When Troy Woehl took down a ceiling in an old house near Lincoln School recently, he discovered a historic gem.
"I was pulling down some lathes," he said. "When I pulled hard, part of the ceiling opened up, and an envelope floated down."
Inside the envelope, postmarked Nov. 22, 1909, was a love letter from a railroad man named Ed to Miss Margret Racine of Little Falls, Minn.
From Melstone, Mont., on stationery from a railroad dining car company, Ed writes about his love for Margret (the misspellings in this excerpt are Ed's):
"I am sitting alone wandering if you really love me, as I look at that little picture of yours. Yes (it's) that postal card that you sent me of yourself and two others. I cut your face out and stuck it in the crystal of my watch. And say if we meet again will I ever part from you to come out to this lonesome county again — no never. And when I do come home can I come to see you the first night I am in town or will you be waiting there for someone else . . . Can it be possible that someone else has made the calls at that house on the corner just like I used to do so often, or is the door still open for me!"
Woehl said that he and his wife, Becki Woehl, and her friend Jan Symens became intrigued by the letter and began researching Internet records to find the identity of the couple.
They checked U.S. Census records and found that Ed and Margaret Belanger lived at the house, which is at 917 Fourth Ave. S.W., in 1920, 1930 and 1940. Further research through ancestry.com and other websites allowed them to piece together the story of the couple.
Ed Belanger was a railroad fireman for the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. He is listed as living in Aberdeen in the city directory in 1909, the year he wrote the letter. At that time, he did not live in the house where the letter was found.
He and Margaret (who is the Margret from Little Falls, although he spells her name wrong in the letter) were married in 1913, according to 1935 state census records.
Ed Belanger was later promoted to an engineer with the railroad. The couple raised three sons — Richard, Neil and Philip — all of whom are deceased.
Two pages of the eight-page letter are missing. Each sheet of stationery is numbered on both sides at the top of the page, and pages three and four are gone. There is also a clear break in the text, also suggesting missing pages.
Ed describes in the letter that he is physically ill and that his boss won't let him travel back to Aberdeen until he feels better. He wrote that he had been on the road 20 hours the day before he got sick.
"If you were only here dear to take care of me, that's all I would want," he writes.
On the last page Ed writes, "I am sick and lonesome. All I want is you and it makes me wild and crazy when I doubt wheather I can have you or not.
"Well I must close now dear. You can write me at Aberdeen for I will be there in a few days. I had my picture taken before I left there and I suppose they are finished now. I will send you one as soon as possible."
It is signed, "Your Ed, but very lonesome."
Woehl, who owns Woehl Construction Company, bought the house where the letter was found in order to remodel and resell it. The house was built in 1914, he said.
In addition to finding the letter, Woehl found several old photographs on a shelf in the closet. One is a 3-foot-long panoramic shot of a military training encampment taken in New Mexico in 1917. It is believed it is of a combined North Dakota and South Dakota military unit training for World War I. It is not known if Ed Belanger was part of that unit. Records show he registered for World War I in Brown County in 1917, but it is not known if he served.
Woehl said he has renovated many old houses, but he has never found anything as interesting as the letter and photographs.
"I have found old newspapers and magazines behind walls, which is fairly common," he said. "People used them to fill in a crack or hole. I have also found a few coins, but nothing valuable."
It is not uncommon in older homes for an item to slip through a crack in a floor board or a crack between the wall and the floor, he said.
While the value of the letter is uncertain, the 2-cent stamp on the envelope is probably worth about $90, he said.
Woehl said he is not sure what he will do with the letter. He has found a great-grandchild of the Belangers and plans to talk to her about the memorabilia.
An obituary found for Ed Belanger says he was born Oct. 17, 1888, in St. Paul and died in Aberdeen on March 17, 1971. Margaret died in April 1948. Ed remarried sometime after her death. He is buried in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Aberdeen.
Woehl said it has been fascinating learning about the identity of a man who poured his heart out in a letter written more than 100 years ago — to see that he married the woman he loved and lived a full life.