A little bit about me, this project, and this website

Me in front of the LeDuc Mansion, August 2001

Welcome to my website, which aims to preserve and interpret the history of the Pringle and Simmons families of Hastings, Minnesota.

Over the years, many people have asked me how and why I became interested in these two relatively obscure families.  The story is a long and complicated one.  In the summer of 1999, when I was ten years old, my mother purchased me a few old letters from the Antique Emporium in my hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  They were written by a young man named Frank Anthony Simmons, addressed to his fiancée Ellen Morgan Pringle, and postmarked 1886 in Hastings, Minnesota.  Admittedly I was more interested in the vintage handwriting samples than the letter-writers themselves, and eventually I lost track of our purchases.  In fact, I have vivid memories of cleaning my room and finding them strewn across the floor.

When I was eleven, our house was hooked up to the Internet.  I was interested in pursuing Web-based genealogy, but there seemed little point to it, since my grandfather had already thoroughly documented our own family’s history.  One day, however, I remembered those dusty old Victorian love letters.  On a whim, I went to ancestry.com and typed in “Frank Anthony Simmons” and “Ellen Morgan Pringle.”  To my astonishment, they were listed.  According to the website, Frank was born 17 December 1860 in Randolph, Tennessee, and died 2 October 1946 in St. Paul.  His wife Nellie was born 19 October 1863 in Batavia, New York, and died 29 October 1930 in Hastings, Minnesota.  They married on 15 September 1886 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Hastings, and had seven children together: Francis, George, Florence, Ellen, Lucia, Mary, and Carroll.  So much for my own family history: instead, I decided to attempt to document theirs.

We contacted the Dakota County Historical Society in search of some more information.  I was a total novice at genealogical research, but the folks up at DCHS were supportive of my quest, and a couple of weeks after my initial contact with them, a manila envelope stuffed with obituaries and newspaper articles arrived in our mailbox.  After reading through the material, I began to feel very close to the family: never mind that the youngest member of it had died when I was two.  There was - and remains - an extraordinary feeling of connection to the Pringle and the Simmons families that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

Soon after receiving the information from DCHS, we returned to the Antique Emporium to see if any more letters were left.  We took bets while driving downtown; I said that even if there ever were any more letters, they couldn't have remained unsold for over a year.  Mom was more optimistic.  Needless to say, she won the bet.  Over a series of a few visits, we found about forty additional correspondences written to and from members of the same family; of course, we snapped all of them up right away.  We were also lucky enough to find a scrapbook that had once belonged to Nellie’s sister, filled with colorful Victorian greeting cards from the 1880s and 1890s.

In August 2001 my mother and I visited Hastings for the first time.  It was a tremendous thrill for me to see the sites that I had read so much about: the modest white clapboard where Nellie had grown up; the Gothic mansion where Carroll and his sister had conducted their antique business; the expanse of farmland south of town where Frank and Nell had farmed together for so many years.  While we were there, I felt an immediate draw to Hastings that was as strong as it was unexpected.  We kept returning again and again, drawn by a love of discovery, entranced by the joy of uncovering new anecdotes, new history, new friends.  The Pringle-Simmons history is by no means complete, but I’ve been lucky enough to uncover a whole lot beyond those initial few names and dates.

The story is, in a way, a microcosm of modern American history.  It parallels the settlement of Minnesota from the 1850s to the present day.  It is a study of who we are and where we came from.  The characters are manifold and diverse.  There’s Mary, a spunky young woman who left the farm at nineteen to pursue a nursing career in Minneapolis.  There’s Frances, orphaned at the age of fourteen and widowed at the age of thirty-four.  There's George, who served in the Army during World War I and was haunted by the experience for years afterward.  There’s Carroll, a man who started life as a farmer’s son and ended it as a world-famous authority on fine eighteenth-century antiques.

In short, it is a story of American history.  History is often viewed from a bird’s eye perspective.  We note broad trends and sweeping events and then pride ourselves on our intimate knowledge, all while ignoring entirely the study of the individual that makes our heritage so pertinent.  Researching this family has led me to believe that until history is perceived from the point of view of individuals, there will be little passion, power, or point to our studies.  It is an idea that has proven itself to me again and again: stories about people, rather than generalized trends, make the deepest impression on an historian’s audience.  It is a concept that has revolutionized and revitalized my study of history.

Throughout this website, you will find photos, written narratives, biographies of family members, scans and unabridged transcriptions of the letters that initially piqued my interest - stuff like that.  I hope that everybody enjoys.  Please feel free to contact me with more information or questions or comments about the material; I am far from the end of my researching journey, and I appreciate any help that I can get.

Thanks for stopping by.

Emily, August 2007


Me on the porch of the LeDuc Mansion; September 2009

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