THE SYLVANIS BAILEY GODFREY STORY
Author: Brenda Collins Dillons
Sylvanis Bailey Godfrey, born June 17, 1880, in McDowell Co. WV was the son of Armour Lawson Godfrey Jr. and Louisa Jane Collins. Sylvanis, "DOC' , was one of nine children. In 1909 he fell in love with a lady that had come to America from Germany, Clara Pfalzgraff. They married in 1909 and as the years went by Clara was never to have a child of her own.
Just before the turn of the century the Godfrey's moved into Nicholas Co. WV to follow work in the lumbering business. In Nicholas County they met up with the COLLINS, SPENCERS, WILLIAMS, and BENNETT families . They resided near each other and children of these families intermarried. It was about 1902 that they started talking about going west.
West was Washington . They gathered their belongings together and sold what they couldn't take. They packed their belongs into wagons and formed a train ,and headed west leaving a few of each family behind. Of the Godfrey Family they all went west except for Sylvanis and his sister Nancy Jane Godfrey who had married Simeon Spencer .
In Washington they settled into a small towns of Doty and Mosseyrock. They got jobs in the woods, lumbering mills, and on the railroad. Land was cheap and work was easy in those early days when the area was just beginning to grow.
Armour Lawson Godfrey was born 1850 in an area of Virginia that later became Wyoming Co. WV. He was a descendent of Thomas and Susannah Stephenson Godfrey who founded that county out of wilderness. The Godfrey men were an aventuresome bunch, terrific hunters and good providers. Today many descendents of Thomas Godfrey remain in the southwest of West Virginia and Washington State.
Armour married, in McDowell Co. WV 1875, Louisa Jane Collins, daughter of William Collins Jr. and Nancy Lambert. William Jr. was the nephew to my GGGrandfather John W.Collins. All three families, the Godfrey's, William Collins Sr. and William Collins Jr, were all living in McDowell County WVa. before moving to Nicholas Co. WVa.
Armour and Louisa were parents of nine children. Marvin b. 1876 who married Emma Jones d/o Rev Hill Jones, Nancy Jane b. 1877 married Simeon Spencer and remained in WV, Sylvanis b. 1880 married Clara Pfalzgraff, Lilly b. 1883 married Ira Oldaker and remained in WVa., Joseph b. 1886 never married however he took care of his parents in the elder years, Margaret b. 1888 married Huling Wiseman, Vergie b. 1890 married Armour Lusk, Ella b. 1893 married Kelly Baker, and Hattie b. 1897 married Salem Plant.
Armour died in Mosseyrock,Washington,Lewis County 1940. Louisa had preceded him in 1937. They are both buried at the Doss Cemetery in that area. Armour lived to be 94 years old. He was a woodmen, postal Clerk, and Blacksmith. In his later years he delivered mail by horseback over the mountains to the lumber and railroad camps. He said he was too young to fight in the civil war but he could remember playing on the front porch of his home and hear the gunfire in the distance. Several of his brothers as well as his father were in the war.
Sylvanis Bailey Godfrey was the third child of Armour and Louisa Godfrey. It is uncertain if he went west with the family and then returned to the mountains, or if he remained behind with his two sisters Nancy and Lilly Godfrey. His nickname was "DOC" but to this day I haven't found out where he come by it. "Doc" wasan engineer on a logging train. He was a BIG man weighings near 300 pounds and I am told close to 6 feet 4. Granddad "Doc" loved to tell tales and folks loved to hear them. He had a good sense of humor which sometimes got him into trouble.
"Doc" and Clara were living in a small lumber town of Curtin,WVa. in 1919. "Doc" would be gone for days ona logging run and Clara ran the boarding house. She kept busy trying not to think of the one thing in this life that would make her happy. They had been married 10 years and were not blessed with a child. Clara was a big woman. She came to this country from Germany, the daughter of George and Hester Cook Pfalzgraff. She loved to cook and it showed on them both. She was a great housekeeper and made most of their clothing.
In the years of 1818 -1920 a terrible sickness hit the area, the flu. People were sick all over the state and in Curtin entire families were sick and many died. One family was the Bennett's, Fred was a fireman on the same trin that Granddad "Doc" ran, Mollie his wife and Eva Maxine was 21 months old. Mollie was pregrant with a second child when tiny Eva took sick. She stayed up for days caring for the baby but Eva died in October 1918. Eva was buried behind the Alderson Church Cemetery in Craigsville near her grandparents, Sanford Bundy Perry and Hannah Goff Perry. Mollie was griefstricken over the loss of her baby and as the sickness spread through the town more and more folks were dieing. In April 1919 Mollie went into early labor and delivered a tiny 2 pound baby. Two days later Mollie was gone. Fred, and "Doc" buried her beside the grave of Eva. Clara stayed at home and cared for the tiny infant.
Clara was reading a book when a knock came to the door. It was Fred with a cigarbox and inside was the tiny baby. Nobody had expected this baby to live, and she had a long road ahead ,but she had a good set of lungs and deserved a chance at life. Fred handed the baby to Clara and told her to do what she could for her. He took one last look at the tiny baby and walked out the door. In the month that Mollie died(April 1919) Mollie , her sister, brother-in-law, and a uncle all died of flu within that month. Her sister and her husband left behind 5 orphaned children and Mollie left 1. It was a dark time in Curtin.
Fred Bennett disappeared from Curtin for a long time. Clara and "Doc" were suprised to see the tiny baby they had named Zelma thriving. She was little but it didn't hold her back. Clara was thrilled to have the baby and nobody could have been more loved. Zelma would crawl up in the window seat of the boarding house and watch for the train that she knew carried her dad back into town. When she saw it she would go wild till Clara would put on her coat and walk her down to the tracks.
One day "Doc" wanted to go to the store. Zelma being about 3 years old at the time cried to go with him. He took her tiny hand in his and off they went. The store was a hang out for all the men in town. They would gather and collect the news . Well, "Doc" and Zelma came walking in and everybody knew "Doc" loved to tell stories so they ask him to set a spell and tell us a story. "Doc" didn't want to tell a story but said he had a joke for them......he told the joke and everybody roared with laughter. Then he decided to sing a dirty song.....well wouldn't you know Zelma caugh onto the tune real quick and everybody thought she was just the cutiest thing standing on the table of that store singing a dirty song. "Doc" and Zelma collected their things and went home. Clara greeted them at the door and ask if they had a good time. Zelma pops up with " yes, and dad taught me to sing a new song." ......and she began to sing. Well, "Doc" turned 40 shades of red and couldn't get out of that house fast enough.
The early to mid twenties Curtin ,WV began to fail. People were selling out and moving west to Oregon and Washington. The Godfrey's made plans to leave too. They traveled by train to Washington where they joined his father and mother. "Doc" got a job as engineer on a logging train and again Clara found a large home for them to live in and again took in boarders. Zelma had started first grade in WV and was now in second. It was about this time the Godfrey's got a visitor.
Fred Bennett arrived at their home. It is unclear how long he had been in Washington but he lived in Tacoma. The Godfrey's were surprised and glad to see him but at the same time they were afraid he had come to take Zelma. Of course Zelma had no idea of who this man was but he was introduced as an uncle and she guessed he was okay. They drove to the ocean and watched the waves crash the shores. He had supper with them and when Zelma woke in the morning the visitor was gone.
In 1932 Clara Godfrey took sick with cancer and decided it was time to tell Zelma about who she was, and how they come to have her. It was on Clara's death bed that the story unfolded. In July of 1933 Clara died but she had made one request of her husband. Please take Zelma back to the mountains and ask Nancy, his sister, to help with her till she finishes school. Clara was buried beside Joseph Godfrey, Doc's brother , at FernHill Cemetery, in Raymond,Washington.
By September "Doc" and Zelma were back in West Virginia. Zelma stayed with her Aunt Nancy and went to school with her cousins, and "Doc" was riding the tails again. Some of the folks he worked with was Pardee and Curtin and Ely-Thomas. One Thanksgiving Eve while working for Pardee and Curtin Old Doc was comming home with a smoked ham somebody had given him in the cab with him. The train wrecked into Gauley River but Old Doc swam to shore with the ham on his shoulder.
"Doc" Godfrey died December 1949. He was my foster granfather and he raised my mother, Zelma. Mother always said " I am alive today by the grace of God and the love of the Godfrey's.................
written by Brenda Collins Dillon
I would love to connect with some of the family that I know reside in Lewis and Picific Counties of Washington State. I would love to know the story of the trip West........