Sunday, October 15, 2017

The King Block, downtown Toledo

Throwing Trash Out the Window, Toledo, Ohio, 1865                                

          One of the best features of modern society is sanitation workers, or garbagemen.  In our prepackaged, throwaway world, the refuse collectors can barely keep ahead of the junk we throw out.  In the past, our consumer habits were different.  We did not throw so much away, partly because there was no place to throw it.  It could be burned, buried, or thrown into the nearest body of water.  All of these methods had their drawbacks.  Here is the story of one Toledo resident, who had both a sanitation problem and a neighbor problem.

          In the fall of 1865, L. Henry Bodman was mad enough to write to his attorney.  He worked at the King Block commercial building at Summit Street and Madison.  The King Block was new, built only two years earlier in 1863.   But he took time to write to lawyer F. Blake Dodge about a problem he was having with one of his neighbors at home six blocks away.  We don’t know what Mr. Bodman did for a living, but let him describe the situation:
One of the occupants of the house on Erie St. adjoining the property I rent . . . . has been in the habit for several weeks of throwing the refuse matter of her kitchen (dish water, egg shells & rotten eggs, rotten potatoes, cabbage leaves, etc. etc.) out of a window over looking my lot . . . . the name of the offending party is Mrs. Ferguson. . . .

          It appears that Mrs. Ferguson rented the upper rooms of a house occupied by a family named Lurgant, who lived on the ground floor.  A talk with Mrs. Lurgant had accomplished little; she had complained to Ms. Ferguson, who continued flinging garbage out the window:
Since that time, the offence having been almost daily repeated, I have twice forbidden Mrs. F. to throw her slops on my premises, but she seems determined to continue the practice.  To day I told her if she did it again I would prosecute her on the first repetition…..

Clearly, Mr. Bodman was fighting mad.  The man he turned to was one Frederick Blake Dodge (1838-1893).  Dodge was, perhaps, an unusual choice.  An 1860 graduate of Dartmouth College, he was a teacher in Toledo until the Civil War began.  He then served with the Adjutant General’s office in 1862-63, which interrupted legal studies dating back to 1857.  He was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1863, then practiced law in Toledo for only two years before going back east.  For unknown reasons, he was back in Toledo by 1880, selling fire insurance.  He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

          Unfortunately, while we know the situation, we do not know the outcome.  Mr. Bodman finished his appeal to Attorney Dodge by stating:
I am determined to put a stop this trespass, “peacably if I can, forcibly if I must.”
There is no record of a lawsuit, or that it came down to a lawsuit.  For all we know, Mrs. Ferguson continued to throw refuse out the window on Erie Street.  And while more than 150 years have passed, if I ever chance to walk long Erie, I will carry an umbrella.  You never know what might come flying from a window!

[The letter from Mr. Bodman is in the Toledo Lucas County Public Library.  I also consulted William D. Speck, Toledo: A History in Architecture 1835-1890 (2002).]

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some thoughts on Donald Trump             

We Who Prayed and Wept       
We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.
                                    -Wendell Berry

            This poem by Wendell Berry has always been a favorite of mine.  Not just because I am a huge fan of Mr. Berry’s work, but because the poem is prophetic.  At least in this winter of Donald Trump, it seems prophetic.
            I hope anyone who reads this does not see it as a purely political piece.  On the other hand, I will make no effort to hide my dislike of Mr. Trump’s plans for the nation.  Especially when it comes to my favorite cause, the environment.  Mr. Trump rejects the scientists and humanitarians who are alarmed by the trend toward the heat-up of the planet.  It is an old trick of his – disregard the science if it leads to results incompatible with his worldview.  In the 1930s, they called it “The Big Lie,” the idea that no matter how carefully proven a fact is, a falsehood repeated often enough becomes “true,” and thus trumps (excuse the pun) the truth.  For reference, think back over how much argument there has been over how real, or malleable, the truth is.
            If his cabinet nominations are any indication, Mr. Trump wishes to stop the efforts of many to stand against the coming climate change.  The government’s efforts, feeble enough, would all be rolled back or eliminated.  No, Mr. Trump, climate change is not a myth, no matter how much you deny that it is coming.  In fact, it is already here.
            Did readers experience the eerie warmth of this last week, starting February 19, 2017?  Did people notice that maple buds reddened, that forsythia bloomed, that by Friday the temperature was nearly 80?  In Ohio, in February, that is scary.  As I asked a number of people who were celebrating this natural disaster, if it is 35 degrees above normal in February, what will July look like?  Perhaps this is a side issue, but I would ask my fellow persons, especially those of us over the age of fifty:  is not the earth quite obviously warmer than it was in our childhood?  I am sure it varies from place to place and from year to year, but from my perspective, summers are warmer, and winters are milder.  The humidity is higher; I am even more certain of that.  In some ways, I do not even care whether humans are causing global warming.  The question for all of us, our leaders especially, is what is to be done?
            Mr. Trump’s answer appears to be “nothing.”  At a time when many knowledgeable people call for a steady reduction in carbon emissions, Mr. Trump and some of his cabinet picks want to go in the other direction.  Even sadder, is that so many people, especially the rural people with whom I grew up, agree with Mr. Trump.  They seem to agree with, or have been hoodwinked by, Mr. Trump’s agenda and praise for big oil, big industry, and his inhuman efforts to stop refugees and immigrants.  Mr. Trump is pitting rural Americans versus urban Americans.  He ignores, or is ignorant of, the fact that we were once the United States.  It may be too early to say, but more and more our country looks like it will break into a loose federation of city states, facing a hostile hinterland.
            As of this writing, the outlook is bleak for those who share my concern.  This, perhaps, is the time to “pray and weep,” as we count votes in Congress and opinions for and against.  I am not a climate scientist.  But sooner or later – I think sooner – we are going to have to endure a horrifically hot spell.  So hot that people, rural and urban, are finally going to understand.  The sad fact is that by then it will be too late to do much of anything.
            And so, we flinch.  I prayed that Donald Trump would not be elected, but he was.  My theological understanding is not advanced enough to make any judgments on a prayer not answered.  But it has occurred to me that Mr. Trump may be God’s “necessity.”  Certainly not the way he thought, perhaps; not a hero, but a “last straw,” a dark Lucifer-like tempter who will push mankind over the brink.
              I do not believe that Donald Trump is the Devil.  I very much do believe that we “have failed Thy grace.”  We wanted to live like gods; we would have been better off living as pastoralists.  Since the Industrial Revolution, we have committed the sin of Eden again, this time using fossil fuel to make ourselves like God.  Many will not approve of my pseudo-religious comparisons.  But within the context of Mr. Berry’s poem, Donald Trump may fit the role of facilitator. 
Life is a wondrous thing.  I hope it will all come out right.  But I certainly flinched when he was elected.  I think a good many people did as well.  Will it be enough?

P.S.  You may take these arguments (hyperbole?) in whatever way you like; literal, figurative, or poetic.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Free Grease: Arbuckle-Ryan Company

Free Grease:  Arbuckle-Ryan Company                                                    by Alan Borer

            On September 29, 2005, an old warehouse at the corner of Ontario and Monroe was destroyed by fire.  Believed to be the work of an arsonist, the building was empty and facing foreclosure.  The building had housed among other things, a paint store and Ohio Unemployment offices.  But for many years, the building was the headquarters of a farm machine and implement dealer, Arbuckle-Ryan Company.
Arbuckle-Ryan had a long history in Toledo.  The company was founded in 1871 by John M. Arbuckle and Charles Ryan.  At first it sold mainly general hardware and garden seeds.    Gradually, the company grew into an agricultural equipment dealer, specializing in kerosene-fueled threshing machines and farm implements.  At its height, Arbuckle-Ryan was a notable supplier of power sources.  The company’s “automatic department” built “complete power plants” for large customers such as the Owens Bottle Machine Company.

The company built the aforementioned four story warehouse in 1887.  Arbuckle-Ryan did not manufacture farm equipment; they were a distributor, of in the business lingo of the time, a “jobber.”  They participated frequently in trade shows and salesmanship.  For example, in 1916 the company “were exhibitors at the big tractor demonstration at the Bannister farm a mile and a half northeast of Wauseon, O.” [Farm Power, June 27, 1916]  In 1922, at the National Farmer’s Exposition, held in Toledo, a company representative was in charge of the division which showcased threshing equipment [Farm Implement News, November 9, 1922]  Another ad from 1922 listed some of the equipment offered by Arbuckle-Ryan:  “…tractors, steam engines, threshers, silo presses, potato diggers, and boilers.” [Agrimotor, July 15, 1922]

            Arbuckle-Ryan had branch offices in Hillsdale, Michigan, and Goshen, Indiana.  Traveling salesmen were used to expand the company’s reach.  The company was well thought of by customers.  In 1906, a Michigan reader of the trade journal American Thresherman wrote:  “We buy our machinery of Arbuckle Ryan & Co., of Toledo, Ohio, who are gentlemen to deal with.”  [American Thresherman, October 1906]   
            The company also tried promotions.  One offered ten pounds of “cup grease” (!)  free to any customer ordering “oils and supplies.”  If you truly needed grease, you could qualify for”Fill in the card below; send in with supply order and we will include a sample 1 lb tin of Arno Graphite Grease Free.” 
Arbuckle- Ryan was in business until 1928.  By then the company had moved to 1152 E. Broadway.  It was a difficult time to be in the farm supply business.  The Great Depression started in 1929 in the cities, but earlier on the farm.  Changing technology on the farm and a drop in on-farm population also helped bring an end to Arbuckle-Ryan.

Sawhorses in Cleveland and the Land of Oz

[Upper: L. Frank Baum's Sawhorse / Lower: Sturtevant Sawhorse]

 Sawhorses in Cleveland and the Land of Oz

“This thing resembles a real horse more than I imagined,” said Tip, trying to explain.  “But a real horse is alive, and trots and prances and eats oats, while this is nothing more than a dead horse, made of woods, and used to saw logs upon.”

“If it were alive, wouldn’t it trot, and prance, and eat oats?” inquired the Pumpkinhead.

“It would trot and prance, perhaps; but it wouldn’t eat oats,” replied the boy, laughing at the idea.  And of course it can’t ever be alive, because it is made of wood.”  [L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz (Chicago, 1904), p. 36.]

I do not know if children still read the books that followed L. Frank Baum’s 1900 masterpiece The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Growing up in the early 1970s, I considered it quite a news flash that the story did not end where the 1939 movie did.  When I finally got my hands on the sequel one of the many oddball characters it contained was a live, talking Sawhorse [Figure 1].  Almost fifty years later, I cherish the memories of Baum’s Oz.  So when I saw a cover [Figure 2] with a company logo consisting of a man riding a live sawhorse, I could not help but purchase it.

Advertising The Sturtevant Lumber Company, the cover is addressed to Chagrin Falls.  For some background on the company , the following quotes should help:

Isaac Sturtevant (1816-1876) moved to Cleveland from Vermont. He married fellow New England native Harriet Bell in Cuyahoga County in 1840. After Harriet's 1855 death, Isaac married Amarilla M. Moffitt (also on some records as Amanda M. Moffet) in Trumbull County, Ohio, in 1856. Isaac married a third time in 1862 to Hortense L. Kent, who survived him; they married in Geauga County, Ohio. Harriet and Hortense are also buried at Lake View, but Amarilla's burial location remains unknown to date.

Isaac started out working as a joiner and then builder, then going into business with Cyril Sturtevant as Sturtevant Brothers, a planing company. In 1857 Cyril retired from the business, dissolving the partnership, and Isaac continued it as Sturtevant & Son Planing Company, where his son Carlos also worked. They sold lumber and items made from lumber (such as doors) to businesses and people in the Cleveland area, and they were very successful. By the time Isaac died, the company was known as Sturtevant & Co. and Isaac's son-in-law Charles Burnett worked there as well. 

At the time the cover was used, the company was run by one Charles C. Burnett (1843-1898).  [Figure 3]“In the spring of 1869 he came to Cleveland, and engaged in the lumber business . . . The company of which he is now president is one of the largest of its kind in the State, employing three hundred men. . . . The name given to the company was in honor of Isaac Sturtevant, the pioneer lumberman of Cleveland, who started in Cleveland in 1846, and whose estimable daughter Adelia M., was married to Mr. Burnett, February 14, 1867.”  [The Biographical Cyclop√¶dia and Portrait Gallery with an Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, 1887), p. 642.]

The 1876 Cleveland city directory listed the business as “I. Sturtevant & Co.” and gave a complicated address:  “Central War, cor[ner] of Stone’s Levee, and planning mill, Michigan, sw. cor. Seneca.”
I am not sure how long the company used the sawhorse logo.  A quick search on Google reveled a few bits and pieces, including a paperweight and a photograph[Figure 4];
For your consideration is this early paperweight advertising The Sturtevant Lumber Company, Cleveland, O.  There is a comical image of a man riding a horse made of various pieces of lumber.  One end is marked Established 1852, the other end is marked Incorporated 1882. “

Likely here is more information on Sturdevant Lumber in various Cleveland are collections and institutions.  As a final note, I see that my sawhorse cover is addressed to member of the Burnett family.  The cover might have contained correspondence from Charles C. Burnett himself.  That, however, we can only dream of, just as we can dream of riding live sawhorses.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Postcard, 1910

Thanksgiving Postcard, 1910                                                           by Alan Borer


            Thanksgiving cards were once as common as Christmas cards.  Usually postcards, they conveyed holiday greetings while taking advantage of the post offices once cent postcard rate..  Combined with inexpensive color printed postcards manufactured in Germany, the one cent rate created a blizzard of post cards numbering in the hundreds of millions between, roughly, 1900 and 1914.


            Yet every major phenomenon has its individual stories.  When I first looked at this postcard, I saw what the sender saw, a doomed turkey bound for the Thanksgiving table.  A theme which was reproduced in thousands of ways:  Pilgrims, corn, pumpkins, Indians, and even a few tardy jack-o-lanterns were reproduced on Thanksgiving cards.  But the turkey, doomed or not, was and is the ultimate Thanksgiving symbol. 


            But then I glanced at the back.  No message, just an address, but in Bowling Green, Ohio, my hometown.  I decided to find out what I could about the person receiving this postcard, and thus enter into a Thanksgiving celebration of more than one hundred years ago.


            The name on the card was “Miss Coral Nelson.”  Miss Nelson was easily indentified through the United States Census and various genealogical services.  To summarize, Coral was born March 19, 1895, the daughter of Elmer Nelson, a farmer, and Della Stacy Nelson.  She had two brothers, one older and one younger.  Her father, Elmer Nelson, was in turn the son of William Nelson (1821-1908), who had come to Wood County from Ashtabula, Ohio. 


            William had been raised on a farm, and farmed most of his life.  In his teen years, he worked as a peddler, and briefly tried living is Missouri before coming back to Wood County for good.  In the flowery language of the 1890s. William Nelson was remembered as ”a thorough and skilled agriculturist [and] a business man of more than ordinary capacity…”


Coral Nelson was William’s granddaughter.  In 1900, she was living on a farm in Center Township, east of Bowling Green.  By 1920, she was living in Plain Township, west of the village.  She had one year of college.  In 1925, at age 30, she married Russell Kramer, a 32-year-old farmer.  It does not appear that Russell and Cora had children, although in 1930 they had two “lodgers,” who may have been farmhands.  Coral died in 1957, about three weeks before her 62nd birthday.  Her husband Russell remarried, and died in Bowling Green in 1979.


            Something sounded familiar about Cora’s married name, Kramer.  I grew up only a mile from Kramer Road, south of Bowling Green.  A check of a 1954 plat map of Wood County confirmed my hunch – Russell and Coral Kramer owned about 315 acres of prime Wood County farmland.


            Coral was only 61 when she died.  I wonder if she ever though in later years about the Thanksgiving card she received back when she was 14.  I hope that Coral, and everyone else, had happy memories of Thanksgivings of happy times good food  - and turkeys.

[I used the website  The quotation comes from Commemorative and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio, v2, p.731.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Memories: a Double Context

Memories: a Double Context

                My Grandpa and Grandma Albert and Armina Borer had an attic that gripped my imagination.  They died in 1978 and 1982, but much of the miscellany that was stored in their attic devolved on me.  As the amateur historian in the family, bits and pieces of the attic’s contents were given to me.  Now that I am in my 50s and, knowing that these papers will never have the emotional grip that they do for me, even for my blood survivors, I am slowly passing them on to the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University.

                Going through the papers, some of which I had not looked at in 30+ years, brought back some memories that I thought were worth preserving.  The material will be physically protected, but how to preserve the context of the material?  When I hold a photograph or a letter, it not only lets me know what a long-dead ancestor did or saw, but the memory of me finding it.  The recall of a memory has a much broader context.  If I look over my grandfather’s crop reports for 1937, it brings back not only his interaction with the U. S. Department of Agriculture, but my memories of sitting in my grandmother’s attic.  Smelling of cedar planking, the sound of filtered laughter of aunts and uncles and the slap of pinochle cards, and the feel of my father’s childhood cowboy outfit, memories have a double context.

                That double context is a will-o-the-wisp.  When the memory is gone, through death, senility, or the simple passage of time, the double context is gone, and reverts to a single context.  That is both unfortunate and inevitable.  But it explains to historians, and anyone else who cares to think about it, why people hang on to stuff that has no value to anyone, except for that double context:  the memory, and what brings back the memory.

                So, archivists and librarians, when you show off your collections, be friendly, patient, and helpful.  Make sure your reading rooms are pleasant, and offer copies.  I know most of you do that, but it doesn’t hurt to remember, you are creating a new double context:  the information, and their memory of how they were shown it.  Make sure that memory is a good one.

Boniface Saner, the Trickster

                The dark tintype, according to my grandmother, is of a man named Boniface Saner.  I have no idea who he was or how the family came to know him.  Apparently he was a friend of my grandfather’s maternal grandfather, Emil Borer.  

                Emil, who came to America from Switzerland after the Civil War, could not yet speak English.  Saner, who could speak German and English, was approached by Emil, who asked him what to say to an American girl if he was interested in making small talk.  Saner replied that the proper English phraseology was to say “Kiss my a**.”  The hundred-thirty-year old anecdote ends by saying Emil Borer spent a night in jail after trying Saner’s suggestion.

                To my surprise, Boniface Saner is relatively easy to track down.  Saner (1848-1922) was a resident of Fremont, Ohio, and was listed as a “retired mason” on his death certificate.  He married Apolonia, a girl from Poland, and they had at least five children, all boys.  He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Fremont.

                I always remembered my grandmother’s retelling of this anecdote, although now I can add some context.  Saner and Emil Borer both lived in Fremont.  They were both from Switzerland, and both were workingmen.  Although I do not know for sure, I can see them, after mass one Sunday, or perhaps in their cups in a saloon, one tricking the other.  A long road for a memory to go, but that’s the story.

A Pony named Sparkle

                The picture was taken in New Riegel.  On the back for the picture, my grandfather had written:  “about 1924.  The old Band Stand in background.”  The Pony’s name, Sparkle, was included, along with the names of his riders, Erma and Al (Alfred) Huss.  Erma and Al were children of the owner of a village general store, Charles Huss.  Uncle Charlie Huss was in turn married to my grandmother’s older sister, Laura Elchert Huss.  My father remembered that Charlie Huss taught him to play pinochle, gasping and tut-tutting as Dad made mistakes or played poorly.

               But the context of this picture, one of them, is not so much about family memories, as about sound, or the lack of it.  Today we live in a crowded, noisy world.  In 1924, any sound would have been somehow out of place.  The occasional locomotive and church bells aside, this was a world so quiet that the nickering of a pony of a pony and the (empty) bandstand might have been the only sound noticeable.

                Like the context of a memory, the lack of sound amplifies sound.  In a small place almost a hundred years ago, even the ring of a blacksmith’s hammer or the sound of the door to Charlie Huss’s general store opening could become large and full of meaning.  Now with so much noise-clutter, insignificant sounds remain insignificant.

                Although I have not been in my grandparents house in New Riegel in over thirty years, I can still hear the squeak of the hinge on their back door.  In a day before personal electronics kept kids in, their back door opened and closed relentlessly when we visited and dashed from outside play to our coloring books.  That sound and sounds like them, such as the tinny slam of the hog feeder down the road, can still be heard in my memory.  When I am gone, they will go with me.  One more sound, that of the wreck of a crank telephone that once hung in Grandpa’s garage, I can still hear. I rarely do, but if cranked, the bell rings  It takes up too much room in my den, but I cannot quite let go of that old thing.  The sound it makes is part of my context.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Crawford County Farmer Was Great-Grandson of President

Crawford County Farmer Was Great-Grandson of President                by Alan Borer

            Being the son or grandson of a president of the United States can be a double-edged sword.  In our time, we have seen the son of a president take the White House for his own.  But being a presidential relative is no guarantee of success in politics, business, or anything else.  It depends of course on how you define success.  A modest descendant of a president may have a very satisfying life.

            Our second President, John Adams (1735-1826), had an impressive resume:  Lawyer, diplomat, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President, President, and inveterate correspondent.   He had five children.  Among his descendants are presidents, legislators, diplomats, and in one case, a farmer in northwest Ohio.  This is part of his story.

            Eli Adams (1803-1888) was born in Massachusetts near Boston, but grew up in Cayuga County, New York.  In 1814, his father Ephraim Adams relocated the family to Ohio, settling first on the Huron River near Sandusky, then in Seneca County.  When his father died in 1820, Eli worked for wages on local farms.  He revisited family in New York, the returned to Ohio and settled in Crawford County’s Texas Township, buying an 80 acre farm.  Texas Township is just east of the Seneca County line.

            Adams married a local girl, Mary Andrews, in 1827.  They built a log cabin, and, like many pioneers, had to scrounge for their living, hunting squirrels and getting milk from the cow each brought to the marriage.  One day, two Indians surprised Eli while he was hoeing his corn patch.  The Indians got very close before Eli saw them and, startled, he ran for cover, which “seriously amused” the Indians.

Eli and Mary had eight children.  Mrs. Adams died in 1875; by then the couple had retired to Bloomville in Seneca County.  Eli died in 1888, living his last years in the hamlet of Sulphur Springs with his son, S. E.  When his funeral procession wound its way back toward Bloomville and passed Bucyrus, the local newspapers covered the story.

A few lines of writing by Eli Adams survive in a letter he wrote regarding, of all things, sheep.  In 1851, Adams wrote to a neighbor on whose sheep he was checking:

I have seen your sheep this morning & salted them   your sheep is doing very well all but the lambs . . . I have had the second trip to see your Sheep to day     Mr Tucker some of your lambs look bad   they must have good care or they won’t live   …--  I have been looking Around to day for pasture and find non[e]

We are not sure of Eli Adams’s relationship with the owner of the sheep.  There was only one man named Tucker in the Census of 1840 in Crawford County, an Ephraim Hubbard Tucker.  He lived in the neighboring village of Sycamore, within shouting distance of Texas Township.  If Ephraim Tucker was owner of a flock of sheep, he may have asked Eli Adams to check on them, or possibly hired him to do so.

That brief letter, and a few obituaries announcing his relationship with John Adams, are about all the paper trail Eli Adams left behind.  He is buried in Bloomville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, far from the grave of his presidential ancestor.   John Adams helped found the nation.  Eli Adams knew how to look after sheep.  Eli Adams was 23 years old when John died in 1826.  I don’t know if they ever met.  Would they have had much to talk about?  Probably.  John Adams had “the heart of a farmer,” made his own compost, and retired to a farm called “Peacefield,” where he carefully directed the crops and plantings.  Irascible as he often was, John and Eli Adams had some things in common.

[Beside the letter, quotations also came from History of Crawford County and Ohio (Chicago, 1881, and Corliss Knapp Engle, “John Adams, Farmer and Gardener,” Arnoldia  61,  pp. 9-14.)