Article and photographs by Jack Faria © 2010 All Rights Reserved
The Vestals had a barn in the backyard at 263 Belmont Street. In addition to the family business, T.R. Vestal Insurance, they raised cows for milk and chickens for eggs and meat which was sold to the local neighbors. Lizzie Borden was one of the customers who bought her milk and eggs from the Vestals. It was Laura Vestal who, as a young girl, had to deliver it .
She said every time she went to Maplecroft, Lizzie Borden would greet her at the back door (the back door is located under the porch, off the kitchen, on the north side of Maplecroft) for the milk and eggs and always gave Laura homemade cookies. Laura said she was so kind and gentle. Laura also told that on occasion Lizzie would make homemade cookies for the kids in the neighborhood, but that a few of the neighborhood kids were afraid of Lizzie and would not approach her or go near her yard. Laura Vestal said that she was the nicest woman and Lizzie would tell her to tell that to the kids- but they did not believe Laura.
Laura said that Lizzie had a driver (Mr. Ernest Terry) and that she would be seen leaving her house and being driven around the neighborhood for rides and would also be seen being driven around the city. (* Mr. Terry was left Lizzie’s Buick in her will. Lizzie also had one of the first cars in Fall River).
When Laura was in high school she had a job at W.D. Wilmot’s. Lizzie would be dropped off at the front door and would go into Wilmot’s to buy needles for her record player. She said all the help on the second floor would look over the balcony and just watch her until she left the store every time Lizzie came in to shop.
Laura remembered Lizzie as having beautiful eyes, beautiful hair and was always dressed in the nicest clothes. Laura’s brother Merton was Lizzie’s paper boy and said she was a great “tipper”. Mert also said she was the nicest lady. More stories from Mert’s granddaughter are forthcoming as Mert related them to her.
Laura said her parents, Tilghman and Sarah did not want any of the Vestal children to talk about the murders of the Bordens. Sarah said , “She is a nice woman and don’t talk about her!”
Laura married Richard L. Wonson, whose family was from Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of the “Wonson’s Cove” family. They owned Wonson’s Jewelers downtown Fall River and lived at 517 Hanover Street in the city. Laura’s great-uncle owned the Luther Store , now the Swansea Historical Society Museum in Swansea, Massachusetts.
Laura worked for U.S. luggage as a buyer, which was located on Broadway. Laura retired in 1978 at the age of 84. The following year she took classes at Brown University. (* She passed away at the age of 103 at Adams House on Highland Avenue and knew Marjorie Newell Robb, last Titanic First-Class survivor also at Adams House).
About the Vestal Family
Tilghman Ross Vestal was born on August 5, 1844 in Huntsville, North Carolina. He grew up in Columbia, Tennessee and during the start of the Civil War. “T.R.” as he was known, was a Quaker and refused to fight in the Civil War to drive the invading Yankees from southern soil. T.R. Vestal was brutally tortured and imprisoned in a Salisbury prison. He was eventually released thanks to his uncle Nerves Mendenhall who was an influential and prominent Quaker.
T.R was educated at the Friends School in New Garden, North Carolina. After the Civil War he made his home in Fall River. His first home was on Almy St. and he owned and operated T.R. Vestal Insurance Agency which was located at 31 Bedford St. On November 12, 1876 he married Sarah Nelson Luther (1861-1955) then in 1884 he built his home at 43 Borland Street. In 1887 T.R. renamed Borland Street, changing it to Belmont Street because he thought that the street was a “beautiful hill” which reminded him of South Carolina.
In 1889 the number of the house was changed from 43 to 263. T.R. Vestal and his wife Sarah raised twelve children :
- Sara Rhoda b. 1878
- Minnie Luther b. 1880
- Cora Bernice b 1882
- George Brightman b 1884
- Edith Janet b. 1886
- Fred Tilghman b. 1887
- Royal Ross b. 1889
- Laura Vestal b. 1894
- Lloyd Mendenhal b. 1896
- Eliot Nelson b. 1898
- Merton Irving b. 1899
- Barbara b. 1904
In 1904 T.R. Vestal decided to move to Pocatello, Idaho to make his fortune in peaches. His wife did not want to leave Fall River so she remained on Belmont Street with her children. Laura Vestal Wonson lived in the house with her mother Sarah and her son Richard after Laura’s husband, Richard L. Wonson died in the flu epidemic of 1918. Laura died at the age of 103.