I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s Journal


NIESS.-Mrs. Catharine L. Niess, died at her home, 117 Dock street, Harrisburg, Pa., May 27, 1921. She is survived by three sons: Edwin A., and John E. Niess, both of Washington, D.C., and B. Frank Niess, of Harrisburg, Pa.; on daughter, Mrs. Lewis (sic) J. Houseal, of Harrisburg; also by two sisters. Mrs. Niess was a charter member of the Nagle Street church of God. For many years she was deaconess of this church, and in this capacity she served with unusual efficiency. She lived an exemplary Christian life, and will be missed many days. Funeral services were held at the above address on June 1st, conducted by her pastor, assisted by the Rev. George R. Hoverter. Interment was made in the Harrisburg cemetery.


In 1844 Catharine Leader Auxer Niess was born into a family of three older sisters. Maria Leader and Philip K. Auxer had lost a son four years before she was born. A sister and a brother were born after her.
The family was a religious one and it set the stage for Catharine’s life. When she was 15 years old, she appeared on the census as a domestic in the home of Christian Graybill in East Donegal Twp, Lancaster, County. The year was 1860.
Catharine (on left) and three of her sisters.

Four years later she married Ephraim Niess in Harrisburg. They were married for over 50 years when he died in November of 1915. They buried six young children and watched four grow and have families of their own. My great-grandfather, Edwin A. Niess, was the oldest of these. She chronicles her prayers for her children, and especially for her husband.

Philip Auxer's home in Harrisburg
Home of Philip K. Auxer, Catharine’s
father in Harrisburg as it is today

I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s journal! It covered four years of her life in the late 1880’s and chronicles the ups and downs in the family and neighborhood. Her life was basically not a happy one. Her husband, a Civil War Veteran, was a servant to liquor and Catharine was a servant to the Gospel. She was continually praying for him and referred to him only as “my husband” in her journal. Money was in short supply and she would go around and pay the creditors.

Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary
Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary

On the plus side is the giving, caring spirit that lived within Catharine. She loved her children and missed them when they were gone. She was always caring for an ill neighbor or sharing her table with somebody. She always had guests, some for a week, some overnight.

Her journal covers historic events as well. She tells of viewing the devastation of the Jonestown flood. She tells of the flood in Harrisburg where they moved everything to the second floor and then waited weeks for rugs and floors to dry out. She wrote about a train derailment down the street from her home and the deaths caused by it. Another story was the 1893 collapse of the floors in the old Ford Theatre in Washington DC,where my great-grandfather was working. Twenty two people lost their lives, but my great grandfather, being meticulous man he was, rolled down his sleeves, put his jacket and hat one before he walked outside. After all, a well dressed man would never go outside in his shirt sleeves!

Her Church was very important in her life. She was happy when her children were baptised in the Susquehanna River and she was disappointed when they chose to join another Church. She shared her religion with her neighbors and family. Her Pastor was revered.

She took trips. She traveled to Williamsport, PA to visit her brother-in-law’s family. She traveled to Washington DC to visit her son and his family and she traveled to Altoona to visit her niece and her family. She visited her sister in Camden, New Jersey and she often went to visit her cousin in Marietta. She did not let grass grow under her feet.

Catharine experienced the death of both of her parents, her brother, two of her sisters, her grandmother, her brother-in-law, six young children and finally her husband. The home she raised her children in is now gone. The Dock Street Bridge now takes it’s place. The home was on Dock Street in the Shipoke District of Harrisburg.

Catharine and her older sister, in mourning clothes
Catharine and her older sister in their Mourning Clothes.

Catharine outlived her husband by six years. She died in May of 1921 at her home in Harrisburg. She was finally going home to join her family.

Her prayers were answered.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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