My dad’s maternal grandfather, Finis Ewing Nichols, was born December 17, 1882, in McDonough County, Illinois. Finis was the fourth of five children (three girls and two boys) born to William H. Nichols and Rachel Annie Osborne. The seemingly unusual name of Finis is more common than I would have imagined. Finis Ewing (1773-1841) was a prominent minister and primary founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination in 1810. He was the twelfth and last child in his family, hence the name Finis – “the end.” Rachel’s parents and grandparents were founding members of the Industry Cumberland Presbyterian Church in McDonough County and would have been very familiar with Reverend Ewing. (Rachel’s brother was also named Finis Ewing, although as an adult he chose to be called Frank.) A search for the given name “Finis Ewing” in censuses reveals many namesakes all around the country.
Finis grew up in Tennessee Township on the far west side of McDonough County. McDonough County itself is located in west-central Illinois, just one county away from the Mississippi River. It was and is rural and primarily agricultural. At the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, Finis, age 17, lived with his parents, as did the two youngest girls (his two oldest siblings had married and moved out of the house by then). Finis worked as a farm laborer on the farm his father rented. On October 8, 1905, at age 22, Finis married Edythe Mae Siepel, who grew up in neighboring Hancock County. They no doubt had known each other most of their lives. Finis looks so young in his wedding photo, shown above!
Soon after they married, Finis and Edythe moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where Finis worked in the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad freight house, as a laborer, and later, a clerk. (A freight house is a facility owned and operated by a railroad for receiving, delivering, or dispatching freight.) Throughout much of its history, Galesburg has been inextricably tied to the railroad industry. At the time Finis lived there, Galesburg was one of the few cities of its size—pop. 22,089 in 1910—to be served by multiple railroads and to have multiple depots.
In January 1907, Finis and Edythe welcomed their first child, Alfred Harold Nichols. Sadly, Alfred died when he was just four months old. In December 1908, daughter Evelyn Josephine arrived.
Sometime between 1910 and 1912, Finis transferred to Peoria, Illinois. He continued to work as a clerk for CB&Q through 1913. In 1914, Finis made a job switch and began working for Wahlfeld Manufacturing Company, manufacturers of fine interior woodwork, stair and cabinet work, bank and store fixtures. The First National Bank and Jefferson Building were just two of the many well-known Peoria buildings with fixtures from Wahlfeld. Finis was employed there for the next five years or so as a machinist and woodworker.
During this time period Finis and his young family lived at 504 Brotherson Street in Peoria. The family had grown: In July 1912, Merle Elwin was born, followed by Charles Eldon in January 1915. Sometime in 1918, the family moved to 813 E. Republic Avenue in Peoria, the house Finis would live in for the rest of his life.
The house on Republic was built in 1914. It was a comfortable bungalow in a nice neighborhood, just across the street from Glen Oak School. Finis and Edythe operated a home laundry in their basement—it may have been there when they bought the house because on his WWI Registration Card dated September 1918, Finis listed his occupation as “laundryman.” (The Registration Card described Finis as being of medium height and stout build, with brown eyes and black hair like his daughter Evelyn.) Finis continued to work outside the home for the next three or four years: as a woodworker, as a clerk for Holt Manufacturing Company (which would later become Caterpillar Tractor Company), and in a sales position. From 1923 on, however, the censuses and other public records show his occupation only as laundryman, and my dad remembers hearing his grandfather was disabled and no longer able to work outside the home. Nevertheless, the Nichols family would operate their home laundry business for the next 25 years or so.
By the late 1930s, Finis’s children were married and began having children of their own. Finis had the opportunity to meet all his grandchildren. Merle, his wife, and their three children lived with Finis and Edythe in the upstairs apartment of the Republic house until the mid-1940s. As such, Merle’s children were especially close with their grandparents. (Merle’s children must have had sentimental feelings about the house, too, because in later years, when Grandma Nichols could no longer live alone, granddaughter Judy and her family bought the house and lived there for some years.) Finis died in March 1949 at age 66. He was survived by Edythe, his three children and eight grandchildren. He was laid to rest at Swan Lake Memory Gardens in Peoria.
My dad was 11 years old when his grandfather died, too young to remember much about him. But, a few memories are distinct: Grandpa Nichols smoked a pipe. He liked to go fishing in Glen Oak Park. His detached garage was so full of stuff it was hard to find a pathway through. (Was Great-Grandpa Nichols a “collector”?) Once, when Dad’s parents went out of town for several days during the winter, Grandpa and Grandma Nichols came and stayed with Dad and his siblings, and Grandpa Nichols let them get away with all sorts of shenanigans (like flooding the breezeway between the house and the garage so they could ice skate inside).
You sound like a fun one, Great-Grandpa Nichols! I’d like to have known you!