The Early Years. Matilda Frick1 was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on August 24, 1870 and grew up in a home full of children. Her brother's name was Theodore and her sisters were Christine, Louise and Annette. Annette and Matilda were twins. There is little information about her girlhood years, but one must assume her father, a tailor, taught her the tricks of his trade. Matilda would grow up to become a fine seamstress. Strong and independent, Matilda would also embark on a journey with her children from New Jersey to California, which would forever change her life.
Perhaps Matilda was like her father and mother, who also experienced long journeys. Her father, Henry Charles Frick, was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and came to America from the Black Forest on a ship about 1869. His grandson Clarence Winans adds the following information: "In Germany he served four years in the army (compulsory?) but then he was drafted to fight in a war. Therefore he escaped to America dressed as a woman. He worked as a tailor in America and often sat cross legged on a table. He eventually became a hunchback."0
Matilda's mother, Crescenz Hildendorf, was born in Essen, Germany. She traveled to America by ship at about 1860. Crescenz had six brothers who fought in the Civil War and were never heard from again.0
Matilda's Marriage. On June 29, 1892 Matilda married Frederick Winans. (Frederick's Winans ancestry can be traced back to John Winans, of Dutch origin, one of the founders of Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1664-5. Frederick's parents were Elias (who fought in the civil war) and Lydia. He grew up with his siblings Edward, Mary and Amy. Unfortunately, as a married man, Frederick was not home very much. Rumors tell us he had an alcohol problem.2 Therefore Matilda was on her own to raise the three children:
Life in New Jersey. To support the family, Matilda ran a two-story boarding house in Elizabeth on Williamson Street. Although Matilda may not have visited church on a regular basis, she did attend certain events. Merrill remembers his older sister helping him get dressed and ready for these special occasions. Family documents show Matilda was baptized and married at Christ Church (Episcopal), in Elizabeth.
In the early 1900's it was customary for wealthy women to have a seamstress come to their home for a period of time, and live with the family. Matilda, who was an excellent seamstress, obtained jobs of this type and at times, stayed with families for extended periods. Young Merrill accompanied his mother on these trips. Many of the homes had beautiful gardens and Merrill would often be sent outside to play. As he wandered along the pathways he began to develop an interest in planting his own garden. Later in life Merrill would excel as a landscape architect.
It was not uncommon for young boys to be at the train station. They could find out the latest news, pick up the family mail, and watch travelers from far away places. One day Clarence pulled Merrill in a wagon near the train station, when suddenly he stopped and pointed toward a man in the distance.
"Merrill," Clarence said, "That is your father."
This is Merrill's only recollection of his father.
The Journey West. About June of 1916 Matilda decided to move to California because Merrill, age eight, (He would turn nine on December 24th) was suffering from respiratory problems and needed to get away from the cold winters. Clarence, at 17, left his job at New York Life Insurance Company and prepared to accompany his mother and brother. Mabel was 23 years old and in love with a young man who lived down the street. She chose to stay behind and soon after, she and Frederic Burnett were married. In a short while, the couple moved to California to join the rest of the family.
Matilda's journey to California began when she and her two boys stepped aboard a steamship in New York. The ship, SS Maumas, carried them to New Orleans. Merrill said later, "We experienced a waterspout off the tip of Florida." There is another anecdote Merrill tells regarding Clarence. In the words of Merrill's wife, Elsie, "Matilda out of necessity was a frugal person and thus did not tip waitresses. Young Clarence, a "man-of-the-world", sought to make up for his mother's shortcoming. After one meal he furtively left a coin under his plate. As they left the cafe the waitress came running, handed Clarence the coin and said 'Here, sonny, you probably need this more than I do.'"
From New Orleans they climbed aboard a train (Southern Pacific's Sunset Limited) and headed for California. Merrill later told his wife, Elsie, that a surprising event happened along the way. At one point in the journey, the train slowed to a stop. Merrill said the train was detained due to General Pershing's troops. At this time, in 1916, the general was on a punitive expedition against Pancho Villa, a Mexican bandit and revolutionary, in Mexico. Perhaps the soldiers were crossing the tracks or the train needed to be escorted through the area.3
Life In California. There was work to do and adjustments to make as the family settled into their new surroundings.4 But Matilda was industrious and the boys were hard workers.
Matilda apparently shipped some of her household furniture and personal items from New Jersey. According to Elsie Winans, a Birdseye Maple dresser and chiffonier are still in the possession of the family as well as a mantle clock, a cut glass bowl, silver flatware and a vase which was a wedding gift.
Securing Work. One of Clarence's first jobs after arriving in California was in downtown Los Angeles at a Bunker Hill hotel as a desk clerk. "One day I saw Charlie Chaplin come in!" said Clarence to his granddaughter, Sharon. The hotel was located at the top of "Angels Flight" which was a "funicular" railway that carried people by cable car up and down the hill. As Clarence rode "Angels Flight" from Grand Ave. to Hill Street, little did he know that the future would bring Merrill's son Larry Winans, grandson Bruce Winans, and grandson-in-law Marlin Otey to this spot, as part of the team who restored this unusual "railway".5 Eventually Clarence was hired by General Petroleum in 1922 as a "storekeeper" and later progressed through the ranks to become a purchasing agent.
Merrill studied at the Beaux Arts school of architecture which opened a door for an early job, before he was married, in the offices of well-known California architects, of the 1920's, Johnson, Kauffmann and Coate. Then, in about 1929, about one year before he was married, he spent a year in Hawaii working for Ralph Fishbourne's architectural firm.
Matilda continued her sewing business engaging such clients as May Company, the exclusive Barker Brothers stores and, through Merrill's introduction, architect Reginald Johnson.
Clarence meets Lillias. On the weekends, young people often hiked into the Big Santa Anita Canyon. Live bands echoed through the canyon and young hikers and cabin dwellers enjoyed the dances. Clarence's friend had a family cabin in the canyon and invited Clarence to join him. As Clarence and his friend were lounging on the balcony one night they heard the sound of female laughter. In a cabin on a cliff overlooking the river, several young ladies were on the balcony of cabin no. 36. The women were reading funny poems and acting out plays. The two young men watched for awhile wondering how they might get acquainted. After a bit of thought Clarence decided they should hike down and ask to borrow a match. It turned out that cabin no. 36 belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Alex Waters, who had four daughters. They had moved to California from Scotland. Their daughter Lillias, who attended Pasadena's Nursing School at Huntington Memorial, had invited some friends from her class to the cabin for the weekend. Needless to say, Clarence and his friend enjoyed their evening! After a happy courtship, Clarence Winans and Lillias Waters were married in 1922.
Merrill meets Elsie. About this time (1921 or 1922) Matilda moved to 6015 Prospect Ave. in Maywood. Matilda hired a skillful carpenter, Robert Marlette, to help repair and improve her home. Mr. Marlette noticed that Matilda and Merrill would often go to various ballrooms to dance. So when the monthly dance came up at the Odd Fellow Lodge, Mr. Marlette told Matilda about it. Matilda accepted and Merrill, age 19, soon found himself meeting Mr. Marlette's pretty 14-year-old daughter, Elsie. After a happy courtship of four years, Merrill Winans and Elsie Marlette were married on July 6, 1930.6
In October of 1928 Matilda's husband Frederick, who remained in New Jersey, passed away. (See article.) In 1929 Matilda re-married, but the marriage was annulled. This information comes from Merrill's wife, Elsie. The story is: The man married Matilda because he thought she was a rich widow and when Matilda heard of it, she kicked him out. Elsie later added, "It didn't last long. Clarence saw to that."
Raising boys into manhood as a single mother was not always an easy task. Nevertheless, Matilda did a fine job. When she found extra time, she enjoyed working in her garden. Her grandson, Donald Winans,7 still remembers hiding in the bushes and climbing the trees. (Donald says he was spending the night at grandmother Matilda's when the Long Beach Earthquake hit. "I still remember the bed shaking.")
And that is the story of Matilda. A devoted mother, a hard worker and a capable seamstress. Her life inspires us to remain strong in difficult circumstances. We will always admire her courage and independence.
Written by Sharon Winans Pearson, with special thanks to Elsie Winans for all her helpful information and support.