29 January 2014

Down an old dirt road in Summer

Late last summer I crisscrossed Carroll County from historic point to historic point, always trying to take the shortest drive between those points.  On the map the little black line denoted as W 500 S line looked like a fine road to get me from point A to B.  In reality, once the black-top gave out and the gravel road grew consecutively narrow with each crossroads I passed, I began to wonder if this was less road than private drive.  And long after I passed the last road-worthy vehicle, several young guys went past me driving a four-wheel Gator, or Mule...not sure of the make, or animal in this case.  They slowed, wondered if I was lost, smiled and gave me a wave as if to say "don't worry, we'll be back this way to pull you out of whatever trouble is waiting ahead."

Wildcat Creek off West 500 South, Carroll County
 A bit further down I came to a place where the road curved in toward Wildcat Creek, just kissing the bank long enough to get a good view downstream.  I stopped and took a few shots, then jumped in the car and continued my expedition.  Not much further, the road began to climb a slight hill and I could see the curves of this most remote road take shape ahead of me.  What a find.

What I wouldn't give to take a slow drive down an old gravel road today.  To have the windows down, the sound of locusts coming like waves over the bean field, to hear the loud call of a crow.  To pull off the side of the road, lean against the car while gazing downstream of a slow moving river.  To feel the warmth of the sun on your face, a slight breeze that rustles the leaves in the trees.  We Hoosiers are blessed by all four seasons, each in their full glory of heat and rain and snow and cold.  But we never tire of complaining about the weather, though the truth of the matter is if we didn't love it, we would have left a long time ago.

27 January 2014

An appetite for summer....

Grape juice.....from "The Vineyard at Sycamore Hill"
Even a guy who loves winter as much as I do has a limit.  That limit would be 15 degrees below zero.  So, to maybe bask in the summer that was, I'm going to offer a post or two reflecting on warmer days.

When we lived in town we had a little postage-stamp-sized garden.  It was about 8' deep by maybe 20' long.  Some of you are already thinking "postage-stamp size??"  You have to understand, my family had a gi-normous garden outdone only by my grandfather's "truck-patch" which easily exceeded 80' x 150'.  When we moved to the country four years ago, before there was even a hint of spring, I took great care in laying out what I thought would be a "sufficient" garden at merely 60' x 40'.  Added to that garden was an orchard and several grape vines that were planted in 2011.

Early in the life of the first garden planted at the Hill
The garden's first year produced a bumper-crop...particularly of cucumbers.  I adjusted the planting accordingly and the following years seemed fine.  This year my wife informed me that she would be too busy to can this past year's harvest, so instead of more tomatoes and beans, I planted extra rows of pumpkins just to fill the void.

Harvesting the 2010 bumper crop
In 2013, we were treated to our first harvest from the orchard and "vineyard" as I call it.  Of the peach, cherry, and apple trees, the lone peach tree blossomed and produced some of the finest peaches I've ever had.  My wife combined the peaches with raspberries that grow next to the garage for an amazing pie.  By the end of the summer I realized that we were going to have a bumper crop of grapes too....for the few vines we have, and for them only being two years old, I can consider two bushel baskets a bumper crop.  I gave one basket away and we took the other and made our own canned grape juice.  Since the grapes did so well, it got me thinking about branding and maybe making a go of wine making...."from the vineyards at Sycamore Hill".

Death of a cucumber, from the bumper crop of 2010
The Gurneys and Starke Brothers catalogs came last week.  It got me thinking of spring and summer all over again, and what the good earth, now slumbering beneath a deep cold blanket of snow, will bring forth again.

22 January 2014

Lemon's 1837 LaPorte County Home

I will admit probably for the first time on this blog, that I generally meet stories that are relayed to me of great historical interest with a large amount of skepticism.  It's not as though I don't want to believe a homeowner when they tell me Abe Lincoln slept in their bedroom, or that the home was used in the Underground Railroad.  It's just, well, a healthy dose of reality for what is plausible.  So recently when a good friend of mine who has been doing restoration work on a house in LaPorte County tried to tell me that the house was built in 1837 and he saw the drawings, my skeptical mind-full of a lot of interesting (but frankly useless) facts about the history of LaPorte County-sent up the yeah, right signal with rolling eyes.

Knowing the house, it didn't seem to me such a large home would have been constructed 1) in that location, and 2) that early in the county.  I mean, if it were from 1837 it may well be the oldest documented home in the LaPorte County.  Not likely.  He mentioned my name to the homeowner as one who could provide some consulting advice on features of restoration and on the history of the home.  We talked and scheduled a meeting.  Soon the house began to unfold its 177 year old history before my eyes.  Indeed....the oldest documented house that I am aware of in the county, and much of this part of the state.

I wrote about another slightly later house in LaPorte County called the Ames House on this blog before.  The Ames House has New England construction traits in that it has corner column construction-meaning on the interior of the house the outside corner columns project into the room.  This simply wasn't a practice in Northern Indiana.  But here it was again in this house from 1837, built by William Parker.  And furthermore, the owner unrolled a lengthy letter in which the owner, John Lemon, spelled out the specifications for his home with Mr. Parker.  This included a floor plan/elevation drawing.  The document was dated 1837.

Major John M. Lemon arrived in LaPorte County in about 1834.  He was assigned as the receiver for the land office established by the United States Government in LaPorte.  From this land office settlers would purchase lands throughout much of the north-western and north-central parts of the state.  In its early days LaPorte County had but two roads:  the Michigan Road, which connected the Ohio River to a newly established town on Lake Michigan, called Michigan City, and the Old Chicago-Detroit Road, which follows most of modern-day Highway 2.  LaPorte, due to the land office, began to be a bustling place for land-buyers.  In order to accommodate settlement outward, LaPorte County decided to build a plank road in the early 1830s.  The plank road would connect Michigan City to LaPorte and then head southeasterly to the newly established town of Plymouth.    This plank road is Highway 35 north of LaPorte (it connected to the Michigan Road), and Highway 104 south of LaPorte to Highway 6.  In Marshall County the road is called the Plymouth-LaPorte Trail.

Major Lemon, who presumably gained his rank in the War of 1812, purchased land along this new plank road near its crossing with the Kankakee River.  The crossing, which had been used by Native Americans for centuries, formed a natural ford in the great marsh of the Kankakee.  At first a ferry was used at this site, then the first bridge was constructed in the early-1830s by John Dunn.  Lemon made an agreement with the county to operate the bridge as a toll bridge, which he later reconstructed in the mid-1840s.  Through this time the southern part of LaPorte County actually was part of Starke County and in order for people to conduct business in Knox, the county seat, they had to travel a considerable distance northeast to cross at Lemon's bridge in order to again go southwest to Knox.  The settlers of this area petitioned to come under LaPorte County, which occurred, but the traffic across Lemon's bridge continued at a good clip.  Even after several subsequent replacements, the bridge on 104 is still known as "Lemon's Bridge".

The two-story portion of the house dates to 1837.  It was constructed as a Federal Style home with chimneys on either end, 15-lite windows (meaning-not double-hungs), doors with transoms and side-lites, and specified dimensions for walls and ceiling heights.  It appears that during the mid-19th century the house was also used as a lodge for travelers and hunters of the marsh.  At that time a summer kitchen was added to the back of the house.  Still later, in the early 20th century, stone porches and other Craftsman details were added to the home.  While I could tell that there was an old house under the changes, I would have never guessed 1837.  Sometimes you just never know.

20 January 2014

All Life Day

A blog post began to roll around in my head last Friday after hearing that yesterday would be our annual observance of the sanctity of life.  I began to think of the life that we so often overlook on a daily basis, including those of the unborn.  I remember a message delivered by my pastor more than twenty years ago about the coming danger in a general lack of respect for life.  I remember him saying that when we allow our children to kill or otherwise harm the most helpless of God's creation, that it allows a dulling of our conscience in the care for all life.  He was a critic of violence on television and movies and video games.  And that was 20 years ago.  Before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, and now in our backyard, before Elkhart.

Life:  regardless of religion.
Life:  regardless of the color of their skin.

In recognizing "sanctity of life day" our pastor gave words to this yet unformed post.  All life.  We believe in the sanctity of all life, because all life is God-breathed.  Unfortunately for some, it dulls the political sword we want to wield to recognize that all life is sacred.  But it is in recognizing this that we can ever hope for change.  Our yelling can seem like a sounding brass, if there isn't love for all life.

Life:  regardless of choices that have been made.
All life, regardless of the choices that have been made.  Regardless of the circumstances into which they were born.  Regardless of the color of skin.  Regardless of religion.  God is the creator of all life.  Not just those that look like, think like, believe like us.  And while it pangs my heart to think of the lives snuffed out from abortion, don't we in our words-our choices-our minds-our spirits, take a knife to life around us?

Life:  regardless of circumstances into which they were born.
Sanctity of life is as much a choice in our own spiritual condition as it is for the mother who ends a beating heart.  Is it up to us to choose to which life we ascribe value?  Do we think others are merely circumstances of the fall and not our responsibility?  In every beating heart the life from God can be found.  We must only see them the way He does, and respond in His love.

15 January 2014

Budding Arboriculturist

Fruit and nut specimen boxes-ingenious for a 9 year old don't you think?
 It's true, I had several childhood activities that may have been atypical.  I imagined myself a superhero named the "Tomahawk Kid" for a brief time.  My dirt bike was named the General Lee.  And I had most of the woods, pastures, fields, and swamps in a mile radius of our house mapped out with specific landmarks and trees that could be climbed.  But the one thing that I think stupified my wife, shortly after we were married, was the revelation that I had quite a large leaf collection.....and not just leaves, but the nuts, seeds, berries, cones, etc. that came along with the tree host I selected the leaf specimen from.  I think I was about 9 when I started it and I continued collecting until I turned 12 or 13.  I collected from our trips to the Southwest, California, Wyoming, and into the southern states of Tennessee and Kentucky.

My folks have been cleaning out their attic, so when a couple of boxes made their way to our house they weren't met with the kind of jubilation that one would expect due to such a great treasure-trove from my childhood.  Within the boxes were rows of drawers divided into specimen slots for acorns, pine cones, seeds, and other bearings from trees.  The drawers and slots were all keyed back to the scrapbook in which my leaf collection was kept.  The book, easily 6" thick with more than 100 specimens, found its way to our house a few years ago.

I can't say that I would consider myself a botanist.  A tree person-yes.  I remember a walk through Potato Creek with an environmental class from Bethel College during which time the ranger asked questions to test our knowledge of trees.  Before long it became just a dialogue between myself and the ranger, stumping even the professor.  What can I say....I know my trees, I'm just a geek that way.

My son and his buddies around a sycamore on a camping trip
Back to the specimen boxes.  Knowing that they probably didn't "belong" in our house, I snapped a few pictures for posterity, and for this blog post, and then offered them up as a sacrifice on the burn pile where other relics from my past have been turned to smoke and ash.  I'm hoping at least one of my kids inherits this trait of an appreciation for the environment, not that they have to be full-blown tree huggers or anything like their old man.

13 January 2014

The Seven Pillars of the Mississinewa.....and places to eat in Peru

Our preservation group's day-trip in Miami County
For those of you who think that interesting geological formations are restricted to locations outside of Indiana, or possibly along the Ohio River, I have a few things to inform you of, well, seven actually.  Our preservation organization spent the better part of a day touring several Miami County sites including the museum in downtown Peru, and a few Cole Porter sites in the community.  But it was the "7 Pillars" as they are known that stole the show for me.

The wind and water-shaped formations along the north bank of the Mississinewa River have an ancient past and are considered a sacred site by the Miami Indians.  The Pillars are located about three miles east of Peru along the Francis Slocum Trail.  This corridor is steeped in Indiana history as well from the time the Miami villages were swept through by troops for removal in 1812.  The Battle of Mississinewa was one of the first directives of General William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812.

a BIG tenderloin sandwich at Homer's in Peru
If you visit the site, you have to view it from the south bank to fully appreciate it.  A viewing area for the public is provided, though not the easiest to find.  I might also recommend sharing a tenderloin with someone if you eat at Homer's on Canal Street in Peru.  People warned me, but I just didn't believe them.

If milkshakes and chili dogs are more your thing, then try Mr. Weenies on Old 31 north of the downtown......as my buddy can attest.

Mr. Weenie (on the right) and a buddy of mine in Peru

08 January 2014

Will's Feed & Saddle Shop, Rochester

My great great grandpa's feed and saddle shop in Rochester (right).  The Mail Pouch sign and an earlier Henry George tabacco sign (just barely visible) would have been painted on the building while he owned it.
I seem to be on a family tree theme, if you'll indulge me a bit more.  A few weeks ago I was driving through Rochester and passed by a building that my grandfather told me once housed his grandfather's saddle and tack shop.  I had noticed the building next to it had been extensively renovated, covering up much of its original appearance, so I thought....shoot....I better take a picture of my great-great-granddad's store while it still looks like it did in the early 1900s.

Will and Adella Garner's home at 514 Fulton Street, Rochester
In the last years of his life I would drive my grandfather, whose real name was Charles, but he went by "Jack" to visit his sister, Hazel, who lived just outside of Rochester.  Gramps would point out various things he remembered in Rochester as a boy, though he grew up in Argos.  He told me once that his grandfather came with his brothers from Ireland.  I found that to be inaccurate.  He also told me that we were part Cherokee through that line.....another claim I've found no evidence of.  So, I do take hesitation on relaying the earlier part of this story-though his grandfather, William, was listed as owning a farm, and being a merchant in the censuses.

The William and Adella (Prill) Garner family, c. 1902.
"Will" Jacob Garner was born in Cass County, Michigan in 1861 to Henry, who, according to my grandfather's aunt, only stuck around long enough to make babies.  She was 95 when she told me this.....and I cleaned it up!  In Henry's defense, he was enlisted in the Union Army.  The family had lived in Wabash County for nearly 20 years before moving to Michigan, and then returning to Fulton County, Indiana after the war.  Will married Adella Prill, who was supposedly Cherokee, and they had a large family of nine children.  I've seen a photo of the farm they lived on near Leiter's Ford in the late 1800s.  But by 1900, Will had moved his family into Rochester to 514 Fulton Street, where Will and Adella continued to live until his death in 1942.  A brother named John, who they called "Jack" lived with Will's family in the early 1900s.  This was the first of four generations of Jacks in our family.

My great grandfather, Harley, and his father, Will, at Will's house on Fulton Street, c. 1939.
Will opened a feed, saddle and tack shop on the north end of Rochester's downtown, on the Michigan Road, in about 1900 just a few blocks from his house.  While in town I swung by to see if I could locate 514 Fulton Street.  It was still there and it matches the house I have a photo of from about 1940.  Every generation of my family since Will have also been entrepreneurs.  While that may seem like I'm bragging, my wife pointed out once that it's likely because we can't work for anyone else.  That seems highly accurate.

06 January 2014

A simple life: the Hilliards of North Township

The unusual double headstone for the Hilliard family is located near the center gate of Fairmount Cemetery, just a few rows in from the Michigan Road in North Township, Marshall County.

Taking pointers from the sermon series our pastor preached during December, I thought I would write about an ancestor that typically would be left out of the "who's who" in my family tree.  A few individuals in the genealogy of Christ presented at the beginning of Matthew were unlikely candidates to be included by Matthew to present Christ's "Jewishness".  Individuals that most would have skipped over, like Rahab, present a picture of Christ as the Son of God of second chances, of the not-so-famous or desirable.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the oldest cemetery in Marshall County and one of its residents, Silas Higbee, a notable person in North Township.  But also buried there are a few of my ancestors that are part of a line that produced 10 generations who have lived in this area.  But they're anything but famous, and they certainly knew hard times.

John Hilliard and his wife, Maria, were born in Ohio.  John was born in about 1800, probably in Miami County, Ohio where an exceptionally large and early Hilliard family was present.  An older John Hilliard and his wife Elizabeth were one of the first families in the county during the 1780s.  By 1850 the younger John was married and lived in Centre Township, LaPorte County, Indiana were he had a small farm and two sons, Bronell and Fielding, and a daughter, Elizabeth.  The family had purchased land and were residing in North Township, Marshall County by 1853, the same year Bronell married Lavina Fites in nearby St. Joseph County.  Lavina was born near Bremen in 1834.  John's land holdings grew fairly substantially, but he suffered two losses during the 1860s.  First his daughter, Elizabeth, died in 1867, then his wife died in 1869.  Both are buried at Fairmount Cemetery.  Financially he must have suffered as well.  He was living with his son, Bronell, in 1870, and his land was gone.

The township trustees were charged with care for the indigent.  I came across a North Township trustee's ledger from the 1870s and in it found that John Hilliard was judged a pauper and was ordered to be detained at the county asylum (poor farm) which would have been located near Tyner at this time.  His stay must not have been long because he was living with his son again by 1880.  The census records indicate John was an invalid.  John died in about 1885 and is thought to be buried next to his wife and daughter in Fairmount Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  A rather inglorious life likely shaped by toil and hardship.

Several years ago my great aunt, who was township trustee at the time, gave me a few items from this side of my family.  One item is an exceptionally old rocking chair that had belonged to John Hilliard and dates to c. 1850.  I think about its story from time to time, how it likely made the journey from Ohio to LaPorte County, and then on to North Township in Marshall County where the family has since resided for 160 years.  I think about the hope that they must have had in purchasing their farm, and the sadness in losing his daughter, wife, and farm in a short period of just a few years.  Something about that loss makes the rocking chair that much more important to me.  It isn't priceless jewelry, rare glassware, or highly-refined furniture.  It's just a simple chair from a simple life laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

02 January 2014

Highlights from 2013 in pictures

We started 2013 by tearing things up.  When we moved to the farmhouse we learned quickly that one bathroom just wasn't going to be enough.  Two years into living here I realized that if we just switched the staircase back to its original 1865 location, we'd have room for a bath off our bedroom.  To our surprise, when they changed the staircase in the 1930s, the owners left the original sealed up in the wall....so in January we began a remodel project that lasted nearly the whole year.  Just before Thanksgiving our daughter made the inaugural flush in the new bathroom.

I was asked to serve on the board of our community foundation in 2010.  It's hard to say no to a group that does so much good for the community.  While it was difficult to say goodbye, 2013 marked the last year of my 3 year term.  I chaired the grants committee which meant I had the most rewarding job of all.....giving away $$$ to awesome endeavors in our community.

2013 marked our 15th anniversary, and since it was such a short dating and engagement period, it also marked the 15th anniversary of when we were engaged.  We met at a coffee shop in town called the "Olde World Cup".  A buddy of mine had the sign stored in his barn....which was brought to my barn and used to convert the space into a surprise coffee shop for my wife and several of our friends and family.

2013 was a year of saying goodbye.  My cousin passed away early in the spring and for the first time in what seemed like many, many years the rest of us cousins were together for the photo-op above.

Both my grandfather and grandmother remarried after their spouses passed away.  2013 also marked the year that both of these "step" grandparents passed away.  My grandmother married Doc Bowen in 1981 and by far he became one of the greatest influences on my life growing up.  Doc passed away this spring and again I found myself saying goodbye.
I had the great fortune to hang out with this guy when I landed a job in Covington, Indiana which required an overnight stay at Turkey Run for some unlucky soul who had to follow me around for two days and take notes while I documented a few hundred buildings in this west-central Indiana town.  I've learned that hanging out with college kids raises my IQ on many subjects, but also makes me realize that those days are long in my past.  My work in Covington was probably the highlight of my professional life this year.  And I learned that it is incredibly difficult to take a selfie with a bulky 35mm camera, as is demonstrated by the look on my face above.

That overnight stay at Turkey Run was followed up by two more over the course of the summer.  One of those included a daddy-daughter camping-canoe trip with a fellow dad and his daughter.  Here we are on Sugar Creek.

The family headed east for a long vacation in the Adirondacks and the Boston-Plymouth, Mass. area this summer.  It's not hard to imagine that a history geek like me would eat this up.  My family roots go pretty deep in New England, so when we plotted our trip I had to make a stop at the oldest windmill in the United States, that just so happened to have been built by my 10x great grandfather Thomas Paine.

A different kind of goodbye was said when my cousin, who is more like a little brother to me, headed off to Hawaii for a job over an aquarium.  I'm proud as heck of him, but c'mon did you have to go so far away?  By early fall I would learn that my real little brother was planning to go even further from home....to Fiji!
After five years of dreaming, and a lot of work, the first signs for the Michigan Road Byway began to pop up along the route in Indiana.  I've had such a great experience working in this effort to bring heritage tourism and economic development to our state, I can't wait for what will develop from this.  I became the president of the byway association this fall and the whole route should be signed within a few months into the new year.

And what would fall be like without our family's annual Harvest Party?  Here are my folks with their grandkids and great granddaughter.  My parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year, and as I type this I'm struck by the realization that my brother is going to be in Fiji!
And speaking of anniversaries, my wife and I celebrated our 15th in one of our favorite spots-Galena, IL.  I think I have improved my selfie skills.
This shot of South Bend's skyline came from on top of the old Studebaker assembly building.  Professionally my year culminated with the prospect of working with the owner of the building and the City of South Bend in rebirthing the landmark for future generations while preserving the heritage that helped build the city.

And speaking of rebirth....what would be more fitting than my daughter reading the story of Christ's birth for our family Christmas?  Each year one of the grandkids reads the story and it was her turn, for the first time, this year.  I pray for peace and prosperity to abound in, and most importantly through you in 2014.  May we all find the grace and hope provided to us by the birth of a most unlikely king.

Gafill Oil Company in Argos

My great-grandfather (above) may have started our family in the fuel business with his employment as the agent for an oil company in ...