839 until 12 Jun 1844, according to the East India Register and Army List, by F Clark of East India House, London (London: 1845), pg 76

George H Fagan was a Brevet Captain in the engineers assigned at the Bombay establishment of Britain's East India military service. He arrived overland in England in December 1844, according to the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Nov 1844 - Apr 1845, pg 204. He, his wife and child were to be enroute from Southampton to Alexandria. pg 334.

George H Fagan was a Captain in the Corps of Engineers at the Headquarters at Meerut. His season of appointment was 1829. He received his rank in corps as of 5 Dec 1848, and rank in army as of 12 Jun 1844, according to East India Register and Army List (London, 1855), pg 85.

UPDATE: There was a James P Fagan (49 Great Britain), gentleman, who arrived at the Port of New York from London aboard the Ship Quebec on 3 May 1837 with wife Stephania (42), son George (23) and daughters Stephania (20) and Mary (19).

This could be James Patrick Fagan (17 Mar 1788 Cork, Ireland -16 Apr 1863 St Servan, Brittany, France) who had wife Stephanie LeMere (about 1785 France - 16 Jan 1873 St Servan, Brittany, France). James earned the Army of India medal and served in the East Indies. The family tree I found online at Ancestry showed this family with several children but no George. Perhaps the family traveled to the US but all but George returned to Europe? I've written to the owner of the family tree involved and am awaiting a response.


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