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Robert Edward Lee Jennings


Robert Edward Lee Jennings was born on Feb. 27, 1876 at Ohiopyle, Fayette County, PA, the son of John R. and Martha (Knight) Jennings. His father, a veteran of the Union Army during the Civil War, may have named him after the famed Confederate general.

Robert was a longtime laborer and foreman with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad and New York Central Railroad in Fayette County, PA. He was of medium height and build, and had brown hair and brown eyes.


Sugar Grove Cemetery

Married twice, Robert's first bride was Nora "Annice" Horton (Aug. 12, 1878-1906), the daughter of William and Mary (Johnson) Horton. They were wed in about 1898, when he was age 22 and she 20.

They produced three children -- Elizabeth Barrows, Norman "Lee" Jennings and Nellie Belch Klingenberg.

The 1900 shows the young family living in Lower Tyrone, Fayette County, probably near Dawson. Under their roof that year also were 10-month-old daughter Elizabeth and John's 58-year-old, widowed father.


Sugar Grove Cemetery

Circa 1906, the Jenningses lived in Jefferson Township, Fayette County.

Sadly, ded after just eight years of marriage, Annice contracted a septic infection sometime in October 1906. After six weeks of suffering, she succumbed and was gathered in by the Grim Reaper, on Dec. 8, 1906, at the age of 27. Her remains were lowered into eternal repose at the Sugar Grove Cemetery near Ohiopyle.

The Dec. 10, 1906 edition of the Connellsville Daily Courier reported that "The remains of Mrs. J. Jennings [sic] were brought to this place yesterday afternoon and laid to rest in Sugar Grove Cemetery at 3:30 P.M. A host of friends followed the remains to the grave." James E. Hanes of Coal Centre, PA signed her official death certificate.

Her upright grave marker is seen here, as photographed in May 1993. A tender epitaph inscribed at the base of the marker reads as follows:


   Again we hope to greet thee, 
   When the day of life is fled; 
   And in heaven with joy to greet thee, 
Where no farewell tear we shed.


Annice's untimely passing left John with three young children to raise.

Two years later, circa 1908, Robert married his second wife, 19-year-old divorcee Izetta "Ida" (Higginbotham) Buchanan (1888-1956). She was a native of Elk Garden, Marion County, WV and the daughter of Leonard and Martha Elizabeth (Kenney) Higginbotham. She was 13 years younger than her husband. They went on to have a daughter of their own -- Margaret Jennings.

In 1910, when the federal census was taken, the Jennings family lived at Newell, Fayette County, PA. Residing in their household were daughters Elizabeth, Nellie and Margaret; son Lee; and Robert's father John and nephew Albert Clarence Shipley. Robert was employed that year as a foreman on a "work train." 

Robert registered for the military draft in September 1918 during World War I, as did millions of other American men. Age 42 at the time, he listed his occupation as "foreman" with the P&LE at Newell, and marked Ida as his spouse.


Bird's eye view of U-shaped Newell, along the Monongahela River


When the census again was taken in 1920, Robert and Ida and their children Lee, Nellie and Margaret resided near Newell in Fayette County. His occupation continued as a railroad foreman, on the "steam railroad."

In 1927, the Jenningses decided to be formally married in West Virginia. Perhaps complications had arisen due to the legalities of their respective earlier divorces. They again tied the knot in a ceremony held on Nov. 10, 1927, in Morgantown, Monongalia County, WV, by the hand of Rev. W.E. Brooks of the First Presbyterian Church. At the time Robert was age 51 and Ida 39, and lived in Newell. 


Newell rail lines

By 1930, all of their children had left home. Robert and Ida made their residence in Newell, and again he worked as a foreman on New York Central Railroad, considered a "section worker" and by 1934 as a foreman in the track department. The curved tracks of the rail lines leading into Newell are seen here.

Tragedy struck in late winter 1934 while 58-year-old Robert was inside an improvised box-car shanty, on a P&LE siding, during working hours. On his way to work, Robert had stopped at the shanty, a shelter in inclement weather, to store his lunch and start a fire. With his clothing saturated with oil, they ignited and he was incinerated, dying at the spot about a mile from their home. The March 28, 1934 Connellsville Daily Courier reported that his body had been found "in a lonely tool shanty constructed out of a box car" near Newell, "burned to a crisp ... under mysterious circumstances...." 


Connellsville Daily Courier

After investigating, the Courier reported that $400 in cash and an un-cashed paycheck for a month's work were found on his body. His wife told police "that it had always been customary for [him] to keep a month's pay in bills on his person." The story said that he had left home at 7:45 a.m. "and went to the tool shed to start the coal stove fire, one of his customary morning duties." A co-worker noticed the building on fire less than an hour later, and "When help arrived, the structure was already consumed. Water from a nearby engine was thrown on the blaze but not before the greater part of the building had been destroyed was Jennings' body removed from the interior." In filling out Robert's death certificate, a deputy coroner wrote that "Death was the result of body being severely burned. Caused by being caught in fire which destroyed small shed. Probably accidental."

His remains were shipped to Fairmont, Marion County, WV for burial in Maple Grove Cemetery. [Find-a-Grave]

Robert's will, probated the following month, made headlines in the Daily Courier. Written "on a plain sheet of paper," it alluded to several thousand dollars on deposit at the Brownsville Monongahela National Bank and First National Bank of Monessen, but at the time he was financially insolvent. Their house and lot worth $2,500 was bequeathed to Ida, with their four children named as beneficiaries in the event of her death. 

With no income stream available to support herself, Ida filed a complaint against with the Workmen's Compensation Board, claiming that the P&LE was at fault since her husband had been "fatally hurt while in the employ of the railway," reported the Daily Courier. She sought recompense of $3,000 to cover the period from April 4, 1934 to Jan. 1, 1940, at a rate of $10 per week that Robert apparently would have earned if he were living. As well, she requested that the railroad compensate her for $150 in burial expenses plus another $22.71 in court costs. Following rulings by the board and an appeal to Fayette County Court, the "sole question involved in the appeal was whether the deceased was engaged in interstate transportation at the time of his death," reported the Courier. The case then appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, for hearing in April 1939.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled for Ida on June 29, 1939, citing legal reasoning by Fayette County Judge W. Russell Carr. In Carr's opinion, he wrote: 

The shanty was put there for [Robert's] convenience. There were tools, a desk on which to write his reports and a stove to keep the place warm. For what particular purpose he went in is not disclosed. In entering the shanty he did not dissociate himself from his employment, attending to the stove or doing anything else he had a right to do while there there did not interrupt the employment in interstate transportation. We are not here dealing with the situation where a servant passes alternatively from employment in one class of transportation to another but with the case of a servant engaged exclusively in one class of transportation.

After four years as a widow, Ida married James R. Dowler (1890- ? ) on July 3, 1938, at Newell. He was a native of California, PA. The marriage only lasted less than a year, with Ida filing for divorce, claiming "cruel and barbarous treatment," said the Daily Courier. Ida's testimony before an appointed "master" said that James had moved "into her home without any expense," reported the Uniontown Morning Herald. "Later, following arguments over the loss of money he had earned, she said, he moved out, saying he didn't need a wife, only a housekeeper to cook for him and keep his clothes clean."

With the divorce granted in March 1941, she apparently took back her first married name, and thereafter went by "Ida Jennings." She lived for another 15 years, and moved back to Fairmont. Her address there was 910 Gaston Avenue. There, at age 68, she suffered a heart attack on Oct. 19, 1956 and was rushed to Fairmont General Hospital, where she was dead on arrival. She is buried in Fairmont's Maple Grove Cemetery. Fred Higinbotham of Fairmont was the informant on her West Virginia death certificate.


~ Daughter Elizabeth (Jennings) Barrows ~

Daughter Elizabeth Jennings (1900- ? ) was born in 1900. 

She married Ohio native J. "Theodore" Barrows (1892- ? ) in about 1916, when she was 16 years of age, and he was 23.

The couple had at least four children -- J. Theodore Barrows Jr., Richard Barrows, Eleanor Barrows and Carl Barrows. 

They lived in Centerville, Washington County, PA in 1930 and at Denbo, Washington County in 1933. The federal census of 1930 shows Theodore Sr. laboring as a "tippleman" at a local coal mine.


~ Son Norman Lee Jennings ~

Son Norman "Lee" Jennings (1901- ? ) was born in 1901.

He was joined in holy wedlock with Bertha E. Allshouse ( ? - ? ).

Their children were Norman Jennings, Robert Jennings, Myron Jennings and Bonnie Sprowls.

They resided in Bentleyville, Washington County, PA in 1933-1935.

Daughter Bonnie Jennings (1930-2017) was born on Nov. 18, 1930 in Bentleyville. On Jan. 20, 1950, at the age of 19, she was united in matrimony with Ray Cline Sprowls Sr. (Nov. 18, 1926-2011), son of Alvah G. and Margaret E. (Meese) Sprowls. Their children were Ray C. Sprowls Jr. and Samuel Jacob Sprowls. In early adulthood, Ray Sr. attended the University of Pittsburgh and obtained a diploma from the RCA Electronics School of New York. He was a well-known violinist in the Brownsville area and loved a variety of music, from classical and jazz and to big dance band. He was a member of the Fort Burd United Presbyterian Church, Brownsville and Trinity United Presbyterian Church of Uniontown, PA. Ray retired from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union #5 and spent six decades with the organization. After a lengthy battle with cancer, he died at age 84 in Uniontown Hospital on Sept. 4, 2011. Bonnie survived her husband by six years. She died on Sept. 6, 2017.


~ Daughter Nellie (Jennings) Belch Klingenberg ~

Daughter Nellie Jennings (1904-1969) was born in 1904. She was married twice. 

Her first husband was William L. Belch ( ? -1951). They made their home circa 1933 in Newell and possibly also in Brownsville. They had two daughters, of whom one was Ruth Rankin. Sadly, William died in 1951. 

Nellie married again, to Charles Klingenberg ( ? - ? ). She moved to Athens, Athens County, OH, where she was a member of the First Methodist Church. Charles was a volunteer scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts in Logan, near Athens. 

Nellie died at the age of 64, in Athens Hospital, on Jan. 16, 1969. News of her passing was published in an obituary in the Connellsville Daily Courier. At the time, married daughter Ruth Rankin made her home in Brownsville, Fayette County.


Sugar Grove Cemetery

~ Daughter Margaret Jennings ~

Daughter Margaret Jennings (1906-1933) was born on Sept. 17, 1906 in Newell. She never married.

As a 28-year-old, Margaret worked as a "domestic" in Newell.

Tragically, she was afflicted with an ulcer of her duodenum (intestinal tract) which ruptured and spread toxins throughout her insides. She died of peritonitis in Pittsburgh's Mercy Hospital, four days into the New Year 1933. An autopsy confirmed the cause of death.

Following a funeral held at the home of her married sister Nellie Belch in Newell, followed by a full service at the Newell Methodist Episcopal Church, her remains were shipped to Ohiopyle for burial near her mother at Sugar Grove Cemetery. Her red granite, curved grave marker, seen here, was flipped upside down when photographed in May 1993.

Her brother Norman was the informant for her Pennsylvania death certificate.


Copyright 2000, 2009-2010, 2014, 2017 Mark A. Miner