As the family tradition has dictated for the last 115 years, on the second Sunday in August the descendants of the McNamara, Griffith and James family gather at the Berlin Township Hall for their annual family reunion.
“Back in the 1800s a McNamara (son) and a James (son) married (two) Griffith daughters,” said Linda Parker, of Delaware. “What at one time started as a birthday celebration has become a yearly gathering.”
According to Parker, the three families, not knowing one another at the time, escaped the potato famine by sailing from Ireland to the United States in the late 1840s. Eventually, the group settled in Berlin Township in Delaware County.
As family stories have it, in 1905 a surprise birthday party was planned for Margery Griffith James, who was born in Ireland in 1847.
“They had so much fun they kept it going,” Parker said.
Parker said it’s the 1960s and 1970s reunions that stick out the most in her mind. She said she can remember climbing with her cousins and sisters on the fire trucks that were once housed in the township hall garage.
“That’s when I was a little kid,” she said. “That is when they gave door prizes to the youngest or the oldest person at the reunion.
“It was much more rural then, and we were all over the place as kids,” Parker added.
As one of the older family members now, Kay McNamara Gerstner, of Eaton, said as a kid she didn’t make every family reunion because her family had a band that put on concerts when she was in high school.
“We played at the grandstands at the Delaware County Fair,” she said.
Mary Ellen McNamara said she has lived in Berlin Township her entire life, moving from one address to another but always in Berlin Township.
“I’ll be 83 in October, and I’ve lived in Berlin Township my whole life,” she said. “I was born on Cheshire Road, got married and lived on Berlin Station, and then I lived on Old State. Now I’m on Peachblow.”
McNamara said all three families were farmers in Berlin Township. She said her uncle, Tim McNamara, was one of the founders of DelCo Water, and that Thomas E. McNamara, known as Ed, was a Berlin Township trustee for years.
“He was one of the trustees when this township hall was built and dedicated,” she said. “When Alum Creek came through, it was his dream to have this township hall built. He lived just across the tracks from here on Cheshire Road,” she added.
Floyd Griffith said when he was a kid, the family reunions were at the individual homes of family members.
“One of the ones I remember was over here at Berlin Station, and we had handmade ice cream,” he said. “We even had them at the fairgrounds in Delaware under the grandstands. They all have just been fantastic — it’s always great to see cousins.”
Griffith said that his father’s barn, which at one time was the biggest in the county, is still standing over on 3Bs and K Road in Berkshire Township.
“It held 100 tons of loose hay,” he said. “We raised horses, it had stalls all the way through the barn, and the hay up in the hay mound went right down the chutes to the stalls.”
Griffith said he has seen a lot of changes in the area since he was a kid. He said that 3Bs and K Road during that time was gravel.
“We use to ride our bicycles on that gravel road,” he said. “We had one paper man, Homer Scherman, we could tell the time of day when he would come down that gravel road it would make a cloud of dust. We would say, ‘It’s five o’clock, Homer is here.’”
Griffith said when I-71 went in, it took the back part of the family farm.
“Delaware County has been a godsend for Columbus,” he said. “We have three reservoirs out here, Delaware saved Columbus.”
Griffith said there is a lot of farm ground now underwater. He said another change is that right on Cheshire there was once a barbershop, a grocery store, and gas pumps. He said it was a sort of crossroads store that you don’t see anymore.
As a member of the newer generation, Austin McNamara, 9, though a long way off, said he doesn’t know if he will be one of the ones to keep the reunion going.
Austin’s older sister, Sara, said she will still come to the reunions and maybe even take charge of the yearly event.
Alex McNamara, Sara’s twin brother, said he likes coming to the reunions.
“So I can meet my relatives,” he said. However, “I would have it somewhere else like a state park like Alum Creek.”
Stacey McNamara, their mother, said she noticed that there were a lot more younger kids there this year as compared to years past.
According to Parker, there are usually between 30-60 people who show up to the reunion each year.
“Like Thomas G. McNamara used to say, ‘We’re Irish and nothing else matters,’” she said. “But you never know just how many will show.”
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.