Friday, November 29, 2019

Frank the Butcher KOs the Wizard of Robinson Street

WJ Tower is seen with Centerville Road in the foreground

Today the West Junction is no longer a place name in New Castle County, but it is still known as WJ to railroad workers at CSX where their tracks cross Centerville Road. This crossing is notorious to motorists in the Prices Corner area because of how often 10,000-foot long freight trains block the road for long periods of time. In 1890 West Junction was a sleepy little outpost on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) where a telegraph operator received and sent information on train movements and passed up train orders to the crews of passing trains.

The operator worked long shifts alone in a control tower, often with idle time on his hands between trains. More than one lonely telegraph operator probably wished they had company. One of those men was Abraham Ringland. He was a married man with four children who also operated a small grocery store at the corner of Poplar and Robinson Streets in Wilmington. A pretty young city woman named Josephine Lee became inordinately fond of Ringland and often visited him at the lonely outpost to help him pass the time. 

Second Street Market
Hagley Museum & Library
The problem with this situation was in addition to Ringland being a married man, Josephine was rd Street with and their four young children. Mr. Lee was a well-known butcher who swung his cleaver in stall number 53 of the 2nd Street Market House.
married to Frank C. Lee. The Lee’s lived at 630 West 3

This 1884 Sandborn Insurance map shown the
2nd Street Market between Market and King Streets.
From the Library of Congress
The market house was built right in the middle of 2nd Street between Market and King. Similar market houses survive in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The street split into two narrow lanes on either side of the market which created a difficult time for traffic. It was removed in 1925 due to the congestion it caused with growing automobile traffic in the city.

The story, as reported in the Evening Journal, is that Josephine would take a horse Ringland kept in Wilmington and drive it out to West Junction to spend her spare time with the “Wizard of Robinson Street”. This went on for two years and Mr. Lee at one point asked for a divorce but was dissuaded. As the affair went on Mr. Lee “bided his time and went into training for a fistic encounter.”

Front page headline of the November 15, 1892
edition of the Evening Journal 
On Friday, November 11, 1892 Mr. Lee became aware of his wife heading off one of her clandestine West Junction excursions. He went to her brother, only identified as Mr. Metcalf, and explained the situation. Metcalf was up for the task of showing Ringland a thing or two. With no horses the two set out on foot for West Junction arriving around 3PM, just in time to find Ringland helping Mrs. Lee into the carriage. Her visit to the control tower was finished and she was ready to return to Wilmington.

Mr. Lee approached Ringland and said, “you ---- ---- ----- ----- I have you this time!” Lee struck Ringland with a hard right and drew blood. Lee worked Ringland over. Ringland was knocked senseless. Ringland swore that during the exchange with Mr. Lee, Metcalf struck him with a blackjack, but Lee insisted it was only his skill with his fists that did the work.

More from the November 15, 1892
edition of the Evening Journal
Mr. Lee and Metcalf took the Mrs. Lee and returned to the city in Ringland’s carriage. Ringland was left in the middle of the road bruised and bleeding. Reportedly he was knocked unconscious and it was 20 minutes before he was able to return to his duties in the tower. When the railroad pay car arrived later it was reported the paymaster said Ringland looked like he was struck by the Royal Blue Express.

A few days later Mr. Lee was interviewed by the Evening Journal. He told the reporter that since it was all over town, he would explain some of the details. He said he caught them the previous summer coming from Brandywine Springs together and Ringland ran away. Ringland told the reporter that in spite of the beating Mrs. Ringland was back out at West Junction the next night.

Word of Ringland’s on-duty distractions quickly reached the B&O Railroad's Philadelphia Division, Superintendent J. Van Smith and he was discharged. On November 28, 1892 Ringland traveled to Philadelphia to try to get his job back. The effort failed but Ringland soon found work as a trolley conductor in Wilmington. He held that job until 1912 when he died of a stroke at the age of 45. He left behind his wife and four children; he was remembered as a very popular conductor on Wilmington’s trolleys.

In November of 1893 Josephine Lee left for good. In March of 1895 Frank C. Lee was granted a divorce and was awarded custody of their children. Six months later he married Viola Vincent with whom he had four more children. He died of apoplexy in 1908 at age 51 leaving behind Viola and eight children ages 4-21.
Centerville Road as seen on January 4, 2018
Photo by Tom Gears

The next time you are stuck at the Centerville Road railroad crossing you can look around and imagine what you would have seen if you were passing by at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, November 11, 1892.


  1. Great post and pictures Tom.. question... Is the photo of WJ tower looking west toward the bend and current 141 overpass?? Thanks in advance!

  2. I always wondered why there was a dedicated parking area along 2nd Street between Market and King - and now this answers the question! Of course, that all went away with the the construction of the new AL's and parking garage.


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