The Blakes of 77 Elm Street

This afternoon, I received a package in the mail within which contained an old book, and across the green cover in gold, was the title “THE BLAKES.”

Opening the cover, it read:

THE BLAKES

OF

77 ELM STREET

A FAMILY SKETCH

BY

ALIDA BLAKE HAZARD

Now, I won’t publish the entire book here, but I will share a few pages of the introduction that leads to single page that happens to focus on Philos Blake–or more accurately Philos’ missus.

It really is an interesting read:

To Pierre and Nancy,

their children and all the younger

generation

You have always seem interested, dear Pierre and Nancy, to know something of your mother’s family, so I have here set down what I hope will be a picture of an interesting group, the central figure being my beloved grandfather, Eli Whitney Blake.

This is not a genealogy, neither does it make any claims to accuracy. Dates and names are all to be found in large volumes which trace the history of the family way back to England. So I shall not be disturbed if anyone calls my attention to such as slip as, for example, the order in age of our grandfather’s brothers.

Of Elihu Blake, my great-grandfather, I have no personal recollection, but he was still in the memory of his grandchildren when I was young, and from many stories told of him he must have been quite a remarkable, if not quaint, old gentleman. His wife was Elizabeth Whitney, sister of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, for whom out grandfather was named, They had ten children, all of whom live to grow up–seven sons and three daughters. The sons were Philos, Eli Whitney, Josiah, Elihu, John, George, and Edward. The three daughters were Elizabeth Whitney, Maria and Frances. How our great-grandparents ever brought up this large family, educated them and started them in life is a mystery. Besides the small farm on which they lived near Westboro, Massachusetts, the only other source of income appears to be our great-grandfather’s talent in mathematics. Today he would be called an expert accountant. In those, he was called a “mathematician,” and his services were in great demand through the country side and even in far away Boston. It was on one of these business trips, which he always made on horseback, that an adventure befell him which became a family byword. At a crossroads an Indian, in full war paint, suddenly leaped from the bushes and seized the bridle of his horse. Pointing in one direction the Indian said, “Old Injun come dis way, ‘quire me gone dat way, tell him me gone t’other way, would ye?” , and disappeared, probably to the relief of the traveler. In the notice of the death of Elihu Blake in the church records he is described as a “Worthy, Pious, and Very Learned Man”. Wherever could he have acquired his learning? However, he saw to it that his sons had such advantages as were possible. Our grandfather was sent to Yale by his uncle and namesake, Eli Whitney. Josiah went to Harvard. The other sons were content with graduating from the academies of Massachusetts. Not only did our grandparents do well by their children, but they provided for their own old age.

Elizabeth Whitney died when her husband was nearly seventy. He soon married again and had some twenty years of quiet life in a simple but comfortable home. His second wife was always known in the family as “the Widow Holbrook”; more than that about her I was never able to discover. I once asked my grandfather what her name was. He seemed surprised at the question and replied, “Sarah, or Susan, or something like that. I don’t know which, Ask your Uncle John.”

Whatever her name, she seems to have had patience with her husband’s hobbies. He turned his inventive faculties to odd uses. When a guest came to call he was taken into a summer-house. No sooner was he seated on a bench than the lid of a chest opposite flew open and a stuffed tiger jumped out at the startled visitor! To calm his nerves he was then taken to admire a view. As he sat on a chair to rest jets of water spouted on him from all directions to the amusement of his host. Rather a trying old gentleman! Nevertheless the children of Westboro adored him, and it was his habit to frequently invite all the school children to spend a happy afternoon being frightened by tigers, wet with water, and enjoy a feast of cookies at the close.

After his death, his son Josiah bough the house and the place from the widow, but what became of the tiger and the other practical jokes I don’t know. They were not in evidence when I saw the place many years later. Neither do I know what became of “the Widow Holbrook.” She fades out of the family picture as nebulously as she came in.

Two of my grandfather’s brothers went into business with him later under the firm name of Blake Brothers, manufacturing the Blake Stone-crusher, which was the invention of our grandfather. These two brothers were Philos and John.

Philos married Esther Babcock. He was a very tall, large man, well over six feet, and she was very small. She was a very old lady as I first remember her but always very active. She wore a black silk dress the year around, a very ornate cap, and a black front, which probably concealed gray hair. She wore about her waist a silver chain, from which hung a bunch of keys. As soon as guests were seated these keys were used to open a large sideboard and bring out cake and wine which were always offered regardless of the hour of the day at which the visit was paid. Children were treated to oranges and cake, so a visit to Aunt Esther was rather a popular proceeding. There were several children, none of whom are living and only one for whom was survived by children and these have now passed away.

The book continues on with the Blake family history, family lore, how they ended up at 77 Elm Street, and Philos is mentioned once again, in reference to the Blake Brother’s business.

It does make one wonder if Aunt Esther used Philos Blake’s invention after opening the sideboard containing the cake and wine…

Of course, accompanying The Blakes of 77 Elm Street in the aforementioned package was a fantastic addition to the collection

And, a corkscrew that will surely make the best 6…

Ever!

The 1860 Philos Blake patent (#27,665)

Sharp complete helix, nicely marked with the patent date, “MAR. 27-60,” I am quite pleased.

Okay, I am more than pleased…