Thursday, August 27, 2015

Castle Rock

Old photograph of Castle Rock
Returning from a niece's recent wedding in Colorado, we spotted a sign directing travelers to Castle Rock.  How many times do all of us take for granted interesting places and events in our general area, thinking we will visit them another time or just taking them for granted because they are nearby?  We had heard about Castle Rock, and we must have passed that sign other times when we were traveling the interstate, but we had hurried by without noticing.  Perhaps like those other times when we kept driving, we were tired and eager to get home, but when my husband asked, "Shall we go see it?" I replied, "Let's do it!"  We left the paved road behind and were on our way

Near Castle Rock, credit Lyn Fenwick
The region in which Castle Rock is located is known as the Smoky Hills of Kansas, and the outcroppings of limestone rocks in what is primarily pasture land present a very different terrain from the sandy loam fields around Isaac Werner's old homestead.  After driving 14 miles we saw a small sign directing us to turn left toward Castle Rock, and when we spotted the outcropping of limestone rock pictured at right, we assumed we were getting close.

Castle Rock is located on private land, and there are no large billboards to direct visitors.  Eventually we saw another small sign indicating we needed to turn left again, and we pulled onto a smaller road which was barely more than what a cattleman might use to get back to his pasture to tend his livestock.  At last we saw two parked cars, and we pulled alongside and walked up a bluff.  Looking off to the north, we got our first glimpse of Castle Rock.
Our first glimpse of Castle Rock, credit Larry Fenwick

We could see roads around Castle Rock, so while I paused to take photographs, my husband went exploring to find the access to those roads.  Castle Rock is a limestone formation weathered by wind and water to create what reminded people of a castle and resulted in its name.  Obviously that weathering continues, and the effects can be exacerbated by people climbing on the rocks.  If you study my photographs closely and compare them with the older photograph at the top of the blog, you may see that one of the castle-like shapes at the top of a pillar is gone, having fallen after a thunderstorm in 2001, perhaps having been weakened by climbers.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Castle Rock is located north and west of Isaac Werner's claim, too far for it to be likely that he ever saw it.  However, many early settlers did, for it was a landmark on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch route (also known as the Overland Trail). 

Imagine travelers crossing the prairie without the paved roads and signage that we have.  Well-traveled routes surely had wheel ruts to help guide them, but those may have been hidden by the prairie grass or faint in rocky soil.  Natural landmarks were their guides, and the towering Castle Rock must have been a welcome sight to many travelers.

Pond Creek Station near Wallace, KS
Even more welcoming may have been the  stations built along the stagecoach route.  Today one of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch stage company buildings has been preserved, not far from its original location.  Located on US Highway 40 in Wallace County, KS, the station was built in 1865.  It survived being moved in 1871 and 1898, finally being returned to near its original location.  The restoration still retains bullet holes from Indian attacks.

We were glad we took the time to deviate from our route in order to see Castle Rock.  Standing on the bluff, we could see for miles, and it was easy to imagine what a courageous undertaking it must have been for the early settlers to leave family and familiar settings behind and strike out for a new life in faraway places they knew only from often exaggerated descriptions in newspapers and promotional flyers.  For many, perhaps most of them, it meant saying good-bye for the last time to family members and friends.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
We were glad we added a few hours to our journey in order to see Castle Rock and to reflect on the early pioneers like Isaac B. Werner and some of our own family members who made the journey West.  But, we were also glad to get back to the interstate and make the journey to our home in air-conditioned comfort and in time to sleep comfortably in our own bed!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Finding Margaret

Isaac's notation regarding his mother
On June 7, 1890, Isaac B. Werner wrote on the flyleaf of his journal "Mother was born Dec. 12th 1812 and yet living June 7th 1890.  I. B. Werner."  The love of a son for his mother, whom he had not seen in many years, seems apparent.

Margaretha Beckley was born in Lebanon County, PA on the 11th of September, 1812.  At the age of thirty she married William Werner, who was slightly more than ten years older.  They made their home in Heidelberg, Berks County, PA, and fifteen months later twin sons, Isaac and Henry were born.  Both boys were given their mother's maiden name as their middle names.

Two years later daughter Emma Rebecca was born, and two years after that daughter Elmira, who lived only briefly.  Their last child was Henrietta, born three years later.

Approaching grave
Margaretha, also known as Rebecca, was widowed in 1865, and for a time she and her two surviving daughters remained in the family home before moving into nearby Reading.  Emma married first, wedding Wm E. Good, and in 1877 Henrietta married Rev. Samuel Palmer.  When Rev. Palmer was called to pastor a Lutheran church in Abilene, KS, Margaretha went with them.  She died on the 22nd of February, 1893 and was buried in Abilene.  The Palmer family moved to Lawrence, KS after her death and are buried there.

It seemed sad to me that Margaretha, spelled Margaret later in her life, had been buried far from any other family member, especially far from her husband William, who was buried in the old Hain's Church burial grounds in Wernersville, surrounded by the graves of many generations of Werners.  (See Isaac's Birth & Childhood," 11-4-2011 in the Blog Archives.)

Margaret Werner's Grave
With the assistance of Twila Jackson at the Heritage Center in Abilene, I learned that Margaret Werner was buried on Lot 12, Block 29 in the Abilene Cemetery, District One.  Four years after my correspondence with Ms. Jackson, my husband and I finally visited Margaret's grave.

The Abilene Cemetery is a lovely shaded cemetery, and Margaret's grave is in the first Block as you enter, to the far left side under an ancient tree.  The cemetery entrance is off of a busy street, and opposite the entrance is a school; however, within the cemetery grounds the trees and gently rolling terrain provide a peaceful setting.

A small visitors' building with a touch screen computer and printer made locating Margaret's grave simple and provided us with a print out map.  We quickly found the stone, and although it was quite weathered, we could make out the inscription:  "MARGARET R./ wife of/ Wm WERNER/ DIED/ Feb 22, 1893/ AGED/ 80 yrs  5 mos  11da/ Resting till the resurrection morning"
Read inscription in above text

By the time of Isaac's death in 1895 he was no longer writing in his journal, so I do not know his reaction to the death of his mother.  As described in the blog, "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1-13-2012 in the Blog Archives, he is buried in Neeland's Cemetery in Stafford County, KS.  By 1900 the Palmer family had left Abilene and were living in Lawrence, where Margaret's daughter was buried in 1931.  Margaret's husband and the infant Elmira were buried in Wernersville, as was Isaac's twin brother Henry, who died in 1913.  Her oldest daughter, Emma, predeceased her mother and was buried in Reading following her death on Dec.  21, 1890. 

Ironically, although Margaret was buried far from her husband, she was buried in the same state as two of her children, Isaac and Henrietta, and William was buried in PA where their other three children are buried.

Margaret's grave looking east
As America was settled and generations moved westward across the continent, it was not uncommon for family graves to be separated by great distances.  Nor was it uncommon for a single family member to be buried with no other family graves nearby, as the family moved away from that location.  (See "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-2013 in the Blog Archives.)

Having spent so much time in Isaac's company, reading his journal and his published writings, I almost felt like a friend, visiting his mother's grave on his behalf.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gopher vs. Mole

Photo credit:  Leonardo Weiss, Gopher
On June 3, 1888 Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal:  "[John] Garvin and I at hand replanting Golden Beauty [corn] listed ground so much taken by the gophers or moles following the subsoiler."  I can certainly identify with Isaac's annoyance, for we regularly find mounds of dirt on our lawn, as well as sinking into shallow tunnels dug too near the surface.  Like Isaac, I tend to use the terms "gophers or moles" interchangeably or spoken together as if they were a single hyphenated word.

2014 row of transplanted maple seedlings

Last summer I was so proud of my row of transplanted maple seedlings.  We caged them to protect them from deer, and every day I carried water to them.  By autumn they had grown to the top of their cages, and the two at the far end of this photograph had done particularly well because they received more sunlight.

Mounds of dirt from tunnels under our lawn
Early this spring I walked out to admire the end two, which I could not so easily see from the house, and as I approached the first one, I couldn't see it.  I walked all the way there and even walked around it in disbelief.  It had disappeared!  I looked up and down the row and all the others were bare from losing their leaves in winter, but they were still in their cages.  The tree at the far end, which had grown quite tall, was leaning a little.  I walked over to make sure it wasn't growing through its cage, and as I reached to pull it straight, it came loose in my hand, cut off at the soil.
Missing cottonwood seedling pulled underground

Gophers or moles had pulled one tree straight down nibbling at its roots and young trunk until it was gone, and was in the process of doing the same to the second tree.  Naturally they chose the finest trees!

Recently our nurseryman Roy was here with his crew to plant some blue spruce trees we added to our landscape,  (See "My New Landscape," 7-31-2014 in the blog archives) and  I told him the story of my disappearing maple.  He listened to my accounting of the destruction by either a gopher or a mole, and when I finished he quietly gave me an education.  "It was probably a gopher," he said, explaining to me that gophers eat earthworms, grubs, vegetables such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce, and the roots of shrubs!  Apparently they also like tender young maple trees, which must have offered a fine feast during winter when other delicacies were scarce.

Photo credit:  Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University, Mole
The greedy gopher(s) were not finished with their underground thefts.  This summer as I walked the row of cottonwood seedlings that I had been tending, I saw a pencil-sized hole in the center of the mounded earth watering saucer where a healthy seedling had been just hours before.  The soil was not disturbed as it would have been if the little tree had been yanked up.  Instead, the supple young leaves had slipped easily through the hole as the seedling was pulled downward by the hungry gopher!

Moles, on the other hand, prefer earthworms and other small invertebrates they find in the soil.  As a gardener, I was annoyed to learn their preference for earthworms, but their dining habits are even more gruesome.  The mole's saliva contains a toxin which can paralyze earthworms without killing them, and moles store the still-living, paralyzed worms in underground larders to consume later.

The photograph at the beginning of this blog, taken in Ano-Nuevo State Park in California, is of a pocket gopher.  There are about 35 species of gophers found in Central and North America.  The photograph just above is of an Eastern Mole, 'ScalopusAquaticus,' a true mole of  the Talpidae family.  They and their close relatives, particularly shrews, are found all over the world.

1921 Debenham & Freebody ad
An interesting story I learned while doing the research for this blog involves Queen Alexandra, wife of the UK King Edward VII.  When the queen purchased a mole-fur coat she started a fashion trend.  Moles had become a serious agricultural problem in Scotland, but the queen's trend turned Scotland's pest problem into a lucrative industry.

Not only is mole leather extremely soft and supple, the pelts have a uniquely velvety texture.  Animals that live on the surface tend to have longer fur with a nap that lies in a specific direction.  Because moles need to move backward and forward in their underground tunnels, their fur tends to be short, dense, and lacking any directional nap.

The likely culprit stealing Isaac Werner's corn and nibbling off my young maple and cottonwood trees was a gopher, but the culprit gobbling up the beneficial earthworms that gardeners love is more likely to be a mole.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Isaac Werner's "Currency"

Potatoes of many varieties, by Scott Bauer
In the late 1800s, as cash became increasingly scarce, neighbors bartered with each other, often swapping labor.  Before Isaac got a horse, he swapped his labor in exchange for neighbors' horses and plows.  Isaac was a talented carpenter, and he built houses and furniture to earn cash or exchange for plowing.  (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 12-28-2012 in the Blog Archives.)

Isaac also used his potatoes as a form of exchange.  In the spring he could barter or sell his seed potatoes, saved in his cellar from the previous season's crop.  In the summer as he dug potatoes, he often took them to town to exchange with merchants as credit for the merchandise he purchased, as well as receiving cash to pay other bills.  (See "Isaac's Potatoes," 2-17-2014 in the Blog Archives.) 

Earliest postage stamps
When he repaired and painted a buggy for a neighbor, the man set up a credit account at Doc Dix's post office store so Isaac could get the supplies he needed for the job.  When he ordered a sign painter's handbook for instructions for painting the buggy, he paid for the booklet by enclosing stamps. 

During the Civil War the use of postal money orders evolved to allow Union soldiers to send money home.  Sending cash through the mail was risky, and even stamps enclosed in lieu of money presented the danger of theft.  Registered letters, which had to be signed for at every point where the letter changed hands, offered some degree of security for sending cash through the mail.  However, the money order system initiated in 1864 offered the greatest safety.  The bill to establish the system passed through Congress without any serious debate.

Postal Money Orders from 1897
The image at left shows two US postal money orders from 1897 offered on e-bay for $490 and sold for "Best Offer."  The fee for the first money orders was 10 cents up to $10, 15 cents up to $20, and 20 cents up to $30.  Not every post office was authorized to offer postal money orders, the authority being based on the amount of business done by each post office.  Isaac recorded in his journal receiving money orders twice and also recorded using a money order to send payments.  Sometimes traveling salesmen, workers, and showmen used postal money orders payable to themselves almost as a form of travelers' checks.

In addition to the post office, express companies also got into the business of transporting money, primarily for banks but also smaller amounts for private citizens.  Following the example of the post office, American Express began selling money orders in 1881.  Isaac makes no mention in his journal of an American Express office.

This concludes the series on early forms of paper currency and substitutions of other means of exchange and barter.  You may read the prior blogs on the topic in the July 2015 archives.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Earliest Currency

Wampum Belt given Wm Penn in 1682
Isaac B. Werner lived on the prairie for several years without incurring indebtedness.  He swapped labor with neighbors and grew crops for his own consumption, as well as selling and bartering his produce.  However, he needed a horse of his own in order to be able to break enough sod to plant sufficient acreage in crops to prosper as a farmer.  He borrowed money for the first time to buy his horse Dolly  (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 12-28-2012 in the blog archives), with extra cash to buy implements.  Thereafter, cash received and paid became the controlling issues of his life, finding sufficient cash to pay interest on his notes but rarely having anything to apply to repayment of principle.

Massachusetts Colonial Currency
Because of their relationship with Great Britain, the colonies designated their money using British terms--pounds, shillings, pence; however, the value assigned to those terms varied from one colony to another.

Apart from the traditional measures of exchange, there was also the use of commodities, not only crops like tobacco and skins such as beaver pelts but also wampum.  The image above depicts the belt of Wampum given to William Penn by the Indians.  Wampum beads were made of various things, but the rarity of the material contributed to the determination of value.  Often sea shells were the material used, found even in the wampum of inland tribes and obviously of greater value than such things as bones and seeds available in their region.

Colonial bills of credit were not backed by gold or silver.  Rather, they were simply promises to pay, and when colonial governments had nothing with which to pay their debts the bills lost value or became worthless.

South Carolina Colonial Currency
During the Revolutionary War, the colonies were expected to help pay for the costs of the army, but most regarded the allocated amount as a "request" rather than an obligation and did not submit full or even partial payments.  The colonial government borrowed money that they had little or no way to repay, offering small likelihood of repayment of the bills of credit they printed.  They turned to the wealthy Robert Morris of Philadelphia, who used his own money to help resolve the indebtedness of the fledgling nation.  He is a hero of the Revolutionary period that few Americans know anything about.  (See "More Money Comments," 7-23-2015 to view a bill with the image of Robert Morris.)

Continental Currency
Benjamin Franklin printed 1779
Then, as now, counterfeiting was a security issue, and the British further weakened the Continental government's credit by counterfeiting their bills in massive quantities.  Morris also paid the counterfeited bills if presented to him for payment, as leaving them in circulation weakened the Continental government just as much as if they were authentic.

After the US Constitution was ratified, a coinage system was established with the passage of the "Mint Act" in 1792.  Paper money was not issued until 1861, but silver certificates and Treasury notes were issued prior to that time,

National Bank Note from Emporia, KS
Between 1793 and 1861 private banks could be granted state charters which allowed them to print and circulate their own money, and approximately 1,600 banks did so.  It is estimated that 7,000 varieties of "state bank notes" were put into circulation.

From 1863 to 1929 the federal government allowed private banks to print National bank notes on paper authorized by the US government, and although thousands of banks issued these notes, the same basic design was used by all of the banks.  The image of the National Bank Note at right was printed by the First National Bank of Emporia, KS.

In 1913 the Federal Reserve System was established and Federal Reserve Bank notes were issued, and for a time both the national bank notes and the Federal Reserve bank notes were issued.  Today, only Federal Reserve currency is produced.

Once Isaac B. Werner went into debt to buy Dolly, more loans followed in the 1880s and early 1890s.  The money was quickly spent on machinery, seed, horses, and interest.  In fact, Isaac was only able to pay interest most of the time, renewing his notes at ever increasing interest rates.  This was the period during which private banks could print "national bank notes."  Isaac did most of his banking in St. John, but it is uncertain exactly what currency he received from the banks when his loans were funded. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

More Money Comments

President Wilson appeared on the $100,000 gold certificate
Following my posting of the first two blogs about American currency, a reader commented that she saw no need to alter the image on the current $10 bill, and she challenged me to provide information about the expense of changing existing currency.  (As an aside, it has been interesting to me that the comments opposing the proposed changes to the $10 bill have come from women, and none of the comments have been particularly supportive of the need to put a woman's image on our currency.)  Because of the challenge to provide information about the cost of changing the image, I have done further research.

At I learned that in 1996 the Bureau of Engraving and Printing changed our currency to make counterfeiting more difficult by imbedding polyester thread and microprinting around the portraits.  This was done to defeat the use of copying machines by counterfeiters.  That website predicted that suggestions to change the images on paper currency were unlikely to be implemented because of the expense of "several hundred thousand dollars for the necessary additional printing and processing equipment."  Further, there would be costs of preparing new printing plates for both sides of the bills.  Yet, it seems that changing the $10 bill is under consideration. 
Portraits are not the only images to have appeared.
It is the Secretary of the Treasury that usually selects the designs, unless specified by an Act of Congress, that decision being made with the advice of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Commission of Fine Arts.  Historically, the older design in circulation has not been recalled when new currency is issued, so if the image of Alexander Hamilton is replaced with a woman's image on the new $10 bills, Hamilton's image will continue in circulation on the old bills for years to come.

Except for the modification to protect against counterfeiting, the fronts and backs of our current currency have remained basically the same since 1928. The law prevents living persons from appearing on government securities, and the tradition has been to depict noteworthy persons and events, generally political figures.  Today those are Washington ($1), Jefferson ($2), Lincoln ($5), Hamilton ($10) Jackson ($20), Grant ($50), and Franklin ($100).  In 1969 production officially ended on the $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $100,000 bills, on which McKinley, Cleveland, Madison, Chase, and Wilson appeared (listed in ascending order); however, printing of high denomination bills ended at the close of 1945.  

Symbolic images of women have appeared
The termination of printing high denomination bills was motivated by such considerations as risks from counterfeiting, and use in the  illegal drug trade and money laundering, but electronic money transactions by banks and the Federal Government also made such large denominations unnecessary.  As you might suspect, rarity has made these bills very collectible, and valuable.  Gamblers in Las Vegas, Nevada once saw a display of one hundred $10,000 bills at Binion's Horseshoe Casino, but the display was eventually dismantled and the bills were sold to collectors.  

Robert Morris, Revolutionary War financier
Some high denomination notes were redeemed, some are in institutional collections, and some are in private collections.  By executive order of President Richard Nixon, the Federal Reserve began taking high denomination bills out of circulation in 1969, and four decades later only 336 $10,000 bills, 342 $5,000 bills, and 165,372 $1,000 were known to exist.

As Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew considers whether to replace the image of Hamilton on the $10 bill with the image of a woman, he must evaluate breaking with precedent, expending a significant amount more than would be spent without the change, and satisfying one group while angering another.     

(Robert Morris is a little known hero of the Revolution as a result of using his own wealth to repay debts incurred by the fledgling government.  Lady Liberty, as well as female depictions of Justice and Victory have appeared.  Treasury Secretary William Marcy appears with Lady Liberty above.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Survey Results for $10 Bill Image

Alexander Hamilton
I have just finished "The Quartet" by Joseph J. Ellis, in which he describes his conclusion that four men were key to making the transition from a confederation to a nation in the drafting and passage of our American Constitution.  Those four men were George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.  While the analysis by Ellis of the importance of those four may not be broadly shared by all historians, he certainly made a strong case for the key roles they played.

Last week's blog did not bring much of an outcry to secure Hamilton's place on the $10 bill.  One follower did write:  "What is wrong with the ten the way it is?  ...people need to forget changing the gender on the money.  How many people actually use paper money?"

Another follower suggested adding a $25 bill to accommodate the call for a woman's image on our paper currency.  A couple of people suggested using Lady Liberty.

In fact, if there is a great outcry to remove Hamilton and put a woman on the $10 bill, it was not reflected in replies from blog followers.  The follower who asked why any change was needed did suggest Sacagawea might be an appropriate choice if the change to a woman's image were necessary.  The detail at left of Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark is from a painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson located in the Montana State Capitol.   I did not receive any chorus of supporters demanding that Hamilton remain on the bill, nor did names of female  replacements flood the comments on facebook or this blog. 

My survey indicated that people who read my blog really don't give much attention to the faces that appear on our paper currency  Perhaps if I had included the cost involved in making a change, I might have received more responses!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

For my International Followers

Federer in 2015 Men's Finals
Here's something especially for all my international followers, for tennis is certainly an international sport.  On this lazy Sunday morning we are watching the Men's Finals 2015 at Wimbeldon.  The outcome is still undecided, and I'm not sure which man our cat is cheering for, but he definitely likes the volleys.  

Yesterday we watched Serena Williams win a very exciting Women's Final Match, but Remington the cat seems to be more interested in the Men's match...perhaps because he is a tom cat.

Bravo to the outstanding matches this year!

Dvokovic in 2015 Men's Finals

Thursday, July 9, 2015

You Can't Please Everybody!

Did you realize there is no woman pictured on U.S. paper currency?  If you haven't realized that, others have, and for the first time in more than a century plans are underway to select a woman to appear on the $10 bill, the next denomation scheduled for an update.  While some are pleased to see that a woman will finally be recognized, not everyone is happy.  In fact, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is among those "appalled" that the founding father currently pictured on the $10 bill is being replaced.

Do you know whose image appears on that bill?  The answer is Alexander Hamilton, whose portrait at right was done by well-known artist John Trumbull.  Do you know the historic role Hamilton played?

This country will never be prosperous again until Silver is reinstated...
Hamilton was an active participant among America's Founding Fathers, but probably his most important role was serving as the 1st U.S. Treasury Secretary.  Bernanke supports leaving Hamilton on the bill because in his opinion, Hamilton was "...without doubt, the best and most foresighted economic policymaker in U.S. history."

Hamilton was an often-cited hero of the Progressive Movement in urging a return to bi-metalism.  For a discussion of that movement, visit "The People's Party Urged Silver," at 7-15-2013 in the blog archives.  In Hamilton's role as the Treasury Secretary, he submitted to the House of Representatives in 1791 his Report on the Establishment of a Mint.  In forming his ideas, he looked to European economists, as well as other founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and New Yorker and Pennsylvania representative to the Continental Congress, Goueurnor Morris.  Although he is said to have favored the single gold standard, what he actually initiated was a bimetallic currency, and the initial bimetallism established under Hamilton is what made him a hero to the Progressives.  The caption under the above political cartoon from the 1890s reads "This country will never be prosperous again until Silver is reinstated to full and unlimited coinage."  
Here is my challenge to you:  First, let me know with your comments (here, on face book, or by e-mail) how you feel about replacing Hamilton on the $10 bill.  Second, if you favor the idea of a woman on the $10 bill, (or on a different choice of US paper currency), what woman from our American history would you prefer.  I hope some of you will participate in this will be fun to see how you feel! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cottonwood Forest

The old cottonwood trees are dying
Isaac B Werner had catalpa trees (See "Isaac's Catalpa Trees," 5-30-2012 in the blog archives), Osage orange trees (See "Planting Osage Orange Trees," 3-15-2012), and maples, but the greatest number of trees were cottonwood trees that he planted with cuttings (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011).  Cottonwood trees were abundant in Isaac's community, but today the old favorites are dying.  I love cottonwood trees--the sounds of rustling taffeta as the breeze ruffles their leaves, the golden leaves against the bright blue of an autumn sky.  And, unlike most people, I also love the springtime snow fall of the cottonwood seeds drifting gently by.  Of course, that cottony fluff also clogs air conditioner compressors and collects in messy drifts to gather dust.  For me, the magic of the falling cotton is worth the resulting nuisance.

Cottonwood seeds on ground
Seeds still on branch
As our cottonwood trees at the farm age and fall to the ground (See "Threats to Timber Claims," 2-19-2015), we miss having them and have wanted to replant some.  However, all that we could find available from commercial tree nurseries were "cottonless" cottonwoods.  I considered the idea of trying to grow cottonwood trees from cuttings like Isaac did, but any tender cuttings on our old trees were too high for me to reach.

Our 'forest' of cottonwood seedlings
Spring of 2015 provided many successive days of rain at about the time the cottonwood seeds were falling, and it was the perfect environment for the seeds to collect along the edges of standing water, germinate, and produce seedlings. 

I noticed some little seedlings along the edges of the standing water, but never having noticed cottonwood seedlings before, I wasn't sure what the seedlings were.  I left them to grow so I could get a better look at their leaves.  For a time I was the only one who thought they were cottonwood seedlings, and even I wasn't sure.  Eventually the leaves began to take the recognizable shape and I was no longer the butt of jokes.  We had a wealth of seedlings from which to transplant potential trees.

I have now lifted a dozen of the seedlings into pots to see if 
Cottonwood seedlings in pots
they can survive being transplanted.  If they thrive, we will find a place for them, and the farm will once again have young cottonwood trees growing.  I'm sure most of our friends think we are a little crazy, planting what many have come to consider a trash tree, and what is worse, choosing trees that will produce the nuisance of cotton every spring.  But, judging from the number of followers of my blog who have expressed their affection for cottonwood trees, at least some of you will understand and will be cheering for our success in propagating these trees so popular with the early settlers of the prairie!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Preserving History

Original farm house
Writing history and restoring an old house have a lot in common.  Both require you to consider seriously whether what you are preserving is worth saving.  Both require a great deal of research and reflection to determine what should be included in the final version.  Both require severe editing and acceptance that what appeals to you may not appeal to others.

My husband and I have been restoring my ancestral home at the same time I have been editing and tightening my manuscript about Isaac B. Werner.  The picture at right shows the original house as it was built in the late 1890s, then doubled in size in 1907, and modified by my parents with enclosed porches in 1944 and the 1950s.  My husband and I rescued the house after years of vacancy in 2001 and are currently making some further modifications.  My love of history is apparent in the rescue of the old house, for it is rich in memories.  I thought you might enjoy seeing one of the projects I did to preserve the trim used in the original 1890s construction.

Original corner block & trim
Reproduction corner block
The front door of the 1890s original structure, with 2-rooms downstairs, 2-rooms upstairs and a kitchen separated from the rest of the house for safety from fires, had a staircase directly inside the front door, with the parlor to the right as you entered.  My Grandfather paid for the expense of 'fancy' wood trim for the parlor and the hall at the top of the stairs which could be seen when guests entered the front door.  As for the rest of the rooms used by the family, there was only simple trim around windows and doors.

I used one of the corner blocks from the original parlor to make a mold, from which I produced 88 plaster reproductions for the rest of the house.  I also designed two styles of smaller corner blocks for the narrower trim around several other doors and windows.  Our current construction has required me to make even more.

Latex mold for small block
Here is the process I used:  1.  I applied liquid latex with a brush to cover the top and sides of the wooden corner block.  It needed to be applied at about the time the previous coat was tacky but not completely dry in order to make the layers of latex adhere to one another.  I applied about 25 coats, setting the alarm during the night to continue the process.  2.  I made a plaster form to hold the latex mold so that it would maintain its shape when plaster of Paris was poured into the mold.  3.  Once the plaster of Paris was set, the latex mold was peeled away from the reproduction plaster corner block.

Small "bee" design blocks
The plaster of Paris does not take too long to set, so several blocks can be made in a few hours.  The two different designs I made for the narrow trim around windows and doors were first sculpted in molding clay.  The plaster form I made to hold the latex molds  allowed me to pour two blocks at once--a bee design and a bull's-eye design.  The image above left shows both latex molds, with plaster of Paris hardening in the bee design and the bull's eye design ready to have plaster of Paris poured into it.  The image above right shows a group of bee design blocks ready to be used.

Although my grandparents did not have corner blocks on all of their windows and doors, my reproductions and new designs now decorate the entire house.  Unlike the necessity to adhere strictly to documented events and descriptions when writing history, I can exercise some creative license in restoring the old Victorian house.  Although Isaac Werner knew both of my grandparents and their parents, he did not visit the house we are restoring, having died a few years before its construction.  However, he did visit their earlier homes.

I hope Great-grandmother Susan, my grandparents Royal and Lillian, and my parents would like what we have done!  I'm sure they would love the fact that another generation is enjoying the old house.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Classic Midwestern Barns

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
By now my husband knows to start slowing the car in anticipation of making a stop for photographs if a barn appears on the horizon.  As we returned from Red Cloud, NE after attending the Willa Cather Conference, we spotted this classic Midwestern barn surrounded by an ocean of still-green wheat.  My husband pulled off the road and got out his cell phone to begin checking message, for he knew my 'photo shoot' was likely to take a while!

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

There are many styles of barns across the American landscape, all sharing the common need to accommodate the weather and available materials of their locale.  Farmers built their barns to shelter livestock and whatever crops were grown in that area.  Sometimes the region of the world from which the farmers in the community had immigrated influenced the architectural style, and local custom also tended to develop within a community.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Preservationists and barn hobbyists often use general categories to describes the variations in barn styles:  Bank Barns, Round or Polygonal Barns, Tobacco Barns, English Barns, Dutch Barns, Crib Barns, and Prairie or Western Barns.  

I'm not sure exactly why this Prairie Barn stole my heart.  Perhaps it was its isolation, the farm stead that had almost certainly once been there long since replaced by crop land.  Or, it may have been the vulnerability of its opened doorways that bared its interior to the eyes of anyone who paused to look.  Somehow the clouds almost seemed to be an artists' contrivance to draw the viewer's eye to the abandoned barn.  

I know that many of you who visit my blog regularly have a special fondness for old barns, so I thought you would enjoy this one.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
These old barns are disappearing rapidly, and several that I photographed for this blog no longer exist.  Near cities they are disappearing to urban sprawl, but in central Kansas other reasons are more likely.  (See "Disappearing Old Barns," 1-15-2015 in the blog archives.)  Near our farm, the increasing size of farming operations has eliminated many former homesteads, and the barns were burned or allowed to deteriorate.  Few farmers keep horses, and fewer still keep a milk cow for the family.  Where there are dairy farms the changed sanitation regulations often make the use of old barns obsolete.  As farm equipment has increased in size, using old barns as storage sheds is often impossible, their doors too narrow to allow the passage of modern tractors and equipment.  Hay mows are of no purpose for the large 'round bales' that are generally stored outside and are too large to get into the old-fashioned hay mows if the farmer preferred to store them under a roof.  Grain bins in barns and wooden granaries have been replaced by metal storage.  (See "What Do I Do with My Grain, (Storing Grain), Parts I & II, blog archives 1/2/2014 and 1/9/2014.) 

Isaac B. Werner never kept cattle,  He built sheds for his horses, and sometimes he built a "self-feeding horse shed" from bundles of hay.  Probably the largest barn in his community belonged to his neighbor in Clear Creek Township, John Garvin, who held a Christmas party in his barn in 1888 attended by about 250 neighbors, including Isaac.

To read interesting articles about efforts to save old barns you may visit titled Preserving the Midwestern Barn by Hemalata C. Dandekar and Eric Allen MacDonald, and also