John Conger, who settled in Woodbridge, N. J., in 1667, was the ancestor of nearly all the native-born Congers in the country. He had two wives and a large family of children. From that day there has been a steady stream of Davids, Johns, and Josephs in succeeding generations of the family, most bewildering to one member of it, Mr. Charles L. Conger of McIntosh, Minn., who is patiently compiling a Conger Genealogy.
Very little has been preserved of the Cleveland life of James Lockwood Conger, a lawyer residing in the city between 1826 and 1840, save through a package of old letters written by Mrs. Conger to her only sister, Mrs. Erwina Miner of Centerville, Fairfield Co., Ohio. James L. Conger, b. in Trenton, N. J., was the son of David and Hannah Lockwood Conger, who later lived in Phelps, N. Y. He received his general education in that locality and studied law with Judge Ewing of Ohio.
In December, 1824, he married in Lancaster, O., Miss Paulina Belvedere Clark, daughter of Dr. Ezra and Sarah Clark, pioneers of that county and formerly of Middletown, Vt. James Conger was only nineteen years old and the bride but eighteen. The youth of the couple and the fact that they remained in Lancaster two years, suggests that he may have pursued his law studies after the marriage. A little boy named Seneca was born to them in Lancaster, who died young.
In April, 1826, they started for New York State to visit Mr. Conger's parents and perhaps with a view of settling near them. An acknowledgment of money received by the couple at that time is here given because of its phraseology
"Received, Lancaster, O., April 25, 1826, of our revered father, Dr. Ezra Clark, three hundred and fifty dollars towards our portion. J. L. CONGER. PAULINA B. CONGER."
They drove a span of horses all the way to eastern New York and return, as far as Cleveland, which they reached September 6th of the same year. And in this month begins the series of letters previously mentioned, a half-dozen only, but covering several years of the Conger's residence in Cleveland. These letters are unusual for that day and generation. The penmanship is beautiful, the composition correct in every particular. The writer must have been a woman of charming personality; a brave woman possessing great fortitude, but shy and sensitive, sweetly grateful for every kindness shown to her.
The depth of her affection is revealed in the messages to her aged father whom she seems to have idolized and whom, so far as the letters reveal, she never met again in this life. On her trip to New York she met Mr. Conger's family for the first time. Of these new relatives she writes
"I frequently think of the remark you made when we were last together, `Do not be too sanguine in your expectations of James' parents,' and I was cautious not to be so. But my own could not do more for me. James' sisters were all equally kind, each striving to be most so. I was almost afraid to mention anything I wanted for fear one of them would get it for me, and they seemed to think they could not give me enough. I really think the whole family would have liked to come on to Cleveland with me, they were so truly attached.
"Father Conger and James went to New York City, returning before July 5th. They purchased about three hundred and fifty dollars worth of books and other things. Father brought me a beautiful figured silk dress and other smaller presents."
The young couple drove back to Cleveland, but various and sundry household furnishings donated by the elder Congers were shipped by canal and Lake Erie. One barrel when opened was found to contain everything necessary for the laundry, while mop and dish-cloths had been tucked into another one. Nothing necessary or convenient in that line had been omitted or forgotten. And, just as the team was about to start on the long western journey, father Conger had placed a bill in his young daughter-in-law's hand, to be used by her for any personal need on the way.
When they reached Cleveland they found Mrs. Reuben Wood, wife of the future governor of the state, preparing for a visit to her former eastern home. Her sister was to accompany her, and they intended to remain until spring. Evidently the Conger and Wood families were previously acquainted. The latter at once turned over the house they occupied, with all the heavier furniture to Mr. Conger, at a rental of $80 for the eight months' use of it. This sum also included the kitchen garden well stocked with a variety of vegetables and five bushels of peaches yet ungathered.
The departure of Mrs. Wood and her sister is told in one of the letters. "They started on Sunday, September 10th. We went out on a lighter about a mile from shore to the steamboat with them. The waves were very high and became seasick on the way. Notwithstanding, on the whole I had a pleasant ride."
The young wife seems to have been very lonely in the new strange town, her only acquaintance in it having been Mrs. Wood whose return she pathetically anticipates. Meanwhile, Mr. Conger had purchased a lot on the south-east side of the Public Square. The east corner of the May Co.'s big department store now covers the site, and upon this he began the erection of a small frame-house, which, four years later, was considerably enlarged.
Mrs. Conger dwells upon the delights of its possession; speaks with pride of the sodding of her "door yard," and of her planting in it a rose, a lilac, and a snowball bush; of the high board fence surrounding three sides of the lot, and a little later of the arbor covered with five kinds of grapes, and of the square of English strawberries each side of the arbor, from which she picked sixteen quarts of fruit.
Stand, if you will, in front of the towering Cushing Building and imagine the little home, the lilac, and the snowball bush!
The furnishing of their house progressed slowly.
"I believe all the furniture we have, so far, are fees. James has sent to Pittsburgh, by a man who owes him, for a carpet for the front chamber and hall, and I have just finished a pretty rag-carpet for the back room."
The second summer after the house on the Square was occupied Mr. Conger's sisters, Hannah and Phebe, both mentioned as "beautiful young girls," make the family a long visit. We can imagine how pleasant those months must have been when we are told that "there are numerous young men in town, but very few young women." And in connection with this who can not read romance in the opportunities afforded in the statement, "There are many beautiful walks and rambles on this delightful lake. Every Sunday, after meeting, James and I take a walk by the lake, and often through the week we stroll through the Square and Ontario street to it and spend the twilight hours there." This was written August, 1827.
James Conger must have given evidence of unusual ability in his profession for one so young, or he never would have found himself associated with Thomas Bolton, one of Cleveland's most able jurists. "Bolton & Conger, Attornies and Counsellors, Hancock Block, No. 93 and 95 Superior Street," they announce professionally.
Some time after the panic of 1837, that was the cause of scattering many of the numerous Cleveland lawyers and doctors to all points of the compass, James L. Conger removed to Belvedere, Mich., where in 1847, after four years of battling with tuberculosis, Mrs. Conger died, aged forty-one. Mr. Conger married again, but there is no record furnished of this union. He became a prominent man of that community and at one time represented it in the lower house of Congress in Washington. He died in St. Clair, Mich., in 1876, aged seventy-one, and was buried in Columbus, O.
Children of James L. and Paulina Clark Conger:
Seneca Conger, b. 1825; died in infancy.
Helen Edwina Conger, b. Jan., 1827; m. Thomas Lough.
William James Conger, b. 1829; m. Abby Louise Meckler. He died in Columbus, O., 1882.
Three younger children died in infancy.
Helen Edwina Conger was born four months after her parents arrived in Cleveland, and often returned in after years to her native town, ever since it became "Greater Cleveland." She was welcomed each time in the homes of our oldest families as a loved and honored guest, for she was an unusually bright, attractive woman. She died but recently, leaving two daughters.
Mrs. W. B. Waggoner, one of them, resides in the city.
When James L. Conger removed to Michigan, he sold his Cleveland residence property to Dr. Erastus Cushing. He may have received less than $1000 for it. Today the lot is worth $8000 a foot front; a traffic tally recently taken showed that in the business hours of the day an average of 5134 persons pass this spot hourly.
(Source: The Pioneer Families of Cleveland, 1796-1840 by Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, Vol. I & II; Found on the Internet, April 2006)