Thursday, November 8, 2012

Henry Philipps, Toledo Seedsman

It is one of those topsy-turvy reckonings. A sure sign of winter is the arrival in the mail of seed catalogs. Whether you farm hundreds of acres, garden intensively, or have a potted plant on your windowsill, you can spend many an idle winter hour gazing at the garden plants in the seed catalogs. They are clever advertisements, but are also a way to kick-start spring dreams of what one might plant.

Toledo once had its own, home-grown (pardon the pun) seed company. The Henry Philipps Seed and Implement Company was located at 115-117 St. Clair Street. Their seed catalogs advertised seeds for “growers, importers, wholesale and retail…garden, field, and flower seeds.” Catalogs featured big, appealing engravings of vegetables, implying that customers could grow similar crops in their backyards. “We guarantee that all our Seeds are of good, germinating quality,” although, as every gardener knows, seeds sometimes fail to grow, “owing to causes we cannot control and beyond our responsibility.”

Henry Philipps was a pioneer in both the seed industry and Toledo itself. Philipps (1829-1896) was born in Brunswick, Germany. He sailed for New York in 1849, and after a 42 day voyage, landed in America. He immediately took the train to Buffalo, and then a steamboat across Lake Erie to Toledo. After doing some farming and working as a clerk, he established a seed business in February of 1852 .

Philipps, at various times, sold seed, farming implements, and other kinds of products need by the farmer. During the 1870s and 80s, he had a separate hardware store on Summit Street. He formally incorporated in 1888, and became involved in several other enterprises. Philipps built houses and organized what was known as the Columbia Heights Addition. He helped develop business blocks on St. Clair, Summit Street, and on Superior, and was involved in the Adams Street streetcar line. All the while raising a family of thirteen children!

Clearly, Henry Philipps was a “mover and shaker” in early Toledo. Philipps died in 1896, but his company went on for several more years, issuing annual catalogs with advertisements for fertilizer, insecticides, mouse and mole traps, shotguns, and windmills. One catalog listed a dangerous sounding product called “Great Western Powder.” The powder was, in fact, gunpowder, advertised for use on stumps: “For blasting stumps and boulders there is no other explosive so effectual and safe to handle.” One would hope so.

At the house Philipps built in his Columbia Heights addition in 1866, he had gardens, orchards, and a trout stream. He won a prize at the Ohio State Fair in 1868 for “best agricultural boiler.” Whether he was an agriculturalist or a “middleman” in the agricultural products industry is hard to say. But in the farming world of the 19th and 20th centuries, one could hardly do without Henry Philipps and his dream-inducing seed catalogs.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Chefs

A Tale of Two Chefs

by Alan Borer

If asked for the name of a “chef,” most children (and many adults) would immediately mention “Chef Boyardee” and his line of canned pasta products. There really was a chef behind the smiling, mustachioed man on the can label. His proper name was Ettore Boiardi (1897-1985). Boiardi came to the United States from Italy in 1915, went into the food business, and eventually became a household name. By the end of his life, he had become an Ohioan, ending his days in the Cleveland suburb of Parma. His brand, and his likeness are now owned by the international conglomerate ConAgra.

Toledo once had an answer for the Chef Boyardee brand in the form of another smiling chef, the “Chef” brand of canned foods made and distributed by the Berdan Company. Calling themselves “The Largest Distributers [sic] of Canned Goods in the United States,” the brand had numerous offerings. In their heyday, they sold almost every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable, plus macaroni, baked beans, olive oil, coffee and tea, lobster, salmon, and, like Boiardi, spaghetti.

Like Chef Boyardee, the Berdan Chef’s image appeared in many advertisements and giveaways. For example, Chef brought out a book of nursery rhymes titled, “Granny Goose Jingles,” with nine pages of nursery rhymes and a tenth rhyme of Chef products, including these lines:

What is it you want, is it grown on trees?
Is it kissed by the sun and the gentle breeze?....
The Chef will bring them to your table—
You’ll find them all ’neath his smiling label.

In 1912, a 64 page Chef Cook Book was published. It was filled with recipes that could use some of the “Chef’s” offerings. Chef also offered canning supplies, such as sealable jars and sealing rubber.

The Chef’s picture appeared in newspaper advertisements over the years. The Chef brand had its own fleet of delivery trucks. Many of the Chef products were kept in the now crumbling Berdan Building at 601 Washington Street in the Warehouse District.

As noted above, Chef Foods was a brand name belonging to the Berdan & Company wholesale groceries firm. The history of that company is full of Toledo patriarchs. Founded in the very early year of 1838 by Valentine Ketcham, the nascent food concern numbered among its directors John Berdan, the first mayor of Toledo, and James and Joseph Secor. The company lasted well over a century, until it was bought out in 1938.

The Chef, always portrayed by the same picture of a bearded, smiling chef holding a spoon, did good work for the Berdan wholesalers. He, along with Chef Boyardee, did stellar service selling food for their creators.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Folding Bathtub of Toledo

As I was flipping through an old issue of Popular Mechanics, I came across an advertisement for a “folding bathtub” made in Toledo. I paused, whether because a pretty girl was in the bathtub, or that it mentioned a long defunct Toledo manufacturer, or that a folding bathtub was an oddity, to say the least – I do not remember. But all three reasons led me to dig through a pile of never sorted Toledo advertising covers. Collector’s luck again – I had, already in my possession, an advertising cover for “The Robinson Thermal Bath Company.” So with some help from my friends at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, I set out to recall the history of the folding bathtub of Toledo.

The bathtub was manufactured in Toledo from before 1896 to about 1913. It was made by the Robinson Manufacturing Company, sometimes listed as the Robinson Thermal Bath Co. or as the Robinson Bath Cabinet Co. Their location hopped around as well; at different times their address was 714 Jefferson, 900-914 Summit, and 2036 Adams.

The company made their bathtubs in various styles. In the early days of its existence, the favorite style had a rubber exterior attached to a wooden framework. When assembled it stood upright, and looked more like a shower than a bathtub. An flame heated the interior, creating a sauna-type upright bathtub. Later models featured a more traditional oblong shape. “Costs little, no plumbing, little water. . . . folds into a small roll.,” proclaimed one advertisement.

Many of the contemporary advertisements trumpeted a “free book” for interested consumers. Also part of every ad was the continuous calls for salesmen. “We Want Live Agents! (1898). “ “Agents Wanted - $500 in gold will be given to our best agents this year (1901).” “Write for special agents offer (1912).” Although we have no records of whether these urgent appeals for salesmen panned out, they lead to the question of whether Robinson’s main business was selling bathtubs or selling salesmen.

You can still buy a folding bathtub. There are a couple of manufacturers in the U.S., but several hundred in China and other parts of Asia. This makes sense for a crowded country where space is at a premium. Serious campers and some infant caregivers still find them useful in the States. But the days when Toledo sent (or hoped to send) an army of bathtub salesmen all over the Midwest are as gone as last night’s bathwater.

Two German Catholic Almanacs: Views from a Lost World by Alan Borer

Two German Catholic Almanacs: Views from a Lost World

Among my grandfather’s books was an odd little quarto, printed in Cincinnati in 1863, titled Das Vaterunser (The ‘Our Father’). Most of the book was taken up with a popular religiousl text. But the book begins with twelve pages of almanac tables for 1864. Pious and orthodox, but what were those almanac tables, looking oddly superstitious, doing in the book?

Another almanac, this one from 1922. The Ohio Waisenfreund Kalender (Ohio Orphan’s Friend Almanac), published by the Pontifical College Jospehinum in Columbus, Ohio, was a more typical almanac. It was loaded with stories of Catholic heroes in varying degrees of trouble, biographies, poems, and some advertisements. But again, those mysterious calendars in the front: holy, with their carefully listed saints’ feasts, but the signs of the zodiac as well.

This essay asks what can be learned from the contents of the almanacs, including the almanac format itself. If World War I and its state-sponsored denial of all things German marks the tragic collapse of German America, what does viewing the two almanacs, with their “before” and “after” dates of publication, teach us about almanacs, about German America, and German Catholic America?

The two almanacs are actually connected, in a way. Both were products of Ohio German Catholic newspapers. The Vaterunser title was published for the 27th anniversary of the Wahrheits-freund,, a newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati from 1837 to 1907. Originally the project of Father (later Bishop and Archbishop) John Henni (1805-1881), the Wahrheits-freund had a long run, serving the needs of German-speaking Catholics:

“This was the first German Catholic newspaper published in the United States. It was a weekly newspaper of "Catholic life, work, and knowledge," literally translated as "The Truth's Friend." It included stories about Germany, local parishes in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky, as well as obituaries of local people.”

But, as was true of much of German Catholic America, times were changing. An historian of the Cincinnati archdiocese noted,

“The publication of the paper, however, was continued until the need which had brought it into existence, had passed, and on June 19, 1907, the last number was issued.”

Upon its demise, the Wahrheits-freund merged with the Ohio Waisenfreund, the German Catholic newspaper for the diocese of Columbus. The Waisenfreund struggled on until 195X, but eventually succumbed to the same forces that did in the Wahrheits-freund.

One of the key artifacts of the now-vanished German-speaking Catholic culture in America is the almanacs the culture left behind. Almanacs are a relic of our once dominant agricultural heritage. Combining a mixture of astrology, prognostication, and humor, almanacs were among the earliest printed works circulated among an only semi-literate rural population Almanacs, in their early years, had a flavor of the magical; they were thought of, not as a witch’s book of spells, but as a sort of talismanic object none the same. They dealt with predicting the future in a hopelessly unpredictable world.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, the almanacs dealt with a less frightening world, and more with the practicalities of farming and farm life. In colonial America, both English and German communities had almanacs intended for them:

“Generally, almanacs or “calendars” as they are called in German, included a few key elements. Monthly calendars with information varying slightly from almanac to almanac, but usually including the phases of the moon…. Most almanacs included entertaining stories. In many instances the monthly calendars are interrupted by short, humorous stories or funny drawings…..Much can be learned from studying generations past, and German-American almanacs provide us with a special look at the everyday lives of the people who tamed much of the Eastern and Midwestern portions of the United States.”

Many of the German almanacs were Catholic in sponsorship and audience. As a catechetical tool and propagation device, the German Catholic almanacs were a way to hold together communities in the New World. Even though most German Catholics were clustered in urban areas, the almanac, with its flavor of country life, appealed to those new Americans whose heritage was the rural life lived in the Germany of their ancestors.

Clinging to the Old World: Das Vaterunser (1863)

After the almanac pages, Das Vaterunser was an Ohio reprinting of the text of a popular work by the German priest/author Alban Stolz. Stolz (1808-1883) was a native of the southern German principality of Baden. Nearly forgotten now, Stolz wrote several popular books that taught the Catholicism of the nineteenth century. Yet Stolz’s work was not pedantic of overly erudite, but was rather full of stories, anecdotes, humorous observations. An example of his earthy-yet-holy wit is seen in the following text (taken from an English translation):

“… I will now tell of an honest farmer who was asked to dine with a gentleman. Now this farmer was no sycophant, who held a pair of patent leather boots in more respect than his God. He asked a blessing at table as he was accustomed to do at home. His host, looking up, said jeeringly, “That is old fashioned – it is not customary now-a-days for well-educated people to pray at table.” The farmer answered that with him it was customary, but that at home some of his household were in this respect very fashionable and refined, for they never prayed over their food. “Ah, then,” said the gentleman, “they are sensible and enlightened; who are they?” The farmer answered: “They are my pigs – so from their youth up they have been in possession of education and refinement. For when they have finished eating they run away and never bestow a glance on those who have brought them their food
One Foot in the Old World, One in the New: Ohio Waisenfreund Kalendar, 1922

In the 1922 almanac, there were a variety of stories: “Fraulein Topp,” a Christmas story, ran with a “Marianisches Alphabet in Bild und Lield” (Marian Alphabet in Picture and Song). A didactic story of “Der Anarchist” kept company with “Der Esel, der Sack und der Stock des hl. Winock” (The Donkey, the Sack and the Staff of St. Winock), a variation of the story by the brothers Grimm. All these stories had German themes and/or settings.

One article, however, is less German and more American. P. Jakob Marquette, ein Apostel Amerikas (Fr. Jacques Marquette, an American Apostle) tells the story of Father Marquette (1637-1675), the French Jesuit missionary who worked in what is now Michigan and, with Louis Joliet, explored Lake Michigan and the upper Mississippi valley. The Marquette story is an important component. Proudly Catholic, the story, if only for a few pages, looks away from Old World Germany to the New World and one of its Catholic heroes.

One historian has theorized that German-American almanacs were, as time progressed, were set in a “medium-dependent framework,” or more simply, a familiar form but with new content. I cannot say with certainty that an almanac story was intended as a break, or even a gradual reorientation, of the Catholic world-view that was rooted in Europe but was beginning to look to the New World. More likely coincidence than intentional, the Marquette story, easy to read and American in outlook, contrasts with the Stolz work. But that contrast teaches us about German Catholic America. Both use humor, both address a rural (whether currently or by heritage) audience, and both use the almanac, that oddly mystical literary souvenir from the past. They diverge in the degree of longing for a home receding into the past. Perhaps the contrast is useful for the Catholic life of our time: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Turtle Island Lighthouse Keeper Gordon Wilson

There were long drawers full of old letters at the stamp show. I was pressed for time, and could not unpeel many of the letters about which I was curious. Quite a few of them were addressed to a certain R. B. Hubbard, a lumber dealer in 1850s Sandusky. I spotted a Toledo postmark, though – probably a boring legal case over lost lumber. I asked the dealer if I could open the letter, and what I saw amazed me. It was datelined Turtle Island, Maumee Bay and was from a lighthouse keeper. Suddenly, a neat piece of Northwest Ohio history was unfolding before me. I paid the dealer, and later that day opened the letter at my leisure. This is what I read:

Turtle Island Maumee Bay o Feb 21th 1853 Mr R. B. Hubbard Sir I received your letter this day Att 2 Pm which I sett down to Answer I have nott Ben Ashore Sence the 30th of November last I Received my Mail buy A man coming Here in A canoe Shod with iron Sost [so as?] to run on thin ice so he just Come to day I will take your Schooner Elmina If you Have nott gott out of Payshents [patience] waiting for an Answer Att your Proposals I wish you would write mee Again So I can make my Arrangement About my family for I want to move Them to Sandusky As soon as navigation is open I Shal Bee Att toledo As Soon Asican [sic, as I can] get there with my Boat I send this Ashore with the Saim Thatt Brought mee yours Yours Obt Servet [sic] G. S. Wilson

Spelling was not the lighthouse keeper’s long suit, but then we don’t know what the man’s background was – even educated people used spelling and punctuation erratically. We do know that on September 4, 1850, Gordon S. Wilson was appointed keeper of the Turtle Island lighthouse in Maumee Bay. Records in the National Archives show that Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Corwin (himself an Ohioan) approved the appointment of Wilson. He was taking the place of Alexander H. Cromwell, who had been keeper there since November of 1847. He took charge of the lighthouse, keeper’s house, and probably a boathouse, and was paid a salary of $400.00 by the United States Lighthouse Service.

Built in 1831 - 1837, the lighthouse station was on a very small island that sits on the Ohio-Michigan boundary. Extensively rebuilt in the years after the Civil War, the original lighthouse was 44 feet high and built of yellow brick with a black ‘lantern.’ It was a “fourth order fixed light,” using eight white fixed lamps with reflectors. The lamps burned kerosene, and on good days could be seen for six miles. Mr. Wilson also found a house for the keeper’s use. Connected to the light tower, a wooden story and a half house offered the keeper and his family a parlor, dining room, bedroom, and kitchen with stove. A half acre of land was available to the keeper, at least some of which was used as a garden.

Turtle Island itself was shrinking. There is some evidence that the island was fortified during the Indian war of 1794, although the fort’s owners are unclear (British? French? Native American?) at the time. When the federal land office sold Turtle Island in 1827, it was about 6 ½ acres in size. Ferocious storms in the late 1820’s whittled the island down to 1 ½ acres. The federal government repurchased the island in 1831 for a lighthouse. Toledo was in its infancy, but showed promise as a port, and the island was needed for a light to illuminate the shipping channel in Maumee Bay. The lighthouse, rebuilt in 1866, was abandoned in 1903, when the Toledo Harbor Light was established. All that was in the future when Gordon Wilson became lighthouse keeper.

Wilson’s life before 1850 is untraceable. He does not appear in the census records, at least under that name. Was he an immigrant? Did he ever get the job in Sandusky? We will probably never know. The letter does not actually say that much about life on Turtle Island, except that it was hard to get the mail (but not impossible), that the mail was brought over by non-post office transit, and that canoes were sometimes shod with iron. The 1911 Century Dictionary confirms this, listing “ice-canoe n. A boat with a very broad flat keel shod with iron runners, so that it can be drawn readily over the ice: intended for use on partly frozen lakes and rivers.” Other details of life for the keeper of Turtle Island light can be inferred. Not surprisingly, Wilson had a boat of his own, but could not use it year round. Wilson’s family lived on the island, although no clues remain to who or even how many were there. And if Wilson could not go ashore for November to at least February, he must have had supplies stored on the island, or perhaps relied on a wintertime contractor who brought supplies to him. The schooner Elmina that Wilson mentioned is elusive as well, but we do know that it was commandeered on April 28, 1850 to help rescues passengers from the steamer Anthony Wayne, which had exploded off Vermillion.

If you have a boat, you can journey out to Turtle Island, and still see the skeleton of the lighthouse tower and the ruins of some vacation homes. It is a poignant sight, although rarely seen because the island is so far out in Maumee Bay. And while we cannot tell the story of Keeper Wilson, his surviving letter is poignant as well. It hints at just how lonely life on Turtle Island must have been. [In addition to the letter itself, I used the following sources:, B. Ellen Gardner, Turtle Island Lighthouse: The Darkened Light (1997), and The National Archives. The letter is now in the collection of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library .]

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Newlywed Toledoan sees Great Comet of 1843

Many of us can remember the comet Hale-Bopp, which appeared in the skies of Toledo (and much of the rest of the world) in the winter of 1996-97. The brightest comet in years, Hale-Bopp made for amazing comet-gazing. I well remember viewing the comet from the playground of Grove Patterson School in West Toledo. A friend of mine who drove between Toledo and Ann Arbor daily said that motorists on US 23 were stopping on the berm to ogle the comet. It was so much more spectacular than Comet Kohoutek in 1973 and the disappointing return of Haley’s Comet in 1986. I doubt there will be such an amazing comet show again in my lifetime.

Another comet visited the earth and Toledo in 1843. A letter from a Toledo newlywed named Carry to a relative in Connecticut includes this sentence: I almost forgot to ask you if you had seen the comet - it seems to be the most fashionable of any thing I know of. You can not go out without being asked have you seen the comet? The “Great Comet of 1843” was a comet that passed Earth on March 6, 1843. Widely observed and notable for a long “tail,” the Great Comet attracted worldwide attention. In fact, a religious movement broke out in New England that believed the comet presaged the end of the world. How a Toledo housewife viewed what would become the story of the year is summarized here.

We don’t know the full name of our Toledo comet gazer. She didn’t sign her full name, so we know her only as “Carry.” Carry was from Connecticust, and was related to the Stroud family. In October of 1842 she had married a man named William: Everyone thinks, I suppose, they have the best husband in the world and I am just sure I have the very best- so you asked my advice on the subject. I will say I never was so happy as I am now or have been since one Monday morning in Oct 1842 – and my advice to you is if you can find as good a man as I have got do you give him a chase and don’t quit chasing till you get him. Now if that is not good advice I can not give any. Carry was delighted by marriage and domestic life: … I am getting quite expert – I can mend Coats shirts & everything belonging to a gentleman’s wardrobe-…. The letter is full of chitchat about friends, taking a trip to Detroit, and so forth. Her life in Toledo, that little village on the edge of a swamp, seemed quite happy.

But there were omens. Besides the comet, there had been a dreadfully cold winter: Do you have a long cold winter or rather have you had? It has been very cold indeed here. The Cattle hogs and sheep are starving to death all around us. I do not think so much of the cold as I am so accustomed to it. Carry does not say in her letter whether she saw these natural phenomenon as harbingers of doom. But certainly some of her fellow Ohioans, and others in the United States saw the comet as a sign of the end of the world.

In the village of Low Hampton, New York, there lived a veteran of the War of 1812 named William Miller (1782-1849). Miller, like many veterans, had his faith shaken by his wartime experiences. In an effort to recapture his faith, he began to study the prophecies of Daniel. By 1822 he was convinced that Christ would return to Earth in 1844. He gathered followers, who were numerous enough to start a newspaper, and convinced other clergymen. By 1843, a new religious movement, “Millerism,” had established itself around the teachings of William Miller. After several revisions, Miller’s followers established October 22, 1844 as the date of the end of the world. Not knowing how to prepare, people stocked their cellars with food and supplies; others, preparing to go to heaven, saw no need to prepare. But when the world did not end, the days following October 22 were referred to as the “Great Disappointment.” Some of Miller’s disciples went on to found what is today known as the Seventh Day Adventist Church. But for the most part, Miller’s followers were disappointed and bewildered.

Many Millerites had seen The Great Comet of 1843 as a heavenly sign that the end was coming. There were several omens to be seen in the America of that time: meteor showers in 1833, a financial panic in 1837, the death of President William Henry Harrison on 1841. “Carry” herself mentions an ominously hard winter. People in the nineteenth century were predisposed to look for “signs” in a mostly inscrutable world. Carry in Toledo reported the comet as a source of conversation; many others looked more warily to the skies.

Charley Heuermann and his Chickens

If you drive southeast of Bowling Green about two miles, you will run into two landmarks: US Route 6, a major two lane artery that runs all the way to Massachusetts, and Cuckle Creek, a tiny waterway that meanders northward and finally empties into the north branch of the Portage River. Cuckle Creek is very narrow, little bigger than a ditch, draining the open farmland of a portion of eastern Wood County. US 6 is a heavily traveled motorway; trucks use it to avoid paying tolls on the Ohio Turnpike. If you track Cuckle Creek to where it comes nearest to US 6, in Center Township’s Section 34, you won’t hear water; you will hear trucks downshifting. Go to the same point one hundred years ago, and you might not have heard the creek either; you would have heard chickens cackling. Cuckle Creek and US 6 parallel each other on land that was once owned by a farmer named Herman Heuermann, whose brother Charles (aka Charley) ran a chicken breeding operation. Herman owned the land, 113 acres in Section 34, and another 43 acres further down the creek. Charley lived on the larger farm.

His story is simple, but tracking him (and his chickens) is a bit more complex. Charles (1868-1929) was born in Hanover, Germany, “and spent his childhood in his fatherland with his thrifty parents,” Frederick and Caroline Heuermann. The whole family moved to Ohio and settles in Wood County around 1882. Charles died in 1929 at the age of 61. “His death came very suddenly, while he was doing chores. He was stricken and dropped dead without suffering any pain.” Heuermann, who was an active member of the Cloverdale Lutheran Church, does not appear ever to have married. He was, “admired for his straightforward manner and honesty in dealing with everyone.”

I thought at first that Heuermann, who dropped the extra “n’ from his name at some point, left no further record of himself. But thanks to a battered envelope and a classified ad in the June 1905, issue of Successful Poultry Journal, we know he was a breeder and keeper of chickens. In the only surviving writing of his, in a classified ad, he wrote: I am breeding Thompson’s Ringlet strain of Barred Rocks, and the quality is the best. If you want to start right or improve your flock you cannot do better than to try some of my eggs. $2 per setting. The envelope had a return address advertising “Charley Heuermann, Breeder of Prize Winning Barred Plymouth Rocks.” Mailed in 1903, it showed a large picture of the characteristic black and white poultry breed.

The Plymouth Rock breed of chicken is native to America, having first been called by that name in 1869. They were a popular breed on farms, tough and long lived. The “barred” nomenclature describes the white-and-black feathers of the original variety that Charley Heuermann kept. There are now many other varieties, including the White, which is a popular breed for broilers. “Thompson’s Ringlet” was a variety of the barred Plymouth Rock. Developed by E. B. Thompson (1862-1928) of Amenia, New York, in the early twentieth century, they were bestsellers in the poultry world. It is reported that Thompson once refused an offer of $1000 at a poultry show at Madison Square Garden for a Ringlet rooster. That may be chicken folklore, but it showed how eagerly poultry breeders, like Charley Heuermann, sought the breed.

Farm raised chickens have dwindled in Wood County, supplanted by massive ”factory farm” chicken-and-egg outfits in other areas. Yet every year, a brave show of poultry can be seen at the Wood County Fair, where hobbyists, 4-H projects, and backyard producers display. Charley Heuermann would no doubt approve.

[Information was taken from the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune of May 28, 1929, and Successful Poultry Journal, June 1905.]

Monday, April 30, 2012

Man with Horses: Wood County, Ohio, 1890s

His name might have been Frank Henry; that is one of the names written on the cover of the faded notebook. But that might also have been a customer’s name. Merchants in small farming towns used to hand out small calendars or notebooks free. This notebook is filled with advertisements for “Dr. Pierce’s Standard Medicines” of Buffalo, New York. There was a space on the back for the local merchant’s name, and this particular notebook advertised “D. L. Aldrich, Dealer in Drugs and Medicines” in Weston, Ohio (Wood County). Not really a diary, the book’s owner made miscellaneous notes of his work scattered through entries dated roughly 1890 to 1893. The notes are difficult to read and miscellaneous in character. Can we learn anything from them?

On March 15, 1891, he did work for D. G. Bishop, plowing and hauling manure. He also hauled seven loads of wood from the “Brewer barn.” He also hauled a load of “gords” (?) to Bowling Green. That August he spent a day threshing oats and wheat, and in October of 1892, he was paid $2.00 for husking corn “with team [of horses].” In other entries, he shelled and hauled loads of corn. The list of chores was endless. He sawed wood for a man named Silas Powell. He “dressed” (skinned, bled, and/or gutted) a hog that weighed 130 pounds. He hauled oil; this was at the tail end of Wood County’s oil boom. Oil wells ran freely for several years, but wagons were still used to get oil from well to refiner. Many of the logbooks entries mention horses. In addition to those already mentioned, he “plowed with one horse;” “labor with team;” spent a day on “horse labor.” He hauled a “sack of potatoes,” moved “20 baskets of ear corn,” and spent long summer weeks doing horse powered work on threshing the wheat harvest.

If his name was Frank Henry, he might have been the Frank Henry who worked as a farmhand near Perrysburg in 1880. The 1890 Census results were destroyed in 1922 in a fire, so without a certain name to hang our research one, we cannot be confident. With somewhat more confidence we may guess he was a “teamster.” Not, mind you, a member of the truck drivers union of modern times, but in the nineteenth century use of the word: a man who owned or worked with a team of horses. Is it history if we do not know his name, his home, his background, or his politics? But we do know this: he worked hard hauling things with one or more horses, lived in Wood County, and, at some point, visited the drugstore of Dwight Aldrich in Weston, and picked up a free notebook. And from that notebook, we can understand his world of hard work with horses.

Monday, February 6, 2012

From Wood County, Ohio, to Sierra Leone – Two Christmases, 1893 and 1894

[The man and women on the right are Zella Bates and John King, posing with fellow Otterbein students, about 1893.]

Zella Bates was a country girl from Wood County. She grew up on a farm in the wilds of eastern Wood County, between Risingsun and Wayne, which she knew by its original name of Freeport. Her family, including her mother, father, and brother Sardis, were devout members of the United Brethren Church, which operated a small college in Westerville, near Columbus.

To this college, then and now called Otterbein University, Zella went in the fall of 1892 as a freshman. In addition to studying Latin, German, and geometry, she met a fellow student named John R. King. A native of Pennsylvania, King was already a licensed minister when he met Miss Bates. Along about October, Mr. King proposed after a courtship mainly involving walks, reading to each other, and attending the newfangled football games. Miss Bates accepted, and they married the following June.

In her diary, she recounts such country events as quilting bees, taffy pulls, harvests, and a couple of Christmases. One was a down home, Wood County Christmas; uneventful, quiet, and full of visits and friends.


16th Sat. Sardy & I leave W. on the morning train We go to Columbus, then take the H. V. [Hocking Valley rail]road at Fostoria I take the O.C. [Ohio Central] for our folks are not expecting us in Bradner papa meets me then goes for Sardy & the trunks. We are glad to be home again.

17. Sunday. papa & I walk to S. school & preaching at the M.E. [Methodist Episcopal church]

22nd Friday. Mama, Sardy, & I go to Fostoria to-day to do some shopping

23rd Saturday. The M. E’s have a Christmas tree. The weather is quite warm for this time of year.

24th Attend Sunday school & & preaching at the M.E.

25th Christmas Day Monday We are all at home to day suppose we will be separated [sic] by a great distance next Christmas. This is a warm & pleasant day.

26th …. Get a letter and Christmas present from John to-day. He is coming Sat.

29th …. Pa & Sardy go to a lecture in Freeport in the evening.

30th This morning John comes on the 8.30 train Sardy meets him. We spend a pleasant day.

31st Papa, Estelle, John & I go to Sunday. school. … dinner in the evening Sardy takes John & I to Bradner to take the evening train for Columbus. We call on Effie & Fred until train time and almost miss the train. We get in Columbus at 10.30 o’clock…

But what a difference a year makes. The newly married Mr. & Mrs. King, who had several friends in the active United Brethren foreign missions, decided to give up Wood County for the wilds of West Africa. Zella hints at this in her entry for December 25. In November of 1894 they sailed for Europe on the SS Britannic, which took them to Europe. A smaller steamboat ushered them into what must have been a nearly unimaginable world of Africa. They arrived in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, just in time to experience Christmas, West African style.


Monday, December 24 . . . Mr. King is bitten by a Centipede in the evening. I am very much frightened but they tell us it is not dangerous. Early this evening we hear firecrackers and see torpedoes flying and are told that is to celebrate… this is Christmas time. A number of children and young people come up to our window with a jumping Jack and sing and carry on. They are serenading I suppose.

Tue 25th Christmas Day. We sleep until late this morning as we were tired and up late. We have cocoa rather late, have a number of callers both yesterday and to-day…. This is a strange Christmas. The day is warm and it seems like a fourth of July. In the afternoon a crowd …. are going around pounding on drums and singing & dancing, They come in front of our window and make a noise for a while. … it seems dreadful to see them carrying on so…. We spend a very pleasant day…..We enjoy the fruits ever so much. We have had breadfruit, oranges, bananas….all of which I like I also like cocoa which takes the place of potato. I make a silk tie for John to-day.

The Kings lived and worked in Africa for fifteen years, before returning to Ohio. John King died in 1938, Zella in 1954. They were benefactors to Otterbein, while retaining income from Wood County farmland they inherited. Their lives were full of extraordinary contrasts, and among their memories were surely those remarkably different Christmases of 1893 and 1894.

[Zella Bates King’s two volume diary is in the Otterbein University Archives. Thanks to University Archivist Stephen Grinch for providing access. I have modernized spelling and punctuation and removed some redundancies.]

How They Paid the Doctor in New Riegel, ca 1860

(Probably the oldest surviving phograph of New Riegel shows the Nuns' Covent in about 1857, contemporary to Doctor Hermann)

We all groan inwardly when faced with medical bills and the complications of insurance. Some procedures are covered; some are not. Some are paid in full, some in varying percentages. And if you are covered by more than one insurer, the paperwork becomes mountainous. Don’t get me wrong, the only thing trickier than insurance is no insurance, so perhaps we should be happy with our lot.

In 1857, my great great grandfather, Johann Baptist Ilgert, fractured a bone. He lived near the hamlet of New Riegel in Seneca County, Ohio. The people in and around New Riegel were mostly German-speaking immigrants and mostly farmers. Luckily, New Riegel had its own doctor, who was able to treat the fracture. Grandfather Ilgert paid Dr. Franz Hermann two dollars, who carefully recorded it in his account book (although, curiously, he failed to record which bone was fractured!). Dr. Hermann accepted cash, but as we shall see, took his payment in many forms.

In rural communities, long before insurance or Medicare, doctors were often paid with either farm produce or labor. Dr. Hermann’s account books and ledgers are preserved in the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont (a copy is in the Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University) and show what the doctor traded his medical expertise for in the 1850s and 60s.

Franz Hermann was born in 1821 in Kaiserslauten, Germany. He left Germany for the United States in 1850, allegedly to escape prosecution for being involved in a “student revolt.” Settling in New Riegel in 1857, he saw patients there until 1866 when he relocated to Bluffton in Allen County. He married Christina Hemley in 1855 and the couple had at least five children. Dr. Hermann died in 1882 and is buried in Pandora in Putnam County, his wife’s hometown.

There were two doctors in New Riegel in the early 1860s. In the 1860 census, they lived practically next door to each other, separated by one empty house. The other doctor, Jacob Boep, had been born in France and was slightly older than Hermann. It may be that New Riegel’s mostly German-speaking citizens preferred Dr. Hermann. Dr. Hermann’s net worth, as shown in the Census of 1860, was slightly higher than Dr Boep’s, too.

But in looking over Hermann’s list of patients, their medical needs, and how they paid, one wonders if he had any cash money at all. Take the case of Peter Theis. Theis, a 47 year old farmer from Luxembourg, paid his bill with one load of pumpkins and sixteen pounds of pork! John Stuhl, a 58 year old farmer born in Belgium, only needed “advice” from Hermann, and his bill was less, accordingly. He paid with three dozen eggs and two bushels of barley.

There were telltale signs of changing medical practices. Peter Hubertssprung underwent “cupping” from the doctor. Cupping was a treatment involving pressing a heated cup to the skin; as the cup cooled, it was believed to “draw out” the disease. Although cupping has long since been discredited, the farmer paid with a ham, four chickens, and a bushel each of corn and potatoes. There is a clear distinction between doctors and dentists in our day, but Dr. Hermann was willing to work on teeth as well. A certain N. Plews paid fifty cents for “drawing 2 teeth.” For another patient, he received forty five cents for drawing one tooth, but only a nickel for the second.

Not all the patients paid with farm produce. Karl Hauser paid with a half-day of wood chopping. Barbara Hiesbun paid by doing laundry. In 1860, John Pieri (sp?) paid him with a 'bookstand" valued at two dollars and "wool....45 cents." Conrad Sacher gave the doctor both “hay” and “work.” Baptist Heitzman was credited fifty cents for "3/4 day work w/o board.” A Mr. Hasenbihler apparently traded his son’s work; he was credited fifty cents for "one day chopping wood (by boy)." When one considers that “work” at that time was hard, slow, and mostly done with the hands, these payments were not casual.

We don’t know how Dr. Hermann valued the produce and the labor he received. From one patient he received a "load" of corn fodder, which he valued at one dollar. How big a load was it and what did he do with the fodder? The doctor may have had cows; horses cannot eat corn fodder. But he also may have resold the fodder. Like much of history, the evidence does not answer all our questions.