In my previous post I told you about the founding of Belmore City and the promise it gave its many investors, including the retiree Francis Degen. In this post we meet the man who lies in Belmore State Forest.
Francis Marion Degen was born in Bonn, Rhenish Prussia on October 10, 1829 to parents Johann Heinrich (John Henry) and Anna Helena (nee. Hittorff) Degen. He spent his childhood as Franz, Francis would be the name he adopted as a 20 year old immigrant to the United States.
Passenger list of the Isaac Bell
In late June of 1851, Franz and his 23 year old brother Joseph set sail aboard the Isaac Bell from the port in La Harve, France. They arrived in New York City on July 2. Other records indicate that Francis may have come to America in 1847 on the ship Emigrant.
Whether he came as a 20 year old or a 15 year old, in his first years in the United States, Francis moved to High Lake, Pennsylvania, and became a leather merchant. Joseph meanwhile became a dentist and settled in the Bronx, New York.
Lydia Helene Rothgart was born around 1834 in Alsen, Schleswig Holstein. She came to America around 1854 and soon became acquainted with Francis. They married in 1857. Because Francis was an engineer, the couple moved to West Rutland, Vermont, to get involved in the marble mining industry.
There is one record of a Francis M Degen joining the Navy late in the Civil War. The enlistment record shows him enlisting in November of 1864. Whether or not he saw action in the final months of the war, or even if this is the same Francis M Degen remains unknown.
Francis M Degen, Stone Cutter
While in Rutland, the Degens met Hugh McNeil, an Irish immigrant and marble stone cutter. McNeil would become a trusted confidant of the Degens until the end of both their lives.
Francis was a successful engineer in the Rutland mines. In 1880 he decided to take his mining knowledge out west to the silver mines of Frisco, Utah. Helene and McNeil stayed behind in Rutland until Francis had set up a home in Utah.
William Raht’s Patent
While in Frisco, Francis became friends with William Raht, a patent holder for a process to treat ores. Raht would later be a witness to Degen’s will, drawn up in 1887.
The Degens enjoyed their time in the rough town of Frisco. Francis joined the Freemasons there, along with McNeil, and became the Junior Warden of the number eight St. John’s lodge. Interestingly, for reasons not recorded, Hugh McNeil was dimitted from the lodge in 1882.
Francis worked as an engineer in the Horn mine and accumulated quite a bit of wealth as well as stock in the Globe Mining Company. He already had several deposits with the Marble Bank in Rutland, he added more money to his estate in Utah.
The mines of Frisco suffered a massive collapse in 1885. While they recovered in late 1886 and early 1887, Francis decided it was time to move on. He decided that Belmore City, Florida was the place he wanted to retire.
Hugh was sent to the Degen’s lot in early 1889 to set up a homestead and plant an orange grove. Francis and Helene came to the property late that year but their retirement was short lived.
In December of 1889, Helene went blind, whether from illness or stroke or something more sinister, we will never know. Six weeks after her blindness struck, on February 12th, 1890, Francis dropped dead in the family garden. He was laid to rest on the homestead.
In his will, Francis left his entire estate to Helene, “in consideration of the faithful service (she had given him) in accumulating (his) property”. Despite her blindness she was naned admininistrix of the estate.
Given the sudden nature of his death, his brother Joseph asked for an examination of the body for signs of foul play. Six weeks after Francis died his body was exhumed and an autopsy performed. Records indicate that chemists found nothing amiss and Francis was decided to have died of heart failure.
Stay tuned for the real crazy story…