Pioneer Life in Ashland County
By Katie Shopbell Shidler - 1890
As today, Feb. 22, 1890, is my fifty-sixth birthday, I thought I would like to have a talk with the boys and girle of Maplegrove and vicinity; to tell them of the old pioneers forty-five and fifty years ago; of our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, who moved here, most of them from Pennsylvania in early years, 60 and 70 years ago.
They worked hard to clear up this timbered country for our and your benefit that we may enjoy the pleasures of life. Our fathers and mothers and old neighbors are nearly all sleeping beneath the clods of the valley; a few are left to tell the old, old stories of pioneer life. In the old St. Lukes cemetery you will find their names and ages inscribed. I frequently take a stroll through the grave yard, as the bodies that are mouldering there are near and dear to me by the ties of nature and as old neighbors. I can never forget them while memory lasts, as they were so good and kind toward us that they seemed like angels and saints. Our parents always spoke so highly of them that we learned to love them when quite young, and that love has never grown cold toward them; we look forward with anticipation to meet them again in a better clime where parting is no more. My father, Jacob Shopbell, moved here from Columbia county, Pa., with his family in 1832, bought a farm in Richland now Ashland county, Orange township, near now what is Leidigh's mill.
When he first came here there were log houses and log barns covered with clapboards, and the cracks daubed shut with mud and chunks; the saw mills were scarce if any from the time I can remember, that is fify years ago. The people began to build hewed log houses and barns; frame houses and barns were not in fashion in those days. The neighbors all, far and near, turned in and helped to build each others houses and barns, and log rolling parties were frequent; so you see we stood in need of more neighbors then, than we do now.
Most of them had large families and could talk the Pennsylvania German, and the greater part of them were democrats, and their successors still uphold the same party; that is why Orange township goes democratic.
Forty-four years ago Ashland county was organized, and I well remember of us boys and girls singing.
Ashland gained the county seat,
And Hayesville met with sore defeat,
Then Hurrah for Ashland county.
Then Hurrah for Ashland county.
Ashland girls are young and handsome.
Ashland boys are brave and winsome.
Then hurrah for Ashland county.
Then hurrah for Ashland county,
Ashland then, was only a small town; the hitching posts were on Main st., on both sides of the street, close to the pavement. There were no saloons or billiard tables or pool playing. Drunkards were scarce then, and parents had work for their boys and girls. The girls used to help the boys to flail rye, and many a hard lick we got by hitting our heads with it till we learned how to handle it right. Girls were stronger than they are now, nor did they need any paint to paint their cheeks, for the bloom of health was on their face; there were but few doctors; there was not much for them to do; funerals did not often happen, I don;t remember of attending any till I got to be 14 years old; of course there were some, but little girls did not go to them. The reason we were all healthy was, we did not have the rich victuals we now have, our pie dough was made of bread dough and we did not get sweet cakes very often. Canned fruit was not known; we dried all our fruit instead of canning. The girls all wore coarse shoes and the boys wore shoes too, for there were no boots. I never had a custon-made shoe on my foot till I was 19 years old. Father made all our shoes, and skin was the finest leather that we had then.
Pinched waists and Pinched feet were not in style then. I remember the first cooking stove that father brought home from Milan; mother thought she would not like it, but after she got used to it she would not do without it.
People all had fire places in their houses and all cooked by them; we had a crane fastened in our fire-place with a part fixed to hang the dinner pot on and a dutch oven to bake in. Many a pot-pie was made in the dutch oven; our skillet had legs a foot long, and a handle four feet long; we generally had potatoes and meat for breakfast and always had a cooked dinner., sometimes potatoes and side meat cooked together, and sometimes chicken pot pie and apple dumplings, if we had any apples.
We always cooked our vegetables with meat, and for supper we generally had mush and milk and soup of some kind. In harvest time we always took out a 10 o'clock piece of bread and butter, ball cheese, sometimes apple pie or fried cakes made out of bread dough. Separators and mowing machines and binders, wheel hay rakes, hay tedders and the like were not known, but the hand sickel and cradle, hand rake and wooden forks to turn the hay, and the girls could cut wheat with the sickel and bind after the cradle as well as the boys. The grass was cut with scythes and spread with a stick sharpened at each end.
The neighbors nearly all raised flax to work up for clothing and bed clothing, it had to be sowed much thicker than when we wanted it for seed. We pulled it all by hand and bound it in bunches; when it was dry we hauled it to the barn and took the flail and hammered the seed off, then took it to the meadow and spread it out over several acres; left it there till the shives were rotten; then took it home and fixed a scaffold; laid a bundle one at a time and put
fire under it to dry;then took the flax brake and broke it. I almost imagine I can hear the sound of the old flax brake yet; then they handed it to the girls who scutched it till all the shives were out; then they put it through the crop hackle; then through a coarse hackle; then the fine hackle. What we hacked out was tow, that we spun for grain sacks and chaff ticks; the flax we spun for table linen and towels, sheets, pillow slips, dresses and pantaloons. We also worked up all our wool from twenty-five or thirty sheep, made coverlets, blankets, casinet cloth, flannels, Linsey and father did the weaving. Carpets were not in style those days; nobody had any. I must tell the boys and girls how we used to full our blankets, cloth and casinet; we laid two logs on the floor about six or seven feet apart, boys bare-footed on each log, held the blankets between their feet and kicking with all their might while someone would pour hot soapsuds on the blanket; it took several hours. The neighbor boys came in to help and had lots of fun. Boys, how would you like it. We had a rope machine that we used to make all our bed cords, clothes lines, plow lines, and the neighbors made their ropes too.
Boys and girls, I wish you could have taken a peep in our old log school house that stood on the hill between Sadlers and William Kendig's just where the road leads down to John Pollock's, you could see a vast difference between our school house and the school house now, there were five windows and long disks all around the walls.
The big girls and boys sat with their backs toward the wall all facing each other, the little scholars all sat around the stove facing each other and had to hold their books in their hands, as there were no desks to lay them on.
The master's chair stood behind the stove, the boys wore red blouses and home spun pants, the girls all wore flannel or linsey for dresses, they wore bonnets and shawls and cloaks, and when we came in the school house in the morning we all made our manners to the master, the girls bowed their knees and the boys bowed their heads.
We had a very large school, as the school district was much larger then, then now, and generally we had men of thirty or forty years of age to teach. My first teacher was John Bright, the next was Turner, the next Parker, and his wife taught little scholars; the next was Rasabell Wilson, then Glasford, then Charles Coleman, then Thomas Calhoon. He taught two terms; Israel Myers taught two terms and then Milton Mason, who was my last teacher, about forty years ago. There is but one of my teachers living and that is Thomas Calhoon. I wish he would come around and visit some of his old scholars. How glad we would be to see our old master as we called him. I remember the first blackboard that was brought in the old school house; it was about three feet long and two and one-half wide; some of the big boys ciphered on it. But very few of the girls studied arithmetic. In about five years after they brought another blackboard about as large as a door; they were all the blackboards the old school house ever got. Reading and writing and spelling were all the younger scholars from 10 to 14 had, and they read in the spelling book. First we had the United States spelling book; in 1845 we got the elementary spelling book; the larger scholars read in the English reader. I think their arithmetric was called the Western Calculator; it was a hard book for young beginners; there were a few of the larger scholars studying grammar and geography. The big and little scholars were all used alike; if the big scholars broke the rule they had to take a whipping or leave school. On Christmas we had lots of fun; the big boys would pen the master out until he would promise to treat; sometimes he treated with apples and sometimes with cake; how much we relished them. Yet the spot where playground was is now farmed over and the green grass that used to grow there is no longer to be seen. Oh, where are the scholars? Some have moved to the far west and some have crossed over on the other shore; some still live around here. Oh what changes there have been made in forty and fifty years, and oh, how many have passed away since then. Of the old pioneers that yet remain in this vicinity are Jesse Wertman and wife, Abraham Miller and wife, John Binard and wife, widow Kendig, widow Murray, widow Means, widow Lehman, widow Linard. How few remain of our old neighbors, but when you meet them they all seem cheerful and happy.
I went through the woods last week to see a sick woman, Miss Fast, and I went across where the old camp meeting ground was on Joseph Gray's place, and I noticied there on a large beech tree some one had carved out a meeting house with a large steeple, a door, windows and steps in the year 1840. That is fifty years ago; I remember of being at that camp meeting; mother took me by the hand and led me around the tents and went in one where Katie Hartman was reading in the Bible; she was only a young girl and could not talk or hear. She is still living but very aged. She lives with her sister, Mrs. Heifner.
Oh boys and girls I wish you could have seen our big wagon bed that father brought from Pennsylvania. I believe it held a hundred bushels. He must have had it chuck full for all the family and bedclothes and every thing that they brought along in it. I remember the house we built fifty-three years ago. It is still standing, but the weather boarding is falling off and the logs are peeping through. Oh, how pleasant it used to be in the winter evenings; we would make up a big fire in the fireplace, put in a back log; we had fire dogs to keep up the back log so it did not roll out on the hearth; it made the kitchen light without a candle. When butchering time come, it was fun to see the boys choppping sausage meat; we had a long bench, ten feet long, a board nailed on the back and at each end to keep the meat from flying out. The neighbor boys, Leidigh boys and Fulmer boys, came to help chop the meat. They could almost play a tune with their choppers.
I am afraid my letter is getting too long to be interesting, the boys and girls will get tired of reading it, although there might be lots more said.