#3 – Nancy Jane Clark Wells

(52 Ancestors #3 – Tough Woman)

Nancy Jane Clark (seated) with her son Edward and his family
Nancy Jane Clark (seated) with her son Edward and his family

Nancy (“Nannie”) Jane Clark was born February 12, 1880 in Henry County, Virginia to Willis and Sarah Elizabeth Clark.  In the 1900 census, Nannie and her mother (listed as Bettie) were living in Horsepasture, Henry County, Virginia.  Nannie was 20 and her mother was 62.  Nannie married Robert Luke Wells on March 20, 1902 in Henry County.  In 1903, Nannie gave birth to a stillborn baby.  On June 29, 1905, she gave birth to Edward Lee Wells, my grandfather.  On August 7, 1908, Willis James Wells was born.  In 1910, the family was living in Horsepasture, Henry County.  Robert was listed as 28 years old and a farmer, Nannie was listed as 30, Edward was 4 and Willis (listed as James W.) was almost 2.  Nannie’s mother was living with them, listed as Sarah E.  She was 72 and widowed.  She was listed as having 6 children, 3 still living.  On February 12, 1912, Nannie gave birth to her only daughter, Mary Ellen Wells.  William Robert Wells was born on June 12, 1915.  On April 28, 1919, Nannie gave birth to her last child, Jesse Brown Wells.  Sadly, after being ill for two months, Nannie’s husband Robert died of typhoid on December 26, 1919 at the age of 38.

Nannie and her daughter, Mary about 1929
Nannie and her daughter, Mary about 1929

In the February 1920 census, Nannie and the children and her mother were living in Reed Creek, Henry County, Virginia.  Nannie was 40 and her oldest son Edward was 14.  He was a laborer in a furniture factory – a young age to become the man of the house.  Thirty-five years later in 1955, history would repeat itself when Edward died of a massive heart attack at the age of 49, leaving his oldest son, Robert (my father), as the man of the house at age 16.  Meanwhile, Willis was 11, Mary was 8, William was 4, and little Jesse was only 8 months.  Nannie’s mother, Elizabeth, was 83.  I think Elizabeth died sometime in 1923.

Nannie and her family moved to Detroit between 1920 and 1925.  In September 1925, her son Willis accidently shot himself with a pistol he had found in a drawer while looking for a flashlight.  In 1927, Nannie is listed as living at 4009 Lovett in Detroit.  In 1928, she is living at 4086 W. Fort St., Detroit.  By 1933, she had moved to Lincoln Park at 1095 Victoria Avenue.

In the 1940 census, Nannie and her son Jesse were living at 1087 Victoria Avenue with two lodgers, Fred and Boaz Duncan.  Apparently, Nannie ran a boardinghouse during these years.  Jesse was a truck driver for a lumber company.  In the later 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Nannie lived at 1177 Montie Rd. in Lincoln Park.  Toward the end of her life, she lived with her son’s family in Melvindale, Michigan.

Nannie (on left), Robert (Dad), Florence and Earl Belknap
Nannie (on left), Robert (Dad), Florence and Earl Belknap

My dad remembers her as a very tall woman, and very stern.  She insisted her grandchildren call her “Grandmother.”  Nannie Jane Wells died on February 26, 1969 at the age of 89.

Michigan Memorial Park, Flat Rock, Michigan
Michigan Memorial Park, Flat Rock, Michigan

Floyd Crichton, 1901-1973

Floyd Crichton was born 27 December 1901.  In the 1920 census, he was living in Akron, Ohio.  Floyd joined the Lincoln Park Police Department in 1925 and was a motorcycle officer.  A fellow officer on the force was Preston Tucker, founder of the Tucker Corporation and the 1948 Tucker sedan.

Lincoln Park Police Department
Floyd Crichton, 2nd from right in 2nd row. Preston Tucker, 1st on left in front row. Image from Lincoln Park Historical Society.

In the 1930 census, Floyd Crichton and his first wife Gladys were living on Fort Park Boulevard in Lincoln Park, Michigan.  Gladys was 20 years old and had come to the U.S. from Canada in 1923.  Floyd was 28 years old and was a lieutenant in the police department.   They had a daughter named Delores.  Meanwhile in 1930, Preston Tucker and his wife Vera lived on Warwick Street in Lincoln Park with their 4 children and Preston’s brother William.

Sometime before 1945, Floyd and Gladys divorced.  Gladys and Delores were living in Dade County, Florida with Gladys’ second husband Hazen Dubois in a 1945 Florida census.  Delores was 14 years old at the time.  Further research about Hazen Dubois revealed that he had also lived on Fort Park Boulevard in Lincoln Park with his first wife Bertha during the 1930 census.  They had two sons, Hazen Jr. and Robert.  There was also a lodger living with them; a 20-year-old actress named Rose Adams.

Floyd became the Chief of Police of the Lincoln Park Police Department in 1936.  Presumably, that is how he met Helen Bernadine Belknap, who worked for the city of Lincoln Park.  They married on 11 December 1947.  Helen’s nieces and nephews called Floyd “Uncle Chief” or “Uncle Chiefie.”

Floyd Crichton and Helen Belknap
Floyd Crichton and Helen Belknap

In 1948, Floyd took a leave of absence from the police force to help out Preston Tucker at his auto company.  The assignment didn’t last long for the company closed in 1949.  For more information about Tucker’s trial, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_Tucker.

Floyd served as president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police in 1951-52.  He retired in 1960 from the police department.

Floyd was interviewed by Charles Pearson for Pearson’s 1960 book The Indomitable Tin Goose: The True Story of Preston Tucker and His Car.  He gave insight into Preston Tucker’s time on the Lincoln Park Police Force.

About the area along the Detroit River, Floyd said, “It was a main port of entry for booze from Canada, and more money changed hands there during bootlegging days than anywhere else in the United States.  It was a tough district and being a cop was a tough job.”  He continued, “Pres and I worked together.  We rode motorcycles daytimes ten months of the year and squad cars after midnight.  Pres was a good cop.  There wasn’t a damn thing he was afraid of and he could spot a booze runner a mile off.” (Pearson 37).

Floyd also recalled an incident involving Tucker and his squad car that got Tucker into some trouble.   Tucker had cut a hole in the car’s dashboard with a Lincoln Park Department of Public Works torch so that heat could be piped in from the engine during the freezing winter months.  Floyd said, “So when some taxpayer heard about Tucker cutting a hole in a city-owned squad car with a DPW torch, he was in trouble.  They had no authority to lend the torch, and the next thing that would have happened would have been a hearing on destroying public property.”  Instead of an official hearing, Tucker was demoted (Pearson 40).

When Preston Tucker died in 1956, Floyd Crichton was one of the pallbearers at the funeral.  Tucker was buried in Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, Michigan.

Preston and Vera Tucker’s gravestone, Michigan Memorial Park, Flat Rock, MI

According to the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance in their book Lincoln Park (from the Images of America series), Preston Tucker’s wife Vera signed copies of Charles Pearson’s book at the Sears store in Lincoln Park in 1960 with Tucker’s car on display.  Floyd Crichton also attended the book signing.

After retirement, Floyd purchased a liquor store in Lincoln Park in 1965.  The store was robbed five times.  During one of them, a private guard employed by the store shot and killed a robber.  During another robbery, Floyd was shot by a robber.  Paramedics did not know he was shot until one of them moved the tie he was wearing aside and saw a small spot of blood.  Floyd recovered and, in 1967, he and his wife Helen moved to Charlevoix to get away from the crime in the city.  According to the Detroit Free Press, in Charlevoix he “farmed and worked part time in a hardware store” (5C, April 24, 1973).

Floyd died of cancer on 22 April 1973 at Ann Arbor’s University Hospital.  Helen, who worked as a secretary at the Charlevoix County Road Commission, died on 6 January 1980.  She was killed when she was hit by a bus after she had been involved in a collision on the icy road and was exchanging insurance information with the other driver.  Floyd and Helen Crichton are also buried at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, Michigan along with many members of Helen’s family.

Crichton gravestone
Floyd and Helen Crichton’s gravestone, Michigan Memorial Park, Flat Rock, MI

A tragedy and a mystery

September 1925, from an unknown newspaper (maybe Lincoln Park) in Wayne County, Michigan:

Willis Wells, 17-year-old son of George Wells, a contractor of 1284 Arlington Ave., accidently killed himself in a room where E.K. Belknap had gone with the youth to look for a flashlight. 
     Young Wells opened a dresser drawer and picked up an old .22 caliber pistol which was kept there.  A little later E.K. Belknap stated, when his back was turned, he heard the report of the pistol and Willis exclaimed, “I’m shot.”
    Dr. Loeffler was called, and upon arriving he found the lad lying on the bed dead.  Soon after Coroner Burgess ordered the body turned over to Undertaker Stohl.
     The accident happened at 6:40 Monday Evening.
Mrs. Arthur Belknap, 60 years old, of Fayette, Ohio, was instantly killed and her son Orville, 24 years old, seriously injured Tuesday evening, when the automobile which Orville Belknap borrowed from Sergeant William Born, and drove to Fayette to bring his mother and wife here for the funeral, ran into the rear of a body truck, ripping off the top and turning over at Telegraph and Eureka Roads.  The driver of the truck apparently did not stop.  Belknap is in the Eloise hospital, where it is said he is suffering from a fractured skull and other injuries.
 
     A report of the accident indicated that Orville Belknap’s wife was with him and his mother in the car.  This has since been disproved.
     The inquest into the death of Mrs. Belknap was held at Eloise Wednesday.
     Funeral was held Thursday from the home.  Interment at Woodmere Cemetery.

willis_wells_grave
Willis Wells’ unmarked grave at Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit
Arthur Belknap Family
Martha Belknap (1869-1925), seated at center

Some parts of this news story are familiar to me.  I had heard that my paternal grandfather had a brother who died when he was 17.  First, the story was by drowning, then it was by gunshot.  It took place in Lincoln Park, which is where 1284 Arlington Ave. is located.   E. K. Belknap could possibly/probably be my great-grandfather Earl Ervan Belknap.  I know Mrs. Arthur Belknap is his mother, Martha.  She died in a car accident in 1925 which corresponds with this news article.  I know Orville is Earl’s brother.  I had no idea the families knew each other this early.  Earl’s daughter married my grandfather Wells in 1932.

Mystery:  Who is George Wells?  I know of no George Wells.  My grandfather’s parents were named Robert and Nannie.  Robert Wells died in Virginia in 1919.  Nannie moved her four sons and 1 daughter to Michigan around 1924, I think.  Could this be a typo in the news article?  I sure hope so.  Otherwise I have no idea what is going on.

Willis Wells, Nannie’s son, is referred to as James W. Wells and is almost 2 years old in the 1910 Virginia census.  In 1920, he is listed as an 11-year-old Willis J. Wells.

The Willis Wells of 1284 Arlington Ave.  died on September 14, 1925 and was buried September 17, 1925 in Section 6, Block 4, Lot 121 at Woodmere Cemetery.

Think this needs a little more research…