Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls...

...Because it doesn’t.

Our old house, like many of the farmhouses out this way, has a bell:

The Bell

It’s been there a long time. This picture - of my mother and uncle as kids - shows them standing by the post:

Joel and Julia

I won’t out their ages by saying how long ago it was taken, but I’m less than two years shy of a half-century myself (but, of course, my mother had me when she was eight). Suffice it to say that it wasn’t doctored to make it black and white.

Unfortunately, this is the bell as it appears today:

He’s dead, Jim

As you can see, the bell is somewhat less symmetrical than would be considered ideal. And one might ask "how could such a thing happen?" Of course, I have no earthly idea how this occurred. Just happened out of the blue. Maybe it was struck by lightening.

Yeah - sure - that’s it. That’s the ticket...

Ok - I might have been slightly involved. Slightly directly involved.

Because it is outside, these bells are subject to the weather. In the winter, that means that they can sometimes freeze...

Frozen ringing

close-up freezy

If memory serves, I had been trying to call the dogs, and they weren’t responding - the yard is big enough that sometimes they are out of voice or whistle range. However, we’d found they would come to the bell reliably (liberal application of treats post-ringing may have been involved in developing that). So I pulled the bell rope to summon them and...

...nothing. The bell was stuck. Stuck sideways, wouldn't move. It was frozen.

Now by this point it’s just possible I’d been becoming a little frustrated. You know, dogs aren’t coming. I’m standing outside in the cold. I’m not dressed for the weather because I hadn’t planned to be out there for any real length of time. So I engaged in a time-honored method of addressing a thing not working.

Which is to say I did what I was already doing, only more and much harder. I yanked down on the rope, trying to break it free. This was once, perhaps twice before the rope suddenly got slack.

Everything that followed took approximately three seconds to occur. I was fortunate in that, somehow, I recognized what the slackness in the rope meant. I stepped away and covered my head as the bell hopped off its saddle and came crashing down to the ground.

And then there it sat, in multiple pieces on the ground. And of course the next step on my part was to look around for someone to blame for this travesty. Well - someone else.

There was, of course, no one. I’m pretty sure even the dogs did not come (wise on their part).

This even occurred several years ago. Since then, the bell has been sitting, broken, on the porch while we try to figure something we can do about it. Sitting there, reminding me...

Enter the internet. A friend of a friend on Facebook posted the availability of a bell that looked to match our poor, damaged friend. What’s more, that bell was cracked, but it’s yoke - the part that sits it in what I call the saddle on the post - was intact.

New old bell

A little time on Messenger and we were able to make arrangements on it. It looks to be about the same size, and it came with a saddle of its own, just in case. And that’s where we are now - I’ve got a second bell here, waiting for myself or someone in the household, to undertake it as a project. That won’t happen soon, mind you, but at least now it’s possible.

Bells of a feather...

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.

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.

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.

Whaley House - San Diego

Whaley House from across the street

MLW and I had the opportunity recently to spend a little bit of time exploring San Diego. We honestly knew little to nothing about the city itself before going, aside from the fact that it’s the site of a naval base and of SeaWorld. One of the things we learned about was the area they call Old Town, which includes a state park that maintains a number of restored and/or replicated historical buildings from the early settlement days of the city.

Just outside the boundary of the state park is the Whaley House. This was a place MLW had seen on shows discussing haunted places, and she wanted a closer look.

Whaley House Plaque

Spoiler alert: we didn’t see any ghosts on our tour. But it was a little surprising to see the amount of similarity between this House in California and our own Homestead, despite the 1700 or so miles between them.

The houses were built within just a few years of one another - Whaley in 1857, and our Homestead in 1861 - so some similarities are to be expected, one supposes. Architecturally they are different - Whaley is listed as Greek Revival, while ours is a Georgian Colonial, at least in its basic structure. But the similarities showed up in a general feel of the place, it’s historical usage, and one little decorative component they share in common.

While it’s a different architectural layout, you still enter through a main hallway with rooms off to either side. Though the House is brick on the outside, the inside is wood planks and plaster, the latter complete with the cracks that time insists must present to mark its passage. Ceilings have the large plaster medallions for hanging chandeliers.

The spaces in the Whaley House have seen multiple uses over its existence. The single story section to the left side of the house (when facing it from the front) has variously served as a general store, a courthouse for San Diego, and general storage. While our old place hasn’t ever been a general store or courthouse, it has certainly seen various uses of the different rooms. In particular, the bedrooms in our home have served as corn drying rooms (seriously), and as storage for generations of family. This latter use was still actively in effect throughout my childhood, and sneaking through the stacks of collected stuff remains a fond memory.

A small detail, but perhaps the most surprising component for me, was the faux wood grain finishes on the wood.

front hallway doors

upstairs theatre door

(These pics are taken from a couple of articles from the Save Our Heritage Organization website, the organization that restored and manages the home - I was slow on the uptake for my own photos)

The thing is, this is a feature that we have in our home - efforts made by a prior generation to take wood of a less desirable appearance and make it appear to be something more luxurious by careful application of painting technique.

Office Door

Upper Door Detail

Lower Door Detail

This surprised me somewhat, mostly because our house is the only place I recall seeing it. Now, to be clear, I wouldn't have assumed our house was the only place it had ever been done, and it’s quite possible I’ve seen it elsewhere and simply not recognized it. Still it was a bit of a surprise to see it here, hundreds of miles away from home in a very different landscape.

If you’d like more information about Whaley House, there are a couple of links below.

Whaley House main website:

http://whaleyhouse.org/index.htm

Whaley House pics of faux graining:

http://www.sohosandiego.org/reflections/2003-4/whaley.htm

Northern Illinois History - Richer Still

As I’ve spent time following the links to historical references from and about people in our region in the era of my great-great-great grandparents I’m finding that I’m also discovering and re-discovering things about the region and it’s history. This has led me, in part, into a Wikipedia rabbit hole that has been surprisingly (and pleasantly) informative.

For some reason, the early history of the Midwest United States isn’t really a topic touched on in detail in high school or the survey courses in college. I suppose the reality is that, just as we midwesterners are considered to live in fly-over country ("Oh - you live in [fill-in-the-small-town-name-here] in Illinois? So, that’s basically Chicago, right?"), from an historical perspective we get passed over as well. In some ways this is odd, given our love of westerns, since the Midwest was "the west" in the early and mid-1800’s. I suppose the lack of picturesque buttes and dramatic, multi-colored stone columns make our prairie less enticing for movie makers, though the fertility of the region probably makes it better suited to be considered a garden of the gods...

Still, the region has a history rich in stories of pioneers, settlers, outlaws, Native Americans, and the inevitable conflicts they encounter. And as one digs, one begins to realize specifics about the surrounding land of which one was unaware. For example, I’ve long been aware that many of the place names in the region have Native American roots. But the degree of this, and the specificity of it, or to be more accurate, my ignorance of that specificity, is surprising to me.

For example, down the road a piece is a small town next to a state park, both of which are named Shabbona. I’ve always assumed, based on the spelling and the pronunciation, that this has a Native American derivation. However, beyond that, the name has only otherwise been of interest as a thing that I periodically try to convince my wife and child is pronounced "Sha-Bone-Uh". (You know, for my own general amusement; And, based upon their responses to my efforts, it is only for my amusement...).

But as I’ve been working through some of the accounts in these old books, I came across references to Chief Shabbona. The accounts are written from a white settler perspective, of course, and they often appear to have been written by people who were children during the era, or are the immediate children of those early settlers, but they reference Chief Shabbona stopping by their family homes or in their villages in a somewhat causal way that suggests they knew he had been important, but that he was clearly very much a real person in their memory. For example, in Recollections of Pioneers from Lee County, Illinois, 1893, Mrs. Ezra Berry writes the following in her account of A.V. Christiance, the second settler and first tavern owner in Melugin Grove:

The old Indian, Shabbona, used to stop there quite frequently and talk, and tell stories of the Black Hawk war and how he helped warn the settlers and they escaped the cruel scalping knife. (pg. 188)

The tavern, such as it was, would have been situated along the stage route between Galena and Chicago, and Chief Shabbona lived until 1859, so the account seems feasible. Certainly the description of the stories attributed to Shabbona would fit the things about which he might speak. Well, perhaps a small portion of the things about which he might speak. As the Wikipedia entry for him makes clear, this man was extremely experienced and accomplished for his day, having prominent roles in the War of 1812, in multiple Native American negotiations, in the Black Hawk war, and in general as a leader for his people. During the Black Hawk War it appears that he did, indeed as the old book recounts, warn the white settlers of Black Hawk’s approach as well as counseling Black Hawk against the conflict (which would turn out to be good advice not taken). It’s unsurprising, given all of that, that he’d turn out to have multiple places named for him. And I literally knew nothing about any of this, all of which makes me think my attempts at familial pronunciation humor may have received the appropriate reaction after all...

There are multiple other examples. In terms of the Wikipedia deep dive the curiosity about Shabbona leads to pages about Black Hawk) himself, the Blank Hawk War, and so on. I did realize that Abraham Lincoln served in the Black Hawk War, but I had no idea how many other recognizable major and minor names from our history were also associated. Andrew Jackson was president during this period (which fits with his larger, more generally problematic historical profile on the subject of treatment of Native Americans). William Henry Harrison, who would go on to be the shortest serving president of the United States, was the Territorial Governor. Zachary Taylor, also later a US president who’s primary distinction as such was that of having lived longer in office than Harrison (16 months for Taylor vs 31 days for Harrison), was a colonel in The Black Hawk War. Then 2nd Lieutenant and later Confederate President Jefferson Davis was assigned by Colonel Taylor to escort Black Hawk to prison. In fact, despite it being a brief conflict, The Black Hawk War was apparently quite the political stepping stone, as the Wikipedia entry also notes "At least seven future U.S. Senators took part, as did four future Illinois governors; future governors of Michigan, Nebraska, and the Wisconsin Territory...". Again - I had no idea.

And there is more still, which I will leave for another day. Succinctly put, it’s clear there is a rich and vibrant history to our little patch of prairie here in the Midwest that has been left off of our broader history teachings. Perhaps this is not vital for an understanding of the greater history of our nation, but it certainly makes for a much more colorful picture of this region.

Closed Concept

Back in November of 2016 House Beautiful published this article on reasons why we (the royal we, one supposes) should stop using open floor plans. And certainly, on many of the home improvement shows moving to an "open concept" is a primary rallying cry. I’d love to see someone do a tally count on the number of times the term "open concept" is uttered - with a Canadian accent, of course, on any given season of The Property Brothers (and I was pretty disappointed to find that no one has, as yet, done a supercut of the brothers saying this on YouTube...).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Certainly if one is looking for a dramatic change to a living space, taking out a wall will do it. For our little family, our prior home was 900-ish square foot, late 1940’s pre-fab home. We chose to take out the wall between the kitchen and the living room, which not only opened up an otherwise cramped space, but added much needed seating in the form of a breakfast bar. It also kept the person in the kitchen from feeling isolated from the rest of home, and allowed more room for multiple people to work in the same space.

The Homestead is a very different story from this, however. Our 1860’s era home was clearly built around the idea of a closed concept. Each and every room is separated from the other, and literally every entryway has a door that can be closed, and which houses a lock (though few of these are functional any longer). To me, this sort of thing is a reminder of how different our modern day lifestyles are compared to those of previous generations. When it’s just yourself and your spouse, and perhaps a child or two, all of whom are away from the home and each other for large chunks of each day, spending time in a large common area of the home, together, can be a much needed opportunity to reconnect.

But for our ancestors, particularly out here in farm country, the story was almost certainly different. The home was also the workplace, of course, and one’s home might well house multiple generations of the same family, as well as extended family and, depending upon one’s resources, possibly unrelated farm hands or other workers. Having a way to separate from others to be alone and have privacy was almost certainly a priority.

And while the lifestyles may be different, the need and relative value is something that one can see after living in it. While we enjoy our time together, it’s clear that each member of our little family enjoys having the option to retreat to a bit of personal space. Certainly our teenager appears to appreciate having a separate room, away from the undoubtedly invasive parental eye; and it allows for the pursuit of personal interests - reading, writing, etc - without intruding upon, or being intruded upon, by others.

Historical Detritus

Our Homestead is old, but it is not now, and has never been, a museum. Throughout the course of its existence it has either served as a home, or sat empty, unused. This applies to the house itself, as well as to the property and it’s outbuildings.

The old barn on the property is nearly as old as the house itself, and it appears to have originally been built as an animal barn, with stalls for horses that include feeding troughs and the like. As time has gone on, the need for this type of structure has waned, and it has been put to other purposes - grain storage, general storage, and, apparently, raccoon sanctuary.

In these transitions, however, no one has bothered to remove or relocate the remnants of the prior usages. Hanging in the barn have been old bits of horse tack - various leather strappings and mechanisms designed for hitching horses up to wagons and similar devices.

I’d like to say that I know this because I’ve seen such items hanging in the barn and, to a certain degree this is true. However, it turns out that we have another, far more eager group of historical archeologists living on the property:

Our dogs.

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Over the years that we have lived here they have pulled out of the barn more bits of animal tack than I can ever recall seeing in there myself - the experience of finding yet another such item laying in the yard is a little like watching a slow motion clown car performance.

While I’d like to think that they are interested in sharing these historical discoveries with the rest of the family, I should note that most of these items have leather strapping attached to them, and I suspect it is this which actually gains the interest of our canine contingent. Still, they also have buckles and other metal components as well, which inevitably show up elsewhere in the yard (a delightful thing to encounter with a lawn mower, let me tell you).

The supply of these items surely must end at some point, and then we will no longer have these educational encounters with history. Until then, it does lend a reminder of the fact that it really hasn’t been that long since people used animals, rather than tractors, to plow the fields and get their product to market.

Roadside History Lessons

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I suppose it’s a bit of a truism to say that, despite how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Still, new information insists on presenting itself, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

There is a site a few miles from home that I have ridden by many times, both since moving out here to the Homestead, and back when I lived here as a child. It’s a small plot of land at a very rural intersection that has always been mowed and tended, despite the appearance of there being virtually nothing there.

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Now, nothing is not an entirely accurate description. Part of what made me take notice of the site riding past it in our recent occupation is the fact that something is missing from it. When I was younger, I distinctly remember this site having a storm cellar on it. These, for the uninitiated, are concrete bunkers set low to the ground with the intention that one will get inside when high-wind storm events (think tornados) appear to be imminent. I remember this distinctly because I can remember that, as a child, I desperately wanted to go in to that storm cellar and I was, of course, also terrified to do so.

This is a distinct feeling of childhood, I think, and one that I can recall feeling over and over and over again. It usually involved choosing to do something that was likely inadvisable at best - walking across a railroad trellis, riding the rail system in the hay mount, climbing up the tower at the grain elevator late at night... (how did we not die doing these things?)

The storm cellar was dark, and indeterminately deep when viewed from the outside. And since one could not see in, one could only imagine what might be living inside - might we encounter snakes? Raccoons? A hibernating bear???

I did finally screw up enough resolve, as well as the foresight to bring along a flashlight. The outcome was... disappointing. There were no bears, no raccoons, no snakes. There was, in fact, nothing. Nothing but a muddy floor, and it was far less deep than it seemed it should be, suggesting it had probably been slowly filling in with mud flow over the years.

I always assumed this site was a former home site, with the house no longer present - either torn down or moved. Still, this did not explain why someone was continuing to maintain the site, nor why it also had what looked to me like the remnants of a bit of playground equipment set to one end.

Lilliputian Monkey Bars

So it was the recollection, and the notable absence, of the storm cellar that initially made me take notice of the site as I rode by it. I also noticed that there was a large stone there, with what appeared to be a plaque set in it. I was curious about this, but I’ll admit that I rode by it many times without stopping, always figuring that I would check on another ride, more concerned about getting my miles in.

This summer I did go ahead and stop to look, and thereby to learn the something new:

In honor of Immanuel Ev Lutheran Church

The Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church that I know - that I attended throughout my childhood - is a mile to the west of this site. I knew that it was old, and established by settlers to the area, including my ancestors - the stained glass windows at the church still display wording in German, the language those early settlers spoke. But I did not realize that the church was not always at its current site, that it had been first established further down the road. Nor did I realize when. Establishment in 1864 would set it only three years after our own Homestead was built, and place it at a time when the settlers were likely still carving their lives out of the prairie.

And the Lilliputian monkey bars? I wonder if this perhaps wasn’t a hitching bar...

I have no notion at the moment as to who decided to place the stone and the plaque at this site, it being well off the beaten path. However, I do very much appreciate that decision, opening up as it does yet another opportunity for discovery, and demonstrating that there are others about who truly care for the history of this place.

Going to School

As I am sure I've mentioned here before, the time that I've spent living in this house, and in researching family history, often finds me living in the mid-late 1800's in my head. While things are changing around us, there remain cues to help accentuate that. In addition to the homes and barns that continue to stand, if one looks closely one can still find the remnants of the old one-room schoolhouses.

Shaw Road Schoolhouse Schoolhouse on Shaw Road, West of West Brooklyn

These are harder to find than the old homes and barns, and one suspects this is largely because their period of use ended longer ago. Many, though not all, of the old homes (like ours) continue to serve as residences, modernized to the degree felt necessary by the occupants. And while many of the old barns are now tumbling down, this is a more recent phenomenon, brought on, one suspects, by more recent changes in the types of agriculture and volume of machinery used in modern farming. When I was young there were still small livestock operations in the area - one of them literally next door to the Homestead - but these are rare now, many pastures plowed to make more cropland. And when I was young much of the farm machinery would fit into an old barn, though this was already changing then. Morton "Machine" sheds, offering large open spaces for massive equipment had already begun to pop up, often built right next to the aging barns.

Unless someone found a new or different use for an old schoolhouse - as a shed, perhaps or, in the case of the old schoolhouse down the road from us, as a home - it seems they were more likely to be abandoned earlier.

This makes me sad People lived here when I was little, albeit without all of the vehicles in the yard


Shaws Schoolhouse 3/4 View Shaws Schoolhouse from the front These two shots are from the schoolhouse at Shaws, near the intersection with Inlet Road

These relics are not only rare, but are increasingly so. When I was little - perhaps 10 or 11 years of age - I remember coming across an old schoolhouse in a tumble-down state about three miles away from our home then, and about four from our current house. This was one of a series of ever-widening bicycle rides, and when I came across the building I did not know what it was at first. Until, with all the wisdom of a pre-adolescent, I went inside.

The floor had fallen through in many places, the earth beneath clearly visible. The walls were still standing, if at something less than right angles, but none of the windows had an unbroken pane of glass in them. All of this was, of course, fascinating to the younger me, but I knew what type of building I was in when I saw the large, broken chalkboard on the back wall.

It was probably in this discovery that I first really realized that the things around us in the countryside were old, and that people really had come before us, lived here in ways that weren't the same as we did now. I'd been aware that the buildings around me were older than I was, to be certain, but everything was older than I was. Living in homes with limestone or brick basements and what we'd now think of as antique furniture (but was then simply a remnant of previous inhabitants) was simply par for the course. It wasn't perhaps until this moment that I had a sense of the history of the place, a sense that history itself was something that actually happened around us rather than in a book to other people and in other places.

I went back to that old schoolhouse multiple times, taking a friend with me at least once. It was less of a play location - the missing sections of floor making that challenging - than a spot for mediation and reflection. When we moved back to the Homestead the location was one of the first destinations for my biking forays.

The building is gone now. It's difficult to sort out where in the landscape it ever was, so complete is its erasure. This is not surprising - in addition to being an attractive nuisance, it's state of disrepair would have made it otherwise useless, and it was occupying space that could have been otherwise cultivated. What is more surprising, I suppose, is that the other examples here still remain.


I suppose I should qualify - I have no records, no historical documentation to support my contention that these are old schoolhouses. For the building down the road, I have oral history. For the others, it's a architectural recognition. I could be mistaken, but the buildings certainly look the part.