William Russell was born on November 25, 1840 in Pennsylvania, the third child of Dr. Alexander H. Russell and Susanna Kephart. On his mother's side, William was a great-great-grandson of town founder John Reister. In the 1850 census, 9-year-old William was living with his parents and siblings in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. His father Alexander was working as a doctor and is listed as owning real estate valued at $6,300.
The Russell family must have moved to the Reisterstown area shortly thereafter, as Alexander, who died in 1853, is buried at the Reisterstown Cemetery.
Together with his younger brother Reister, William opened a general store on Main Street in 1867, selling groceries and dry goods. The building, dating back to the 1830s, was originally owned by Captain Jeremiah Ducker.
On September 7, 1869, William married Abbie Ann Thomas at the Lutheran Church in Reisterstown. The following year, the newlyweds were living above the store, with brother Reister, cook Mary Williams, and James Gies, who worked as a clerk in the Russells' store.
After ten years, the 1880 census indicates the family was doing quite well. The Russells had welcomed five children into the family: Harry, Hannah, William, Ralston, and little Susan, who was just two months old. They employed two domestic servants, Sallie Thomas and Harriet Fogle, and two store clerks, Philip Beckley and Benjamin Marley.
William Russell was also active in the community and the Lutheran Church. He was the superintendent of the Sunday School, and a member of the Masons, the Odd Fellows Henry Clay Lodge, and the Knights of Pythias.
Unfortunately, there were rough times ahead for the family. First, their youngest daughter Susan died the next year, aged just nine months old. Abbie was pregnant again in 1882, when tragedy unexpectedly struck in the early morning hours of November 21, 1882.
John Pfeffer, a store clerk living with the family, was awoken by the sounds of someone trying to pry open a store window. He roused his employer William, who took out his pistol as the two went downstairs to investigate. Walking though the store and out into the front street, they saw caught sight of one of the would-be burglars near the back of the store. As they started toward the intruder, the man shot once, instantly killing William Russell. John Pfeffer summoned help from the neighbors, and a search was quickly organized, but without success.
Detectives were called from Baltimore to investigate, while all sorts of rumors circulated around town as to who the culprits could have been. There were reports of three "suspicious" men arriving on the Western Maryland Railroad and lurking around town late at night, who were later found not to be involved in any way. Another tale came from Manchester, of a constable there killing one suspect, wounding another, and capturing a third, which also proved to be untrue. Some believed that the thieves were after William Russell's safe, as he had been named as executor of the recently-deceased Jacob Forney's will, and supposedly had some of the gentleman's wealth in his keeping. The safe, however, had not been touched.
Rewards were offered for the capture and conviction of the perpetrators from the county commissioners, Governor William Hamilton, the Odd Fellows, and a group of town citizens, totaling over $1000. The Baltimore Sun carried accounts of the tragedy the following two days. But the thieves were never caught.
The Sun reported that William Russell's funeral was "the largest ever seen" in this section of the county. Mourners came from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, and Pennsylvania, and the carriages stretched along Main Street a quarter of a mile from the cemetery. William Russell's Sunday School students all attended and sang a hymn at his grave.
On Christmas Eve, almost a month after William's death, Abbie Russell gave birth to their daughter, also named Abbie.
Reister Russell continued to run the store, and kept the name "Russell & Bro." in William's honor. In 1897, he built an expansion of Parisian brick onto the original building. The second floor was a large public hall that could hold over 500 people, and was used by the Masonic Lodge for their meetings.
Abbie Russell never remarried after the death of her husband. In the 1900 census, she was renting a house with four of her children, next door to Reister Russell's family. Sons Henry and William were salesmen, Ralston was listed as a teamster, and daughter Abbie was working in a school.
By the 1910 census, Abbie and Ralston had married and moved out, so Abbie Russell was living with her two sons, Harry and William, at 526 Reisterstown Road. Both were working as clerks in a retail store.
The 1920 census is the only one where Abbie, now 76 years old, was listed with an occupation of her own - storekeeper at a supply store. Still living with her is her eldest son Harry.
Abbie Russell passed away at the age of 83 on February 20, 1926.
Today, the Russell Brothers' Store is long gone; its present-day location is occupied by Bubb's Deli.
William and Abbie Russell's children were:
- Harry R. Russell, 1870-1942, a store clerk, unmarried
- Hannah May Russell, 1873-1956, wife of Kephart Pfeffer
- William Russell, c1876-19??
- Ralston Wightman Russell, 1877-1963, a painter, husband of (1) Lola M. Stansbury & (2) Edith L. Nelson DeMoss
- Susan K. Russell, 1880-1881
- Abbie Ann Russell, 1882-1963, wife of Arthur Holmes Uhler
Ancestry.com (census records)
- Year: 1850; Census Place: West Pennsboro, Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_772; Page: 71B.
- Year: 1870; Census Place: Reisterstown, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: M593_569; Page: 277A.
- Year: 1880; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 495; Page: 566D.
- Year: 1900; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 606; Page: 7B.
- Year: 1910; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: T624_550; Page: 26A.
- Year: 1920; Census Place: District 4, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: T625_654; Page: 4B.
- "Murdered By A Burgler." Date: 22 November 1882; Page: 4.
- "The Reisterstown Tragedy." Date: 23 November 1882; Page: 4.
- "The Russell Murder." Date: 28 November 1882; Page: 1.
- "Brief Locals." Date: 5 December 1882; Page: 4.
- "The Russell Murder." Date: 6 December 1882; Page: 4.
- "New Store At Reisterstown." Date: 14 December 1897; Page: 7.
- Photos of the Russell Brothers' Store
- Reister's Desire by Lillian Bayly Marks, 1975.
- Reisterstown by Gayle Neville Blum, 2010.