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Colquhoun Towers family story

family story

Having decided upon the project of developing and collecting
information for a family tree, starting with my grandparents, that effort
involved either personal or written contact with my uncles, aunts, and
cousins upon occasion over the years from about the 1930’s through
1985. It was only natural, therefore, that bits and pieces of family
history came to light which I have now put together to produce this not
altogether coherent story. To those relatives who contributed anecdotes,
along with the family tree data, I once again express my thanks.
Along with that is a very special thanks to my wife, Florence, who
painstakingly typed both the family tree and this story, as well as thanks
to my cousin Bill of Oakland, CA, who developed a program to
computerize the so called family tree.
While dates in the family tree are believed to be correct (with
possible exception of dates for Alexander) dates in the narrative have
been determined largely by deduction. There is also the possibility that
I may have somehow misconceived or misinterpreted various notes.
Therefore, anyone in the family wishing to correct, revise, or add to the
record is hereby encouraged to do so by writing me or Florence

The Walter C. Towers Family in Retrospect

The marriage of Walter Colquhoun Towers and Jane Kerr in l876
at Paisley, Renfrew County, Scotland, both at the age of twenty-five,
is the start of events which we descendants from that marriage can
consider to be our heritage. That is, at least until someone takes it upon
himself to search whatever records may exist in and around Paisley,
Scotland or elsewhere to learn more about our ancestors.
Because of the lack of records (other than vital statistics such as
birth, death, marriage, etc.) it should be understood that even this
writing by a Grandson of Walter C. has been developed mainly from
hearsay along with bits and pieces from various letters of second and
third generation family members.
Between the ages of twenty-five and forty-three Jane had given
birth to nine children one of whom died at the age of two. Apparently

six of these children were born in Paisley and the last three children
were born in and United States.
As background information to this historical sketch, the following
data has been taken from the Extract Entry of Birth (birth certificate) of
Archibald Kerr Towers. That document states that father Walter Towers
was a Journeyman Iron Moulder (a trade that he pursued for nearly his
entire life), and that he and Jane Kerr were married in Paisley on
February 25, l876. At the time of Archibald’s birth on March 23, l883
(the fourth child) they were living at ten Mossvale Street, Paisley in the
County of Renfrew, Scotland. A hand written note at the bottom of his
birth certificate “Baptized by me on the 8th of April l883, A. Fyfe Burns,
Minister of St. George, Paisley”.
It is known that Isabella (the first child) attended the Mossvale
Public School in Paisley as one of her daughters (Helen) had a book
which Isabella received on October l5, l885 as a prize for school
Very little is known of the Towers family life in Scotland. At the
time of Archibald’s birth, Walter C. was thirty-two years old. It is
possible that he then may have already been thinking about emigrating
to America since within four years time he gave up his job in Paisley
and sailed off to seek his fortune in America leaving his family of six
children in the care of his wife Jane.
Surely, it wasn’t a simple decision as has just been stated. The
motivating factor was probably the news that jobs in the United States
were plentiful. This was confirmed by letters he received from co-
worker friends of his who were already at work in the USA with good
paying jobs. He and Jane must have finally made the decision that he
would go to the States by himself, first to land a job and secondly to
determine the advisability of bringing the family over. (This seems to
be the way that the transition was handled since there never had been
any reference to Walter C. having made a trip back to Scotland to get
the family.) In any event, there must have been much planning and
settling of affairs prior to Walter’s departure, undoubtedly with many
details left for Jane to handle. In any event, it has been deduced that
Walter C. sailed from Glasgow, alone, sometime in the latter part of
1887 or early in 1888 (their youngest child at that time was born in

By this time Walter and Jane, each thirty-six years old, had been
married eleven years. Isabella then was at age ten. In later years she
had told her children that a fire occurred in their two story Paisley home
during the period when they were packing to move. A large mahogany
chest had been packed solidly with linens, towels, sheets etc. and was
tossed out of the second story window by the firemen. That chest was
so solidly constructed that it withstood the shock with very little damage
and was shipped to America when they left Scotland. After Isabella
married years later, she became heir to that chest which was used by her
and her family most of her lifetime.
With ten years experience in raising children it probably was not
too much of a task for Jane to care for the children while Walter was
away. (This period is not known, but could have been from six to ten
months). It would seem, however, that she would have experienced a
mixture of anxiety, doubt and frustration right up to the time of boarding
the ship.
Undoubtedly there were letters back and forth between Walter and
Jane: words of assurance from Jane that the family was managing to
cope during his absence and probably descriptions from Walter of the
job possibilities. Also, word of the generosity of a friend in not only
temporarily providing her husband with a roof over his head but also
guiding him through the intricacies of finding a job.
While it may have seemed an eternity to Jane and the children by
the middle of 1877 Walter must have sent word that it was time for them
to pack up and come to America. So it was that they boarded a ship at
Glasgow, steerage passage (meaning the least costly, below deck
accommodations), only to face and endure the tribulations of Ellis
Island, arriving November or December of 1888. This month of
March ‘88’ seems to coincide with stories told to Isabella’s children
about the family having experienced the “Blizzard of ‘88’” soon after
their arrival. (Officially that blizzard occurred on March 13, 1888).
At this point it should be said that the last mentioned dates are not
altogether accurate as son Walter had claimed to have been eight years
old upon arrival (his birth dated 1/25/1879) and Archibald had
mentioned that he was five years old when he arrived (his birth date 3/

23/1883). Then, over the years there was always reference to Mother
and only five children coming from Scotland. However, there must
have been six children as baby Alexander was reportedly born in 1887.
Since it is claimed that he died in 1889 in all probability he was buried
in Brooklyn.
Now when Walter had arrived in America he settled in Brooklyn
because he had a friend or two living there. Consequently, the job he
obtained was also in Brooklyn. By the time the family arrived, he had
rented an apartment there for them, reportedly located on Nineteenth
Street where they apparently lived for several years.
About the only thing we know of their life in Brooklyn is that son,
James, was born there in 1890. We can imagine that it must have been a
period of major adjustment to become accustomed to living in not only
new surroundings but also a new country.
About l892, Walter managed to get another job, presumably
a higher paying one, in Newark, NJ. Rather than commute from
Brooklyn, it was more practical to move and the family was soon living
in a residential area of Newark, east of the Pennsylvania Railroad main
line. The last two children, Margaret and Elmer, were born here.
Along about this time Walter and Jane must have felt quite
comfortable with their progress in the states and therefore the family had
passed the point of no return to Scotland. Walter started preparation for
his USA citizenship. On the happy day of Sept. 25, l895 he took his
oath of allegiance and received his naturalization papers at the Essex
County Courthouse in Newark, NJ.
The next objective seems to have been a desire to get the family
out of the city and into the suburban area. Walter’s choice was the
Village of Vailsburg, which was sandwiched between the city of
Newark on the east, and the Village of South Orange on the west. The
two and one-half story house, located at 244 Smith Street was
apparently newly constructed when Walter bought it in l897. It was to
be the family home for the next twenty-six or twenty-seven years and is
very possibly still in existence. (It is known by the writer that the house
was intact and occupied as late as l978 and seemed to be occupied by
more than one family).
The family was now growing up. At the time of the move to

Vailsburg the eldest child was of age eighteen although there were still
three children under eight years old, the youngest being four.
Vailsburg proved to be fine for the family but it actually made life
a little more difficult for Walter. He had to walk about two miles both
going to and coming from work in Newark each day. The streetcars
had not yet been extended beyond the car barns at Nineteenth Street in
Newark. It is believed that the streetcar line was extended to the South
Orange boundary about two or three years later thus greatly easing
Father Walter’s commuting chore.
Smith Street was a dirt road and sidewalks were wooden
boardwalks. There was a grade school in the area and the Post Office
was set up in a local grocery store. In due course, a Mr. Marquier
opened his pharmacy on the northeast corner of South Orange and
Sanford Avenues.
This became a popular place not only for its medicines but also
for its marble top counter where ice-cream sodas and sundaes were
produced and consumed. Adding to the attraction were several large
glass globes filled with a bright red, green, or blue liquid which were
characteristic of most pharmacies in those days. Within a couple of
blocks of the house was Knoll’s Dairy Farm on whose property the
younger children occasionally romped.
About l903, Vailsburg was annexed by the City of Newark.
The Towers’ home was open to visitors from Scotland on a
number of occasions. A few of these came to the states to also seek
their fortune, staying until they got their bearings and managed to get
a job. Walter remembered how he was helped when arriving in this
country and therefore could do no less for friends and relatives in similar
circumstances. The 244 Smith Street home was sold not long after
father Walter’s death in l924.
Having mentioned overseas visitors in the proceeding paragraph
it might be appropriate to name those Scottish relatives (nieces and
nephews) of whom we are aware. On the Towers side there were:
William who lived in Brooklyn, his brother, John, who lived in Union,
NJ, their sister Bess Towers (unmarried) who lived in Toronto, Canada
and another sister, Minnie, living in Scotland. Allegedly (I have to
use that word since we have no proof) there were second cousins; Tina

Galt visited from Scotland and George Galt who was a beneficiary
of Walter’s hospitality when he came to this country on a permanent
basis. (Not known whether Tina and George were brother and sister.)
Undoubtedly Walter Towers’ relatives were not limited to those
mentioned. It is believed that each of the above mentioned emigrated to
the USA after Walter and his family arrived.
On Mother Jane’s side of the family, the only available knowledge
of a cousin was Margaret C. Kerr who had, on two separate occasions,
sent Archibald and his wife a postcard while she was vacationing at
Tarbert, Scotland.
Returning again to the family; we know that they attended Kilborn
Memorial Church in Vailsburg. Walter was a deacon there; Archibald
for a time was church organist with James manning the hand pump to
provide air for the pipe organ. Both James and Elmer sang in the choir
at one time or another. This is not to say that other members of the
family did not attend this church. I have no information on that subject.
As the children grew up, they gradually drifted away on their own
initiative. Isabella married in l902. In due course she and husband,
Frank Goode, moved to Ward Place in South Orange until after their
three daughters had married and left home.
William married in l903. He and his family lived for quite awhile
just a few blocks from the Smith Street home and then lived variously in
Roseland and Irvington, NJ.
When son Walter was about twenty-five or twenty-six years old,
he took to the road with a friend, setting his sites on California. The two
friends worked their way across the continent, Walter being employed
mainly as a bricklayer, repairing furnaces in foundries. After reaching
the West Coast, he traveled northward by bicycle selling stereoptican
equipment. Returning to San Francisco he established a dry goods
business in the Mission District of the city. In l906, there was a major
earthquake, which, along with a resulting fire, destroyed a large part of
San Francisco. Apparently his place of business sustained no loss. His
brother, John, later on came to the West Coast and joined him in the
business. Walter married in l9l2. In due course, the business was sold
and he moved the family to Palo Alto.
Upon marrying in l909 Archibald and wife lived briefly in Jersey

City, then moved to an apartment on Smith Street (Vailsburg). About
l9l4 or 1915, they bought a house in South Orange, NJ, a short distance
from where his sister Isabella lived. He had various bookkeeping
jobs one of which was at a limestone mine in Wampum, Pa. where his
brother James was working. They both boarded with a family by the
name of Davidson who treated them as part of the family. Even though
they were not there for any great length of time, a lifelong friendship
was established with the family. During World War I, Archibald
enlisted with the NJ State Militia Reserve, commonly known as the
Home Guard.
For a number of years Archibald worked in New York City,
commuting from South Orange via Delaware, Lackawanna and Western
Railroad, and later in life was an Auditor for the State of New Jersey. At
one point he purchased a business assembling and selling Auclo Furnace
Clocks. These clocks were designed to start up coal fired furnaces in
the morning after being banked all night, thus having the house warmed
up before arising. This was before thermostats came into common
usage. They were ordinary alarm clocks with modifications made to
active a system of chains, pulleys, springs, and weights so that at any
desired time, properly connected dampers would open to create the
necessary draft and close the fire door, thus allowing the coal to burn
more freely. The modifications to these alarm clocks were partly done
by family members in the attic of the house as well as packaging them
for shipment to dealers. This enterprise was eventually sold. After the
boys were married and left home the South Orange home was sold and
they moved to Fair Haven, NJ.
John apparently envied his big brother out on the Pacific Coast.
He somehow managed to get out of there and started working with
Walter in the dry goods business. John was married about a year before
his brother Walter and then settled in California permanently raising
their family there.
It was probably about l9l6 or l9l7 when James bought a Studebaker
car, Touring Model, much to the delight (and admiration) of his nieces
and nephews especially when they were invited to take a ride. However,
it wasn’t long before the car was garaged and put up on blocks. James
had enlisted in the Army! As a Second Lieutenant he served most of his

time in France. Just before he was to go overseas, he had purchased an
Army overcoat at the L. Bamberger & Co. department store in Newark
which had to be slightly altered. However, when he returned to the store
it was closed for the day. By this time he had to proceed to Hoboken
to board the ship but before doing so he contacted brother Archibald to
ask him to get hold of that coat and bring it to him at the ship the next
day. Louis Bamberger, President of the store, lived in South Orange.
Archibald called him on the phone and explained the situation. Mr.
Bamberger, recognizing the emergency, arranged to have him pick up
the coat that night. The next morning Archibald delivered it to James
at the dockside just minutes before departure time. So James had his
much needed regulation overcoat. It was rather interesting also that
in December l9l8 while James was on leave in Dijon, France he quite
coincidentally met a red cross nurse whom he recognized as Edythe
Davidson, a daughter of the family he had lived with while working in
Wampum, PA!
When James married a few years later he and his wife, Gladice,
were the first tenants of the first floor apartment at 244 Smith Street
which now (1921) had been converted to a two family house, father
Walter and Jane occupying the second floor. About two years later they
moved to York, PA where they spent the better part of their lives.
The second daughter of Walter and Jane was Margaret about
whom we know very little.
In 1914, a couple of young lady cousins from Scotland came to
visit the family at Smith Street and they were shown around the area
visiting various members (their cousins) of the Towers family. Margaret
had arranged to go to Scotland when they made their return trip. When
nearing the British Isle the ship apparently got off course in a fog, hit
a rock ledge and started to founder. Fortunately, another ship came
along in time to rescue the passengers after they were lowered to the sea
in lifeboats. The rescue is described in a letter from Margaret, to her
brother Archibald, which is included as an appendix. Margaret married
in 1916, accompanied her husband to Detroit, MI, had one child and
died in 1918 from influenza.
A year or so after James enlisted in the Army brother Elmer also
enlisted. His duty there was limited to the USA. He married a few

years after being discharged (192?), raised his family in Wellsley Hills,
MA with many summers spent at Pease’s Pt. (on Buzzards Bay), near
Mattapoisett, MA. Upon retiring they left Wellsley Hills in favor of
Venice Fl, usually returning to Pease’s Point in the summer.
This “biography” of the Towers family does not really reflect
the full lifestyle of Walter and Jane except to indicate that they were a
very independent couple, self motivated, hard working, family oriented,
loveable, church-going, considerate, thrifty, and probably quite cautious
when it came to major decisions.
Behind all of that we can only imagine the trials and tribulations of
raising nine children, the grief of losing one child in infancy and another
at age twenty-six, the concern of children leaving home whether to seek
their fortune elsewhere or to become enlisted in the army during World
War I, etc., etc.
As a foundry worker all his life father Walter surely must have
adopted a strict routine of saving a portion of his earnings to be able
to, in mid life, purchase a home large enough to house a family of
ten persons; this after having spent a substantial sum of money to get
himself and his family across the ocean ten years earlier. A veritable
example of the great American dream! But there is no doubt that father
Walter earned every bit of it through hard physical labor combined with
Jane’s cooperation and help.
One can read between the lines that life was not easy for Walter
and Jane but they certainly had foresight, initiative, perseverance and
stamina combined with self-sacrifice to carry them through a strenuous
but successful life, successful if for no other reason than for the
wonderful family they raised. That family in turn inherited these same
qualities, for they too had crises--a World War and a serious depression-
-with which to cope while raising their families. Life was not easy for
them either. We descendants have a fine heritage. Let each of us make
the most of it.
The cited information was sourced from Electronic Document (email, file) published by The author/originator was Archibald Kerr Towers.
  • Source Notes
      Author not named in text, but believed to be Archibald Kerr Towere (1910-2001)

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