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Bio of Sylvanis Bailey Godfrey "Old Doc"
submitted by Brenda Dillon
 
 
 

"DOC" GODFREY
THE SYLVANIS BAILEY GODFREY STORY

Sylvanis Bailey Godfrey, born June 17, 1880, in McDowell Co. WV, was the son
of Armour Lawson Godfrey Jr., and Louisa Jane Collins. Sylvanis, "DOC' , was
one of nine children. In 1909 he fell in love with a lady that had come to
America from Germany, Clara Pfalzgraff. They married in 1909 and as the
years went by Clara was never to have a child of her own.
 

Just before the turn of the century the Godfrey's moved into Nicholas Co. WV
to follow work in the lumbering business. In Nicholas County they met up
with the COLLINS, SPENCERS, WILLIAMS, and BENNETT families . They resided
near each other and children of these families intermarried. It was about
1902 that they started talking about going west. West was Washington . They
gathered their belongings together and sold what they couldn't take. They
packed their belongs into wagons and formed a train ,and headed west leaving
a few of each family behind. Of the Godfrey Family they all went west except
for Sylvanis and his sister Nancy Jane Godfrey who had married Simeon
Spencer .
 

In Washington they settled into a small towns of Doty and Mosseyrock. They
got jobs in the woods, lumbering mills, and on the railroad. Land was cheap
and work was easy in those early days when the area was just beginning to
grow. Armour Lawson Godfrey was born 1850 in an area of Virginia that later
became Wyoming Co. WV. He was a descendent of Thomas and Susannah Stephenson
Godfrey who founded that county out of wilderness. The Godfrey men were an
adventuresome bunch, terrific hunters and good providers. Today many
descendents of Thomas Godfrey remain in the southwest of West Virginia and
Washington State.
 

Armour married ,in McDowell Co WV 1875 , Louisa Jane Collins ,daughter of
William Collins Jr. and Nancy Lambert. William Jr. was the nephew to my
GGGrandfather John W. Collins. All three families , the Godfrey's, William
Collins Sr. and William Collins Jr, were all living in McDowell County WVa.
before moving to Nicholas Co. WVa. Armour and Louisa were parents of nine
children. Marvin b. 1876 who married Emma Jones d/o Rev Hill Jones, Nancy
Jane b. 1877 married Simeon Spencer and remained in WV, Sylvanis b. 1880
married Clara Pfalzgraff, Lilly b. 1883 married Ira Oldaker and remained in
WVa., Joseph b. 1886 never married ,however, he took care of his parents in
the elder years, Margaret b. 1888 married Huling Wiseman, Vergie b. 1890
married Armour Lusk, Ella b. 1893 married Kelly Baker, and Hattie b. 1897
married Salem Plant. Armour died in Mosseyrock, Washington, Lewis County
1940. Louisa had preceded him in 1937. They are both buried at the Doss
Cemetery in that area. Armour lived to be 94 years old. He was a woodmen,
postal Clerk, and Blacksmith. In his later years he delivered mail by
horseback over the mountains to the lumber and railroad camps. He said he
was to young to fight in the civil war but he could remember playing on the
front porch of his home and hear the gunfire in the distance. Several of his
brothers as well as his father were in the war.
 

Sylvanis Bailey Godfrey was the third child of Armour and Louisa Godfrey. It
is uncertain if he went west with the family and then returned to the
mountains, or if he remained behind with his two sisters Nancy and Lilly
Godfrey. His nickname was "DOC" but to this day I haven't found out where he
come by it. "Doc" was an engineer on a logging train. He was a BIG man
weighing near 300 pounds and I am told close to 6 feet 4. Granddad "Doc"
loved to tell tales and folks loved to hear them. He had a good since of
humor which sometimes got him into trouble. "Doc" and Clara were living in a
small lumber town of Curtin,WVa. in 1919. "Doc" Would be gone for days on a
logging run and Clara ran the boarding house. She kept busy trying not to
think of the one thing in this life that would make her happy. They had been
married 10 years and were not blessed with a child. Clara was a big woman.
She came to this country from Germany, the daughter of George and Hester
Cook Pfalzgraff. She loved to cook and it showed on them both. She was a
great housekeeper and made most of their clothing.
 

In the years of 1818 -1920 a terrible sickness hit the area, the flu. People
were sick all over the state and in Curtin entire families were sick and
many died. One family was the Bennett's ,Fred was a fireman on the same
train that Granddad "Doc" engineered, Mollie his wife ,and Eva Maxine was 21
months old. Mollie was pregnant with a second child when tiny Eva took sick.
She stayed up for days caring for the baby ,but Eva died in October 1918.
Eva was buried behind the Alderson Church Cemetery in Craigsville near her
grandparents, Sanford Bundy Perry and Hannah Goff Perry. Mollie was grief
stricken over the loss of her baby and as the sickness spread through the
town more and more folks were dieing. In April 1919 Mollie went into early
labor and delivered a tiny 2 pound baby. Two days later Mollie was gone.
Fred, and "Doc" buried her beside the grave of Eva. Clara stayed at home and
cared for the tiny infant. Clara was reading a book when a knock came to the
door. It was Fred with a cigar box and inside was the tiny baby. Nobody had
expected this baby to live, and she had a long road ahead ,but she had a
good set of lungs and deserved a chance at life. Fred handed the baby to
Clara and told her to do what she could for her. He took one last look at
the tiny baby and walked out the door. In the month that Mollie died (April
1919) Mollie , her sister, brother-in-law, and a uncle all died of flu
within that month. Her sister and her husband left behind 5 orphaned
children and Mollie left 1.
 

It was a dark time in Curtin. Fred Bennett disappeared from Curtin for a
long time. Clara and "Doc" were surprised to see the tiny baby they had
named Zelma thriving. She was little but it didn't hold her back. Clara was
thrilled to have the baby and nobody could have been more loved. Zelma would
crawl up in the window seat of the boarding house and watch for the train
that she knew carried her dad back into town. When she saw it she would go
wild til Clara would put on her coat and walk her down to the tracks.

One day "Doc" wanted to go to the store. Zelma being about 3 years old at
the time cried to go with him. He took her tiny hand in his and off they
went. The store was a hang out for all the men in town. They would gather
and collect the news . Well, "Doc" and Zelma came walking in and everybody
knew "Doc" loved to tell stories so they ask him to set a spell and tell us
a story. "Doc" didn't want to tell a story but said he had a joke for
them......he told the joke and everybody roared with laughter. Then he
decided to sing a dirty song.....well wouldn't you know Zelma caught onto
the tune real quick and everybody thought she was just the cutest thing
standing on the table of that store singing a dirty song. "Doc" and Zelma
collected their things and went home. Clara greeted them at the door and ask
if they had a good time. Zelma pops up with " yes, and dad taught me to sing
a new song." ......and she began to sing. Well, "Doc" turned 40 shades of
red and couldn't get out of that house fast enough.
 

The early to mid twenties Curtin ,WV began to fail. People were selling out
and moving west to Oregon and Washington. The Godfrey's made plans to leave
too. They traveled by train to Washington where they joined his father and
mother. "Doc" got a job as engineer on a logging train and again Clara found
a large home for them to live in and again took in boarders. Zelma had
started first grand in WV and was now in second. It was about this time the
Godfrey's had a visitor. Fred Bennett arrived at their home. It is unclear
how long he had been in Washington but he lived in Tacoma . The Godfrey's
were surprised and glad to see him but at the same time they were afraid he
had come to take Zelma. Of course Zelma had no idea of who this man was but
he was introduced as an uncle and she guessed he was okay. They drove to the
ocean and watched the waves crash the shores. He had supper with them and
when Zelma woke in the morning the visitor was gone.
 

In 1932 Clara Godfrey took sick with cancer and decided it was time to tell
Zelma about who she was ,and how they come to have her. It was on Clara's
death bed that the story unfolded. In July of 1933 Clara died but she had
made one request of her husband. Please take Zelma back to the mountains and
ask Nancy, her sister, to help with her til she finishes school. Clara was
buried beside Joseph Godfrey, Doc's brother , at Fern Hill Cemetery, in
Raymond,Washington. By September "Doc" and Zelma were back in West Virginia.
Zelma stayed with her Aunt Nancy and went to school with her cousins, and
"Doc" was riding the tails again. Some of the folks he worked with was
Pardee and Curtin and Ely-Thomas. One Thanksgiving Eve while working for
Pardee and Curtin Old Doc was coming home with a smoked ham somebody had
given him in the cab with him. The train wrecked into Gaulley River but Old
Doc swam to shore with the ham on his shoulder. "Doc" Godfrey died December
1949. He was my foster grandfather and he raised my mother, Zelma. Mother
always said " I am alive today by the grace of God and the love of the
Godfrey's.................
 

written by Brenda Collins Dillon I would love to connect with some of the
family that I know reside in Lewis and Pacific Counties of Washington State.
I would love to know the story of the trip West........
 
 


© 2002 Rhonda Smith