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Marshall Watson shares memories of Avena

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By Linda Hanabarger

Some time back, Andrew Harner of Charleston shared with me some old photographs of his family, very important people from the village of Avena in the township of the same name.

Shortly after I shared the photos and Harner family information with The Leader-Union readers, I received a letter from Marshall Watson of Las Vegas, Nev.
Mr. Watson wrote that he had read about the Avena stores, and at the age of 93, had some information to share. He wrote that he was reared on a small farm about one mile north of Avena. About 1932, the family lost the farm. With help from relatives, they acquired the church parsonage at Avena, and became neighbors of Earnest (Pat) and Lottie Harner.
He then offered to make an educated guess as to the folks pictured in the post office picture, which included Pat Harner, Sid Pilcher, Vane Harner (Pat’s son), Sam McCormick and Billy Harner.  Sidney Pilcher was a brother-in-law to Pat Harner, while Sam McCormick was an uncle. Mr. Watson thought the photo was taken about 1916.
“The big store was vacated when the little store was built. About 1934, Oscar Kepner’s [barn] burned down, and he secured the big store, moved it across the pasture and rebuilt it into a barn. The small store is located on Joe Harner’s farm.
“When Joe came home from World War II, he, being married to Jennie Logue, took over the farm from his mother. He and his father-in-law, Harold Logue, razed the residence and replaced it with a modern house. Joe moved the little store from Avena, and they lived in it until the new house was built.
“The railroad in my lifetime was the Pennsylvania Railroad, and about 1923-4, it was widened into double tracks. The north track carried westbound trains, and the eastbound ones probably reached to Pittsburgh, Pa. The double track ended about halfway between Avena and Brownstown, where a switch station stood with a manual set of levers to allow the trains on the north track to continue when traffic allowed them to move on west.
“The railroad was always fascinating and dangerous. In February 1943, my Uncle Arthur and his family, after visiting his brother-in-law and his wife’s sister, who lived east of Avena about l.5 miles, started to return to his home and had to wait for a westbound train. He then proceeded on and was struck by an eastbound one on the other track. He, his wife, Nettie, and three young boys were killed.
“I want to comment on the Avena one-room grade school and its relationship to the store. All my years in grade school, I had the same teacher – Si Dial. He was so well thought of by the school directors that he was paid $150 per month, when other teachers received $75 per month.
“He boarded at the widow Shipley’s residence. Teacher Dial subscribed to a daily newspaper that came on the 9 a.m. train, and was picked up by postmaster Pat Harner with the general mail. Each day, Si selected a student, gave them a nickel, and sent them to the store to get his paper, which he read when he went to Mrs. Shipley’s for lunch.
“The post office had rural mail carriers, and my father delivered the mail for a year or two with horses and buggy, but the man who carried the mail after him, and when the Avena Post Office closed, was Leo Rush.
“I left Avena in 1937, getting an opportunity to take an apprentice course at Caterpillar Tractor Co. in Peoria, where I worked for 40 years. During that time, I served as a Navy fighter pilot, and was called back during the Korean War. Wonder if there is anyone else that has driven a Model T Ford and flown a jet airplane?
“Avena was on the western edge of the oil boom area. Some wells were producers,  and others were dry holes. The Watsons had a well drilled in their yard … a dry hole. All we got was salt water that ruined our well water. We carried water from a good well at the Harners.
“I would like to tell you about a remarkable woman – my mother, Olive. She had 11 children; six girls and five boys. She washed clothes in a tub with a washboard, cooked meals on a wood-burning range, had a garden, and canned tomatoes and blackberries.
“After my father died in 1953, she was left with five children to raise. Eventually, she moved to St. Elmo, about 1960, where she passed away at age 96. Van Harner and his brother, George, lived in Vandalia, and most every year on my mother’s birthday would come to visit my mother and get all the news of her children.”
In the body of his letter, Marshall does not name his father, who was Everett S. Watson.  From information found in Fayette Facts,  two Watson brothers, Jotham and Alfred, are credited with being among those who migrated from Ohio into Fayette County about 1840. The log cabin built by Jotham was still standing in 1974, and was owned by a descendant.
Jotham Watson married three times, and Everett’s father, Richard Maxey Watson, was a son from Jotham’s third marriage to Rachel Miller.