Written by: Marian M. Smith – January 2009
From the time I can remember the home at 345 Mill Road in New Mahoning was known as the home of the two “Old Maids”, Souri and Della Keiser. They were the remaining children of Dr. Phaon D. and Fianna Keiser.
Dr. Keiser was a native of South Whitehall, Lehigh County. I don’t know where Fianna was a native of, but in 1874 she purchased 1 acre of land from Ammon Amer for $120.00 (the land adjoined that of Salomon Hoppes). I suppose that’s when they started to build the house.
In July of 1881, Dr. Keiser registered as a practitioner of Medicine and Surgery in Carbon County Pennsylvania. He states that he was in continuous practice in East Penn and Mahoning Township since spring of 1861. I don’t know if he lived in East Penn or just had patients in East Penn.
The family consisted of the following:
- Husband: Dr. Phaon D. Keiser .. B. April 20, 1838 D. July 31, 1914 — 76
- Wife: Fianna .. B. Dec. 8, 1845 D. April 4, 1910 — 65
- Son: Harvey A. .. B. Sept. 26, 1864 D. May 25, 1924 — 60
- Daughter: Souri E. .. B. Jan. 13, 1867 D. March 2, 1958 — 91
- Daughter: Laura F. .. B. March 19, 1868 D. Dec. 18, 1917 — 49
- Daughter: Anna M. .. B. May 23, 1869 D. Sept. 3, 1924 — 55
- Son: Phaon H. .. B. Nov. 28, 1871 D. July 6, 1920 — 49
- Daughter: Hulda M. .. B. March 14, 1880 .. D. March 19, 1895 —15
- Daughter: Della B. .. B. April 25, 1885 .. D. Feb. 18, 1963 — 78
From the time I was old enough to understand, I remember neighbors saying that Dr. Keiser forbid all of his children to marry; and none of them ever did marry. I don’t know what kind of a disciplinarian he was to have seven children grow to adulthood and still obey his orders. His one daughter, Hulda, who was confirmed with my mother, had a young man who wanted to go with her, but because she was forbidden to see him, she stayed in her room and refused to eat. It was always said that she died of a broken heart at the age of 15 years.
As an adult I often questioned this ‘mystery’ in my mind. Why would a father with seven children forbid any of them to marry? No one ever seemed to know the answer. The only conclusion I ever came to was perhaps the Dr. had found out about of some incurable illness that a forefather might have had and he was concerned it would carry on through his children. If that was the reason, I would hope he would have found it out only after he had children — or why would he have married and brought children into the world if he realized it was a genetic problem. Everyone of the family is long gone, so I suppose that mystery will never be solved.
The oldest son, Harvey, boarded in Philadelphia and worked for a transit company. He kept a ledger recording every cent that he spent — even one or two cents that he would spend for candy for the little boy of the family he stayed with. The other Keiser son, Phaon, had an artificial leg and according to Harvey’s ledger he took the responsibility of paying for that.
Anna and Della were both school teachers. I don’t know what Laura did — but Souri was a seamstress. All the children lived at the Keiser home. Perhaps the girls who taught school out of the area boarded somewhere during the school term. As I mentioned before, I only knew Della and Souri, and at that time Della didn’t teach anymore. She and Souri were the only ones living and they both took care of the home. Della could drive a Model-T Ford Car that they had — but only in summer. When winter came the car sat in their shed, which was right up against the road, on jacks — so that the tires didn’t have weight on them.
Several times during the summers when I’d be at Steigerwalts, Mary and I would walk down to visit the “Old Maids”. They were very pleasant and glad to have company. We never got further than the kitchen. It was a normal big family kitchen of that era. There, however was no electricity or indoor plumbing. It appeared that these 2 old ladies lived in the kitchen — all the doors to other rooms were closed. Souri had her sewing machine in front of the one kitchen window. I do believe that they slept upstairs, because there was only a “fainting” couch in the kitchen. They had lots of flower plants indoors and out. They kept their yard neat and always had a big garden. They kept the exterior of the home painted and in repair. My dad and the painters worked there several times in the while that I remember. I don’t know that they ever did anything inside.
In 1958, when Souri died, Della didn’t stay there alone; because they were members of St. John’s Reformed Church, she was admitted to Phoebe Home in Allentown. Her assets had to be turned over to the home for her keep. In order for this to happen, the Home ordered a public sale to take place in November.
Reverend Foose, the administrator of Phoebe Home contacted Reverend Fetterolf, our UCC pastor at the time, to get several people to clean out the Keiser home and prepare for the sale.
Esther Snyder, Hilda Troxell (Mrs. Lewis Troxell) and I were “selected” by Pastor Fetterolf to do the job.
Imagine our surprise when we entered the rest of the home and found everything the way it was left when a family member died. From the front porch you entered the home through a vestibule. There stood a clothes tree with the Dr.’s overcoat and several other coats and his hat hanging on it. His medicine bag sat on the floor by it — all ready to pick up and be on his way — even though he was dead for 44 years already. The medicine bag still contained all the bottles in their neat little slots and all were still filled with pills or powder. Shoes and boots stood neatly in a row.
The parlor seemed like it was untouched probably since the last funeral in 1924. Souri and Della were buried from the funeral home, but I’m sure the rest of the family was buried from their home.
All the bedrooms had the clothes still in the dresser drawers or clothesroom * of the whole family. There were newspapers neatly tied up and stacked from the time that the parents lived.
*Clothesroom: a room in many older homes, whose bedrooms had no individual closets; that was used as a closet. It had hooks along the walls; usually 2 rows, one above the other. Every member of the family kept their hanging clothes in that room. The longer clothing were hung on the top row and the shorter clothing on the bottom row.
The attic was the typical attic; furniture and clothing. There were trunks filled with linens, blankets and bedding. In these trunks were several small muslin bags — about 3 inches wide and 5 inches tall with a draw-string to close them. Originally tobacco came in them: however no tobacco was in them now. Instead they were all filled with gold coins; The bags all scattered among the blankets and bedding in the trunks. Reverend Foose took them to be appraised after which he said we three women could each buy one $5.00 gold piece at face value, of course we each bought one — and I still have mine. The rest were put on auction.
Back in 1958 people were just looking for useful things when buying at a public sale. Vintage clothing and antiques were not ‘useful’ — so they didn’t sell. Each day that we were sorting things for the sale we had a huge bon-fire out in the garden area. I shutter when I think of everything that got burned! First of all — all the vintage clothing — and there were a lot. Clothing from 9 people; and even old furniture went on the fire. Then there were stacks and stacks of old business papers, plus the newspapers (This was before recycling) and boxes of pictures and family photos. Finally I asked Dr. Foose if I could have the photos. Emma Kressly who had lived across the street from me was still living and she had known the entire Keiser family and I figured she would be able to identify some of the photos. Dr. Foose said, “Anything that would be burned, we could have.” He, of course, was there most of the time instructing us. So after he said that, I took all the pictures that were to be burned. I also took a pair of ladies hi-button shoes, and some vintage ladies underwear.
In with the box of photos I have is a journal or ledger of sorts by the eldest son Harvey when he lived and worked in Philadelphia. That proved that he maintained the homestead. He paid for upkeep on the Model-T Ford, he paid for coal and taxes; his brother’s artificial leg and hospitalization. He paid for his sister Anna’s nurses; for painting the house; for carpenter work at the house; he bough pigs which they raised and then paid for butchering; he even paid for Della’s drivers license; and the subscription to Ladies Home Journal every year. His first entry in his ledger every month, under expenses, was “Home” — he itemized everything and the amount such as coal — so much, taxes — so much, to that total he’d add $35.00, I suppose for their food for the month. He had a record of his bank account and his bond and stock holdings which were to go to his surviving sisters — with instructions of investing their inheritance. He died in 1924 and left 3 surviving sisters.
Everything was assorted and set up for the public sale. It was a nice November day and a crowd of people were there. I don’t know whether most people were there to buy something or if they were just interested in what these “Old Maids” had. I don’t know what the articles brought price-wise; we girls were too busy going back and forth giving pieces to the Auctioneer to sell to notice what they were selling for.
When the kitchen table was finally emptied all that was left to sell was the table itself. Curtis Houser was the Auctioneer, and he couldn’t get a bid on the table. Finally he said won’t someone give me a dollar for it. I raised my hand and he said “sold!” So I got the kitchen table for one dollar and it’s been in our kitchen ever since.
The home was bought by Gordon and Emma Snyder. They lived there several years until Gordon was transferred to the Hershey area through his work. Since then Delroy and Carol Steigerwalt and family have lived there. The children are grown and live elsewhere — but Carol and Delroy are there and have a very nice, well-kept home.
While I was writing on this article, I spoke with Caroline Zimmerman Johns and I said, “I don’t know any history of where Mrs. Keiser came from.” She went searching on the computer and came up with the following information:
Vienna Noll (Germans do not pronounce the initial F; it is a V to them) from Berks and Carbon County, Daughter of Samuel Noll and Maria Eck Noll, married Phaon Keiser; on July 31, 1864.
In the 1860 census of Lehigh County, Phaon Keiser was 17 years of age and lived with Owen Kern. We don’t know who his parents were, or if he had any siblings. This might not be the same Phaon Keiser. We know he was born in 1838, so in 1860 he’d be 22 years old — not 17. It could also be that the “Kern” family might not of known his exact age at the time of the census taking.
With the information I do know, there are still many deep secrets hidden in the mystery of the Dr. Phaon D. Keiser family who lived in New Mahoning for so may years.