Buried in City/Loosley
Block 10, Lot 8
There is no grave marker.
Joannes Baptiste Steyaert was born 7 October 1859 in Evergen, Belgium—a very small village. He and his wife, Matilda Van Damme, had a total of eight children, whose birthplaces provide a map of the family’s journey from Belgium to Arizona.
The three eldest children—Marie Victoria, Emil Johan, and Augustine Bernard--were born in Belgium. The fourth child, Marie Leona, and the fifth child, Benjamin Paul, arrived in 1890 and 1891 while the family was living in Winnipeg, Canada. The Steyaerts seem to have gravitated to heavily forested areas, suggesting occupations associated with lumber.
By the time the seventh and eighth children, Medard Tracy and Joseph Julius, were born in 1894 and 1897, the family was in De Pere, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1897, the Steyaert family left Wisconsin for Arizona with newborn Joseph. Within just a few weeks of their arrival, Joannes fell desperately ill. After a protracted bout with typhoid which exhausted the family’s financial resources, he died on July 21, 1897, and was buried in the Loosley Cemetery. His daughter Marie Victoria died of pneumonia a few months later, on November 21, 1897, and was buried in the same cemetery.
This left Matilda Steyaert destitute, with seven children to support. They ranged from Emil, almost 12, to Joseph, a mere babe in arms. The local newspaper, the Arizona Republican, appealed to its readership to assist the family. The Steyaerts were listed intermittently as indigent between 1898 and 1900.
In time, however, the Steyaert children became old enough to support themselves. In 1913, the boys built a fine house, designed by Howard B. Claflin, for their mother at 1021 East Washington. The ten-room brick bungalow is said to have had screened sleeping porches and much built-in cabinetry. Owing to the use of an innovative truss, the front porch offered an unobstructed view of the street.
Ben and Gus Steyaert became locomotive engineers for the Santa Fe Railway and the Southern Pacific Railroad respectively. Emil was by turns a miner, prospector and truck driver for Union Oil. Joseph Julius worked as a heavy equipment operator. Only Medard and Frank carried on the family tradition of working with wood. In 1928, Medard was managing a planing mill at 1501 South Central, which made cabinets and office furniture.
With her children grown up, Matilda converted her bungalow on East Washington into a boarding house and rented rooms to guests regardless of race. After her death on 27 July 1941, the house was sold to Golden and Elvira Swindall, who continued Matilda’s legacy of providing accommodations to African American guests who were not welcome at the segregated hotels in downtown Phoenix. The Swindall Tourist Inn was listed in the famous ‘Green Book’ for Negro travelers; Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jackie Robinson are believed to have stayed there. Bought in 1996 to serve as the headquarters for the Desert Mashies golf club, the house is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
© 2020 by Donna L. Carr. Last revised 20 December 2020.
Photo of Steyaert/Swindall House courtesy of Donna Carr