The Chrismans of St. Marys


Though I bear my stepfather’s name of Crumrin, I am a Chrisman.  My nonpareil mom was a Chrisman.  My incredibly loving grandparents, Ray and Hilda, were Chrismans.  They, along with mom, raised me.  In first grade at Central School in West Terre Haute I was Timmy Chrisman.

As part of my book on the History of West Terre Haute I have been looking into the past.  Because, I have found so few personal narratives of its citizens, I may have to use my family (the Chrismans, Hants, Arthurs) as the framework to tell a wider story.  The nexi (can you have more than one nexus) of my life are West Terre Haute and St. Marys.

In August I spent three days in Vigo County doing research.  Part of that took me to the village of St. Marys.  Located just outside the gates of St. Mary of the Woods College, it was described by a magazine writer in 1908 as a “straggling” village in a hollow, “small, insignificant, and hidden-away.”

My branch of the Chrisman family started there.

My great grandfather William Chrisman was born in or near there in 1874 to a family originally from Fleming County, Kentucky. Although he had uncles who were successful farmers and businessmen (and founders of Chrisman, Illinois), their luck never seemed to accrue to him.  He never went to school.  He was at best only semi-literate.  His life was one of drudgery and ongoing toil.  He worked as a farm laborer and later as a coal miner.  Hard work was the talent he used to succor his family.  Over 50 years after his death his 88 year-old granddaughter remembered he always worked hard.

On July 27 (my birthday), 1894 he married Anna Troutman.  I have yet to discover much about Anna, I know they had ten children.  On March 23, 1901 she gave birth to my grandfather.  They christened him Cloral Raymond.  We are not sure about where Cloral came from.  Needless to say Gramps always went by Ray.

Gramps had five sisters and four brothers.  My first trace of him and his siblings, outside of census records, came during research at the Sisters of Providence Archives at the “Woods.”  The records were scattered, but one thing was clear.  More attention was paid to the girls’ education at the small village school taught by the nuns from the college.  Gramps’ sister attended more regularly than he or his brothers.  The answer to that is simple.  The boys had to work.  My grandfather started working at age 7.  He hauled coal to the village post office and fired the iron stove in winter.  (In one of those odd coincidences the postmistress was a woman named Eugenia Doyle.  65 years after that my first regular job was as an orderly in a nursing home.  97 year-old spinster Eugenia was one of my patients).

Gramps started in the mines in 1915.  We believe he worked alongside his dad and brothers at the mine on the St. Marys campus.  Coal had been discovered in the mine in the late 19th century, and the Sisters ran their own mine, which supplied coal for the campus physical plant for over 70 years (more on that in a future blog).  Each day they would descend into the pit.  My Grandpa’s job was to drive the bank mules who hauled the coal out to the tipple (see my “Bank Mules” post for a further explanation.  Mining was the family “business.”  All of them worked the mines at one time.  Gramps’ oldest brother Hugh (known as “Chris”) later rose to be a mine inspector.

But it was not all hard work for the Chrisman boys.  They were all baseball players.  St. Marys had its own village team and it often featured 4 or five of the Chrisman brothers on the field (as did some of the West Terre Haute teams).  In fact, Gramps and his younger brother Joe later played minor league baseball, Grandpa in Mattoon, Joe in St. Louis.

I’ll close this section by pointing out the most important St. Marys event in my life.  My grandparents were married in the village church in 1921.  After their marriage Grandma and Gramps lived in the village as Gramps worked the mines and Grandma worked at the Woods.  She was very proud that 70 years afterwards who grandson (me) taught at the college where she scrubbed floors and did laundry.

Below, see some pictures from my research trip.


My great grandparents, William and Anna.  This is the only photo I have ever seen of them.  My Aunt Eileen had just received it in a Christmas card when I visited her on December 23, 2012.  You can see a lot of my grandfather Ray in William.


The St Marys Village Church where my Great-grandparents and grandparents were married

church exterior


Formerly the village store.  Various Chrismans lived in an apartment at its rear over time.  I remember visiting there one time when very young, and being intrigued by the policeman’s cap Gramps’s brother Chris wore (at that time he was a Pinkerton guard.)


St. Marys tipple wher coal was loaded onto train cars.  This may one of the last photos taken of it, as it was scheduled to be torn down on October, 2012.


When the core is removed the ground sinks.  One of the two “lakes” that filled in the mines where the Chrismans worked

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12 thoughts on “The Chrismans of St. Marys

  1. Valentine Kanyinda December 28, 2012 — 1:43 am

    Great story and very inspiring.

    1. I came across this story when was searching my family history… That spinster Eugenia Doyle, was my grandmother’s great aunt…

  2. That was a great story!!! I didn’t mean to cut my last post short.. My mom and I were talking about Eugenia earlier today and then I came across your story,..I never got to meet her. She died before I was born…I believe she was 102.. My mom has many memories and stories of her…She was a great artist..

    1. Thank you. I remember Eugenia as this bundled up little woman who had one of the very few private rooms at the nursing home. When I asked her if she remembered the Chrismans, she smiled and said yes, but I never got to talk to her about St. Marys.

      1. My family is descendant’s of the Thralls. Eugenia’s parents were Margaret J. Thralls, and Ignatious Doyle. Ignatious helped with the construction of the Shell Chapel. My mother said there was at one time painting in the church at Saint Mary’s that Eugenia painted. The Cassarotti’s(spelling?) owned the village store. My mother also remember’s visiting an older woman that lived in the apartment when she was a child. (late 50’s early 60’s). Growing up my mother spent a lot of time at St. Mary’s, and the Villiage.

  3. My grandmother’s family was the Chrisman’s. She was a sister to William and also lived in the Village. I enjoyed reading this article and all of the rest of them. I am doing genealogy on the Chrisman family and would like to be in contact with the author of this article to compare family history.

    1. I have just re-read the article and would like for you to contact me. As I stated in previous info, Rosa Chrisman -sister to William- is my grandmother and I have my genealogy on I would like to hear from you regarding our family.

      Nancy Martin Rhoades

      1. I did not mention that I grew up in St. Mary’s Village and attended the school for eight years.
        I have a lot of fond memories of the village and the families that lived there.

  4. Edward Ray (Bernard) June 18, 2013 — 11:16 pm

    I am not related to the Chrisman family; however, I knew Hugh and Ruth when I was young. They lived behind Whitney’s Tavern and before the Wrens. William and Anna lived about a quarter of a mile or so above John Caserotti’s store and two houses from my great grand parents Ransom and Henrietta Harden.
    Your mention of baseball and the team in St. Mary’s strikes a chord with me. In the early 1950’s, William and Martha Dunkley had a field across from the Village cemetery and the lower end of it was graded into a diamond so that the local boys could play the game. I recall pickup games among the local men on Sundays. Most of them played on the earlier teams from the 30’s. The village families came to watch and refreshments were sold for a low price. It was a good way to spend a Sunday.
    Hugh was the coach and manager of the village team. We didn’t have uniforms, but that didn’t stop us. We played games with other teams such as Gibault Home, Sandford, and Blackhawk. Others I forget. I remember some of the players, but I was only eleven and most have faded with time. I hope that this is helpful

    1. Edward, it is great to hear of your reminiscences. I would love to hear more. I remember visiting Hugh and Ruth when I was about 6 years old.

  5. Tim,your grandfather Ray Chrisman and my mother Pauline Chrisman were brother and sister.Mom was the baby of the family.William and Anna Chrisman were your great grand parents.I also grew up in st.Marys.I remember you mom somewhat.I am Your uncle Kenny’s age.I read of your writings in the TH. Trib.Got to read some of them yesterday.Enjoyed them very much.William Dunkley was a half brother to grandma Anna Christman.Lots of relation.I live in Sullivan ,In

    1. James, I remember Aunt Pauline well. We bought a horse from them many years ago. After several years of living in Oklahoma Uncle Kenny is back in the Lafayette,

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