Saturday, December 22, 2018

Letters to Santa - 1909/1910

Today's article is a simple and sweet collection of letters to Santa written in 1909 and 1910 by Swain County children (in some cases with the help of their families), with an anecdote or two about their lives after childhood. Enjoy!__________________________________________________________________________
The Picklesimer Siblings
Leon Garrison Picklesimer (1905 - 1977)
Lavinia (Picklesimer) Cowan (1903 - 1965)
Leon and Lavinia were the children of Bryson City mayor Thomas G. Picklesimer and his wife Ellen (nee' Leatherwood). Less than a year after their letters to Santa were written, their father was killed when he started to jump off a train that was leaving the Bryson City station and was caught under the wheels and crushed to death. Their widowed mother subsequently moved the family to Jackson County. Leon's life was stalked by tragedy. In addition to the loss of his father at such a young age, he lost his wife, Sadie (nee' Bryson) in a tragic car accident in 1964 that nearly claimed his life as well as his daughter's. The same daughter, Kaye Ellen, died 10 years later at the age of 18 of complications from a congenital heart defect.

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 17 Dec 1994
(John Parris article)
Lauren Sylvia (Conner) Lee (1899 - 1932)
The nature of the childhood illness that Sylvia refers to in her letter is unknown. She married Carl Lee and had a child, Harry, who died 18 days after birth. Sylvia died in Virginia in 1932, and her body was brought back to Judson for burial. She was the aunt of Swain County historian Merrell Jenkins Riddle.

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 18 December 1909
The Roane Siblings
Hester Roane Fisher (1900 - 1987)
Margaret Roane (1907 - unknown)
Sam Roane (1903-1985)
Robert Roane (1904-1987)
 The Roanes were the children of Charles T. and Mary Belle (nee' Rogers) Roane. Charles was a US Marshal during Grover Cleveland's administration, and subsequently served as the sheriff of Macon County for 8 years. In 1909, he was running a hotel in Judson with at least 3 of his children. However, his eldest son, Sam, was living with his uncle Robert Roane and his wife Mary (Siler), who had adopted him. (Robert Roane was a 2-term Swain County sheriff, a state senator, and a co-owner of the Roane and Varner store in Whittier).

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 18 December 1909

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 21 December 1909

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 17 Dec 1994
(John Parris article)

By 1910, the family was living in Bryson City (according to these letters). Unfortunately, none of them (aside from Sam) appear in that census.  Sam may have been living with his uncle and aunt due to family discord or breakup. At some point before 1920, Mary and Charles divorced. She married Dr. Robert Orr and moved to Texas, taking some of the children with her. After Dr. Orr's death in 1921, she moved to California. The majority of the children seem to have followed - Hester and Robert both lived in California for most of their lives and died there. Sam, after a lengthy tenure in Western North Carolina, eventually made it to California and died there.

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 23 December 1910
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 23 December 1910

Merry Christmas!

Source: Pinterest

Asheville Citizen-Times, December 1909, 1910, 1994 (specific dates in captions)


  1. Sadie Bryson wasn't the first wife Leon Picklesimer lost. He was first married to Carolyn Turpin. She died in 1952 after a long illness. They had no children that I know of.

  2. Goodness, Ed.....that is terrible! Thank you for letting me know. I will add that in.

  3. Wendy, I don't just read your posts, I study them. Sylvia (or Sylva) Conner is now the subject of my inquiring mind. I have her in my family tree already. I didn't remember her when I first read your post but now it all comes back. While reading about the cemetery removals from Fontana reservoir I came upon Sylva Conner Lee and Harry, her infant son. Where were they moved? Winklers Grove Baptist Church. Where is that? In Burke County, NC. About 5 miles from my house. That's where my sister in law Geraldine and her husband Glenn are buried. I attended church there many times without know who lay in it's hallowed ground.
    Sylva's mother is also buried in the same cemetery. She died in Icard, NC in 1942 and I assume attended church at Winklers Grove. Icard is even closer home. I live in Icard Township.
    A sad but interesting story. Now it's on to the Roanes!

  4. Sylvia has interested me ever since I came across that letter - I think perhaps because of the fact that she appears to have suffered from a chronic childhood illness, lost her only (I believe) child in early infancy, and died so young. I think she's a terribly tragic figure.

    The Roanes are very interesting - you may find some familial connection to them. The parents discussed in this post appear to have originally lived/met in the Cartoogechaye section of Macon County.