The Roots of our Neighborhood
Have you ever wondered who lived in your current UD house before you? By this, I am not referring to past students from three, five, or even ten years ago. I mean have you ever wondered who lived in your house before UD as we know it, existed? Take yourself back to the census of 1940, where I began my search for the history of past inhabitants of our beloved student neighborhood, the ghetto.
With the help of ancestry.com and a little luck, I began to piece together a picture of whom and what our cozy campus may have looked like nearly 75 years ago. By typing an address into the ancestry search, the resident of that address at the time of the 1940 voting census would appear. While the available accounts were certainly not full of rich detail about the owners of these homes, pieces of information such as their age, occupation, marital status, and even income was enough to paint a subjective portrait of each individual in my head. Perhaps it is that sense of ‘community’ coming out in me, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly connected to these people as I read tidbits about their lives. Take 24 year old Mildred Simpson for example, who lived at 339 Kiefaber in 1940. A divorced waitress, making a mere $520 a month, living in the house with her 18 year old sister, Neva. How interesting that the inhabitants of a house 70 years ago were roughly the same age as students who live there now! It is fascinating what conclusions we can begin to draw about people’s lives, even with such little information.
Though I can’t say I wasn’t warned, ancestry.com quickly turned into a deep rabbit hole. I typed in the address to every UD house I could come up with, completely captivated by the stories of their owners. While some searches resulted in frustrating dead ends, others took me on a journey through the lives of past inhabitants of not only residences in the ghetto, but to the Darkside and even Oakwood area. Known for its beautiful collection and range of architecture, the searches I made of residences in the Oakwood area resulted in some truly fascinating findings. Known today as Hawthorn Hill, the historic Oakwood residence of Orville Wright was as marvelous back then as it is today. Valued at $100,000 in 1940, the home was a brief walk away from a working class neighborhood. It is intriguing to consider that while the majority of my searches led to discovering the average, middle class owner, others led me to learn about the extraordinarily wealthy inhabitants of what is now a historical landmark, located one single mile down the road.
I encourage anyone with a curious nature, a desire to learn about the past, or simply five minutes to spare, to do a little digging of their own. Research your house here at UD, your house back home, or even the residence of your great-grandparents. The amount of history we have available at our fingertips is unimaginable; after all, you never know what you might find.
- Lauren Pytel ‘14, Roesch Library Research & Instruction Intern
House photo credit: Mark Albain ’12 for UDQuickly's "My Old House"