Florence M. Eichler, 103, grew up in now-vanished mill town

July 29, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Florence M. Eichler, who is thought to be the last known surviving resident of Warren, a now-vanished Baltimore County mill town, died in her sleep Monday at Catered Living of Cockeysville, an assisted-living facility. She was 103.

Florence Marian Brown, who was known as Marian, was born on her family's Shawan Road farm.

She moved in 1914 to the nearby town of Warren, when her father took a job at the Warren Manufacturing Co. operating the boiler of the five-story textile mill.

The mill, several miles east of Cockeysville along the Gunpowder Falls, had been established in 1814 by Summerfield Baldwin and was noted for two products: cotton duck and silk.

FOR THE RECORD - An obituary for Florence M. Eichler that appeared in yesterday's editions should have said she had seven grandchildren and that she was predeceased by three sons, John G. Eichler, Donald E. Eichler and G. Benson Eichler. Also, the mention of her enjoyment of cooking for family and friends referred to Mrs. Eichler, not her granddaughter.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Like all of the town's girls, my grandmother studied domestic science in Warren's expanded two-room schoolhouse while the boys (who arrived early to light the fire to heat the building) received manual training," wrote a granddaughter, Ann Eichler Kolakowski, in a Style magazine profile of her grandmother and her life growing up in Warren, that was published last year.

After graduation from the eighth grade, she joined her older sister, Emily, in the mill's spinning room, transferring thread from a small spool to a larger one.

"Her job was filling bobbins," Ms. Kolakowski said yesterday. "She said the work wasn't hard, but it wasn't very interesting, either."

In 1922, her grandmother and some 900 other village residents were forced to move after the mill was sold to the city of Baltimore.

"All of the buildings were destroyed and the town was flooded to make the present Loch Raven Reservoir, the primary source of drinking water for Baltimore City and Baltimore County," said Ms. Kolakowski, editor of the Goucher Quarterly.

For the next 20 years, a flagpole that had stood in the yard of the schoolhouse she had attended as a child rose above the waters marking the site of the old town.

"Yet, for 100 years to come, men will remember that at the bottom of a 45-foot lake a thriving settlement of mill workers once answered the factory whistle in the mornings, went to church. Sent the youngsters to school, quarreled, voted, loved and died," observed a 1921 article in The Sun, written as waters of the Gunpowder rose to claim the town.

"I would think that she is the last living link with the work force at Warren," John McGrain, a Baltimore County historian and author said yesterday.

In 1923, Mrs. Eichler moved to Lauraville. She worked at Hochschild-Kohn selling art supplies before marrying her husband, John C. Eichler, that year.

The couple moved to York Road and later to Cinder Road in Timonium. Mr. Eichler, an independent carrier for The Baltimore Sun, died in 1982.

Mrs. Eichler began volunteering in 1939 with the American Red Cross in Baltimore, helping to assemble "Bundles for Britain," a wartime relief project.

She continued volunteering with the organization for the next 64 years until retiring and being honored by the organization's Central Maryland chapter at its annual dinner in 2003.

"She gave thousands and thousands of hours to the Red Cross, and in our chapter she was the oldest working volunteer," said Bobbie Jones, director of volunteers and services for the Central Maryland chapter.

"She was a remarkable woman who was alert and sharp and kept on volunteering until she was 100. You just don't find volunteers like Miss Marian," she said.

A son, John G. "Jack" Eichler, a private in the Army, was killed in Germany in 1945.

"I think that's why she stayed active in the Red Cross all those years, because of her son's death. It was a way of serving her country and gave her a sense of purpose," Ms. Kolakowski said.

After more than 80 years, Mrs. Eichler was drawn back to Warren when fifth-grade students at Warren Elementary School, researching the now-vanished town, learned of her existence.

"Word got out about what we were doing, and I got a call from Ann Kolakowski about her grandmother. I could hardly believe that someone was alive who remembered Warren," said Karen S. Williams, who guided the student research project.

"So, in May, Ann brought this tiny woman with the soft voice to school, and as she came in, the kids treated her as if she were a rock star," Ms. Williams said. "It was an unbelievable experience. For the next two hours, they listened and asked questions. They skipped recess and never looked at the clock. She was a treasure."

Mrs. Kolakowski enjoyed cooking for family and friends and was "never happier than when she had a house full of people," her granddaughter said.

She was especially known for her pumpkin pies and her paper-thin sugar cookies, which she made and gave to family and friends at Christmas.

Mrs. Eichler easily reached centenarian status, family members said.

"She didn't smoke or drink and wasn't particular when it came to food. She ate butter, enjoyed good food and stayed active," her granddaughter said. "She never missed her newspaper, which she read everyday cover to cover, and watched the evening news."

Mrs. Eichler -- through winning and losing seasons -- remained a steadfast Orioles fan.

She was a 41-year active member of Timonium United Methodist Church, where services were held yesterday.

Also surviving are a daughter, Mary Lou Jones of Tacoma, Wash.; five other grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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