Digging for roots

I try not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of books I want to read. It doesn’t help that I continue to regularly pick up new reading material from my local library and favorite bookstores. I have piles of books ahead of the newer ones I select, silently apologizing to those I relegate to the bottom of the stack. And then… there is the case of my bookshelf with books I moved in after Dad died and Mom downsized. I’ve curated this bookcase to contain mostly non-fiction; all things Pacific Northwest. Often I wonder where and when each of the volumes were acquired? Several are inscribed, giving me a brief answer to my curiosity. It is from within this collection the book I decided to take on a plane with me last week to Nashville.

Music has been among several key themes expressed in my writing. As I walked down Nashville’s Broadway, I was reminded how I’ve never been one for loud music, or loud anything for that matter, though I delighted in an quieter evening at Nashville’s Listening Room. I blame my low tolerance to loud conditions because I was taken to a Portland Buckaroo game when I was a preschooler, inducing noise-induced nightmares. Or perhaps it was growing up among boisterous brothers who loved, among other things, reenacting Portland wrestling (see: Portland Wrestling: A league of its own). Irregardless of all that, readers of My Music Man may recall my grandfather’s love of the Irish Tenor John McCormack, and his dedication to the Multnomah County Library of his “among largest in the world” McCormack album collection in 1974 (see: Irish Tenors and all that jazz).

Music came to Daddy Dick from his parents, my great-grandparents, who were active participants in early Portland Opera. Daddy Dick’s father, William Andrew Montgomery, must have introduced his wife—Daddy Dick’s mother—Georgia Gill Montgomery, to opera. I suspect Georgia’s upbringing had mostly exposed her to Methodist devotional music. Early Portland Opera performances beginning in the late 1800s drew audiences to the Marquam Building’s fifteen hundred seat Orpheum Theater—a theater that also went by other names through the years; Hippodrome and Marquam Grand Opera House. A theater that even hosted authors all these years ago: Mark Twain drew a standing-room-only crowd in 1895. The Marquam Building eventually collapsed under the weight of its brick in 1912. The theater moved to temporary locations, and the spot developed into the American Bank Building: what we know today opposite downtown Portland’s Pioneer Square. My great-grandfather William Andrew Montgomery had a most beautiful voice, and although he dabbled in opera, he was a founder and longtime member of the Apollo Club, a Portland men’s singing club. He also was an officer in the 1917 Portland Music Festival. This festival showcased a chorus of 250 voices and the Portland Symphony Orchestra to dedicate the new public auditorium, with profits from the event supporting the war relief effort. The auditorium: the same stage all Portland public high school graduates like me walked across to accept our high school diplomas sixty-some years later in the late 1970s.

My My Music Man Chapter 5: Heart Strings

Listen to the full chapter Heart Strings.

Thinking of Portland’s public auditorium, known in my youth as the Civic Auditorium and today as the Keller, reminds me of the constancy of Place. It was here that I watched Les Misérables with Mom, and Neil Young and countless other productions with family. Two decades ago we watched our daughter as an impish angel in Portland Opera’s La belle Hélène. And all these memories of Place circle me back to the book I began to read in flight to Nashville. William, key figure in my Portland Football stories (see: Oregon, football and stadiums: a recap) was college educated and also musically gifted. For decades Portlanders would know him as the manager of his father-in-laws’s J.K. Gill Bookstore. And maybe most importantly – as I understand from family stories – a very kind man. Yet I haven’t written much about my Irish roots that passed through this William Montgomery. I too see through this family the legacy of the potato famine as bringing this part of my family to first Canada, and then to New England.

The family that William married into had longer U.S. roots: his wife Georgia Gill’s grandparents, Chloe Clark Willson and William Willson, were solidly housed in the East Coast prior to their 1837 and 1840 moves to the Oregon Country. William Montgomery’s parents, however, were born in Ireland. The subject of my airplane read was William’s father, my great-great grandfather, Reverend Hugh Montgomery. It made for quite a contrast, he a most vocal temperance proponent, as I attended the American Industrial Hygiene Conference held at Music City Hall in Nashville, and walked to and from my hotel past the loud (and drunken) crowds on Broadway Street. The fleeting thought passes me: Oh, Mom. Thank you for your brilliant genealogical research of Dad’s family; yet another notebook with details I have yet to fully digest.

Thank you Mom. Your work is amazing.

William Montgomery’s grandfather, Alex Montgomery (born in 1793, Fermanagh Northern Ireland) married Hannah Blakely in Tyrone Northern Ireland in 1826. William’s father (my great-great grandfather) Hugh was born in 1839 in Eniskillen, Fermanagh. Imagine! Hugh’s birth year was one year before Chloe arrived in the Oregon Country and two years after William Willson’s arrival; both with the Jason Lee Missionaries. Yes. This is what I come from.

I find the facts clearer from the detailed notebook Mom put together, rather than the book from my bookshelf. The notebook contains family lineage, photos and journal entries from the 1998 trip she and Dad made to Enniskellen (one hundred years after Hugh’s death) to trace our family history. Although Russ and I made a trip to Galway, Dublin and Dingle shortly after Dad died, a trip to Enniskellen is on my bucket list. My parents also traveled to Scotland, and her notes go far beyond even Alex’s generation: more family history than I intend to share here. The book from my bookshelf Hugh Montgomery, or Experiences of an Irish Minister and Temperance Reformer, is based on notes recovered and sermons. Only when drafting this blog did I realize the book is also available as a reprint on Amazon. My copy was published in 1883 (and Hugh died in 1898). Here’s how Amazon describes the book:

Though never making his work as a minister secondary, Mr. Montgomery is, perhaps, most widely known by his efforts in the cause of temperance. It was sympathy with a victim of the rum traffic that first, in his young ministry, roused him to a contest with it; and probably no pastor in the country has given to this cause more time, thought, or labor, or accomplished so much in the recovery of the inebriate and the punishment of illegal dealers in strong drink.

Hugh’s parents, Alex and Hannah, were Protestant and “reverential in religion” but with deep regard for their Methodist neighbors. They believed they would be able to create good lives for their three children, and yet like other Irish tenant farmers, they endured terrible hardships during the potato famines of 1846 and 1847. Hugh, though a young child, remembered seeing shiploads of corn from America which saved some from starvation and also created a longing among many to move to “the land of plenty.” Hugh, his parents, and five siblings sailed to Canada in 1853, settling in the township of Kingsley. Life here was grim and the family, like so many others, started over: built a log cabin, tilled the land and struggled to get food on the table while always adhering to their religious practices.

At 18. four years after his arrival in Canada, Hugh attended a Methodist camp meeting and was converted. This fact “wows” me as from the other side of my lineage, my great-great grandfather J.K. Gill was one of many who formed the “revival” church camp that later became Ocean Park, Washington. Hugh received his preacher’s license at 22, devoted himself to religious work, and as the Amazon description alludes, fervently wrote and spoke on “anti-rum” and anti-papal themes. Hugh was received into the Methodist Wesleyan Church in 1856, moved to the U.S. in 1860 and attended the Newbury Seminary in Massachusetts. Later in 1865 while living in Haverhill, New Hampshire, he married Anna Roberts, a public school teacher of Hartford. Anna is said to have had a beautiful voice that “touched and melted hard hearts over which her husband had no power.” Hugh became a naturalized citizen in 1873.

Hugh and Anna had four children, including my great-grandfather, William Andrew Montgomery. William moved to Portland in the late 1880s and first taught at Bishops Scott Academy (and coached football), before taking a job at J.K. Gill’s. Soon after he married Georgia Gill, one of J.K.’s five daughters. William’s brother Hugh also moved to Portland and married Georgia’s sister Dorothy Gill (who we called Dobbie and is mentioned in this blog).

And how does all this make me feel? First, interesting that my Irish roots brought temperance, while others in my lineage struggled with alcoholism. I was three when William Andrew Montgomery died and I wish I remembered him, although hearing the stories about him from those who did allow me to recognize the gentleness and humor he passed on to my grandfather, Daddy Dick, and ultimately to my own dad. I wish Mom was alive so I could one more time thank her for doing what she did to trace our stories and help my siblings and me understand our past. A past that has tidbits of stories that connect us to struggles similar to those faced by many, while too illustrating the privilege of education, and for some, of faith.

William in middle row, second from left, ~1898.

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