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Monday, January 24, 2011

How did that get its name?: Fels Avenue Springwood

Have you ever wondered how streets, parks and other landmarks acquire their names?  Fels Avenue, located in the vicinity of Springwood Public School was named for Frederick Fels who purchased land there in the latter part of the 1890s.  Fels, born in Warsaw Poland in 1858, travelled to England then to America in the 1880s, on the pretext of buying goods for his business.  He left behind a wife, who he subsequently divorced, and several children and eventually married Dora.  Relatives of Frederick Fels suggest the pair may have been acquainted before Dora left Poland destined for America and marriage.  
The couple arrived in Australia in 1889, where Frederick took up the manufacture of butter coolers and canvas bags before moving into the more lucrative market of money lending.  The latter venture was initially financed by his wife.  Dora, an enterprising lady, set up her own dressmaking business which is perhaps why everyone knew her as Madame Fels.      
It seems that Frederick was ever mindful of his debt to his deserted family in Warsaw because he sent money to them when he was financially able.  Son Stanley migrated to Australia in 1896, moving in with Frederick and Dora when they lived at Annandale.  Stanley’s arrival - and perhaps the financial position of Dora and Frederick - encouraged the migration of the remaining Fels family. 
The Springwood property purchased by Frederick and Dora in 1899 comprised of several acres of land forming the border between Valley Heights and Springwood.  Frederick Somers had been the original owner of a conditional purchase in the 1880s.  The property had been put in Dora’s name, a was common practice for that time, because it safeguarded the wife in the event of a husband’s bankruptcy and eluded death duties when he died. 
In 1900, the Fels moved into their newly built Springwood home.  Fels Ridge/ Felsridge, as the photograph illustrates, was a stunning example of early Federation-style architecture.  The home had several tall chimneys that soared high above the tiled roofline of the commodious brick home, while the front veranda and upper storey balcony overlooked a wonderful circular driveway.  Financially comfortable, the Fels were able to employ local men Thomas Jones and George Mills as gardeners and to attend to any maintenance of Felsridge.  Double gates located on Bathurst (now Macquarie Road) once marked the entrance to the property.
Dora and Frederick continued in their separate businesses and Frederick, who was described as a ‘financier,’ occupied rooms at 295 Pitt Street Sydney.  In a move that would prove unfortunate the childless couple adopted Dora’s niece and Frederick’s granddaughter. 
In 1907, Frederick was a trustee of Martins Lookout.  He is said to have had a great fondness for the local flora and fauna of the area and - at his own expense - put a man to work clearing a track some two or three miles out from Springwood.  The Nepean Times newspaper later regaled the splendour of hidden streams, tumbling clear pristine waterfalls and stalactites - unhindered and undisturbed - formed from the minerals in the water.  Rare ferns grew in great profusion along the track and great stacks of giant logs lay petrified on the wilderness floor.  It is unfortunate the location of this track has been lost.  
A public spirited man, Frederick donated a sum of money to the School of Arts building fund in 1907.  In 1908, he was elected Vice President along with Messrs. Charles Rosenthal, Grant and Foster and retained the position the following year.  He was elected to the committee when the first Annual General Meeting was held in the newly erected School of Arts building, in 1913.  He was also a member of the Springwood Progress Association.  During 1908, Frederick - with the assistance of Mr Maidment, proprietor of the Royal Hotel - installed a Rider-Eriksson hot air engine on the Springwood property to pump water for domestic and irrigation purposes from the gullies below the house. There is no evidence to suggest if they were successful.
In 1914, Frederick founded the Mortgage and Loan Finance Company of Australia.  Sadly, he died the following year.  The years following Frederick’s death were troubled and turbulent for Dora and the trouble stemmed from the earlier mentioned adoptions.  Frederick’s first wife appealed his will because most of his estate had been bequeathed to their mutual granddaughter, Miss Blessing Fels-Stuckgold.  Eventually the Supreme Court overturned the terms of Frederick’s will and the estate was divided between Blessing and Frederick’s first wife.  The latter died five years later and rests, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, with Frederick in Rookwood Cemetery.
The name of Miss Blessing Fels-Stuckgold appeared in local newspapers around 1915, along with other young ladies who raised funds for wounded soldiers during the First World War.  Like most of the other large estates in the area the Fels estate was subsequently subdivided and Dora, or Madame Fels, left the mountains around 1920.  Family information suggested she lived in Mosman during the early 1930s, however, the date and place of her death are unknown.
Local myth implied the house burnt to the ground in the 1968 bush fires; however inspection of the property in 2000 revealed that the central spine of the house remained intact along with the driveway, a water-well in the garden and original plantings.   Today the property is known as Blue Gum Lodge and functions as an Anglican Youthworks Outdoor Centre.
Pamela Smith
References:
Blue Mountains City Council image collection.
Blue Mountains City Council local studies collection.
Nepean Times, Various editions.
New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriage indexes.
Sands Indexes, Various editions.
Springwood Historians, The Making of a Mountain Community: A Biographical Dictionary of the Springwood District, Springwood Historians, 2001.
  

   

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