It’s not often I’m left with so many questions that I ask readers for help.
That’s what I did Feb. 13, 2005. My column had traced the journey of a divorced woman in a custody dispute a century ago. She and her young son hid out at Lake Stevens before her ex-husband, a wealthy Ohio man, tracked her down and reclaimed the boy.
In the 2005 column, I said Everett historian David Dilgard “wonders if there’s anyone left who knew Annette Fitch-Brewer.”
“Is there?” I wrote. “If you know, give me a call.”
It took more than a year, but I got that call. It was followed by a letter from Isaac Curtis Brewer VI, an attorney in Oconomowoc, Wis.
“I am probably the only person still alive who had a good knowledge of both people,” Brewer said in his letter, dated April 5.
My first story told of 6-year-old Curtis, the father of Curtis Brewer VI. Annette Fitch-Brewer, who was allowed to visit her boy at a Cleveland hotel on Christmas Eve 1905, took him by train across Canada.
From 1906 until 1910, the pair used false names and lived on property near the Rucker Mill in Lake Stevens. The boy was tracked down at a Lake Stevens schoolhouse by H.L. Peake, a detective hired by his father.
In 1913, Annette Fitch-Brewer published her account of the saga, “The Story of a Mother-Love.” Dilgard will present a program on the book at 2 p.m. April 23 at the Everett Public Library.
At 69, Isaac Curtis Brewer VI has much to share. Annette Fitch-Brewer was his grandmother.
Brewer’s father, the boy taken by his mother, died in 1981 at age 81. He had graduated from Howe Military School in 1918, and earned a civil engineering degree from Kenyon College in Ohio in 1922. He retired in 1959 from the Milwaukee Road railroad.
His father, Brewer said, never spoke of his boyhood at Lake Stevens. Brewer has fine memories of traveling by train each summer with his dad to visit his grandmother at the Fitch homestead in Ashtabula County, Ohio, east of Cleveland.
In the 1930s, his grandmother remarried Adolph Nelson, “a wonderful man” and an accomplished fiddle player, Brewer said.
Annette kept the prominent Fitch family name and was known as Annette Fitch-Nelson. She lived in Jefferson, Ohio, and is buried in Ashtabula County. A graduate of Lake Erie College, she was a history buff. Well into her 80s, she had a weekly radio program on her county’s history, Brewer said.
“My grandmother was a strong personality. She had definite opinions about everything,” said Brewer, who recalled her as a stylish lady who liked hats.
Her pioneering spirit was evident in her home. Until a few years before her death, she lived at the homestead, described by Brewer as “a Southern plantation-type home with a large circular porch on an acre of land.”
The house had no electricity or plumbing. Brewer’s grandmother relied on oil lamps, fireplaces, an outhouse and an outside water pump, even as suburbia grew around her. In the 1950s, when he was 16, Brewer said his grandmother gave him one of her two Model A Fords.
“She saved everything,” he said.
When she died, he found a newspaper reporting the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley.
The Brewer story still has unsolved mysteries.
Brewer said his grandfather, Isaac Curtis Brewer IV, who tracked down the child in Lake Stevens, is rumored to have died in a sailing accident during a storm on Lake Erie in the 1930s. He isn’t sure of that.
In Everett, Dilgard has found evidence that both Annette Fitch-Brewer and her son were here in the 1920s, although Brewer doesn’t think either ever came back to Snohomish County after the boy was returned to his father.
In the federal census of 1920, Dilgard said, both Annette Fitch-Brewer and Curtis were listed as residents at a house at 3014 Grand Ave. in Everett. Other directories from the 1920s list Curtis Brewer at that address, Dilgard said.
Also, Brewer’s letter questioned whether his father had served in the military during World War I. Dilgard found listings of him in the ROTC while at Kenyon College.
Whatever the answers, both men have a renewed interest. Dilgard’s obsession is local history, and Annette Fitch-Brewer left an eyewitness account.
For Brewer, it’s family history. And he isn’t the last Isaac Curtis Brewer. “We are blessed to have two more generations,” he said. His son, Isaac Curtis Brewer VII, was born in 1970 and lives in Wisconsin. He also has a daughter, Meredith, in Maine.
On April 17, 2005 – nearly a century after a mother took her little boy on a runaway adventure to Lake Stevens – Brewer’s grandson, Isaac Curtis Brewer VIII, was born.
Isaac Curtis Brewer VI has never been to Everett. He said in his letter that Dilgard’s research makes “a trip from Wisconsin to your area an absolute must.”
If he makes that trip, I hope he’ll give me a call.
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or email@example.com.
Everett historian David Dilgard will present a program about Annette Fitch-Brewer’s 1913 book “The Story of a Mother-Love” at 2 p.m. April 23 at the Everett Public Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave. The program is sponsored by the Museum of Snohomish County History.
“A Woman’s Place in History,” an overview of women’s history in the county and Washington State, is on display through June at the Museum of Snohomish County History, 1913 Hewitt Ave., in Everett. Hours are 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
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