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. 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...


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:


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:



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:


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:



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:


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:

Whaley House pics of faux graining:

Percy Wade

One of the ongoing joys of living in a family homestead is the gift it gives of allowing one to routinely walk in the footsteps of one’s ancestors. But this is only true for one side of family. The homestead is the product of my mother’s side of the family.

Getting a bead on my father’s ancestry is more challenging. For his part, my dad has been known to say that this is because his side of the family was made up of “gypsies and horse thieves”. There’s a bit of truth to this - family members on his side moved around quite a bit, and lived in the intensely rural north-central part of the state, sometimes bleeding across the Mississippi into Missouri and Iowa.

This means that, when the opportunity presents itself to get a better understanding I try to take it. Last weekend the weather and my time conspired to allow me to take a ride along the Hennepin Canal State Park Trail. While this would have been fun in and of itself, it offered some familial connection because my Great Grandfather Percy Wade worked as a Lock Tender on the Canal. Specifically, he worked at Lock 12, which was the target of my ride.

It starts to give me a feel for this man who was previously little more than an abstract idea for me. Between the trip to Lock 12 and available records, these are the things we know about this man:

Percy Leroy Wade was born in 1896 in Bureau County, and died in 1962, nearly a decade before I was born.

Percy was one of six or possibly 8 children - 3 girls and either 3 or 5 boys - born to George Washington Wade (these types of names were popular for the era - we also have at least one Benjamin Franklin in the family) and Sarah Amelia Ireland. I say "possibly" because lists two additional boys in his generation, both younger than Percy, who don’t otherwise appear on the census information from 1900 or 1910. The additional boys - Irvin Charles and James Monroe Wade (there’s another of those names) - have birthdates of 1905 and 1907 respectively, so they should be in the home on the 1910 census, but they don’t appear there:

1910 Census

1910 Census - close up

Now it is the case that the family does run down to the bottom of the page, but the following page is also available, and they don’t appear to continue there. It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the record keepers just decided it would be too confusing to have the remaining two kids continue on the next page and, given that they would have been about five and three years of age, just chose to drop them off. There are other errors or points of confusion in the census - in 1900 George’s wife is listed as "Carrie A", and in 1910 as “Sarah A". He could have remarried, one supposes, but both women have the same birthdate...

If Ancestry were correct, Percy would have been a middle child in the group. It seems more likely that he was the second youngest. Two of his sisters - Jessie and Nina - became teachers and frequently came up in the local papers due to one school function or the other. His parents were both born in Illinois, and appear to be first generation Illinoisans - though this is sketchy, as the birthplace of both of their parents is again, different between the 1900 and 1910 census’s. According to the 1900 census, George’s parents were born in Kentucky (father) and Maryland (mother), while Sarah’s (or "Carrie’s") were from Pennsylvania (father) and Ohio (mother). In 1910 George is consistent with the information about his father’s birthplace, but now his mother is from Iowa, while Sarah’s father is now from Illinois while her mother continues to hail from Ohio. Did they change what they reported 10 years later, or did a census taker make an error? There’s quite a difference between Maryland and Iowa, and as well between Illinois and Pennsylvania...

Percy’s father was a farmer and by 1910 one of his brothers, Harry, was also working as a farm laborer. Interesting, his oldest brother is listed as working as a telegraph repairman. Percy, at 14 years of age, hadn’t yet entered the work world in 1910.

When he was 21 years old, in 1917, Percy’s draft card says he was a tall man of "medium" build (the other options were "slender" and "stout"), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was living on Rural Route 2 in Tiskilwa, Illinois, and working as a farm laborer for John Albrecht. He was already married by then. It’s unclear from what I have at the moment whether he served in the military - the First World War persisted until 1918, but his draft card was filled out pretty late in the game - June of 1917. Also, he was claiming an exemption from the draft on the card, specifically due to "support of wife", so one suspects he may have managed to avoid service.

Percy’s Draft Card pg 1

Percy’s Draft Card pg 2

His first wife was Anna Amelia Tolene. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, though she appears to have been born in Illinois. Her parents spoke Swedish, according to the census, and one suspects she may have as well. Together they had two children - my Grandpa Glen, and Lorene Marie Eleanor Wade. Marie, which she appears to have gone by, died unfortunately young, just shy of her 12th birthday.

When he worked as a Lockman on the canal is unclear - in 1920 his is still indicated as a farm laborer, and by 1930 he is listed as a foreman at, I believe, the Zinc Plant in DePue - his job specifically says "Lithophone Plant", I think (it’s hard to read), and the Internet says Lithophone (or Lithopone) is a pigment used in Zinc, so that’s my extrapolation.

Given the history of the canal itself, it seems most likely he worked there at some point between 1920 and 1930. What is known, through family lore, is that he worked specifically at Lock 12. Picturing this originally I would have thought of this as a basic day job - travel from home to take a shift at the lock raising and lowering barges and boats through the lock, then travel back home. What I did not realize is that this was a far larger affair. The lockmen lived on the canal, with housing provided. They were responsible for operating the locks, maintaining and repairing the canal as needed, and had workshops and outbuildings to assist them in these tasks. In the winter they cut ice off of the canal to sell; this to help fund canal operations (somewhere we have family pictures of them hauling ice - understanding this role suggests that it’s Percy in those pictures). In short, it was as much a lifestyle as it was a job.

And it would have been a rustic lifestyle. While housing was provided, the homes had neither electricity nor running water. This wouldn't, perhaps, have been terribly unusual for the era - the region was, and remains, very rural. Percy’s son - my grandfather - was born in 1918, and his daughter in 1924. One can imagine family pressures ultimately driving the decision towards taking work that offers, say, the opportunity for indoor plumbing...

I mentioned that I had an opportunity to see Lock 12, riding out to it. The house and maintenance buildings are long since gone, and the site, accessed via trike on the towpath, feels very remote. It really gives a feel for the lifestyle that one would be embracing choosing this work.

At Lock 12 Arriving at Lock 12

Looking about it is clearly an isolated spot:

nothing but trees, grass, and water

Lock 12 is somewhat special in and of itself because it was the site of one of the nine aqueducts along the canal - huge concrete troughs that carried the canal water and traffic over rivers and streams in the area. In the case of Lock 12, it rose some 20 feet or so above Big Bureau Creek. Six of the aqueducts still remain, but Lock 12 is not one of them. Instead the trough was replaced with a piping system that runs under the creek and rises up back into the canal on the far side.

Bureau Creek below Bureau Creek below, with pilings likely from the old aqueduct

The canal ends here Canal is walled off above Bureau Creek...

big drain ...Goes down this drain...

water bubbling up ...and bubbles up on the other side.

Anna, Percy’s first wife, died in 1940 at the very young age of 42 years. Percy later remarried, and my father still refers at times to "Grandma Mattie" - Mattie Wade Lampkin.

Mattie survived him. Percy passed away in June of 1962, at 66 years of age. He is buried at Elm Lawn Cemetery in Princeton, Illinois, alongside both of his wives and his daughter.

Percy Wade

Anna and Lenore

Grandma Mattie

all together

First Spears of Spring

You know that spring really has sprung when the fruit trees start to bud, when the Cherry Tree flowers, and you can bring the first harvest of asparaguys.

The asparagus sprouted late this year, probably due to the chillier than typical weather for our region. The first batch is usually ready to go by the last week or so of April, but this year we are bringing them in towards the end of the first week of May. To be fair, a few of the stalks were past their prime, but this is pretty much always the case for us - it just grows too fast for us to catch every single one.

The patch we have is a legacy of our homestead - it was here when we moved in, left behind by my grandmother. This is a bonus and a benefit in and of itself, but when you research asparagus online, there are many words spent on just how hard it is to get a patch started, the care needed - it makes it clear just how lucky we are to have an existing, productive patch. The other benefit to Grandma’s hard work is the size - many of the spears we pull out are a half inch or larger in diameter at the base - these are not the little shoots you see in the grocery store.

We went with an "old" recipe for this first batch. We roasted them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I say "old" here because it’s a recipe we learned - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say borrowed - from a favorite restaurant. There used to be a little Italian restaurant called Cannova’s in Rockford, set in a converted house on Riverside Blvd just to the east side of the Rock River. It was gone long before we moved away from Rockford, but while it was there it was a place we very much enjoyed. They had a delightful fettuccini alfredo, and it was there I first discovered spaghetti aglio e olio - a dish I initially ordered simply because it was fun to say (ala Moons Over My Hammy ), but found that I very much enjoyed.

They also had the asparagus dish that I’m describing here, served as an appetizer, and we ordered it virtually every time we ate or ordered out from there. Ultimately, MLW reverse-engineered the recipe (a rare and delightful talent she has), and we continue to make it to this day. And we make it just as I described above: we roast them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese.

You see there are no proportions or measurements, nor cooking times. I can say that we set the oven at 400°, but sometimes we turn it up a bit. Otherwise, you put the asparaguys in the baking dish and you put the other ingredients over them in a volume that looks like enough of each item. Then you cook it until it is, you know, done. In essence, that means that the cheese has begun to brown a bit, and the asparagus is tender.

So that first batch is gone now, asparagus being the ephemeral spring treat that it is. Given its nature, though, we should have another batch in a day or two. Those will find a different fate, almost certainly. In fact, the emergence of the asparaguys makes me remember that it’s also time to clean up the grill...


Is it Spring?

It’s been weeks of oddball spring weather that briefly promises the season will begin, then, at the last second, pulls the ice cream cone of warmth away, shouts "psych!", and dumps an inch of snow on us. It’s the 22nd of April, and three days ago there was an inch of snow on the ground.

But this morning it’s already 53°, working it’s way up to a high somewhere in the low 60’s. And a look at the week ahead on the weather app suggests that it’s for real this time, tho that’s difficult to trust.

Could it be true?

While there is always some aspect of the feeling of final relief from the grips of winter when spring comes, the weirdness of this season makes that more acutely felt this year. There are things to be done that can only be done outside. Some of these include the usual stuff, like yard cleanup - the combined ice and wind of the winter always yield a fine supply of fallen branches and sticks that have to be gathered - to garden prep (the asparaguys need their patch cleaned out so they can grow freely). But there are also things that need to be done that don’t involve the yard and the house, but do involve being outside - for example, cleaning out the cars. In an unheated garage this is an activity easy to set aside when the temps are in the 30’s or 40’s.

So - I’m going to try to lean forward and lick this ice cream cone. I hope Mother Nature doesn’t pull it away this time...

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.

Historical References

I return periodically to conducting family research, and one of the more interesting parts of that is combing through historical documents trying to find some mention of an ancestor. Sometimes searches come up with nothing, and sometimes you find something good.

Today was an example of the latter.

Some time ago, on, I came across a piece of posted media about John Foulk. It was a short biography discussion his life before coming to Illinois as well as his time on the prairie. The title line at the top of the page indicates the book is called Past and Present of LaSalle County. This shows up in searches - in Google books, among other locations - but the version that shows up was published in 1877. A text search of that version does not find John Foulk, however. This is not surprising, given that the text refers to his "having continued farming operations until 1902" and notes that he has "now retired... having reached the age of eighty-four years". John Foulk was born in 1822, so this would put the manuscript right around 1906 - nearly 30 years after the version available online.

Still, while I could not find the book I was looking for (I suspect this may actually require a trip to the library - you know, that physical location where they keep the dead tree versions of books), I did come across an interesting resource:

Digital Research Library of Illinois History provides a list of history references for each county in the state. And for fun, it also lists counties, like Marquette, which have since been abolished. There are four references for LaSalle County, and six for Lee. These are all vintage references - the newest in this list is from 1918. But this is the very sort of perspective one is looking for when it comes to this sort of research.

One does find that the editors of these tomes feels no compunction against reprinting material from earlier sources - there is word for word repetition in some, albeit with credit given to the original authors. Still, this is hardly surprising. When one is working with historical accounts this specific, there will only be a handful of potential sources to choose from. And one does find that later sources seem to have edited down longer accounts. For example, while I did not find the information I was looking for about John Foulk, I did find references to three ancestors from another part of the family - Smith H. "Prairie" Johnson, and his sons Benjamin Franklin and Truman Johnson. These included accounts of how Prairie got his nickname, as well as the fact that BF Johnson was the Commissioner of the Inlet Swamp Drainage District (undoubtedly quite an honor), and of the fact that Truman’s marriage to Mary Melugin was the third to occur in Viola Township.

This is not extensive information, but they are little details that help flesh out and humanize people from the past. I find, reading through them, that I begin to get a glimpse into the lives that they had.

The Digital Research Library provides more than a simple list. The links listed that I’ve followed thus far each have provided an apparently complete PDF of the book in question. Though the text is not searchable, opening these into a good PDF reader (I’d suggest something like PDF Expert) gives you a text you can visually search through fairly quickly and efficiently.

I’m looking forward to digging through more of the links on the page. And, I suppose, eventually working my way to the library to see if they have a slightly more updated copy of Past and Present of LaSalle County...

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.

Sinking In...

Our old house was built in 1861. The kitchen, however, is considerably newer...

...It was remodeled in the 1940’s.

To be fair, the appliances are not from the 1940’s - the oven and stove are not new, but are certainly of a more recent vintage than the cabinetry and countertop. The refrigerator is a newer item that we purchased when we moved in.

Shortly after we moved in we also installed a new faucet on the old double-basin stainless steel kitchen sink. This was done in an effort to somewhat modernize the equipment we were working with, and we chose a Moen faucet with a pull-out head that had stream and sprayer settings. Moen is a brand we’ve had good luck with in the past, but this particular faucet was a disappointment. The head piece began to leak at the bottom of base intermittently a couple of years into owning the faucet. At first this only happened when the screen filter inside of it needed to be cleaned out, but it ultimately persisted even when the filter was clean, and/or when it was replaced with a new one.

The bigger part of the problem was the process of discovering the faucet to be leaking. The design of the faucet has the base of the head sitting at a downward angle in the base of the faucet, and that base is open to the cabinet below. This meant that wet feet were often the first sign that it was leaking - wet because the water was now trickling out of the cabinet below the sink and onto the floor. Ultimately we ended up leaving the faucet head pulled out all of the time to avoid this problem:

bad faucet

This solution was not a triumph of ergonomic design, to say the least.

We had been reluctant to purchase new items for the kitchen one at a time, hoping instead to wait and do a larger kitchen remodel. That’s still in the long-term plans (1940’s, remember), but it was clear something needed to be done here. MLW and I headed out to Menards to seek out candidates for a new kitchen faucet and ended up coming across an all-in-one sink and faucet combination by Tuscany.

new sink?.jpg

We cook at home frequently, and MLW and I usually cook as a team. When one is doing this in our 1940’s kitchen, one quickly realizes that, like most kitchens of the era, it was designed around the idea that one person would be doing the meal preparation (that one person was specifically my Grandma Marie, who expertly navigated this kitchen despite its limitations). Though the kitchen is, by far, the single largest room in the house, the amount of counter space to work on is limited, and it typically leaves at least one person re-purposing the kitchen table for food preparation.

This setup offered a number of options that looked like would work well for us, and would address some of those space issues, including a colander for cleaning veggies, and a cutting board that sits in the basin. The included faucet was also very consistent with the types of designs we were looking at.

The measurements on the sink were a little bigger than the one it would be replacing, so we made the call to have an installer look at our setup before buying the kit. The folks from Triple Service were very helpful both for this, and when it came time to do the installation (I know how to install a sink in theory, but I’ve learned the value of letting an expert handle this sort of thing over the years - what would take a skilled installer a couple of hours would take me at least an entire weekend of sweating, swearing, and bloody knuckles; An entire weekend during which we would not have use of a kitchen sink...).

We were pleased with the result:

Happy new sink

We did make one modification from the kit. It came with a built-in soap dispenser, but we elected to keep our hard water drinking line. MLW picked up a small gooseneck faucet to go in that spot, which matches nicely with the main faucet.

We got a chance to try it all out last night with one of our Blue Apron deliveries. So far, it seems to be working out very nicely.

Unusual Visitor

The week of Valentine’s Day this year we had an unusual visitor in our neighborhood. The first time I saw it I wasn’t sure about what I was looking at. It was from a distance, out in the field a hundred yards or more from the car. Still, one it took off and flew away I was pretty sure...


Part of the uncertainty upon the first sighting is that we routinely see birds of prey - hawks and falcons - out here on the prairie. This wasn’t always so. Growing up out here in the 1970’s seeing a hawk was a rare and special event - I can vividly remember my mother’s excitement when she would point them out. I continue to share that excitement when I see them now, and I get to share it far more frequently than when I was young. Thanks, undoubtedly, to the efforts of the EPA restricting the use of DDT, one can now routinely see a hawk sitting atop a telephone pole or a fence post, or soaring overhead. It’s not uncommon to hear their shrieking calls when one is outside on a summer’s day.

This visitor looked to be different, both in size and with respect to coloration, but it was far in the distance that first day. The second sighting, however, a day or so later, was more clear. It was in the same area, again starting in the field. But then it took flight and flew ahead of me for nearly a mile, staying close to the road. At that point I was certain, but given the choice between enjoying the view or trying to stop and get a photo, I opted for the view.

MLW was with me in the car for the third sighting however, and the visitor cooperated by remaining on the ground long enough for her to get these pictures:

Yup - that’s an Eagle all right



Thing is, while we see hawks and falcons and vultures on a regular basis, I have never seen a bald eagle out here. Certainly I did not see them when I was younger, when they were on the endangered species list, but they’ve been absent for the nearly 10 years we’ve been back out here as well. Absent, that is, until two weeks ago.

According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), the open prairie really isn’t the bald eagle’s ideal habitat. Rather, they prefer large bodies of open water and old-growth trees. We certainly have creeks and ponds, but these are small and disparate, so it’s not surprising they aren’t regular visitors. This makes one wonder why this particular specimen was hanging out in our area (assuming, of course, that it was the same eagle at each sighting). Was it just passing through, or have the populations along major waterways finally grown enough that they are venturing out?

Hard to say. While we had three sightings within the week of Valentine’s day, it’s now been over a week since the last viewing. I’ll be keeping an eye out, though, hoping to catch it again.

Paths in the Snow

When we get a real snowfall it visually changes the landscape around us. Physical markers disappear, changes in the topography are erased. Driving down the road after a heavy, accumulating snowfall finds the demarcation between the edge of the road and the sharp drop off of the ditch now invisible, suggesting a wide, flat expanse from road to field that is present at no other time.

The sights of this moment will also change as the wind picks up, blowing the snow into drifting patterns that shift as the strength and direction of the wind ebbs and flows. In other times of year what we see varies with the season - the buds of spring, the verdant hues of summer, the colors of fall - but no other time of year is so dynamic as winter with real snow.

The weather changes the landscape, and then we follow behind and change it again to suit our needs. As we venture out, we cut our paths through the snow to allow our footfall, and the wheels of our vehicles easier transit. These, again, offer an ephemeral visual change seen only now, only in the moment.

For our human purpose, we may make large changes to the winter landscape - clearing out the driveway:

Large Paths

Or smaller ones to make moving about the yard easier:

small paths and Calamity Jane

But we humans aren’t the only ones who need to find the way through the snow. Here, Calamity Jane is content to use the path I’ve shoveled, but she has other places to be, other things to see, than I. For those purposes she - who patrols the property tirelessly - has forged her own trails:

CJ Trail

This is the type of path you get from a canine with six inch legs who is nonetheless not to be swayed from her self-appointed duties. And, other members of the canine contingent - who may not, themselves, be quite so motivated - do appreciate the benefit of her efforts:

Freyja, you lazy slug...

And all of these things are self-evident as you see them. But then, on occasion, you encounter other, less typical pathways or tracks through the snow:

Bouncy Marks

For perspective, it’s helpful to know that this shot is taken from an upstairs window, some 20’ above, and at least 20’ out from the closest marks. There is real space between each track - at least a foot on some cases, certainly more in others. This leaves one to wonder what exotic creature has ventured into the yard to take such strides...

And then one realizes: this is what the snow looks like after an Australian Shepard has bounded through like Pepe LePew chasing his true love (of the moment), refusing the indignity of simply barreling down the snow in front of her in favor of what must seem, at least in the moment, a far more elegant solution.

Old Pictures

One of the many upsides to doing genealogical research is having the opportunity to look through old family photos and get a glance - however fleeting - into the lives of ones ancestors. In the house itself we have a handful of pictures, and family members have allowed for the gathering of others.

While I enjoy them all, I was particularly impressed to find that my uncle, who is certainly our foremost family historian, had pictures of three pairs of my generation’s third-great (great-great-great) grandparents. This is delightful and surprising, as these are people born in the first half of the 1800’s or, in one case, late in the 1700’s. None of them were born in, or really anywhere near, their final settlements in Illinois.

Here are Smith H. "Prairie" Johnson and Ziba Johnson (née Tompkins):

Prairie and Ziba Johnson

Prairie has the distinction of being the earliest born of the bunch, in 1797 in Vermont. Ziba was several years younger than he, born in 1809 and hailing from New York. Both are buried in Fisk Cemetery.

Joel Compton and Nancy Compton (née Townsend):

Joel and Nancy Compton

Joel and Nancy were born in 1819 and 1824, respectively. He was from New Jersey and she from Pennsylvania, and my records indicate that they were married in Pennsylvania in 1842. They opened a general store and a town that became their namesake was founded around them. Both are buried in Melugin Grove Cemetery.

John Foulk and Martha Foulk (née Morrow):

John and Martha Foulk

Both born in 1822, John was born in Pennsylvania, while Martha hailed from Ohio. These folks are the builders of our old house, the people responsible for the living history around me each day. They are buried at Restland Cemetery in a family plot.

These photos give a glimpse into their lives, and give a reference for our modern day family. Photography would have been a new technology in their times, making the existence of these pictures all the more remarkable. Clearly, these moments were special occasions, and you can see in the shots that they’ve selected their finery, such as it was. Nancy Compton, in particular, is decked out in necklaces, ribbons, and earrings.

It’s interesting to consider as one looks through these and considers current day family members where the resemblances lie - who looks like a Compton, a Johnson, a Foulk, from days of old. Or does a given person perhaps more resemble one of the other third greats, for whom we may not have pictures? There are, of course, six of these per parent, 12 to consider in all...

Part of the long-term goal is to have these pictures and the known stories about these folk preserved in order to know them better myself, but also to allow for others to know them. Having this ability is a gift many are not given, whether due to poor family record keeping or, often, due to the unfortunate nature of how their ancestors arrived into our country. It seems appropriate to make of that gift what we can.

Edward’s Church

Edward and Erna lived In a house just down the road from our old house when I was growing up. Most of my memories of them were from when I was very young, but they are all fond. I remember that they had a three legged dog - my recollection is that it had been hit by a lawnmower (poor thing). My memory also records that Edward had a delightful speaking voice - a voice I can best describe as being reminiscent of Paul Lynde.

I had no idea at the time that Edward was my grandmother’s first cousin. It makes sense, of course - her brother, also Edward’s cousin, lived right across the road from Edward, and it’s clear that this was a family stretch of road. But I was frequently unaware of these relations as a child, coming to learn and appreciate them all the more as an adult.

I also came to learn that Edward was a painter. Not a painter of houses or fences and such, though I’m sure he was capable in that regard. Rather, he painted oil on canvas of things around him. One of those paintings hung in my grandmother’s house for the entirety of my recollection, and it is of the old church.

the old church in frame

I realize as I write this that I know very little about the painting beyond its original subject and the artist. For example, I do not know when it was painted, nor how old Edward was when he did so, nor where this fell in his artistic arc - e.g. is this an early work, or something that occurred later?

Assuming that he intended a realistic representation of the subject, some clues can be gathered from the painting itself when compared to current day (photo taken from the seat of my trike, so the vantage point is a little different):

Church photograph

Church painting close up

The differences here suggest some things about the era in which the painting was made. The difference in the roads stands out, of course. In all four directions out of the intersection the road is asphalt in current day (though two of those directions change to gravel after a short distance), while Edward portrayed either gravel or dirt roadways. The road signs are absent, of course, as is any sign of anything resembling a power line.

The fence in the foreground of the painting is gone now, though I remember it within my lifetime. Edward’s Church also does not have lightening rods atop the peak of the roof. You can see that he took pains to try to accurately represent the complex lines of the stained glass window.

Though part of it may be the differences in the days portrayed - Edward’s a bright, partly cloudy summer, mine a steely gray midwinter - as I look at the painting I find that I’d rather be in his picture than in mine much of the time. His is quiet, serene, while mine is harsh and cold. I can see that he is connected to the place and the time, and I find that I very much appreciate the window into that place and time that he has given.

Winter Warm-Up

As we enter the last third of January 2018 here at the Homestead we are presented with temperatures sitting decidedly above 30°(F). As I write this we have a current temperature of 38°, with a forecast high of 41° for the day. Tomorrow is promising temps in the low- to mid-50’s, and the coming week has highs ranging from the low 30’s to the high 40’s.


People are predictably very pleased about the warm-up, especially coming off of the cold snap of a couple of weeks ago. While, further north, sustained tempatures in the negative single digits are not unusual (and are frankly not all that unusual here), our modern amenities seem to ill-prepare us for the realities of winter at its harshest. As such, the warmer weather is greeted with joy by many.

I am not among them.

When the temperatures rise on the prairie in winter it is warmer, to be sure. But along with it comes several other, predictable effects that, to my mind, do not compare favorably to the features that accompany the sharp bite of the air on a true winter day.

It’s Ugly Out There

Warm winter days on the prairie are typically gloomy affairs. As can be seen on the weather report, above, along with the rise in temperatures comes fog and rain. And the fog, here, she ain’t just-a-kidding. Life in the country is one of isolation by choice, but the degree of that increases markedly as the white wall of cloud descends to ground level.

The view out my back stairwell window looks something like this most mornings:


This is the tableau that greets from the same window today:


Go back to the first picture and count the wind turbines you cannot see in the second picture. Some of them are more distant, of course, but one of them - the largest in the picture - is less than a half mile away. These things are huge, but the fog swallows them up as if they were never there.

As the temperatures rise the snow we were blessed with over the past couple of weeks retreats. It doesn’t go all at once, of course, but pulls back in patches. The braver, heartier, cleverer flakes which chose to fall on to shaded areas remain longer, holding out as best they can. This leaves them transformed, however - like Jeremiah Johnson walking out of the mountains at the end of the winter, they are hairier, more grizzled versions of their former selves.


The melting snow is part of the reason for the fog, of course, and the two conspire to concoct the final, perhaps most objectionable component of this warm winter weather trifecta:

The mud.

A week ago everything was covered in a lovely blanket of white. As it pulls back it reveals patches of brown and black soup lying in wait for an errant foot. And while all mud can be unpleasant, mid-winter mud has the additional special property of sitting on top of the frozen layer below. Instead of simply sinking in, the mud acts as a viscous lubricant on the slip-and-slide that your yard has now become.

As a special bonus, you will find that your dogs will appear to have made a special effort to step in each and every errant mud-bog that the yard offers, just before trying to crawl into your lap.

While you are slipping and sliding, and regretting the attention of your beloved pets, you are also becoming soaked to the bone because the ambient humidity level is nearly 100%. Single digit temperatures are cold, to be sure, but they aren’t generally wet. 35° and damp has a way of cutting through the skin that is differentially unpleasant from a cold day on its own.

A true, cold winter day has a way of inviting one outside - the bright blue skies, the shimmering blanket of snow. It’s days like today that keep me in, away, isolated.

Searl Ridge Cemetery


In the latter part of this past summer I had an opportunity to search out and find Searl Ridge Cemetery. This little site is tucked away in one of the more rural areas of the already very rural Bureau County here in Illinois. Many of the ancestors on my father’s side of the family lived in this area, and I was interested in this site in particular because it includes the gravesite of my great-great grandparents.

I often like to bike or trike to visit these graveyards, but Searl Ridge is a good 30+ miles from home. I may work up to that type of distance, but I’m not there yet, so when one of LB’s Cross Country meets took us into Bureau County I took the opportunity to find it. Like many of these older cemeteries, it’s clear that the site has been cared for. Still, the degree of this declines over time, likely as descendants move out past the generations that actively remember those interned within. As a testament to this, the iron fence and sign have on it a plaque indicating it was "donated by M.R. Clark [and] R.L. Clark, 1994". This seems, to a person from my era, like recent attention paid to the site by benefactors until one realizes that 1994 was 23 years ago...

There are other indications of change as well. As is often the case, I found this site through This site often includes pictures not just of gravestones, but also of the entranceway to the graveyard itself, which can be helpful when things are hidden away behind trees and the like. The black fence and sign here are unmistakable, but to the right of the sign there is a building foundation with charred remnants of its former occupant.

Charred Remnants

I’d saved the entranceway photo from findagrave back when I first came across the location. It’s unclear when that photo was taken, but the building was still present at that time.


When you enter the cemetery you see that someone cared about this site not just enough to put up a fence, but also to make an informational sign:

Searl Ridge Sing

The sign was put up as part of a restoration project that appears to have started back in 2007, according to this article from BCRNews. The building that is gone was The Ridge Chapel. The cemetery, the chapel, as well as some history about the buildings, are touched on here by Avra Valley John on his site Off the Beaten Path in Illinois. The article, which is from March of 2017, refers to the chapel as being present, which suggests it burned relatively recently. A comment on his site suggests it was in very poor repair so it’s possible the fire was intentional, though vandalism also rears its ugly head out in rural areas.

Also referred to in these sources is the old schoolhouse, which is still there:


Avra Valley John indicates the structure, built in 1875, is the third school built on the site. The first was a log cabin which hosted the first classes in 1837. This was replaced by another building in 1860, and then the current building, pictured, built in 1875. The history on the sign indicates that it continued to be used as a school until 1947.

The graveyard itself is like many in the region, with stones ranging in age from the mid-1800s to the late 1970’s (at least), in varying states of repair:



Several of the "stones" weren’t stone at all, but appeared to be a cast metal, and are hollow:

cast iron?

This was new to me, and it’s difficult to tell just by looking, but knock on them and they ring out. Wikipedia suggests that these could be cast iron, or sand-cast zinc, which were popular for the era. In many cases the "engravings" and information appear to have withstood the ravages of time better than their stone counterparts.

George Washington and Sarah Amelia (Ireland) Wade are the great-great-grandparents I was here to find, and their site was present:

George Washington Wade and Sarah Amelia Ireland Wade

I know very little about these folks, aside from some demographic information. They had eight children together, including my great grandfather, Percy.

George and Sarah Amelia Descendants

Two of their daughters - Jessie Pearl and Nina Elsie - worked as school teachers in the area (they show up frequently in newspaper archives). Percy himself was a lock tender on the I&M Canal.

There are only these Wades in the cemetery, but there are several Irelands. There are also Searls, as one might expect, and at least some (if not all) of these are family to Sarah Amelia. Included among them are her great-grandfather, Timothy Searl, and her parents, Jonathan Ireland and Elizabeth Catherine. The broken gravestone, above, is possibly for Elizabeth - it reads "Eliza, wife of J. Ireland". If so, it was later replaced with this, much larger stone:

Elizabeth C Ireland

It appears she also has two brothers here. Wilber, buried with his wife Mary:

Wilber G and Mary A Ireland

And her brother Frank, is also here:

Frank L Ireland

The inscription on the stone reads "Uncle". This would suggest that he never married.

It seems likely, given the nature of these sites, that several of the other Searls and Irelands are also relations. I realize, as I look through my family tree and try to pair pictures with people, that I will need to take another trip to Searl Ridge Cemetery. I was focused primarily on finding George and Amelia’s grave. I was successful in this, but i missed out on many others. I’ll need to take more time on another day