Small Town Recycling

When I was a kid growing up out here on the prairie, one of the more challenging things to deal with, depending upon your point of view, was your garbage. I say "depending upon your point of view", because in many cases the answer arrived at was simple:

Fire.

In the days of my youth there was an enduring tradition of simply taking one’s household refuse out to the designated spot and lighting it aflame. Everyone that I knew who lived out here had a "burn barrel" - often a cast off steel barrel that had previously held something like motor oil. These were, themselves, durable but not everlasting items that periodically had to be replaced. You learn pretty early from this experience that almost anything will burn - or at least "go away" - if things get hot enough. To this day I can still differentiate the smell of burning garbage from other smokey smells.

This is an enduring problem, and in earlier times it was an issue dealt with by burying things in addition to burning them. Sometimes this was in a place dug specific to that purpose, and sometimes it was a secondary use of the otherwise objectionable space beneath an outhouse. Indeed there are people who make a hobby and/or career of privy digging to extract the now precious items that prior generations valued so much they tossed them into their toilets.

Fortunately, these are largely concerns of the past - garbage collection services are available even out here on the prairie, and as such, we no longer have to throw our trash in our toilets or risk conflagration to dispose of it. But what is not offered out our way is any type of recycling services. Rather, all of the refuse simply goes into one large bin to be taken away once each week.

Whether or not recycling is of benefit is actually a question surrounded by some controversy. Most of us have heard of situations where the collection company actually takes the collected recycleables and simply dumps them into the landfill with the rest of the trash, particularly at times when the materials simply don’t carry much value. But at the very least it feels better to sort out the things that can be recycled rather than simply throwing them out. As such, we’ve looked for recycling options in our area, but mostly come up empty.

Mostly. The exceptions are for metals, particularly aluminum.

What does this mean for the rural lifestyle? It primarily means that, if something can be purchased in an aluminum container, that’s how we get it.

This actually represents an odd change of pace for those of us in the household who may have predilections towards beer snobbery (speaking here for a friend, of course). After a couple of decades of having convinced oneself that distribution in glass is the preferable medium for any ale or lager, one now finds oneself disappointed when a favorite beer is not available in a can. And there are other items - sodas, of course, and the oddly addicting LaCroix family of products - which can also be obtained wrapped in aluminum.

So nowadays we have a pattern of collecting the cans and engaging in periodic crushing sessions. When we’ve gathered what seems a sufficient volume we take them in to Buckman Iron & Metal Co. Sufficient volume is usually somewhere between five and seven 30-gallon bags.

Cans on their way in

The upside to all of this, particularly as compared to having recycling collected at the road, is that it does actually result in getting some cash back. Now, if one is hoping to generate a personal fortune through this means, one will be disappointed. My most recent trip in, with seven bags more or less full, come out to a weight of 46lbs. Aluminum was running at a price of $0.45/lb, which meant that I walked away with a whopping $20.70.

Not a princely sum, to be sure, but certainly more than I would have garnered if I’d simply thrown them away. Better, as my mother would say, than a stick in the eye.

The other benefit to this is primarily for the twelve-year old boy in me that finds it pretty cool to see the machines at work. On this last trip in, for example, I was waiting behind another customer who had brought in the remains of a Ford Taurus on a truck. This meant I got to enjoy the show involving getting the car off of the flatbed with a forklift. This was a delicate balancing act, to be sure, but one that neverless did not involve the car falling off of the forklift. If you’ve ever watched someone operate one of these things and thought "that’s no big deal", I think seeing one in action this way would get you to reconsider the error of your ways.

stacks of cans pressed

And you also get to see the results of your efforts, as well as that of others. Here I’m referring to the blocks of pressed aluminum that is produced at the far end of the machine that processes your cans. These ultimately join other blocks lined up on pallets (pictured above borrowed from DoRecycling ) that make it clear that what you’ve brought in will be taken out to be used again, which at least feels like you are doing something useful in the long run. And you are, as recycling aluminum reportedly works better than mining in both from a cost and environmental perspective.

Turbine Repairs?

I was traveling back home the other day, and came across this sight:

Blades Coming Down

As discussed here a couple of weeks ago, there’s been a lot of wind farm activity in the area over the past several months. Mostly this has been occurring in the form of raising new turbines to replace the ones taken down at Mendota Hills. This is different - the turbine you see here is one that has been up for several years.

I’ve never had the opportunity to see this particular event occur - them taking down an entire blade set. However, it is the case that the blades have to be repaired and/or replaced periodically. At times you will be driving by a turbine and see that it has new blades sitting on the ground next to it, for example. Later they will be gone and the turbine blades look shiny and new. There is also a crew that comes out with a cable and basket system - it looks similar to what you see for skyscraper window-washer crews - and appear to paint or coat the blades while they are still on the turbine.

The turbines themselves also appear to have a cable and winch system inside to pull up parts for internal repairs. I’ve seen them on many occasions with the cable coming down out of the back.

I turned the corner and got a closer shot of it coming down. They were actively bringing it down on the crane, so the blade set is lower in this shot:

Down further still

I suppose the gist of it all - besides the fact that I just find these events pretty cool - is that it shows that these are active, maintained facilities. Crews are out here performing maintenance and keeping them up and running, which seems overall a good sign. And it seems good, in a world where the urban and suburban landscape seems to swallow up more and more farmland, to see activity that makes one feel, at least, like some of this open land will remain open to other, non-residential activity.

Impending Weather

Although the calendar has not yet rolled around to actual winter - and will not, in fact, for nearly an entire month - the weather has taken to trying to prove otherwise. As such, we are sitting on the cusp of a weather alert promising (some would say threatening) 5-10 inches of snow.

Snow’s-a-comin’

Inevitably what comes from such proclamations is the reports that one should, under virtually all circumstances, remain at home. The roads will be dangerous and impassable, emergency crews will be busy, and the weather will make for treacherous conditions.

It is usually under these conditions that I experience the felt need to drive to, oh, Albuquerque to get a pack of gum. And maybe a Slim Jim.

This is a part of country life, the realization that, at times, the weather will dictate your activities, your mobility. The healthy and safe thing to do is to follow those dictates and remain safe and secure in your home, riding out the storm in relative warmth and security. These days, due to the benefit of a few years of wisdom, this is something I’ve come to do. When I was younger I would have engaged in that felt need, and made a run for something, anything, as long as it got me out of the house.

I’m not alone in this. I know there are other members of the family that experience it as well. This makes one wonder about the nature or nurture of such a thing. Is this a remnant of the nature that made our ancestors feel the need to move west? Was this the spark that made John and Martha Foulk and Prairie and Ziba Johnson look at the forbidding, windswept lands outside the shelter of the groves and say "that’s the life for us"?

This would have been a valuable thing, back then. It would have been the sort of thing that would have prompted them to break out of the house and lay out hay for the animals despite the blowing snow; to split the wood needed for the stoves that heated the house. Heck - I suppose a bit of this spirit is what one needs to brave the trek across the back yard to get to the outhouse...

But in all of this, with the animals fed, the wood stocked up, and necessaries taken care of for the moment, would John and Martha still have looked out the window longingly at the snow?

I can see Martha saying to John "you know what would be good on a day like today? Cornbread."

John: "Why, that would be a fine idea. Cornbread indeed!"

Martha: "But John, we have no buttermilk."

And they both look out that window, consider the blowing and drifting snow, before turning to look at each other. Then John says "I’ll hook up the sleigh Martha - let’s ride out to the general store and pick up a pint."

——

So... probably not. But I do suspect that they got antsy when the weather came to call, keeping them bundled up and indoors. That spark, if it really is a thing that is passed down from one generation to the next, may be a little less useful a thing when one doesn’t have to tend to the animals and the firewood, burning off that bit of drive.

New Windmills

Back in the spring of 2016 Leeward Renewable Energy began seeking permission for de-commissioning the Mendota Hills Wind Farm. Mendota Hills has the distinction of being the first of the wind farms in the region.

Growing up out here we always knew it was windy, but that was just a hassle that one dealt with. Our ancestors used wind turbines for a variety of purposes, including pumping water and local electricity generation. This very old picture of the house shows a wind turbine in place as a water pump, standing next to the house atop the original well.

wind pump

People nowadays sometimes complain that the turbines make noise. They are all at least a quarter mile away from any building. Imagine what it would have been like to have this thing spinning right next to the house. But I digress...

That was a thing of the past though, and although one could sometimes see an old wind turbine, or perhaps just its tower, standing at a farmstead, they were only remnants and memories in my childhood.

Between the time I moved away and came back, however, the wind farms sprouted. Mendota Hills was the first, most visible example. It existed alongside route 39 and, despite the name, was a good 12-15 miles north of Mendota, IL. It was visually distinctive because, from the distance of the highway, it gave the impression of what one might classically think of as a wind farm - many turbines sitting in “close” proximity to one another, seeming to turn in sychronicity. Of course, when one got up close to them, it was clear they weren’t nearly as proximate to one another as the distance made it seem. But they were much closer to one another than was the case for the later facilities. The turbines were also smaller and closer to the ground, relatively speaking.

It is that relative age that appears to have precipitated the change, and it was somewhat of a surprise to read that the company was going to be taking down the Mendota Hills turbines. It appears that the turbine technology has advanced sufficiently to make it more cost effective to remove the old giants and replace them with a smaller number of newer, more efficient and, well, giant-er turbines.

What this means for the area is that, for the second time since we’ve moved here, we have new turbines going up. It also means that, for the first time, we’ve been in the broad vicinity of old turbines coming down.

One of the arguments against the wind farms, classically, has been the question of what happens to the structures when the wind company no longer wants them. This spurs on concerns that they will be simply left to rot, huge hulking behemoths on the horizon undergoing the slow, inevitable effect of entropy. Given that this absolutely happens to other unwanted structures in the area - we have old barns, corn cribs, and other derilects aplenty across the countryside, unused, unwanted, but too expensive and time-consuming to take down - one can see the concern. And what is happening to the area around such a structure as it slowly falls apart? Does it one day, finally, unexpectedly topple to the ground? What does the landowner do with it when that happens?

This makes the sequence of events in this example especially interesting. Here, not only are they not being left to rot, but they are being actively removed and replaced. Also interesting and instructive is that this process offers some real-world impression of what would happen if these structures were allowed to topple - because that is exactly how they were taken down.

I regret that I did not have an opportunity to see any of them actually come down - one of the downsides to gainful employment, I suppose - but the evidence was there at each and every site this past summer, many of which could be seen from the road.

Turbine Down If you didn’t know what you were looking at it would be easy to mistake it for a downed aircraft.

As I mentioned above, this is the second round of turbine construction we’ve seen since moving back out to the homestead. It’s an interesting sequence of events, as it has an impact on not just the prairie skyline, but also on the landscape. This is true in multiple ways, as you watch new roadways getting cut into the fields in the area - access drives for the turbines - but also see the modifications made to the public roadways to accommodate the extra-large and unwieldy cargo that the trucks must haul. Each section of the tower, and the turbine blades themselves, come in individually, carried on specialized trailer setups. In many cases, there are special cut-roads that remove the 90° turns that these beasts would be unable to navigate. Signs pop up making drivers aware of overhead powerlines as well, hopefully preventing them from unintentionally clipping them with their outsized cargo.

Of course, anything so very large in its components must also require comparably large equipment to assemble it. And so, as the turbines are assembled, we see the arrival of machines like this crane:

Big Crane

And it’s hard to fully appreciate the size of this thing against the big sky backdrop. But if you look closely at the picture you can suss out the full-size pickup truck by the tread to give a sense of just what a monster that thing is.

Really Big Crane

Opinions on the wind farms vary. THere are absolutely people who hate them, feel they destroy the view, and a few who have some very strange ideas of how they might be harmful. At the Homestead we look at it differently. If the country is going to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, there has to be an embrace of alternative technologies. We aren’t helping anyone if we give it lip service but refuse to allow it in our proximity.

And besides - the presence of windfarms around the Homestead virtually guarantees that the land around us will remain open prairie and farmland. Staving off housing developments and otherwise inevitable ultimate suburban sprawl is a benefit from the perspective of this homesteader.

Not that all of that is what goes through my head when I see all of this going on. Rather, during these moments, mostly what is happening is the ascendance of the 12-year old boy inside who loves to watch things get built and knocked down...

First Snow 2018

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to document when the first real, substantial snow of the season has occurred. In 2017 it showed up on November 12th. This year it touched down a might earlier, falling last Thursday night - November 8th - leaving us a blanket of white stuff to be seen in the early morning light Friday morning.

Early November Snow

The ground is, astonishingly enough, still covered today, three days later. This is different than previous years, where even a substantial early snowfall still disappears quickly the following day. In fact, far from being the typical November dusting, there was enough accumulation for drifting - actual drifting to begin to occur as the wind picked up later in the day. It wasn’t enough to be truly problematic, not yet. But the tell-tale strips of white across the asphalt and tar-and-chip were there, heralding days to come.

The weather report suggests that today is the last day of it, and in fact the temperature at the moment sits at 32° F, working its way up to a proposed high of 40°. These quiet morning hours represent the likely last moments of the pre-winter ground cover.

I’ve mentioned here, likely more than once, that I delight in the snow. This early example won’t last, of course - it’s more of a winter tease. But it does herald future flakes to come.

Cork & Tap Oregon, Illinois

This past Saturday saw the Illinois Cross Country 1A Sectional meet in Oregon, Illinois. The Mendota Girls Cross Country Team qualified, so MLW and I were there to cheer them on. This also left us with a little free time afterwards, so we took a little time with friends to explore the Cork & Tap in downtown Oregon.

This is a place that catches your eye as you drive in to Oregon from the East on Route 64. The sign is large and bright, and one notices that there appears to be a blues brother at a piano in the front window. When I first drove by it a couple of weeks ago for another meet in Oregon I didn’t have a chance to look closely, and I wasn’t certain from the name whether it was a liquor store or a bar. It proves to be the latter.

Oregon is a small town - about 3700 people, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong). But if you are expecting a typical small town bar when you enter the Cork & Tap, you can expect to be surprised. While they do carry the standard national fare - you can get a Bud Light if that’s how you roll - the Cork & Tap offers a long line of tappers (10+) with a variety of styles, and with a delightful mix of brands that are not your typical fare for the area. For example, on our trip they had beers by Pig Minds, a brewery located in Machesney Park, on tap, as well as others. For myself, I enjoyed a Dirty Bastard - a tasty, smoky Scottish ale from Michigan, as well as Bell’s Octoberfest. MLW enjoyed a WakeFire by Blake’s Hard Cider Company.

As the name implies, in addition to beer and cider, the Cork & Tap also offers a variety of wines. They offer tasting flights so you can sample and enjoy (flights of beer are available as well). As with the beers, local and regional options are present - if you’ve wanted to try a wine by August Hill, the winery located in Utica, Illinois, for example, here’s your risk-free opportunity. They offer a variety of mixed drinks as well, and those sampled by our group were pronounced quite tasty.

The bar is in an old store front downtown, and the space is used to good effect. The bar area is comfortable and modern in a rustic setting, with a comfortable loft area and a second floor as well. Cards and board games are available to allow for an old-school pub atmosphere. There are screens, but they aren’t everywhere and aren’t overwhelming - you’ll want to carefully select your seat if you want to watch the game (and you can easily position if you don’t want to see it). They have event areas if that’s what you are looking for as well. They don’t do food, but there are multiple options nearby that will deliver there for you.

Places like this in our little towns are few and far between, and they are wonderful to find. If you are in the area - say you are cycling or canoeing or kayaking - or you are just looking for a spot to head out to and have a nice time, this place is a regional gem. Check it out!

Powerless

On Saturday afternoon, October 20, we were enjoying a particularly brisk and breezy autumn day. It was a partly cloudy day, with blue sky peeking out between bits of fluffy clouds. The weather report tells us that the wind is out of the northwest at 29 mph...

Its breezy...

It is due to this last fact that it wasn’t terribly surprising to discover that the power had gone out. I was, in fact, involved in taking the window A/C units out of the upstairs bedroom windows - today’s high of 46°, and a week ahead with highs primarily in the lower 50’s suggested it was probably safe to do so - when we noticed it. Specifically, I had removed the unit from the window in LB’s room, and LB went to turn on a light - this a decorative thing, since the bright sunny day, combined with our prodigious volume of windows, made artificial light unnecessary - only to find it unresponsive. We tested a couple of other items, again to no avail, and then heard the tell-tale beep from the battery backup units that make it clear: no power.

What a power outage means out in these rural parts is that virtually nothing works. The incoming electricity off of the grid is your energy source for all of your daily life. Folks who live in a town or city will not be as familiar with this phenomenon. For example, while the power being out means that you cannot watch TV, and that you’ll need flashlights or something similar to see around the house at night, other components - things like water supply - are likely working just fine.

But here, the water comes from a well, served by a pump run on... you guessed it: electricity. This means no glass of water from the tap, no shower, and the number of toilet flushes limited to what is already in the tank (that’s exactly one, for those who may be unaware). It means no water for cooking or coffee as well, but that point is moot, because the stove and coffee maker also require electricity.

It also means no heat. While our furnace uses LP for fuel, the blower that distributes the heat throughout the house requires electricity to spin. That this is October and not, say, January, means that we could certainly be in worse shape in that respect. We have heavy blankets enough for all to ward off the chill, and it won’t get cold enough yet to worry about the pipes.

Other things have changed, however. I am writing this on an iPad in the middle of said outage. The iPad operates on a battery, of course, which will operate e device for several hours before running down. To extend that, I have it and my iPhone both plugged in to one of the aforementioned battery backups. These devices are designed primarily to keep older computers from shutting down suddenly when the power vanishes. They do a remarkable job of this, but they also retain power after this task sufficient for several charges of mobile devices. This means that we’re in good shape for connectivity to emergency services and for personal entertainment.

It’s a bit of a contrast from my youth growing out here. Then as now, the power going out meant being cold and it being dark at night, and it meant having no water. But the landline phones back then operated on their own, independent of ComEd, and we sought our entertainment through more rustic means. Then I’d be reading a fantasy novel or comic book on paper to pass the time waiting for the TV to be available again.

And of course now, I’ll likely be reading... well, a fantasy novel or comic book on my iPad to pass the time...

So maybe things haven’t really changed that much.

John Foulk

![John and Martha Foulk](IMG_1587.jpg)

John Foulk and his wife, Martha Morrow, were the pioneers who broke ground on our little bit of Illinois prairie and ultimately built the house we think of as our Homestead. They were also my Great-Great-Great Grandparents. The entry that follows is meant to capture and reflect what is known about him and his life. In addition to being a blog entry, a more permanent entry will be available on the site here, and that will be updated and revised as information and providence allow.

John Foulk was born on June 14, 1822, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, to Daniel Foulk and Susan Harsher.

He moved from Pennsylvania to Wayne County, Ohio with his parents. The age at which this occurred is unclear, but he appears to have been young at the time. Records indicate that he worked as a farmhand as a boy in Ohio because his father was "in limited financial circumstances and it was necessary that the son provide for his own support" (PPLC).

John Foulk appears to have learned a thing or two from this experience, because he "later" rented land in Ohio, cleared it, and "lived life in the pioneer style" (PPLC). Records suggest that he did well at this, and ultimately purchased 80 acres of "good land" to work before deciding to move to Illinois.

He met Martha Morrow in Ohio, and married her on November 2, 1843. He would have been 21 years of age, and she 20. They lived together in Ohio for a time, and had four or five children:

  • John Henry Foulk, born 10/3/1845
  • Mary Elizabeth Foulk, born 6/1/1849
  • Daniel Morrow Foulk, born 7/30/1853
  • Frank Albert Foulk, born 2/25/1856

![John Henry, Mary, and Frank Foulk](IMG_1588.jpg)

John Henry, Mary, and Frank Foulk - year unknown, but Frank looks to be about 2 years old.

There is also a reference to a son named “Henry Foulk" noted in one of John Foulk’s obituaries, but it’s unclear whether this is an additional child, or a reference to his son John by the middle name. A second obituary says that he only had three children. The Foulk Family Bible (FFB) lists the four children above, and given that it is just about as close as we will get to a first person account, seems to be likely to be the most reliable source. The reference to three children in one obituary may reflect the early passing of Daniel Morrow Foulk, who died in January 1854, just shy of 6 months of age.

John took his family from Ohio to Illinois. PPLC suggests he purchased property in Mendota in 1850, but other records suggest he did not come to Illinois until 1856 (his youngest son, Frank, was born in Ohio in 1856). He is said to have first purchased 200 acres in Mendota, and later another 500. The land that he bought was "wild and unimproved. There were no trees or fences or buildings upon the place and every evidence of pioneer life was here seen" (PPLC). Indeed, the settlers who moved to the area before him had mostly settled in the woodland groves along the waterways, preferring the shelter and abundance of the forested land to the windswept prairie.

He may have lived in Mendota for a period of time before moving his family out to the Homestead. In moving out to the Homestead he appears to have brought a large supply along with him, as he moved "bringing a carload of horses and another of cattle and goods, including farm wagons, harness, etc" (PPLC). The entry in PPLC that provides this says that he "made the journey over the Fort Wayne Railroad". There was indeed a railroad system that connected Ohio to Illinois existing in the era, and one suspects this is what is referred to here, meaning that it’s a reference to how he moved his stock, supply, and equipment from Ohio to Illinois. The line from Fort Wayne appears to end at the I&M Canal in 1850, which would suggest he’d have traveled over land from Kanakakee to Mendota. That’s a day’s travel at walking speed over modern roads. Perhaps a bit less if he’d loaded his stock on to barges to take the canal from Kankakee to LaSalle.

On this trip he and Martha would have been traveling with their three surviving children, the older two at eleven and seven years of age, and the youngest who was less than a year old. Martha may have had her sister along with her - Barbara Morrow, ten years Martha’s senior, is shown as living in the home in later census records, though it’s unclear if she was along at the beginning, or joined them later. This would have been quite an adventure for John and possibly for Mary, but anyone who has traveled with an infant in modern times can imagine what this would have been like for the multiple day trek it would have involved.

Regardless, it seems they would have arrived well stocked and supplied to begin their lives on the prairie. John and Martha would have been in their early 30’s as they began their lives with their family on the Illinois prairie. He first built a small house (or cabin) on the property, set at the northeast corner, to give them a home while the Homestead was constructed. If they arrived in 1856, as seems most feasible, they would have lived in their small home for about five years before the Homestead was complete.

Materials for the home were likely hauled in from Chicago (JJ), and it would have been taken time to build. And lest we forget and think that this was simply empty, unused land, the family stories talk about Native Americans coming to their little cabin, looking in, and asking for food. They were not alone.

John Foulk made his money primarily in the raising of livestock. He had success at this, as reflected in PPLC and his obituary:

He was very successful as an agriculturist and stockman and at one time brought the best drives of hogs ever taken to Mendota being in number 111, averaging 500 pounds and brought 8¢ per pound. At another time he had on his farm 2200 sheep and in this city sold two loads of wood for $4526.00.

We don’t have the exact year that this sale occurred in, but if we assume 1865 for purposes of comparison, an online inflation calculator suggests that John’s load of sheep would have brought him over $70,000.00 in 2017 dollars. So he was doing well (and what ever happened to the days of putting this sort of information into an obituary?). Google Books allows us to know that, with respect to those sheep, he raised Spanish Merino’s (perhaps among other breeds), and that he was competitive about it. He is listed as taking "second premium" for a "pen of three ewes under two years old" at the Illinois State Fair of 1864 (this as reported in the riveting Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from county and district agricultural societies and kindred associations, Volume V, 1861-64 - all kidding aside, Google can turn up some obscure things with a search).

In addition to these types of livestock, John Foulk was also a fancier of draft horses. PPLC credits him as having probably done "more to improve the grade of draft horses raised than any other man in the county". He is listed as an Illinois member of the American Clydesdale Association in their Clydesdale Stud Book: Volume V, published in 1890. A search today, in October 2018, finds he also shows up in later volumes, and that his name is associated with multiple hits in these books, including records of purchases and sales. One such purchase, in Volume 7, bought from Jas. I. Davidson in March of 1880, was for a horse named President 44. For fun, let me note some of the other horse names associated with him in this Volume include Jock, Daisy, Maud, Button, Lady Flora (all apparently names given by him and/or his family) and Lady of Burnside (which he purchased).

His agricultural interests ran deep, and he appears to have presented as a leader of sorts in the community. One obituary states "For years he was president of the Mendota Union Fair Association and later a director in the Mendota Fair and Agricultural Society".

He did not do this alone - he was busy and successful enough that he had hired workers assisting him, some of whom lived in our Homestead, likely in the worker’s area to the back of the house. One census record indicates that John Semens, a 22 year old Farm Laborer, and Lavina Fortney, a 21-year old woman working under the census title of "servant", lived in the home with them.

All of this suggests a man who is diligent, hard working, self-sufficient, and successful, and all of that is true. But we know he was not a perfect man. PPLC artfully states that John Foulk remarried to Jennie M. Johnson after Martha passed. This could technically be true - at this time I don’t have information to indicate when the second marriage actually occurred, if it ever did. What we do know, however, is that John Foulk took up with Jennie well before Martha passed - PPLC appears to be attempting to be artful here in how they present what must certainly have been scandalous information for its time.

Family lore (JJ) indicates that Jennie Johnson was traveling with gypsies - this not being the generic term for people who tend to move from place to place, but actual Romani peoples in the US - as an indentured servant. He is said to have traded a team of horses and a wagon for her. Charitably one could say that he was buying her freedom. It’s not clear how their intitial encounter occurred, or what his intentions were when he did this. It does appear, however, that he took her into his home with his wife and family, which would have included at least his youngest son in the home at the time. It’s also clear that he moved out some time after this, taking Jennie with him and leaving the Homestead to Frank, and that Martha also stayed behind.

This latter event is suggested to have occurred in 1880 by one of his obituaries. Martha passed away some thirteen years after that, bringing the veracity of "remarrying after her passing" into clear question. He and Jennie are said to have had two children, but that both died young. Thus far no other information about them appears to be available.

When he moved out, he moved to the "Blackstone Farm", an area of Mendota which would now likely be the southwestern end of the town (there is an elementary school by the name of Blackstone in the area). Little information seems to be available about this time in his life, though the livestock records suggest he was still active. It’s unclear whether that was at the farm out by the Homestead, at the Blackstone farm, or perhaps both.

One of his obituaries states that "in 1902 he moved to a farm one mile east of Mendota where he remained until death". It’s not clear with current information where, exactly, this was, though an obituary indicates it was in “section 34, at the east edge of the city".

John Foulk would have lived in this location for about four years until he passed away on January 18, 1907. He was survived by his partner, Jennie, his son Arthur, and his daughter Mary. Martha passed before him in September of 1903. He is buried in a family plot at Restland cemetery at the northern edge of Mendota.

John Foulk’s Gravestone

References Mentioned:

  • Past and Present of LaSalle County (PPLC)
  • FFB - Foulk Family Bible (FFB)
  • Joel Johnson (JJ) - and it should be noted that multiple other bits and pieces of information herein also likely come from my Uncle Joel - he’s an avid family historian and a delightful storyteller when it comes to family history. Many of the photos are also courtesy of Joel.
  • Clydesdale Stud Book: Volume V, Published 1890
  • Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from county and district agricultural societies and kindred associations, Volume V, 1861-64
  • Two Obituaries that were found as clippings online - unfortunately without any reference to the paper in which they appeared.

Mystery Nest

So this showed up in the yard the other day:

Nest

Bird nests showing up on the ground in our yard is not an uncommon occurrence. The wind out here is such we fairly routinely come across one or another on the ground. On very windy spring days it’s not uncommon to find multiple nests, and a little later in the season a bad storm can also result in multiple hatchlings finding their unfortunate end in the same fashion. It’s wonderful to be out in nature, but she does sometimes remind you that she’s often unkind.

Most of the nests we see, however, are the typical "cup" style - those that look like a little bowl that you’d keep something in (gee, like, I dunno - eggs maybe?). But this one is different. It’s larger than the others, and the hole that you see in it is the entrance. It’s composed primarily of grass, though there’s also a bit of synthetic stuffing (undoubtedly gleaned from one of the dog’s less-than-fortunate stuffed toys or beds).

Usually, when I find such things I will spend some time on the interwebs trying to sort out the details. In this case, I’d like to know what type of bird would have made this.

Unfortunately, an internet search on this topic thus far provides primarily information on what you need to know to identify a bird nest - e.g. shape, size, composition materials. I can find multiple sites that tell you those are the important, relevant pieces of information. And then none of them tell you anything about which birds go with which types of nest.

So today I live with a mystery. Anyone out there know what type of bird matches this nest?

Tiny Groves

This past weekend was Homecoming for Mendota - spirit week at the high school, the football game Friday night, the dance on Saturday. When I was growing up the Homecoming dance was always sort of semi-formal - you dressed up in something different than your other dance outfits - e.g. one might eschew parachute pants in favor of a Miami Vice jacket and dress pants - but it wasn’t a formal occasion. Formal wear was reserved for prom.

This has changed somewhat over the few years since my Homecoming days, and now the dance has taken on a more formal bent. This means fancy dress and pictures.

A popular spot for the pictures portion of the activity has been Mendota Lake Park, which offers large old trees to pose in front of, and bridges to pose upon. This has reached a point at which people are waiting in line for turns at specific spots to get their snaps taken.

Our family crew and their friends independently elected to avoid the crowd and have their pictures taken out here, at the Homestead.

This surprised me a bit - from my perspective our yard is nothing terribly special from a picturesque point of view. In fact, thinking about it from that perspective mostly makes me consider the efforts to tame encroaching nature and my relative failures in that respect. But when I asked LB and Malte about it, they pointed out that greenery and large old trees were key, and we have both in abundance. LB also casually pointed out that it would be great for pictures if the tree swing could be repaired, which put that on my mental list.

I realized, thinking about this, that they were absolutely correct. One of the beautiful things about the old farmhouses here in Illinois is the lots upon which they sit. Illinois was primarily prairie, of course, before European settlers came, with stands of trees in occasional groves that followed closely along the streams. The early settlers lived in those groves and, as they moved out to farm the prairie, efforts were made to make their homesteads mirror the preferred qualities of those groves - which is to say that they planted trees.

We continue to have some trees on the property that can be seen in pictures from decades ago. Consider this pic, which I believe is at least 50 years old:

B9425323-935D-4CE6-8C9D-9D9C4D60E87E.jpg

There are a couple of trees in particular that can be seen there that can still be seen today:

old trees

They are still in this picture from 2009:

Still there

And they are still there today, though the one on the right has clearly seen better days:

Still there still

Or consider these two old soldiers, fir trees that were originally part of a longer tree line:

Old Soldiers

These are tall trees - I have to stand way back from them to get the taller of the two entirely in the frame, which is why it is good of the dogs to help by providing scale.

The smaller of the two also helpfully offers up a branch for the aforementioned swing:

Swinging puppies

Of course we all know that trees live a long time. Still, an old tree is often a beautiful thing. These tiny groves dot the rural countryside here, but they are slowly diminishing. The upside is that I do see land where people are actively planting tree lines around their homes as windbreaks and/or installing the next generation’s tiny groves of deciduous trees. The irony to this is that I virtually always see that around the rate newer country homes.

Genealogical Contradictions

Doing genealogical research on family members must gives a bit of an idea as to the struggles historians encounter while they are trying to put together a more-or-less accurate picture of a person’s life. For some time I’ve been working on getting together information on many family members as a part of the family tree. In most cases this is just to gather a more complete picture. But in some cases there are more direct relatives for whom I’d like to be able to include profiles here as permanent portions of this page. Chief among these is John Foulk, my great-great-great grandfather. This takes a priority for me because he is the builder of our Homestead.

The frustration comes from the variations in sources of information. Now, as one moves back to the mid-1800’s and before, those sources become few and far between. But even with that said, it’s surprising the contradictions one can encounter. I have, thus far, encountered the following references for John Foulk:

  • Past and Present of LaSalle County (PPLC), 1906, Pages 937-938 (or 1025-1026 of the google books edition).
  • Two obituaries - one of which baldly plagiarizes PPLC, and the other which seems somewhat more independent.
  • Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from County and District Agricultural Societies, Volume V, 1861-64 (one brief mention)
  • American Clydesdale Stud Book, Volume V, 1890, which lists John Foulk as a member and has minutes of a meeting he may have attended, but a scan of it suggests he did not speak if he was there.
  • Martha Morrow and John Foulk’s family Bible, which my uncle has; and
  • My Uncle

To his credit, my Uncle does not seem to provide contradictions, and one can more or less assume that the few family entries in the Bible are probably accurate. The other sources, however vary considerably in value and agreement. For example:

  • PPLC indicates that he purchased property in Illinois in 1850, but his more independent obituary says that he didn’t move to the state until 1856. His son Frank was born in Ohio in 1856, which lends credence to his obituary over PPLC.
  • The contradiction above has knock-on effects: We know that he first built a small house on the property to live in while the Homestead was constructed. Given that the house was built in 1861, if PPLC is correct they would have lived in their little pioneer home for the better part of a decade before the Homestead was complete. The time is about half that otherwise.
  • Sources list between 3 and 5 children.
  • PPLC artfully suggests that John Foulk remarried after Martha passed away. However, one of the obituaries indicates that he moved into "town" (Mendota) in 1880, and that he remarried after his first wife died in November of 1885. Martha Morrow, his first wife, never moved into town, and she died in 1903 (as indicated on her gravestone). Family lore reflects that he took up with another woman and moved out. The rest of this is perhaps purposeful obfuscation to preserve his legacy?
  • The more independent of the biographies indicates that he and his second wife had two children that did not survive to adulthood. Those additional children do not appear at all in PPLC...

And so on. I’m quite certain others doing this type of work have uncovered similar inconsistencies and contradictions - that my experience is neither unusual or special. But it does bring into question how information was gathered for these sources, and what decisions were made when compiling them. PPLC is a compendium of short biographies for all sorts of early settlers in the area. It was published in 1906, the year before John Foulk’s death. Who was their source for the information they provide (perhaps John Foulk himself, or one of his surviving children)? Did they do any fact checking or otherwise verify what they were publishing?

A Mr. U.J. Hoffman, County Superintendent of Schools from 1894-1906, is listed as the author, but his work is indicated as being "Together With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Prominent and Leading Citizens and Illustrious Dead".

PPLC

This would suggest that he’s the author of the first portion of the book, which relates information about LaSalle County back to its earliest days, but that he’s not the scribe for the “Biographical Sketches", which frankly comprise most of the book. And his preface (or "Prefatory") indicates his purpose to the book is in "awakening a patriotic appreciation of our country and people near home", and with respect to the early pioneers "to awaken in the reader an appreciation of their heroism and worth".

All of which suggests that he’s not going to write or print about anything that might suggest a less than favorable light his subjects.

This would explain quite a bit about this source, but also bring its veracity sharply into question.

So the work goes on, and these details and contradictions make it clear that, regardless of effort and intention, the picture presented will ultimately, always, be an imperfect one.

Summer Visitors

There are a lot of little benefits to rural life in the midwest, kind one of them is the abundance of wildlife we get the opportunity to experience.

Yes - this may seem an odd statement - isn’t even the rural territory of Illinois largely tamed? It is true that we don’t have to fear wandering grizzly bears or marauding packs of wolves (though wolves aren’t really the danger that children’s stories would suggest), but we certainly do have a variety of other critters, including coyotes, foxes, and an array of marsupials and large rodentia, not to mention the f&%king raccoons...

But mid- to late summer here also offers an explosion in activity of the insect variety. Some of this is less than desirable, of course - it’s amazing how quickly after cracking open a beer the picnic bugs arrive, for example. But then there are the moths and butterflies.

Between the agriculture around us, and the array of things we allow to grow in and on the borders of the property, butterflies seem to find our little homestead a fine place to hang out.

I’ve discussed this tangentially before, but spying multiple examples of this little guy brought it to the forefront.

fuzzy little guy

It’s a curious looking little fella, and when I see things like this I find, more often than not, I want to know what it is. When I was younger, of course, that would require a trip to the encyclopedia set and/or the library, all assuming that a) I would remember to look it up once the opportunity presented itself; and 2) that I would accurately remember the thing that I’d seen days (or possibly weeks) before well enough to match what I was seeking.

Of course, the naturalists of the 1800’s would simply have sketched themselves a drawing of the thing they’d seen in their notebooks. This makes me think, nowadays, how nice it must have been to have the time to sit there and sketch things into one’s notebook. It also makes me wonder what became of all of the naturalists out there who were poor artists. Were they shamed by their peers? Or did the Royal Society require them to be able to pass a drawing test before allowing them to join? "Why I’m sorry old chap, but if you cannot accurately render Tippy the Turtle, it strains the mind to consider what would occur if you attempted to represent a tortoise in the Galapagos..."

Instead of consulting with my tweedy colleagues in the smoke-filled gentleman’s chambers at the Royal Society or combing through their notebooks, I was able to look the little guy on the grill up on the North American Caterpillar Identification site (how cool is it that such a thing exists?).

A little scrolling there finds that it is the caterpillar guise of the White-Marked Tussock Moth. If that doesn’t sound like a familiar species it may be because, like a child star, the stand-out part of this critter’s existence is in its youth. For Orgyia leucostigma adult life is one of blending into the background like a desk worker wearing khakis and a polo. Adult males are gray and black in a fashion that suggests they are moths we’ve all seen time and time again, paying them no attention except perhaps to be irritated by them. The females get the real short end of the stick, however, as they don’t grow wings strong enough to fly - they live their lives in and around their cocoon.

They are a small part of the array around us, of course. Yet, they do help to remind how much there is to see here, even within our own little wild space.

Screen Room?

Like a lot of people we have tons of plans for our old house. Some of those plans are on a definite near future timeframe, others in the necessary long term, and some are more aspirational.

One of the things we’ve long discussed is the possibility of putting a screen room on the south side of the house, off of the dining room. This is more more towards the aspirational, longer-term - it would be very nice to have, but it comes behind small niceties like having a second bathroom and updating the 70-year old kitchen...

While it is a reality of life that one can’t always do everything one wants (or at the very least, not now, necessarily), one of the upsides to our old house is the realization, through living in it, that our predecessors had similar thoughts. While the house doesn’t have, and hasn’t ever had, as best I can tell, anything like a screen room, many of the rooms in the come close.

Every room in the house has at least one window, and most have at least two. The front rooms in the house, upstairs and down, each have three. The windows are over five foot tall on the upstairs, and about six foot or so downstairs. While they didn’t have the construction techniques to do a wall or corner of windows ala Frank Lloyd Wright, our ancestors clearly understood the value of having a connection with the out-of-doors.

This leaves a home that is awash with natural light during the day, which makes sense given that it was constructed in the days well prior to electrification. It also means, for the rooms where we’ve had the opportunity to replace the original windows with modern units that include full screens, a cool summer evening or early fall afternoon presents a close equivalent to that screen room.

Living Room screen room?

No - it’s not exactly the same as having open walls on all three sides, but it does get close. On a summer evening you get a delightful cross breeze and (assuming there aren’t too many explosions and gunshots on the televisual entertainment selected) the beautiful night sounds of rural Illinois - crickets and frogs fill the summer night.

It’s a little thing, of course, but it’s a little thing that gives well and reliably, and makes the waiting for those more aspirational items a little easier.

The Little Things

Evening’s Entertainment

There are little moments in life that can be close to perfect. This is one of them.

There are trade offs to rural living, to be sure - it takes time in the car to get to anything, and sometimes the weather makes getting anywhere impossible. But then it offers the opportunity to sit outside, in front of a fire, enjoying nothing but the sounds of nature, the company of good dogs, and a crackling fire.

The Coleman outdoor fireplace I’m sitting in front of was something we had when we lived in the city. On occasion we’d light it up and enjoy a bit of a fire. But while the crackling was still there, the sounds of crickets and tree frogs were eclipsed by the noise of cars driving by, neighbors arguing, and the general drone of mechanical equipment from houses that were, at best, 30 feet away.

Our old house, ultimately, is a huge project. I know, in these quiet moments, that we’ll likely never complete everything we’d like to accomplish here. But when it offers these moments I realize that’s really ok.

Glazed Over

Our old house has a lot of windows. This is something I’ve written here before, of course, and it continues to be the case. There are somewhat fewer windows than when the house was first built, some of them victims of remodeling (no one wants a six-foot tall window in the middle of their shower stall. Well maybe not no one, but nobody in this house at any rate). Still, there are many.

One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that having this volume of glass around the house seems to also increase the likelihood that one will have broken panes from time to time. These occur for a variety of reasons - wind blown tree debris, rocks thrown from lawn mowers, animal incidents, the possibly unwise decision to have your 12-year old hold a martial arts target for you inside...

As a result, I’ve become somewhat adept at fashioning temporary repairs using cardboard and duct tape (if the women don’t find ya handsome, they should at least find ya handy...). This is an especially attractive repair when the only box in the house large enough to use for a given opening happens to be the ones from the pet food delivery service:

Thanks Chewy!

What one might think, if one is being optimistic, is that this also gives opportunity to learn a new skill. And there is absolutely truth to that. In the course of dealing with this... opportunity, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Stephanich Hardware in Mendota will cut glass to your specification and, if they are not busy, they’ll do it while you wait. Quickly.
  • They also happen to carry the other components you need - glazing putty and glazier’s points - things that one has almost certainly had no awareness of until one has had to do this task.
  • Replacing a pane of glass is conceptually simpler than you think, and involves only a small number of tools.
  • A thing being conceptually simpler than you think does not mean that it doesn’t involve skills that are best honed with years of practice.

The window in question here is a large picture window that was put in to replace the bay window original to the house.

Old House - Bay Window

The replacement was done in my grandparents time because, as I’ve been told, the bay window was "a leaker". My uncle tells me that the picture window was custom made for the opening, which is certainly believable, given that it is huge - over 6 1/2’ tall and nearly 5’ wide.

Tom Silva from this old house recommends that the process of replacing a pane of glass be done with the window taken off of the wall and completed on a flat work surface. I’d done this task once before, on an upstairs window, and I did exactly that: removed the sash from the pane and worked with it on the floor. But there was no way that was going to be feasible with this particular portal. Given its aforementioned hugeness, it would be a two or three person job to lower it out of the wall safely. Even if I wanted to do that, I’m not a fast worker on such projects, and the prospect of having a 6 1/2 x 5 foot hole in the wall in the middle of insect season for any length of time was not an attractive one. What’s more, the overall condition of the window leaves one skeptical about its ability to successfully survive the transition out, and then back in to the opening. So - thanks Tom, but this was going to have to be done in an upright position.

What I realized, as I put the putty in to place (this part is kind of fun - a little like working with silly putty), is that it didn’t have the adhesion (or gription) needed to keep it there for much of any length of time. This wasn’t an issue for the bottom or sides, but it meant that, when I put the pane of glass into the opening, the putty at the top started drooping down like 4th of July bunting. But, you know, not in an attractive way.

But we got past that and got the glazing on around the outside as well, necessary to seal it up against the elements. And here is where I really begin to realize the skill set needed to do this well; a skill set that I simply do not have.

glazed window

(I mean, I could probably have done a more ham-fisted job of it, but that would likely have required considerable drinking while working on it, and handling glass while intoxicated seemed unwise).

With practice I could get better, I suppose, and this window certainly offers the opportunity for additional practice. While the other panes are intact, the glazing is crumbling off around each and every other individual pane - all 19 of them.

Close up of other panes

And, of course, the window frame itself is in need of paint.

This is all a task I’ve been reluctant to undertake because: a) all of the above; and 2) the plan is to eventually replace this window either with a setup that is more energy efficient or, ideally, with French doors that exit to a porch or deck. But at this point you can tell the direction of the wind during a rainstorm based upon how much this window leaks, so...

Milkweed

I’ll admit that the combination of a schedule with limited free time and a yard that is about two acres in size makes it difficult to keep up with more than only the most rudimentary tending. This means that I am often fighting a less than decisive battle against enemies such as burdock, lambs quarter, and the hated Chinese mulberry. Depending upon which point in the summer one views the yard, the state of my struggle can be more or less evident.

But though there are many weeds against which I battle, the one which gets a complete pass from me is milkweed.

milkweed in the yard

milkweed in the flower bed

This is not because they are a thing of great visual appeal in and of themselves. While not unattractive in the way that a burdock or lambs quarter is, (and they do flower, though not in a particularly showy fashion), they have things going for them that the others simply do not.

The flowers are a food source for bees and similar pollinators and, given that we are in an era of decline for honeybees, it seems reasonable to lean towards maintaining things that support them (we grow other flowers as well, and don’t treat for things like dandelions). But the chief benefit is, of course, that these plants are a food source for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.

When we first moved back here one of the things that surprised me were the sheer volume of butterflies, monarch and otherwise, that we had in the summer. These range from your basic butter-pats to a variety of multi-colored visitors.

They are painfully difficult to get good pictures of, but very occasionally I get lucky.

Painted Lady

This one, a type which I see often, appears to be a painted lady according to this Insect Identification website. The site indicates that painted lady caterpillars preferred foods are thistles, and that they "also eat the leaves of mallows, hollyhock and burdock plants". We don’t see much by way of hollyhocks, but thistles, mallows, and the hateful burdock are certainly plentiful in the area.

As for the Monarch’s themselves and their relationship with the milkweed, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of shots of (what I believe are) Monarch caterpillars in action the other day:

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar under leaf

The milkweeds are also home to a variety of other critters. I can frequently spot Milkweed Beetles, a critter that looks a little like a giant, misshapen ladybug, and which I’d neither seen nor heard of before till moving back out here.

Milkweed Beetle

Milkweed Beetles Mating

(Of course, I assume that what is going on in the second picture is that the beetle on bottom is sick, and the one on top is trying to help her get to the hospital...)

I’ve seen spiders hiding in between the closely gathered top leaves and, unfortunately, have also found batches of earwigs. On at least one occasion the spider and the earwigs were in the same general area, which gives me a tiny bit of hope (there are few animals or insects that I truly dislike, but earwigs are definitely on that list).

This process of exploration and discovery often helps to soothe, at least for a little while, the frustration of trying (and failing) to keep up with the tending of the big yard. There are amazing and interesting things to see around each corner, and under every leaf.

Little Green Boxes

Heading out the driveway and down the road the other day I noticed something hanging in a tree at the corner of the property:

Little green box

I didn’t have time at the moment, but a little later I had a chance to look at it more closely. It’s cardboard, three-sided, and open on the sides. And I was unaware that it had been put in my tree (it’s in the portion of the tree that hangs over the ditch).

And then I began to see them elsewhere. In other trees (sometimes you have to look closely)...

Another box in a tree

And another box in a tree

...and on fenceposts:

box on a post

Closer inspection finds that these are gypsy moth traps. Apparently the Illinois Department of Agriculture places traps every year to monitor the population and make decisions about where and whether to treat for them. I don’t know if they’ve done that in our area before and I just haven’t noticed, or if this is new for us.

I’ve heard of gypsy moths before, but I didn’t really know anything about them. There’s info on the Department of Agriculture Page linked above and, of course, on Wikipedia, but the gist, from Wikipedia, is that this is an introduced invasive species. It first appeared in the northeast Atlantic States - beginning with Massachusetts - in 1869, and has been diligently working its way westward ever since. It now appears in eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, and it is problematic because its larvae will "consume the leaves of over 500 species of trees, shrubs, and plants". According to Wikipedia this moth is "one of the most destructive pests of hardwood trees in the eastern United States". Among other things, the eggs hang out on firewood, which is at least part of the reason you’ll see materials asking that you only use local firewood at campsites.

This is one of those cases where an enterprising soul thought he’d be doing a solid by bringing the moths over from Europe - in this case to try and breed them with silk moths to get a version of a silk moth that wasn’t such a fussy eater. Turns out that Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s skills as an astronomer may not have translated well to his amateur interest in entomology - the two species cannot interbreed. But what gypsy moths can do however, apparently, is get away from you and escape into the woods around your home. Which, it would seem, is how you can have craters named for you on both the moon and Mars, but still have "introducing the gypsy moth to North America" be the only thing listed in the "known for" section on your Wikipedia page.

All of this makes one curious as to what might be in those traps, but they should not be disturbed, so I’ll just continue to wonder. But at least now I no longer have to wonder what those little green boxes I keep seeing are for...

The Allens at Ellsworth Cemetery

I noted, in my entry about Ellsworth Cemetery last week, that I’d come to find the grave sites for Emeline Johnson, the daughter of Smith H “Prairie” Johnson and Ziba K Tompkins, my Great-Great-Great Grandparents, and her kin. Many of the graves at Ellsworth Cemetery have become difficult to read, but in the case of Emeline Johnson (Allen), she and her family have not yet faded away.

She married Nathaniel Chandler Allen, and they are both interred here:

Nathaniel and Emeline Allen

Curiously, the marker does not include her date of passing, which her obituary indicates was July 18, 1920. One presumes that the marker was purchased and placed some time following Nathaniel’s passing, and well before hers, and so the spot was left open to be completed when she died - this is a common practice, and you can readily find stones in modern cemeteries where this is the case. I do not believe, however, I’ve seen an example where the date of passing simply never got completed. All but one of Emeline’s five children preceded her in death, so perhaps the resources to have it completed were simply unavailable.

Most of her children are also buried here, either memorialized on the other sides of the family stone, or with their own marker. The youngest is heartbreaking:

Lula or Lulo

My records say “Lula", while the stone reads "Lulo", but in either case she lived only four days. Emeline would have been 39 years old at the time of her birth, so one wonders if (or suspects that) there were complications.

Her oldest, Cora, married Terry George Stevens. What can be pieced together about her history suggests that they lived in Shabbona, IL, for a time, and then moved out west. She had two children before moving - Roy Erwin and Guy Demmon Stevens, and a third in Montana - Bertha Myrtle Stevens (Brown). Bertha was born two years before Cora died, which would suggest that Cora passed away while living out west. This would mean that, despite living in Montana or, perhaps, Idaho (more on this in a moment), her body was returned to Illinois to be buried in this family plot:

Cora B Allen (Stevens)

From my modern perspective on the past, it seems like the effort of transporting a body back to Illinois would have been quite a chore in 1900. Perhaps this was a wish of Cora’s, or of her family being met by Mr. Stevens. Ironically, perhaps, it appears that, according to her obituary, Emeline also died in Idaho, while "visiting". One assumes this visit was with her grandchild Roy, who later died in Idaho, while her son-in-law and the other children had moved on to California.

Her son Rufus C Allen died in the Philippines while serving in the Infantry. His memorial on the stone indicates both the date of his death, and of his burial, no doubt to make a record of the fact that it took over a year for his body to arrive home for internment. This is also noted in his obituary.

Aranda Franklin Allen, Emeline’s third child, passed in 1919, less than a year before his mother, and is buried next to the family stone:

Aranda Franklin Allen

Clarendon Smith Allen, her fourth child, was born in 1872 and died in 1948, and is buried in Kaneville Cemetery in Kane Counthy, Illinois. Curiously, findagrave lists only one sibling for him - Rufus - and only as a half-sib. This seems unlikely to be correct.

Allen Family Mysteries

I’ve been listing the order of Emeline’s children numerically based upon the information that I’ve had up to this point, but it’s possible I’m missing some clues. The obituary of Aranda Allen is also available on Geneology Trails, and it contains some mysteries:

ARANDA FRANKLIN ALLEN - was born August 22, 1868, at Allen's Grove, and died September 24, 1919, at the old home where he was living. He leaves his mother, Mrs. Emaline Allen of Dixon; _two sisters, Mrs. Ed Davis of Glen Ferry, Idaho, and Mrs. James Bend of this place_; and two brothers, Clarendon and Adelbert, besides many other relatives and friends to mourn their loss. Services were held at the home, Rev. P. R. McMahan of the Methodist Church officiating. Appropriate music was furnished by Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Nangle, and the interment was in Ellsworth cemetery. (Emphases added)

The records that I have indicate only one sister, Cora, surviving into adulthood, and she had died before Aranda. Who are the other two women this obituary refers to? In the infuriating style of the time, they are referred to only in terms of their existence as a wife, and so their given names are not recorded here. And what’s more, while my records reflect Clarendon Allen, there is another brother, Adelbert, noted here, of whom I have no record. If this is correct, Emeline would have had eight children rather than five. This would have been consistent with family tradition - she appears to have been one of 10 children herself. But it demonstrates the limits one encounters when dealing with incomplete information in any database.

Findagrave.com does list a James Anthony Bend buried in Dixon, Illinois, who was married to Blanche M Allen (Bend), who is buried with her husband. They died less than a month apart, and while the site lists abundant information about James, Blanche has only her relationship to her husband to identify her. Being born in 1878 would have put her six years after Clarendon and five before Lula, which is feasible.

Similarly, there is an Edward C Davis buried at Glenn Rest Cemetery in Glenns Ferry Idaho (and he appears to be the only Ed Davis buried in the county), as is his wife, Nettie E Davis. Findagrave indicates she was born in 1864, and died in 1939. Being born in 1864 puts her at two years after Cora and two years before Rufus, which, again, is feasible.

Adelbert, well, he remains a mystery. You’d expect a name like Adelbert to be easy to track down. There are only three identified in all of Illinois on findagrave. However, one was born the same year as Lula, which is clearly not feasible, and the other two were born in 1855 and 1857, when Emeline would have been 11 and 13 years old, respectively. A nationwide search finds fully 40 people by the name Adelbert Allen (seriously!). Most of these can be ruled out by year of birth alone, and others by the identification of parents on the site who are not Nathaniel and Emeline, or a birth location that is not northern Illinois. However, there is one possibility:

Adelbert R Allen was born in 1875 (which is feasible for a child of Emeline) and, while location of birth is not identified, he is buried in Glenn Rest Cemetery in Glenn’s Ferry Idaho, the same place as Ed and Nettie Davis. Perhaps he traveled west with his sister and brother-in-law?

The final mystery is the "correct" spelling of Emeline’s name. Her obituary spells it as I have done here, but her grave stone uses an "a" in the place of the second "e": "Emaline". It’s spelled with the "a" in Aranda’s obituary, but with the "e" in Rufus’s. It’s certainly the case that spelling was more fluid in the 1800’s, but you’d think she might have had a specific preference...

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I don’t typically delve quite so far into the details of doing genealogical research here, but I thought I’d leave this as a nice example of what the process looks like. One can spend a fair amount of time searching for information, only to find twists - like three additional family members - around the next corner. And then we land on only partial clues, as with Adelbert and Nettie, where the connection is suggested, but where anything more tangible is likely to remain out of reach.

Ellsworth Cemetery

Ellsworth Cemetery is a small plot located a little northwest of Paw Paw, Illinois. As with all of my graveyard quests, I came here in search of ancestors. In this case, I was seeking out the grave sites for Emeline Johnson, the daughter of Smith H “Prairie” Johnson and Ziba K Tompkins, my Great-Great-Great Grandparents.

The cemetery itself is a small plot, maybe half an acre or so. It is still tended to, in terms of being mowed, and has a flag raised in the center. The entry is right off of Paw Paw Road and it’s not at all hidden; it’s easily seen from the road. It’s a curious site, because the name - Ellsworth - is a family name, suggesting this was a family plot. There are, in fact, some Ellsworths buried here, but they are significantly in the minority. One wonders if, perhaps, this was originally a family plot and then perhaps given over by family to the township or county for more general use.

The stones here date back to at least the 1870’s:

William Miller, May 1878

And they range from the very simple:

Aranda F Allen, September 1919

To the comparatively grand:

Sutton

As is so often the case for these smaller plots, there are many markers in various states of disrepair.

fallen stones

fallen stones

fallen stones

As is also common for these sites, there are blank spaces in-between groupings of stones. It’s always possible, of course, that these spaces are simply empty and unused, that the interest in the use of this particular cemetery faded away before it was filled up. But then one comes across something like this:

Yielding to the earth

...And one realizes that its also possible that some, or all, of those blank spaces are also occupied, but have since had their markers yield to the Earth. This would mean that somewhere, a few inches down, there may be stones identifying other occupants, ancestors since forgotten and fading away, at least in terms of their final resting place.

El Campo Santo - San Diego

El Camp Santo

Take a tour through this site and it will be clear that I have spent a fair amount of time in cemeteries over the years. This could be due to some morbid obsession, I suppose, but mostly it has been in search of markers for departed family members. And in general, this means that a cemetery that does not potentially include family members is of little interest. However, sometimes they are different and interesting in a way that draws me in.

This was the case for El Campo Santo in the Old Town district of San Diego. This site is just a couple of blocks or so down the street from the Whaley House, and it speaks to differences in how such settings were managed in the desert Southwest as compared to our midwestern approach.

Markers were rough, typically made of wood, and in many cases burial sites were outlined in rock:

6CF31094-EA3C-453E-ACDF-DA9A8F4BAC1F.jpg

D28EDA6A-9B09-4200-8008-E7456F9FB617.jpg

The cemetery has been restored, so some of the sites have information plaques about the people interred:

Information Plaque

And because it is under restoration, there is an information plaque on the inside wall to give a bit of background.

restoration plaque

There are a couple of sites that are a little more like we see in the Midwest - this example has a wrought iron fence around it...

wrought iron fence

And an actual headstone inside:

headstone

The plaque on her site indicates that her marker is one of the the only original markers left. It was laid flat during restoration after it cracked.

Like many of the stones from the mid- to late 1800’s in our local cemeteries, it lists her age at time of death. This young woman passed at the young age of 21. And if that isn’t a sufficient reminder of the harshness of life in the 1800’s, this site reflects the all-too common loss of an infant:

"An Indian Babe"

Several of the sites were surrounded with white picket fences. This is a feature that I’d only ever see in movies (most recently in WestWorld). If they were in use in our region, they’ve long since decayed away and not been replaced.

fenced site

The restoration plaque indicates that the cemetery had 477 persons buried in the grounds. There are certainly not 477 sites present in the current cemetery, and the plaque does indicate that "a number of the graves were relocated". However, what it omits, but can be learned from other sources, is the fact that other burial sites simply had construction built over top of them. There have since been efforts to address this, and as one walks down the sidewalk one will see these coin-style markers embedded:

”Grave Site"

It’s a small site, and can be easily viewed in a half-hour or so. Because it’s a few blocks down from the Old Town State Park, it would be easy to miss if one wasn’t aware of it. It’s definitely worth the short walk and bit of time.