Tuesday, September 23, 2008

History Lessons

When we arrived here in June, I kept lots of stuff packed away in boxes with the idea that I would get it out once we were in the new house. We already had dishes and pots and pans here, although they were all my castoffs from home—the cheaper, worn out things that you use at a cabin on vacation. Slowly, and because it is taking longer than expected to get into the new house, I’ve been unpacking all my better stuff and using it now in the cabin. I needed a cake pan, then the hand mixer, then a muffin tin, and oh, hell why not bring down the blender while I’m at it…

Today, I hooked up the HP Photo-smart printer/scanner—something that was waiting for the office in the new house. I had to, though, because I can’t wait any longer to write this post about the history of the cabin and our little patch of land. My eagerness comes from the book I’m reading: The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert. I knew about Eckert from his book That Dark and Bloody River, a history of the Ohio River Valley. I had no idea what a prolific writer he is, though, as well as a “noted American naturalist” according to his website. He was nominated seven times for the Pulitzer Prize—one of those times was for The Frontiersmen. It is a historical narrative about the opening of Kentucky and the Northwest Territory (including my patch of Ohio) from 1755 – 1836. Our cabin was built in 1828. It is fascinating to read about what it was like back then, and a joy to have it written so well. Eckert writes with respect and admiration for both sides of the conflict—American Indian and white settler, in particular the frontiersmen Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone. Though it was inevitable that North America was invaded by Europeans, I wish that they would have done it with a lot more respect and tolerance. What a shame that we’ve lost the rich culture of the indigenous people of this part of the world. I think about them when I walk around our woods and meadows. I wonder what they did here—whether any villages sat here, or if it was a hunting ground, or an important trailway.

I also wonder often about the people who built this cabin, Abner and Jane Williams.

The cabin and differing portions of the land was in Abner’s family until we purchased it in 2001 from his great, great granddaughter, Mary Lou Neff and her husband, Bill. Bill and Mary Lou bought the property in the 1970s and worked hard to get it listed on the National Register of Historical Places. They were successful…
The Neffs were so friendly and shared a lot of information about the property. Mary Lou made color copies of the two original land deeds for the farm, signed by presidents James Madison and James Monroe. They were too big to scan, but I’m planning on framing them and hanging them in the cabin for visitors. She also gave us copies of pictures—of Abner and Jane above, and a long view of the land from sometime in the past. Lots of deforestation, for sure! The above is a shot from our neighbor's land across County Rd. 761 which doesn't exist in this picture. The old Township Rd 166 follows the tree line you see going past the cabin on the far left. Below is a closer view of the cabin and the barn from the picture above.Mary Lou also gave us copies of the application for the National Register designation. From that I learned the following:
“According to family records and Noble Co. History, Abner Williams (a Quaker) acquired the land in 1827, so presumably the house was built in 1827 or 1828. Abner was one of the first two Justices of the Peace for Wayne Twp (1851). Abner and his wife, Jane, had nine children who were raised in the house. One daughter died at age 16. A son, Aaron, died in the Civil War (Co. G., 78th Ohio Vol. Inf.). Another son, Thomas, represented Noble County in the State Legislature in the 1880s.

“The house is a fine specimen of the log architecture of the period. The foundation has been repaired (with logs from an old log building nearby). Some of the original hardware remains on doors. There is original flooring on the second floor, and doors and two of the windows appear to be original. Planned restoration includes removing additions of a kitchen and lean-to, also restoring original fireplace which was converted to a smaller parlor fireplace when kitchen was added (probably mid-1800s).”

When I read about the people who built this place that I’m sitting in 180 years later, I think several things. First I think: Nine children. Wow. At least Jane had a parlor fireplace. That was nice. And then I simply marvel at the passing of time and generations and cultures. What would those people say if they could visit their home today? They’d see me typing at my computer, scanning a worn picture of them on my Photo-smart, and drinking an espresso made on the electric range. And I’d have to tell them that my husband is off making a living for us in the nearby city. And that, oh yeah, I’ll be getting around to shelling those walnuts in just a few days. Jeez, give me a break, Abner! This land has been here for a long time. I presume that the Indians knew it intimately. The settlers came and got to know it in a different way. One family lived on it for generations. And now I live here. I feel a responsibility to learn more about the history of this place—not only about the people who have lived here, but of the land itself. History is as big as you want it to be, I guess. I don’t have any detailed plans on learning all the things I want to know, but I delight in finding tidbits here and there and pondering them while I sit listening to the late summer crickets and watching the colors turn yet again to those of another season.


Family Smudge said...

Hi Meg,

Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. How fascinating the history is to your place and fabulous that you know what you do about it. We are starting to pine for a place to call home and I only hope that one day I will be sitting on my piece of land thinking about its history.

I am sure that Abner and Jane would be very happy to know that someone cares for their land and their history as much as you do.

We saw a guy in our street shelling almonds the other day in a nifty little machine ... I hope you have one of those!


Meg said...

Hi Alice!
I know that you will find a great place when you're ready. It will be fun to read about your adventure in finding and settling it.

I've been told that I should run over the walnuts with my car. A drastic measure, but I've already seen, by accident, that it works to remove the skins. Then you spend all winter hammering away at the inner shells with a stone whenever you might need some walnuts. Hmmm.

Family Smudge said...

That sounds like alot more fun (if more time-consuming) way than the nifty little machine we saw!!!!

Sometimes it is nice just to take time to do things slowly - everything seems to be so 'instant' in todays world!