James Leroy Yerks, originally known as Leroy Yerks, embarked on a remarkable journey from Northern Westchester County to Greenwich, Connecticut. His story is marked by transformation, adaptation, and a significant change in his name.
Born on November 6, 1892, in Mount Kisco, New York, Leroy’s early life was marked by anonymity as his birth record did not provide a given name at the time. He was the son of George Oakley Yerks and Annie D Cutler.
According to the 1900 US Census, Leroy was 7 years old and was residing in the Town of Lewisboro, New York, with his parents. By 1905, the family had moved a little west to Somers, New York. Leroy was now a 12-year-old student.
According to the 1910 Census, teenager Leroy Yerks, age 17, and his family had moved a little south and was living in a house on what appears to be Byram Lake Road in Bedford. He, his older brother William, and their father were all listed as working on a farm. What brought them south to the Byram Lake region was most likely work. By 1915, they had returned to the Somers area.
LeRoy’s Marriage To Catherine Regan
On August 16, 1911, Leroy Yerks was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith at Saint Joseph’s Church in North Salem, only a month after marrying Kathryn Regan, the daughter of Patrick Regan and Katie Towey, at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Parish. This marked a significant change in his life as it was the first time someone in his ancestry line embraced the Roman Catholic Church. It’s worth noting that Leroy needed a Certificate of Consent to marry Kathryn since she was eighteen years old, which was three years younger than the age of consent at that time. This reflects the determination and commitment of the young couple to start their journey together, overcoming any obstacles along the way.
Their family started growing soon after their marriage in July 1911. Their first child, James Leroy Yerks Jr., was born on May 21, 1912, in Goldens Bridge, New York, marking the beginning of their parenthood.
Their second child, Mary Ellen Yerks, was welcomed into the world on February 15, 1914, in Goldens Bridge, New York, adding more joy to their growing family.
The couple settled in Somers, New York, as seen in the 1915 New York Census, living on Plum Brook Road with two children. Leroy worked as a farm laborer.
Sadly, their third child, Catherine, came into the world on May 4, 1916, somewhere in Westchester County, likely in Goldens Bridge or Somers. Tragically, Catherine’s life was cut short, and she passed away just over a year later, at the tender age of 1 year and 1 month, leaving a sorrowful void in the family.
The year 1917 brought World War I, and Leroy registered for the draft as a farmer. He claimed an exemption due to being the sole wage earner for his family. That exemption was clearly granted as he never went overseas as his older brother William and younger brother Ralph did. Described as tall and skinny with light brown eyes and no baldness, he was at the dawn of a new era in his life.
Sadly, Leroy’s two brothers suffered the same face as countless Americans who were drafted into the war and sent overseas. Ralph died on the battlefields of France, just days after arriving there. William suffered serious injuries as a result of being gassed in the trench; there is a published story in which Leroy’s Mom was told that both of her boys who served overseas were killed in action. But sometime later, it was discovered that William had indeed survived and was found and in a hospital in France.
Their family continued to expand, and Leroy and Kathryn had their fourth child, Kenneth John Yerks, on May 13, 1918, in Somers, New York, further strengthening the bonds of their family.
April 2, 1920, marked another change as a newspaper article mentioned Mr. Peterson replacing Leroy Yerks in an unknown position. This indicated a move to Rye, New York, around this time, a distance of 25-plus miles from his previous home in Somers.
In the 1920 US Census, Leroy, still using that name, resided at 37 Purchase Street in Rye, New York, and worked as a chauffeur on a farm.
The Move to Greenwich, Connecticut
The 1930 US Census saw James (formerly known as Leroy) now living in Greenwich, Connecticut, in Cos Cob, at 15 Orchard Street. The family now owned their home, reflecting his changing status and his transition to the name James, which likely occurred between 1920 and 1930. James began a long and likely “storied” career as the Cos Cob school janitor, although no stories of his time there survive. In the fall of 1915, Cos Cob School opened its doors at 300 East Putnam Avenue, then called the Boston Post Road. The school’s formal opening took place on October 15, 1915, marked by an Open House and evening program.
From 1920 to the early 1940s, Cos Cob School was designed to function as a city form of school government. This meant there were Police, Fire, Safety and Park Chiefs and Aldermen elected by each class. There was also an elected Mayor who managed the entire operation. The students ran candy and supply stores to generate funds for the school. At the end of the year, the entire school would vote on how to spend the profits. Overtime the school was modernized and additions were made to the school in 1924 and 1929. The field was added resulting in a 6.4 acre campus.
By the 1940 US Census, James and his wife were living at 15 Orchard Place, both working at the Cos Cob School. He continued as a janitor while his wife was a “Matron” at the same school.
James’s life continued in Greenwich, as indicated by the 1950 US Census, where he continued as a custodian at the Cos Cob School. However, his wife was listed as “keeping house.”
1961 – Their 50th Wedding Anniversary
In 1961, James and Kathryn celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, surrounded by family and close friends at Hugo’s Restaurant. Noted in attendance was Judge Benjamin Ferris, a well-known figure in Greenwich, CT. Benjamin was the husband of Mary Yerks Ferris, James’ only surviving daughter.
The Death of James L Yerks Sr.
Unfortunately, on April 20, 1973, James L. Yerks passed away in Cos Cob, CT at the age of 80, due to a cardiac arrhythmia that led to cardiac arrest. He was laid to rest at Saint Mary Cemetery in Greenwich, CT. After living in Greenwich for 54 years, he left behind his loving wife, a daughter married to Judge Benjamin Ferris, and two sons, as well as nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The funeral was held at Saint Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Riverside, CT, marking the final chapter in the life of James Leroy Yerks, a man whose journey from Northern Westchester County to Greenwich, Connecticut, was filled with change and adaptation, including the significant transition in his name from Leroy to James, which occurred around the time he settled in Greenwich.