The history found at the Mathias Ham Historic Site is vast and the tales are plentiful. Here is where we hope some of those stories can live on. Shared from the perspective of our historians, enjoy journeying through the life once lived on Lincoln Avenue.
This story begins as many romance novels begin. A young girl meets a dashing, older man who sweeps her off her feet with a winning smile. At the tender age of 17, Sarah met George Potter at her home, where her father, Mathias, had invited George from Duluth to discuss the lumber business.
It was love at first sight. When George returned to Duluth, they began a passionate romance through letters.
My Precious Sadie: I worked last night until 11:12 o’clock, but I won’t have to always. When I am rich, and I will be one day, then we can be together always. When I do have plenty of money I will consider you as owning half of it. It is so hard to be away from you so much, loving you as I do.
You do not fear that I will be untrue to you, do you, my darling? I could never be naughty, loving you as I do. Believe me. Ever your loving but unhappy George.
-Excerpt from Letter presented in court
Then one day, one of Sarah’s letters fell into the wrong hands - his wife. When Sarah discovered he was married, she broke off the engagement, but George was persistent. He promised that he would marry her after his wife died, who he claimed was ill. When his wife passed away, he promised to marry her after his business settled.
After 10 more years of promises, Sarah finally gave him an ultimatum, marry me or leave. George confessed that not only was he never going to marry her, he had never intended to marry her. Humiliation and grief quickly morphed into anger. George had taken her life from her and Sarah was not going down without a fight.
On a dark and stormy night in February, Deputy Sheriff Dillon was summoned to the home of Sarah Ham. There he met Sarah, George Potter, and their attorneys. After several hours Sarah, George, and the attorney emerged from the sitting room with an agreement, and the Deputy Sheriff witnessed the signature before taking his leave. Sarah had agreed to drop the suit if George paid an annuity of $420.00 annually ($12,905.00 today), and pay her property taxes. However, one year later and George never paid the annuity, and Sarah had lost over $15,000 ($450,200) in the agreement because of unpaid taxes.
At the age of 49, Sarah was no longer at a marriageable age, and by society standards, had wasted her youth on a broken promise. Potter had taken her youth, her ability for a family, and financial security. Sarah had had enough.
She took the fight straight to her ex-lover, filing her petition in Duluth. On August 29th, 1903, a Miss Sarah Ham of Dubuque filed a lawsuit against the millionaire George Potter, accusing him of breaking his promise to marry her. The amount was for $100,000.00 (2.9 million today).
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