Henley H. Ayres was born Belmount County, Ohio on February 18, 1826. Little is known of his childhood or even who his parents might be. So far, he does not turn up in the 1830 or 1840 Federal Census. However, by 1850 at age 24 he lived in Tipton, Indiana with the William G. Williams family. He was listed as a carpenter. Curiously, three other men living in the home were also listed in the same profession. It is unclear how he knew the Williams family or if he was just in town to help with a construction project. Others living in the same household included: William G. Williams, 29, carpenter; Jane Williams, 22, wife and housekeeper; Susan Williams, 5, daughter; David Williams, 1, son; Harvey Rood, 19, carpenter; William Stivens (Stivers), 24, tailor; John R. Williams, 37, carpenter.
By 1852, he had made his way to Henry County, Indiana where he met nineteen-year-old Anna Swain. She had been living with Alexander and Jemima Swain Whitworth first in Cambridge City and later in Raysville, Indiana. It is unclear at this time if Jemima Swain Whitworth was her aunt as she could not have been her mother. The Whitworths were Quakers who moved from Guilford County, North Carolina to get away from slavery. They never had any of their own children, but they raised at least four orphans. Anna might have been one of those orphans. On December 16, 1852, Henley Ayres married Anna Swain and started a family in the Knightstown-Raysville, Indiana area.
By 1854, the couple welcomed their first son, William Franklin Ayres. Within a year, twenty-two year-old Anna Swain Ayres was pregnant with their second child. Sadly, the young woman died shortly after giving birth to George A. Ayres on March 19, 1856. The infant died a few months later.
|Anna Swain Ayres died in 1856. Sadly, her stone in the Glencove Cemetery in Knightstown, Indiana needs restoration. Perhaps we can remedy this situation.|
|Ayres plot in Glencove Cemetery in Knightstown, IN. L to R: Harrie Ayres died 1860 (son of Henley and Minerva Fithian Ayres), George Ayres died 1856, Anna Swain Ayres died 1856|
Here is where the story becomes murky. Perhaps, Henley Ayres felt he could not raise a two-year-old son by himself. Henry County records indicate that William F. Ayres became a ward to Alexander and Jemima Swain Whitworth in 1856. This is the same couple who had helped to raise Anna Swain. Now the middle-aged couple would raise her son.
How much contact Henley had with his son is unknown. William lived in Raysville, a village just minutes away from Knightstown, along the National Road. The 1860 Federal Census reveals that Henley moved into a hotel in Knightstown. On September 18, 1860, he married Minerva Fithian (1839-1898), a considerably younger woman. Their first child, Edward Ayres arrived in 1860. Did William, who was by now six years old, ever meet his half brother? In 1864, tragedy struck the couple when an infant named Harrie died after only moments on this planet. The couple buried the child next to George (an infant from Henley's first marriage) and near his first wife Anna Swain Ayres in the Glencove Cemetery in Knightstown. Two daughters eventually entered the scene and likely brought joy to the couple. Carrie Ayres was born in 1867 while Anna Ayres arrived in 1873. There is no evidence that Henley and William had any contact during this time. William, at age nineteen, was still living with his adopted parents. Why didn't Henley welcome him back into the home? The 1870 Federal Census reveals that Henley owned a home and that he had a personal estate worth $5,500. Perhaps, William did not want to live with his biological father. Small narrative accounts reveal that Williams's adoptive parents, the Whitworths, were kind people.
In 1879, at the age of 51 Henley Ayres moved his family to the village of Tecumseh in southeastern, Nebraska. His 25-year-old son, William remained in Indiana and may never have seen his father again. Accounts written by family members indicate that the more than middle-aged Henley struggled under the harsh conditions of the Plains. In 1884, the Ayres moved north to Blunt and then Gettysburg, South Dakota. They faced a harsh life of brutal winters and few conveniences. Carrie Ayres, the daughter of Henley and Minerva, became a school teacher. She eventually married Andrew Williams who became the first mayor of Gettysburg. (According to his memoirs, he was also the first in town to have a bathtub, an automobile, and a Victrola.)
Henley became an ordained Methodist minister and was instrumental in founding the Gettysburg Methodist Church. He was a trustee and was part of the building committee in 1888. In 1895, he gave the benediction prayer for the first commencement of graduates at Gettysburg High School. He also served as the president for the Gettysburg Cemetery Association.
By all accounts, "Father" Ayres as he was referred to by members of the town, was much loved and respected. His daughters at the very least seemed very devoted to him. He and Minnie Ayres first moved in with their daughter Ann S. Ayres Boyle in Gettysburg in the 1890s. Her husband James Boyle was the Auditor for Potter County, South Dakota. Henley's beloved wife Minerva died suddenly of "brain fever" in 1898. Two years later, both his son Edward, now living in Nebraska, and his daughter Ann died. This must have been a very difficult time for Henley Ayres. The widower then moved in with Carrie Ayres Williams in a home he built for his daughter and son-in-law. It was likely the biggest home in Gettysburg for that time period.
|Henley and Minerva Fithian Ayres and daughter, Anna Boyle in Gettysburg, South Dakota c.1895|
Of course, living thousands of miles away in Raysville, Indiana, William F. Ayres was busy with his own life. I wonder how much he knew of the travails and sadness faced by his father out in South Dakota. William certainly had his own problems after the death of his first wife Marria Barnaby in the early 1890s. His second marriage to a divorcee with a couple of kids likely raised eyebrows around the small Indiana village. His new wife, Grace Clavelle (former married name Leek), and he would have three children together with two living into adulthood. Unlike his father, William after becoming a widower, did not give up any of his children. In fact, he became much more like the Whitworths when he adopted his new wife's children.
|William F. Ayres, the son of Henley Ayres in Raysville, IN c.1895|
William most certainly knew of his father's death because the Knightstown Banner carried a small obituary. Henley Ayres, at age 84 had just received some visitors in his daughter's home on Christmas Eve, 1910. As soon Carrie Ayres Williams escorted the guests to the door, she turned around and found her father slumped in his chair. She, along with her children, were now the last of the Ayres family in South Dakota. She would live until 1938. Her half-brother, William, died quietly in Raysville, Indiana at the age of 80 in 1934.
|The tombstone of Henley and Minerva Ayres in Gettysburg, South Dakota|
More research is needed on these very interesting people. I am indebted to my cousin Carol Strode for her legwork on Henley Ayres and for leading me to South Dakota. I would also like to thank Peg Williams, the Potter County, South Dakota librarian. Her husband is also a direct descendant of Henley Ayres! She has been most generous with her research. Kathleen Nagel at the Dakota Sunset Museum in Gettysburg, South Dakota not only sent me the first image I have ever seen of Henley Ayres, but she also provided several interesting documents related to the Ayres family. A special thanks to my sister, Susan Gulde, who is also traveling down this road into the past. I am dedicating this post to Barbara Gulde Schmall, the great granddaughter of Henley Ayres. She passed away in 2004, but she was the family historian for years. I, William F. Gulde, am the great great grandson of Henley Ayres.