You Never Know What You’ll Find in an Old House!

Last summer I moved into an old Craftsman-style house on Brushy Run in Onego, West Virginia.  It had been abandoned for over 11 years before I moved in but through the haze of cobwebs and drifts of dead leaves covering the floors, countertops, kitchen sink, and bathtub, I could see potential buried within.  Really.  Buried.

One of the upstairs bedrooms housed piles of old books on the floor.  Among these old volumes were old court ledgers; at one time, this old home had served as a courthouse for this side of North Mountain.  In the late 1800’s and most of the 1900’s, it was much easier for residents in the area to come here for civil hearings instead of traipsing across North Mountain to Franklin.  Nowadays, it’s a beautiful drive but a hundred years ago with horse and buggy – or just horse – the trip would’ve been a major undertaking.

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These are the old court ledgers found upstairs in a bedroom of the old house I moved into last summer.  That bottom volume is about 24″ tall and 16″ wide and exceedingly heavy!  One of the smaller two ledgers on top held the oldest entries – its first document was dated 1884.

I knew last summer that I needed to get these old ledgers to the Registrar’s Office in Franklin, but I couldn’t tote those enormous books by myself.  And those ledgers just weren’t my top priority – there was a lot of work that needed to be done just to get the lower level in livable condition.  But today I enlisted the help of a young friend, 13-year-old Jerrel, our pastor’s son.  He hefted those tomes like he was carrying a pile of paperbacks, carried them downstairs, and piled them on a purple plastic toboggan.  That tobogan – a $2.00 auction find – has made life much easier when hauling heavy objects from the house, across 150 feet of meadow, then across a footbridge to the road where the van is parked.  (The West Virginia Flood of 1985 had washed away the single-lane bridge that was once used to cross Brushy Run to get to this house – those flood waters also swept away two residents of this street and about 47 buildings.)

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This label is in the front cover of one of the large ledgers – there is nothing quite like antique graphics!

Once I arrived at the Pendleton County Courthouse, I headed directly to the Registrar’s Office and told the woman there that I’d brought the old ledgers – I’d spoken with her before about bringing them in.  She asked a young man who was there checking old surveying records if he would be so kind as to carry in the books for me.  He obliged, and ended up making two trips – one for the ledgers and one for a box full of court-related paperwork.

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This box is full of loose court documents – the envelope in the lower right corner contains receipts and is labeled, “Sites vs. Hoffman”.

I hadn’t been able to fully appreciate those ancient ledgers until today.  For the last year, I’d been unable to carry them downstairs where I could open them on a table and the upstairs is not exactly a clean spot where you’d want to spent any amount of time.  I’m in the process of tackling the rooms up there this summer – when I tell you that it’s been over a decade since a vacuum has touched the floors up there, you’ll have some idea of the second floor’s ambiance.  Or lack thereof.

So I took the time while I was at the Registrar’s Office to explore the ledgers.  I was able to check out the dates, read some of the entries, and take pictures.  This was like an archeological dig, only without all the dirt and sweat!

The oldest ledger dated from August 1884.  The front cover of this volume contains a series of handwritten entries in pencil and ink that created a “paper trail” regarding one ongoing complaint.  Apparently a farmer had “borrowed” a neighbor’s bull to, um, impregnate his cows.

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If there was ever an argument for including cursive handwriting in schools, reading primary source documents is it!  This page dates from 1885.

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The cursive in the entry below is just beautiful!  Look at the embellishment of the “F” in “Felony” and the loops of the upper case “H” and “Y”.

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Who would have ever considered “felony” to be a potential source of beauty?

I love the elegance of the old cursive script – the flourishes of the last letter in some words, the way a dollar sign was formed and the short but elegant underlining of the change in an amount of money.

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It was a bit unsettling to find that so many of the pages in these ledgers regard the failure to pay debts.

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“Never a lender nor a borrower be…”  (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

 

Many of the family names written in these ledgers are still common in Pendleton County – Dolly, Harper, Kisamore, Raines, Sites, Teter, Vance.

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These two small early ledgers were generic – glorified composition notebooks.  The “newer” ledgers (if one can consider 1900 “new”) were printed specifically for Pendleton County civil proceedings.  Compare the photo below to the one after it.

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This entry surprised me because of the large sum of bond money involved – in 1910, $1000 was a good chunk of change!

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Apparently, ginseng was as popular to harvest – and just as lucrative – back in 1901 as it is today.  Over one hundred years ago, mountain folks guarded their ‘seng with the same tenacity as they do in 2017.  In the entry below, Mr. Watts has been accused of “stealing, carrying away 6 lbs. of genseng [sic]…”  The value of the stolen ginseng is listed as $42.00 – $7.00 a pound.

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That got me wondering about the current market value of West Virginia ginseng.  The West Virginia Department of Commerce has an interesting article about this year’s ginseng harvest, which starts September 1.  Last year, according to the WV Department of Commerce, ginseng sold for an average of $410.00 per pound.  That was an AVERAGE price!

Now, before you all get ready to scour the forest for ginseng this fall, the article reminds potential “sengers” that it takes about 300 roots to make one pound.  And those little plants seem to flourish on the most inhospitable slopes of these mountains – slopes on which goats would be far more comfortable than people.  Digging ramps is easy compared to digging ‘seng.

The article states that “…Robin Black, who has worked with the Division of Forestry’s (DOF) ginseng program for more than 20 years [is] not worried about ginseng digging ever ceasing…”

“Ginseng digging is a time-honored tradition, usually passed down from generation to generation. I don’t believe it will ever fade away,” Black said. “In fact, in many areas of West Virginia, digging ginseng provides a second or third income for many families especially during tough economic times. Ginseng digging is a great way for families to get out into the forest together, learn about the importance of sustaining a native species and make some extra money.”  Robin Black, WV Division of Forestry

 

 

 

No wonder Mr. Watts was taken to court!  Six pounds of ginseng at 300 roots per pound equals 1800 roots of ginseng – that is a lot of digging, a lot of work!

Another frequent misdemeanor recorded in the old ledgers was “unlawful fishing”.

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The unlawful fishing complaint recorded below was heard by J. F. Raines.  It was a Raines who built the home I’m currently living in.

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“Mouth of Seneca” – written in the entry below – was the old name for the area now known as Seneca Rocks.

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This afternoon, I may have spent 45 minutes at the most looking through these court documents, but in just a short time, I feel I learned quite a bit about the history of the area I live in.  It’s definitely whet my appetite for further research!

“Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this [Civil War] as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged.”
Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day 2016

Like some of you, I am separated from my mom by many miles; one does not simply hop in the car and drive from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia to Copper Harbor, Michigan on a whim.  And when one is prone to falling asleep at the wheel as I am, driving is not an option at all.

So it’s been many years since I last saw Mom.  She and her youngest sister drove to Northern Virginia for Rebecca’s high school graduation in 2006.  That’s the last time I visited with her.  In person, that is.

But I visit with Mom each day, though she may not realize it.  When I sit with a cup of tea to write a letter or type a new blog post, it’s as if we’re having a discussion.  I can imagine her expressions as she reads my sentences, see her nod or chuckle when reading about something funny in my stories.

I spend a lot of time with Mom in my kitchen.  It’s her tried-and-true recipes that I turn to most – or those of her mother.  Right now, I have some cooled, hydrated raisins that will become Puffed Raisin Cookies within the hour.  I cherish those old recipes with her handwriting and her mother’s handwriting.  Holding my measuring spoons or leveling a measuring cup full of shortening takes me back to where I first learned those skills.

It was Mom’s kitchen where I first learned the delightful pleasure of sampling raw chocolate chip cookie dough.  Now, I know about the dangers involved in consuming raw eggs in cookie  dough – but I’m 58, still enjoying chocolate chip cookie dough, and I haven’t died from eating it yet.  Sue, my sister, is still alive and kicking and eating it, too.  But if I did happen to kick the bucket while munching a spoonful of cookie dough, ah, what a way to go!

Mom used to give one of the cookie dough-covered beaters of her Sunbeam Mix Master to my sister, Sue, and the other to me.  Scrumptious!  When our brother, Mike, arrived on the scene, it became a bit more difficult to be fair when sampling the dough!  Just how does one divide up two beaters among three kids?  Spoons!

At Christmas, Mom used to let us kids decorate most of the cut-out cookies, but she preferred to save the trees for herself.  First, she’d smooth on a perfect layer of pale green frosting.  Then, she’d pinch a bit of green decorator sugar between her fingers and create a garland on the tree in sugar.  Multi-colored sprinkles became the lights, a cinnamon candy adorned the top of the tree as its star, and once in a while, she’d add chocolate jimmies for the trunk.  When I make Christmas cookies, I still decorate the trees like Mom does.  It’s as if she is right there in the kitchen with me!

I remember standing in Mom’s kitchen, learning to memorize a short verse for my Brownie Girl Scout investiture ceremony.  “Twist me and turn me, and show me the elf; I look in the water and see – myself!”  Even at that age, Mom made sure I projected my voice and spoke clearly.  And when I was a Brownie leader, teaching our little troop how to conduct a flag ceremony, it was like Mom was teaching the girls.  “Good – speak up nice and loud.  Speak slowly – when we’re nervous, we have a tendency to speak quickly.  So just remember to slow down and you’ll do fine!”

Mom had a special poem that she memorized for school back in the 1940’s.  “The Christmas Dolly” became a tradition in our household, too.  Mom made sure her own daughters memorized this beloved poem and even passed it down to her grandchildren.  “I’m a poor, sad Christmas dolly, battered and oh, so forlorn!  You’d never guess by my looks I was new just last Christmas morn!  One year ago, I was handsome – bright eyes and beautiful curls; rosy cheeks and silken lashes, and teeth that shown like little white pearls!”  (And Mom, I haven’t looked at a copy of that poem in I don’t know how long – I bet you’re finishing it for me right now!)

Even my writing has its roots anchored in the way Mom helped me prepare applications for Girl Scout Wider Opportunities (“Dig! Mankind” in Wyoming in 1972 and “Traces Through Time in Utah the following year).  Rough drafts were written in pencil on notebook paper, corrections made, edits done until it was deemed worthy enough of the real application form.  The same was true of job applications (life guard, Girl Scout camp counselor) and my sole college application, Michigan State University.  Just a few days ago, Mom asked about any permissions I might need to use some of the photographs in my blog posts.  Still on the job!

I like to open the door of this little trailer first thing in the morning and greet the cattle with, “Good morning, world!”  I get that from Mom.  When driving in the car, I’ll turn off the air conditioner and roll down the windows to get – as Mom puts it – “real air”.

When we used to travel, Mom always made sure we had plenty of AAA literature and maps.  As we were about to enter a new town or visit a landmark, it became tradition for Mom to announce, “A reading… from… The Book!” “The Book” was the appropriate AAA Guidebook; Mom kept us in the know about all the spots we were traveling through.  I did that with my own family.

This afternoon, I picked up an old True Temper Flint Edge Kelly Works two-sided felling axe for $1.00.  Right now, it’s soaking in vinegar – all 10 inches of it – because I (like my mom) love to learn about the history of old rusty stuff.  I have old handmade square nails from a barn on my desk – more rusty old stuff.  Mom surely approves!

And tomorrow, I hope to get to the post office in time to mail a box of items I’ve collected just to share with her – tiny little pine cones from a hemlock tree, a beautiful feather from a ruffed grouse, two paper ice cream cone wrappers that I know she’ll love – American flags.  One time, a snowy owl landed on Mom and Dad’s dock in Copper Harbor.  She sent one of its feathers to our family, wrote to tell us how to hold it and drag it quickly through the air – it made no sound.  That owl was a very silent predator.  On one of her visits, Mom brought snow from the Upper Peninsula, thoroughly delighting her grandchildren who made snowballs with it that summer!  In 1976, I dubbed Mom “Bicentennial Bess” because of her propensity for wearing red, white, and blue throughout the year and taking us to any and all Bicentennial exhibits near Detroit.  I teased her, yes, but I loved it all.  And I’ve shared her abiding love of history with my own children and the students I’ve taught over the years.  So Mom’s even been with me in my classroom!

Mom has a very large collection of rug beaters hanging in her laundry room; I have just one rug beater, hanging on the wall of my laundry area, but I think of her each time I see it.  We share a fondness for quilts, too.  And real maple syrup.  Mom attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, where I must assume only real, 100% Vermont maple syrup was featured at pancake breakfasts.  To this day, I just can’t enjoy homemade buttermilk pancakes unless they’re topped with real maple syrup.  Thank goodness West Virginia is a maple producing hotspot – my local favorite is Dry Fork Maple Works in nearby Randolph County.  I bought a quart of his delicious syrup for $16.00 – then phoned him to say I would’ve paid more for it!  It’s still $16.00, still delicious – and even Mom approves of his syrup.  That is high praise!

So, although Mom hasn’t been to West Virginia in person, and I haven’t been to Copper Harbor, Michigan in years, we still visit through letters, emails, blog posts, and occasional boxes of “stuff”.  And Mom’s with me everywhere I am.  She’s a part of me.  I can hear her voice without needing a phone – “Hershey Bar!”

That’s another story.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you to bits!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antique Noritake and Vintage Etched Crystal

Yes, you read the title correctly.  True, this is not the typical thing I write about, nor are china and crystal something one might expect to find in a single-wide, vintage 1972 trailer, at the bumpy end of a dirt farm road on what was once a pasture adjacent to an old, fallen-down barn.  When a person envisions “Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia,” images tend to be of a more outdoorsy theme – narrow waterfalls cascading over ledges of bedrock, old log cabins standing guard in a now-deserted meadow, fishermen casting for trout in the North Fork River.

Deerlodge and Etched Stemware

Pictured above is Noritake “Deerlodge” china, pink Depression glass sherbet and, from left to right in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” liquor cocktail, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial, and two unidentified etched crystal pieces, also Goodwill discoveries for 99 cents each!

Yet glass production is part of the Mountain State’s heritage.  Blenko, Fenton, Fostoria, Hazel-Atlas, Morgantown, Seneca Glass, and Weston Glass, are just a few of the companies that called West Virginia home.  Production skyrocketed in the state between 1900-1940.  As tastes in glass products changed, West Virginia’s glass companies kept up with their consumers’ demands.  Pressed glass, blown glass, colored glass, crystal, etched pieces all emerged from the state’s numerous factories.

China and pottery manufacturers made their home among the mountains as well.  Perhaps the most well-known company is the Homer Laughlin China Company, which relocated from one side of the Ohio River to the other, to Newell, West Virginia, around the turn of the twentieth century.  Here, the company was able to expand its operations to meet the growing demands of the market.  And after 1927, when Frederick Hurten Rhead was hired as design director, Homer Laughlin would need ALL those new facilities.  Rhead was responsible for designing Fiestaware, the company’s most prolific line of pottery.  During World War II, production lines were churning out pottery needed for the military.  But after the war ended, Fiesta’s consumer lines resumed and continued to grow in popularity; Fiestaware helped Homer Laughlin reach its peak production year in 1948.

Following the war, imported china began to encroach on the markets of U.S.-based companies.  It was difficult to compete with these china lines because they were priced so economically.  Of course, labor costs overseas were considerably lower compared to those of American products.  Many domestic china factories simply could not compete and were forced out of business.

But not Homer Laughlin!  Company directors saw what was happening in the industry and switched gears a bit.  They’d always had commercial lines of china which catered to motel, hotel, and restaurant industries.  Homer Laughlin decided to put increased emphasis in this area and ease off on the production of china for the home.  Their strategy worked and kept them afloat during very difficult times for less far-sighted companies.

However, the Fiestaware line was eventually phased out, stopping production of the colorful pieces completely in 1973.  But Fiesta lovers are a loyal and determined bunch!  (I hear cheers in the distance!)  Popular demand from fans of the china helped bring back the line in 1986; this time, the glazes used on the ware were lead-free.  This met with approval from environmentally-minded consumers as well as those with young children.  Folks with a taste for nostalgia and those who loved the clean, bright designs of the china were more than happy to add Homer Laughlin’s Fiestaware to their kitchens.

China was not the only thing adorned with Fiestaware’s Art Nouveau shape and crayon box colors.  Table linens, silverware, colanders, refrigerator magnets, napkin holders, picture frames, all sorts of items drew styling and colors from Fiesta.

When I was a girl, I loved eating at Grandma Powers’ home.  She had the original, lead-glaze Fiestaware (somehow, I survived meals in Medina) and it was always a much-anticipated surprise to see what combination of colors she’d use to set the breakfast or lunch table.  It was fun to have an ever-changing array of dishes – we didn’t have all those colors at home!  Grandma also had these sort of oddly-shaped glasses that seemed to perfectly complement the Fiesta. I remember the glasses having a curvy shape, wider at the base than at the top, a thick base, and fairly thin.  Like the Fiesta, the glasses were different colors, changing the tint of a glass of milk from blue to green to pink, depending on the hue of the glass.

About five years ago, I was slowly cruising the aisles of my favorite Northern Virginia Goodwill.  I’d do that several times a week, using it as a sort of physical therapy following my car accident.  It sure beat heading to a gym or therapist’s, which was out of the question for me, and the items on the shelves there were constantly changing.  I used to hang onto one of those small-scale grocery carts; they were light enough for me to push and maneuverable enough to make my way through the store with ease.  There was always something new to look at, always something really unusual to check out, occasionally an object that made me wonder why anyone would have purchased it to begin with, and when I needed to sit, there was always a couch or chair to rest upon.

On this particular day, I spied a familiar shape nestled among objects in the orange-colored section at Goodwill.  It was a Fiestaware “Tangerine” cup and saucer – 99 cents each!  Feeling nostalgic, I added it to my cart.  Then, it dawned on me that there were probably more cups and saucers, in different colors, hiding among other stuff.  So I checked out each section, delighted to add “Periwinkle Blue”, “Sea Mist Green”, and “Yellow” (a pale, creamy color) to the first cup and saucer.

Bringing that colorful Fiesta home was such a treat for my eyes.  It was as if Grandma was there, sharing a meal at my home.  The cheerful colors also helped lift my sagging spirits.  That began a pursuit of Fiesta china in other spots, too.  I eventually ended up with about 8 place settings of the pastel colors.  I loved using them.  So did my son.  And when I needed to downsize prior to moving, he asked if he could have the Fiesta.  I gladly gave my collection to him, thinking how the china would be a little taste of home, a bit of nostalgia, as he transferred wherever the military needed him.

I gave most of my Lenox “Holiday” china to my youngest daughter, who insisted I keep four settings for myself.  (So glad she did!)  I’d fallen for the classic pattern when I was just 15; Mom and Dad gave me my first “Holiday” cup and saucer when I turned 16.  I do love the “Holiday” but I am happy to know it will be put to good use in its new home!  However, I could not bear to part with a single piece of Grandma Powers’ antique Noritake and the memories that come with it.  I just love using that china and I do not save it for “special days”.   My three children used to take it out of the china hutch v-e-r-y carefully first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day and set the table with it.  Even the youngest member of the family knew how to handle the china.  He may have growled like a tiger at times (really, he did, it was embarrassing), but he was as gentle as a kitten with his great-grandma’s dishes!

Lenox Holiday and etched stemware, depression glass

 Pictured above are Lenox “Holiday”, green Depression glass sherbet, and in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial and liquor cocktail. 

Now, those dishes reside in a mahogany reproduction dining chest in the front room of our home.  I can – and do – access them frequently to use on the table in the kitchen.  There’s no dining room, no dining room table here.  But that won’t stop me from enjoying those dear old plates!  Sometimes, I’ll serve fruit and yogurt in pink Depression glass that goes nicely with the Noritake Deerlodge pattern.  My newest additions – 10 pieces of Tiffin etched crystal – look right at home with Grandma Powers’ china.  She would’ve approved!

Dining chest

This is my “treasure chest” – a mahogany reproduction dining chest.  Doesn’t it look like it’s an antique?  I just love it!  The barn print above it is by David Knowlton; prints of his paintings adorn the walls of our home.  Yes, that is a tapestry curtain over the front door; it’s very heavy and quite effective at keeping out drafts!  We hung its mate across the entrance to the hallway, in this same room.  Those drapes greatly improved our comfort last winter! Both stockings were made by a talented eBay seller from old “cutter” quilts. The gold-framed photograph near the lamp shows my maternal grandmother, Alma Ramming, on her wedding day in 1926.  The chair is from her home, but I’ll have to save its story for another time!

I’ve heard that people are increasingly reluctant to purchase china or glassware that needs to be hand washed. Such a shame!  Perhaps that’s why it’s been relatively painless to find some great bargains on antique china and crystal.  Grandma Ramming used to say, “Tea tastes better from a china cup.”  I quite agree.  Last fall, I found six pieces of Tiffin etched, optic crystal stemware in the “Byzantine” pattern at a Goodwill store.  I have loved etched crystal since I was a girl, when my grandmother would set her formal dining room table with pink-and-clear etched crystal.  Now I had no idea, when I spied it at Goodwill, who’d made the crystal I’d come across or what it might be worth. I just knew I loved it and I wanted to set my table with that etched crystal stemware and Grandma Powers’ old Noritake china! Fortunately, the asking price was something I could afford – 99 cents each. So I took home four cordials and two liquor cocktails, washed them up, and have loved and used them since. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, but eggnog – just about anything! – tastes better when I drink it from one of those gleaming pieces of stemware!  FarmerHoney gifted me with four juice glasses in the same pattern for Christmas, and I keep them nearby in the kitchen. It’s a little thing, a simple pleasure.  But to have juice from vintage crystal first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start the day!

Unlike contemporary trends, I do not find it a hassle to hand wash china or crystal. It gives me more time to enjoy each piece.  On the other hand, it IS a hassle hand washing everyday china (also Noritake). My kitchen attests to that fact at the moment!  (And no, I am not about to photograph my messy kitchen.  You’ll just have to take my word that it’s really, embarrassingly untidy!)  I had been doing just fine until we’d run out of dishwasher pods for our portable little dishwasher and well, it’s just amazing how quickly dishes pile up! 

Hmm…maybe I should simply bring the formal china and etched crystal into the kitchen and use them all the time. It might be a better way for me to keep the kitchen clean!

Dishwasher

(Audible sigh from author…)  Looking through these pictures has given me the inspiration needed to start tackling the state of my home!  This is our dishwasher, a purchase I resisted but one that FarmerHoney was smart enough to make anyway.  It holds everything we need to clean for over a single day’s use.  It’s designed to accommodate a lot of dishes in a small space.  There’s also a spot for water softener salt – we need that, we have well water.  This little dishwasher is so much quieter than any dishwasher I have ever used.  Typically, my hands dry out and my fingertips crack each winter from doing dishes – but this wonderful machine saved my hands this winter.  I love it!