|From the Potsdam Commercial Advertiser, April 24, 1895|
DON'T SPARE THE ROD.Parents Should Do as Tom Did, and Nip Wantonness in the Bud.
Tom Helmer, of Stovepipe avenue, does not believe in sparing the rod and spoiling the child: only, he uses his hand instead of a rod.
On a recent evening his thirteen-year-old daughter Mabel asked permission to go to a show at the Town Hall, saying that she would accompany her aunt. To this the father assented. Along in the evening, however, he found the child on the street accompanied by the notorious Net Cameron. He ordered his girl to go home, and it appears slapped her quite soundly when she failed to comply with his commands.
This little scene took place on Miner street and was witnessed by Mrs. Charles Bliss. She repaired to the office of Squire C. Y, Fullington and swore out a warrant against Helmer for assault in the third degree. [...] The case was ably prosecuted, but the jury evidently felt that it was better a young girl should suffer severe punishment than to come up on the streets in the company of such persons as the Cameron woman. They found Helmer not guilty.
(The Town Hall in Canton, at the corner of Main and Miner Streets, was also the post office and opera house. Fourth photo on the top row.)
The story illustrates some troubling realities of life - a young teenager possibly being tempted into prostitution, parental outrage and abuse, a legal system that condones hitting your daughter in the street - but it contains some mysteries as well, so I decided to look deeper.
"Stovepipe Avenue" doesn't exist on any modern maps, although there are a lot of references to it in contemporary newspapers. These references are all negative - even when it's just given as someone's address, that someone was usually involved in public drunkenness or shooting at the rent collector.
My first thought was that it had been renamed something nicer since then, but then I noticed that other towns also had a Stovepipe Avenue mentioned in the papers, the name sometimes appears in quotation marks, and the surnames associated with Stovepipe Avenue in the 1890s and 1900s can be found on the census on a few streets clustered together at the south end of the village, by the railroad tracks. And suddenly I remembered Emily of New Moon - Perry Miller, the local boy who made good, came from "Stovepipe Town", the poorest neighborhood. It's very probable that Stovepipe Avenue was Canton's shantytown, located around Buck and Dies Streets, next to the railroad bridge over the river and literally on the wrong side of the tracks.
(In the 1900 census, Mabel Helmer was listed as still living at home with her parents on Dies St., working as a servant in the hotel. She married William H. Green of Oswegatchie in 1905.)
Prostitution was in no way a problem confined to cities - charges brought against "disorderly women" were reported in St. Lawrence County newspapers over and over.
A similar story played out with the Graham family, also of Stovepipe Avenue. In 1894, Gilbert "Weary Gib" Graham was sentenced to jail for public drunkenness, and while he was confined there his wife ran away to Syracuse with George Cameron, probably a relative of Net's. They brought young Rosa Graham with them, but she came back sometime later on her own and started "running around the streets with one of the notorious Cameron sisters" until she was arrested for being a "disorderly character". A year later, her father entered a complaint against her and had her arrested for the same reason. The charge was dropped when she married Charlie Cameron a couple of days later, who was probably related to George and Net. That's a little hair-raising itself, implying that her father didn't care about her being a prostitute as long as she was a married one. (On the same page as the second part of the story, Gib was also mentioned in connection with a street brawl. From later papers we know he lived in the county almshouse for a time and eventually drowned in the river. Here's his gravestone.)
Nettie Cameron's base of operations was apparently a lodging house on Water Street (now Riverside) run by William Henry Daniels, opposite a legitimate and reputable hotel - interestingly, he seems to have been or become a prominent member of society, as a member of the state Dairymen's Association, president of the county fair, and a player in local politics. Two other girls working there were Gertie Ward and Minnie Bush.