Location of the “Village House” in Norwich Township, 1817

myrtle-woodruffWe continue with the heritage of Myrtle Woodruff, alumnus of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

In my last post, I described the arrival on February 10, 1817 of the Woodruff and Laurence families at the “Village House,” a small cabin in the wilderness of Norwich Township. When I read stories like these, I usually have a hard time picturing where events took place. The old records often describe places in relation to landmarks that those living then would relate to, but are a complete mystery to me. [1]

So I decided to investigate

log-cabin-imageAccording to the March 1860 issue of The Firelands Pioneer and WW Williams’ book, the village house was located “on the village plat, where Durwin Boughton’s house now stands.” This didn’t tell me much. I have not found any record (so far) to tell me where Durwin Boughton lived in 1860. Also, the “village plat” refers to a town laid out by surveyors in the spring of 1816, but never developed.

I do, however, have this tidbit, also from the March 1860 issue of The Firelands Pioneer: “They also surveyed and laid out the village plat of Barbadoes, on the west end of lot 38, second section, and the adjoining east end of lot 6, third section, where Durwin Boughton and George H. Woodruff now live.” [2]

norwich-township-1845-plat-map-section-3norwich-township-1845-plat-map-section-2Now I had something to work with. A Google search turned up the 1845 plat maps for Huron County. [3] Above are the plat maps for the second and third sections of Norwich Township.

Lot 6 of Section 3 is third lot down on the far right of the “Sec. 3” plat, and Lot 38, of Section 2 is also third down, but on the far left of the “Sec. 2” plat. Note that G.W. Woodruff is the owner of Lot 6 in Section 3.

Below is a view of approximately where these two lots are in Norwich Township today.

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norwich-township-map

By comparing this satellite image with the 1845 Plat map, and the facts I gleaned from the historical accounts,  I feel I can make an educated guess of where the “Village House” was located

Let’s assume that Road 195 in the satellite image follows the route of Buell’s Road [4] (zooming in on the satellite image, I found that this road is is labeled “Old Military Road”), and that Section Line Road 30 S is the division between Sections 2 and 3. If we accept those assumptions, we may conclude that the proposed village of Barbadoes was laid out just south of Mud Run (which will be discussed in a later post) on both sides of the section line and bisected by the “Old Military Road.” This leads me to believe that the Village House, which the Woodruff and Laurence families occupied on February 10, 1817, was located somewhere near the farm buildings located southeast of the intersection of Section Line Road 30S and Road 195.

Does this make sense? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

Next up: what transpired with the Woodruff and Laurence families in the days following their arrival at Village House.

Notes:

[1] My father was a land surveyor in Lorain County, Ohio, which is next to Huron County. He once told me he found a description in the old records that began “in the middle of the snowbank.” As he explained it to me, in those days, it must have been common knowledge that every winter a large snowdrift would form at the same location. Great for the people living at that time, not so good for my dad.

[2] John Niles, “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and W.W. Williams, “Norwich Township,” History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[3] Online Index to the Plat Book of ca 1845, Huron County, Ohio, The US Gen Web Project for Huron County, Ohio.

[4] Beall Trail was cut through the wilderness by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812 from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships. The Woodruff and Laurence party followed this trail from New Haven to their new home in 1817.

 

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Village House: A Cabin at the End of Beall’s Trail

myrtle-woodruff

Myrtle Woodruff

In last year’s October 29 post, we celebrated three Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays. One of the students who celebrated a birthday that month was Myrtle Woodruff. Today we begin a series of posts about Myrtle’s heritage. Her family was among that wave of pioneers that settled in the Firelands in 1817, following the disastrous “Year without Summer” of 1816. We begin with the story of Myrtle’s great-great-great grandfather Chauncey Woodruff, and his son George, who together settled in Norwich Township, in the southwest corner of the Firelands, in February of 1817, almost a year earlier than Platt and Sarah Benedict founded Norwalk, Ohio. [1]

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The Village House

It was late afternoon, Monday, February 10, 1817 when George Woodruff spotted the “Village Cabin” ahead through the trees. His family and the rest of his party had made surprisingly good time that day on the twelve mile trek over the Beall trail [2] from New Haven township. A foot of snow covering the ground had made travel easy for the oxen pulling the sleds with their belongings.

snowy-woodsThe party consisted of him and his new wife Hannah, his father Chauncey and his sister Elizabeth, and Wilder and Roxanna Laurence and their nine children. A few friends rounded out the group. [3]

The Woodruff and Laurence families had arrived in Ohio from Saratoga, New York in the fall of the previous year, and had stayed in Trumbull County, while George and his father Chauncey had come ahead to scout the land and select lots for settlement. George had remained in the township of New Haven, while his father returned to Trumbull County for the rest of the party. Chauncey had returned with the others two days previously, and today they had finally completed the last leg of the journey to their new home.

log-cabin-image

While on their scouting trip to the region, unlike many pioneers, George and his father did not need to build the cabin they were about to occupy. It had been raised in the spring of 1916 by a man named John Williamson. Mr. Williamson had not occupied the cabin, nor had he stayed in the Firelands, so now it was open for use by the Woodruff and Lawrence families.

The cabin had a roof and walls with openings cut for a door and fireplace. A crib had been constructed as a frame for a hearth. George and his father remembered seeing split oak puncheons for a floor stacked next to the cabin on their previous visit, but the pile was now completely covered by snow.

George and the other men set to work digging out the puncheons and shoveling dirt into the crib for a hearth. They laid an improvised floor and hung blankets over the opening for the door, while Roxanna and Hannah built a fire on the hearth and made supper. Then the whole party crowded into the small space, and tried to make themselves comfortable.

They made merry as best they could that evening, helped along by a  jug of whisky they had taken care to pack on the sleds before leaving New Haven, then lay crowded on the puncheon floor, trying to ignore the howling of wolves in the surrounding forest.

So passed their first night in their new home on the frontier.

Next up: Do you find all these place names confusing? Would you like to have a map when reading accounts like these? Help is on the way tomorrow with my next post: Where was Village House?

 Notes:

[1] This story is based mostly on the accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[2] Beall’s Trail was cut through the wilderness from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships.

[3] George’s mother Eunice Woodruff, nee Hosford, was missing from the party. She had died in 1797, two years after George’s birth. Roxanna Lawrence’s maiden name was Woodruff, so she was no doubt related to Chauncey, probably his sister. I have found other examples of this; for instance, siblings Henry and Elizabeth Lockwood and their spouses settled just outside of what would become Norwalk, Ohio in 1816, and hosted Platt and Sarah Benedict when they arrived in the fall of 1817, as described in the Sufferers Land Post #6: A Home in the Wilderness on this site.

 

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“Sufferers’ Land” Post#53 – Last Reunion of the Pioneers –

The Fourth of July 1857 was a Saturday. From all over Erie and Huron counties, people gathered for the reunion, an assembly of the early settlers and their descendants. The residents of Norwalk had prepared a celebration for the day, to include a sumptuous feast. [1]

The speaker for the occasion was former U.S. Congressman Eleutherous Cooke of Sandusky, a sixty-nine year old lawyer who had come to the Firelands in 1819. A painting of him shows a handsome, strong willed man. Clean-shaven, as was the custom of that time before the Civil War, he had a resolute set to his mouth, and a determined gaze. From his speech and his letters, it is easy to see that he was a gracious and well-mannered gentleman.

In addition to serving in Congress, he was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for many years and obtained the first charter for a railroad in the United States.

People of that day expected eloquence and inspiration from their speakers — and Eleutherous Cooke was a master orator. He once made a speech to over forty-thousand people to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Meigs. A contemporary account said that he had a wonderful command of the language, (and) was an orator very flowery and imaginative. Today we would say he was long-winded. However, in 1857, his audience appreciated his comments, especially because he took pains to praise their accomplishments.

His speech was grandiose in parts, but it also demonstrated a connection with the men and women he addressed. Eleutherous counted himself among the pioneers, a point he made several times during his speech. He knew personally of the trials his audience had endured and the successes they enjoyed. He understood them. [2]

On the platform with Eleutherous was another man who understood the people assembled in Norwalk that day — Platt Benedict. He knew Eleutherous Cooke from the days when Mr. Cooke came to Norwalk to argue cases before the County Court. [3]

This celebration would never have taken place if not for Platt Benedict. He must have smiled with pride when he heard Eleutherous say, I am most happy to know — thanks to the excellent gentleman who first suggested the design — that a Historical Society has been formed, and I am now before you, in part, the selected organ of that society, to urge upon it, and upon all who approve its object, a searching and faithful fulfillment of its purpose.” [4]

Platt, and everyone else present, knew Eleutherous was referring to him. As in everything he was involved with, Platt had taken the lead. He was a leader in the settlement of the Firelands and had been involved in the political, social and economic development of the region.

As Eleutherous put it so eloquently, Platt had come “to build the cabin — to fence the crops — to open the roads — to lay out the towns and cities — to establish the schools for the education for the young, and to found the churches for worship of God.”

Platt had not only done all these things, he had been the leader in all these things. It only made sense that he should lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers assembled here today — and the heritage of those who had already died.

Much of Eleutherous’ speech struck a chord in Platt’s memory. He told anecdotes of the early settlers’ trials and fears, successes and joys — some humorous to make his audience laugh, some tragic to make them weep.

Platt no doubt was moved when Eleutherous referred to “the little remnant of the old pioneers not yet fallen from around us but (whose) summer is past (whose) autumn has gone by.” Platt looked at the crowd and saw the faces of those he knew in younger days and recalled those who were no longer there — who could not participate in this celebration of their accomplishments.

“The images of the cherished dead,” Eleutherous said, present themselves before me. In such a presence, how can I conceal the feelings of utter desolation that overwhelm me, when I remember that I am the sole survivor, save one, of a family circle of fourteen who sought with me this land for their home, and whose ashes now repose in the soil of the Firelands.”

This was Platt’s experience as well. He came to this village forty years before with a wife and five children. Now only his eldest daughter Clarissa survived. The rest of his family was gone, most having died young.

How long ago that time over forty years before must have seemed to Platt, and yet so near. He came to this land seeking opportunity, for himself and his family. He achieved much — all his dreams came true.

At the close of his speech, The Honorable Eleutherous Cooke addressed the children and grandchildren of the pioneers. “You are now in the full possession of this priceless heritage,” he told them. “You need not be reminded of its cost. Its title was written by the point of the sword in the blood of our fathers — it was enriched and perfected by their toils and labors.”

Then Eleutherous challenged the younger members of the audience. “The great trust is in your hands. Let the solemn obligation it imposes sink deep into your hearts; and, as the old friend and associate of your fathers, seizing this last occasion to impart my counsel, let me charge you, as the heaven-allotted sentinels of your country — as the champions of her honor and the defenders of her liberties, to guard with eternal vigilance, this sacred deposit — to shield it alike from the assaults of the foreign foe and the mal-administration of the domestic enemy; and to hand it down unfettered, unencumbered, inviolate and unstained to your children, bright in all that beauty and splendor which ushered in the Glory of its first Morning upon the World!”  [5]

Little did Eleutherous Cooke, or Platt Benedict or any of the people assembled there that day know how great a challenge the children and grandchildren of the pioneers would face. A storm was gathering. Soon it would consume the entire nation in a great and terrible war — a war that would reach into the villages and farms of the Firelands and change the lives of all.

The children and grandchildren of the settlers of the Firelands would face a challenge that no one could imagine on that day. They would create a new heritage that would match — and eclipse — the heritage of the pioneers.

The End

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Footnotes:

[1] Description of the Reunion of the Pioneers is from The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 30.

[2] Information about Eleutheros Cooke is from multiple internet sources: COOKE, Eleutheros – Biographical Information, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present; Cooke House, Ohio Historical Society Website; and Eleutheros Cooke Collection at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. A portrait of Representative Cooke is at the Ohio Memory website.

[3] From The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 25.

[4] This quote from Mr. Cooke’s speech is from The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 9.

[5] Excerpts from the conclusion of Mr. Cooke’s speech are from The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 12.

© 2009 by David Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post#52 – Pioneer Heritage –

By the mid 1850s, the ranks of the early settlers of the Firelands were becoming thin. Many of the survivors, chief among them Platt Benedict, considered organizing a society to preserve the heritage of those early settlers before there was no one left to remember those days.

The pioneers of the Firelands were a literate and well-educated group, probably the best educated of any class of settlers before or after. They knew that the first settlers in the Western Reserve east of the Cuyahoga had left no record, and were determined not to repeat that mistake.

In New England, townships and towns were just now compiling and publishing their early histories. However, those events had occurred years before, and eyewitness accounts were rare. The settlers of the Firelands saw the opportunity to capture their own history while some of the players still survived to tell their stories. [1] Prominent people of the Firelands heeded the call to organize a society dedicated to the preservation of their history, and first among those was Platt Benedict.

In the spring of 1857, Platt and other leaders of the community sent out a notice calling for a meeting of the Pioneers of the Firelands to take place at the Court House in Norwalk on May 20. The meeting convened as scheduled, and, as usual, Platt Benedict took the chair.

Platt was now eighty-two years old, but possessed the vitality of a much younger man. He was still active in many societies, in business and in politics. The year before, he had remarried, taking as his wife Mrs. Lavinia Benton, a widow from Republic, Ohio. Also in the previous year, he had been elected Mayor of Norwalk, an office he had held many times in the 1830s and 1840s. He had seen so much of the history of the Firelands — he had made much of that history. It was inconceivable that anyone else could take the lead in preserving the heritage of the pioneers.

The attendees at the meeting formed a committee to draft a constitution for a historical society and present it at the next meeting. They also appointed two prominent citizens from each township in the Firelands to collect and record the histories of the early settlement of the townships, and present them to the society for inclusion in its journal.

Finally, a proposal was made to hold a general reunion of the Pioneers of the Firelands — a final chance for the survivors of those early days and their descendants to gather in Norwalk and share in the heritage of the early pioneers, those still living and those departed. They decided to hold it on the Fourth of July. [2]

I would appreciate comments about this post. Please click on the comments button below or email me at dawbarton@aol.com. Thank you.

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Footnotes:

[1] These sentiments were expressed in the speeches of Eleutherous Cooke in a speech recorded in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 25; and by Elisha Whittlesey in a speech recorded in the same issue, p. 9

[2] Description of the formation of the Firelands Historical Society is from The Firelands Pioneer, June, 1858, pp. 29-30.

© 2009 by David Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post#51 – Future Warriors of Norwalk –

Dave Benedict was at Kenyon College during the Cholera epidemic. Some of the grandchildren of the pioneers were able to attend college, and Dave was one of the first to go.

Dave was popular and very active on campus. He helped start a fraternity, founded and was the first editor of The Collegian, the college’s first monthly magazine, and also started Kenyon’s annual, which was the third such publication in the country. [1]

Fanny Benedict still lived at home. Dave visited her and his relatives often, and it was probably during one of these visits that he met a young woman from New Haven Township, Harriott Melvina Deaver.

Harriott Deaver was born in Watertown, New York on May 4, 1835. Later in life, she told of seeing rafts of logs from the North Woods floating down the river and going end-over-end over the falls. She moved to New Haven Township in Huron County with her parents when she was five years old. At that time, New Haven was a busy town, a way station for wagons carrying grain to Milan. In later years, she remembered the wagons going past her house, drawn by horses with tinkling bells.

Harriott was educated in Cuyahoga Falls, where she learned French. She was a dignified woman, who stood erect and solidly on her heels, feet pointed straight ahead. That trait and her features made some wonder if she was descended from Native Americans. [2]

Harriott’s father James Deaver was a cabinetmaker. He was a man of modest means with a net worth of $1,200. In 1850, the Deaver household consisted of ten people — James Deaver, age sixty-five, his wife Harriott, fifty-five, one son and six daughters, of whom Harriott was the youngest. As was customary for a family of their means, a German woman named Margret Singer lived with them and helped Harriott’s mother with the chores. [3]

The Deaver’s son Oscar was crippled. He had lost both hands while attempting to push a friend from in front of a cannon on the Fourth of July several years earlier.

James Deaver was originally from Maryland, where he was born in 1782 as James Devier, his family having come to America from France. His parents died when he was young. Relatives raised him and changed his name to Deaver. In 1808, he married Harriott Shaon, the daughter of David and Eleanor Shaon, who were slaveholders in Maryland.

James and Harriott had their first child Ellen in 1808. Harriott’s mother presented the child with an African American girl for a body servant. James, who did not believe in slavery, was disgusted and moved his family to New York to get away from the institution. He took the girl with him and freed her when they arrived. [4]

Dave Benedict graduated from Kenyon in 1856 and in October he and Harriott married. They moved to Cleveland, where he attended Case Medical College. Dave was a sociable man. While at Case, he met a young man who would play a large role in his life and the life of his descendants, Louis Severance.

Louis was born in Cleveland on August 1, 1838 to Solomon and Mary Long Severance. Louis never knew his father, who died before he was born. After Solomon died, Louis’ mother moved in with her father, David Long, Jr., who was the first medical doctor in town, and founded the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland.

Louis attended Cleveland Public schools, and when he graduated in 1856, he went to work at the Commercial Bank of Cleveland. Louis may have met Dave Benedict at his grandfather’s house, or perhaps at church, both men being Episcopalians. Dave was twenty-three and Louis was eighteen when they met, but in spite of the difference in age and background, they became good friends.

Dave took Louis to Norwalk to visit his family, and introduced him to his sister Fanny. Fanny was seventeen at the time, and liked the looks of this young bank employee from Cleveland. The feeling was mutual, and Louis started to court her. [5]

The oldest Wickham son also left Norwalk to go to college.

Charlie Wickham began studying law at Cincinnati Law School in 1854. Before leaving for college, he worked in the family business. He started at the Norwalk Reflector as a delivery boy when he was very young. He later remembered delivering the newspaper on New Year’s Day 1852 announcing the beginning of railroad service to Norwalk. [6]

Charlie remembered those days working at the newspaper fondly. In later years he remarked, I look upon the Reflector Office as my alma mater, from whence I have drawn, in great part, my sustenance, both physical and intellectual. At its reading table I received my first idea and knowledge of this world – its lights and shades – its follies and crimes – its men and women: indeed, of everything that I know; for at the editor’s table you may learn of everything and everybody – love and law – religion and reason – politics and politeness – statesmen and scholars – poets and professors – merchants and mechanics. There is hardly a limit to the knowledge which you may there obtain; it is a “Pierean Spring,” whose waters never fail. Author and statesman, philosopher and president, have breathed with the air of a printing office, an inspiration, and have gone forth to electrify and govern the world. [7]

Charlie’s high school sweetheart Emma Wildman also went off to college, a rarity for women in those days. After graduating from high school, she attended Oberlin College. [8] Oberlin was one of the first co-educational schools in the United States, accepting women in 1837.

The world was changing for this new generation, the grandsons and granddaughters of the pioneers. The struggles and hardships of the early settlers had created for these young people an opportunity unparalleled in the nation’s history. The pioneers’ grandchildren were proud of what those hardy people had accomplished, and would be active in preserving their heritage.

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Footnotes:

[1] Story of David Benedict’s life and accomplishments at Kenyon College are from Family, by Ian Frazier, p. 82.

[2] The early life of Harriott Benedict is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, p. 10.

[3] Information about the Deaver family in New Haven Township is from The 1850 Huron County Census, pp. 192b & 193a.

[4] Information about the Deaver family history is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, pp. 9-10.

[5] Information about Louis Severance is from the American National Biography, Volume 19, p 662. Information about his grandfather, Dr. David Long is from The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

[6] “When the ‘Iron Colt’ First Dashed into Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, December, 1918, p. 2065.

[7] “History of the Firelands Press,” by C.P. Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, September 1861, p. 12.

[8] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2486.

© 2009 by David Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post#50 – Railroads and Cholera –

For years, Norwalk’s prosperity depended on its position as Huron County Seat. The town of Milan dominated the commerce of the region with its canal connecting it to Lake Erie via the Huron River. Every summer and fall, huge wagons filled with grain converged on Milan, making it the largest wheat port of its time.

In the early 1850s, however, a new technology threatened Milan’s economic hegemony — the railroad. The citizens of Milan could have used their money and political influence to bring the railroad to their town, but they were so sure of the advantages of water transport that they spurned it. As a result, the “iron horse” passed north and south of them. The Conestoga Wagons no longer had to travel all the way to Milan, and the town went into a dramatic and irreversible decline. By the end of the decade, the once bustling port town was a sleepy backwater.

Norwalk was one of the towns that profited from the railroads at Milan’s expense. The first train line in the village was the Toledo Norwalk and Cleveland Railroad, which started service in January 1853. [1]

The advent of the railroad was a great boon to the economy of the village, but it also brought danger to the unwary. In the early years, many people and livestock met an untimely end because of this new means of conveyance.

In November of 1853, less than a year after train service commenced, a number of boys found a handcar sitting unattended on a sidetrack and decided to take it for a joyride. They crowded aboard and were soon speeding down the track. One boy, Hezekiah Smith, accidentally caught his scarf in the crank of the car and was thrown to the ground with a broken neck. [2]

Accidental death was not the only tragedy brought to Norwalk by the railroad. Trains transporting passengers from place to place also caused the rapid spread of diseases like Cholera. In 1854, a year after the railroad came to Norwalk, the disease made its final and most deadly appearance in the village.

William Wickham later described a deserted town, the inhabitants either gone to the country or hiding in their homes. Once again, the only sound in the village was the rumble of wagons carrying the dead to cemeteries. William recalled thirty-one names of those who perished from the disease, among this number were seven from one family. [3]

Another witness to those terrible days later remembered the valiant women who cared for the sick at great risk to themselves.     Cholera broke out virulently in Norwalk in 1854. The town was nearly deserted. But some there were who stayed; and some of these women made it their business to nurse the stricken ones. Some have been named to me: “Grandma Mason, mother of Sarah Mason the teacher; Mrs. John Green, mother of Miss Rilla Green; Lizzie Higgins and Mary Higgins Farr. They literally took their lives in their hands. Lizzie Higgins was very ill with it; Mrs. C.L. Boalt had her brought to her home and nursed her back to health. Mary Higgins Farr worked until worn out. The doctor said she must quit and go away. She replied that she was needed. I think she was dead the night of the next day. She was, even before the cholera, much beloved for her womanliness and her works. She was a daughter of Judge Higgins and the wife of Joseph M. Farr; Lizzie Higgins was afterwards his wife. [4]

With the coming of cold weather that autumn, the disease abated and disappeared. Never again would this contagion visit the Firelands. However, an even more terrible tragedy loomed on the horizon. The nation was less than ten years from a Civil War that would bring hardship and sorrow to the village of Norwalk.

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Footnotes:

[1] “When the ‘Iron Colt’ First Dashed into Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, December, 1918, p. 2065.

[2] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2077.

[3] William Wickham’s recollection of the 1854 Cholera outbreak in Norwalk is from “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, pp. 2099-2100.

[4] “Ancient Dames of Norwalk,” by Charlotte Wooster Boalt, The Firelands Pioneer, December, 1918, p. 1998.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post#49 – Norwalk Life in the 1850’s –

A new generation was growing up in Norwalk in the early 1850s, the offspring of the young people who had come to Norwalk with their parents in the 1820s. The Gallup, Wickham and Benedict children played together and with the other youngsters of the town. Boys and girls gathered at each other’s homes for parties where they played “kissing” and other games and enjoyed treats such as homemade ice cream.

The whole town was a playground for these children. They played “hide and seek” and other games around the distillery on the south side of Norwalk Creek, with its long rows of whiskey barrels and herds of cattle fattened on “slop” left over from the distilling process. In warm weather, they burrowed in the sand banks along the creek, sometimes digging so far that a “cave-in” would bury them. Winters, they sledded down the banks and skated on the frozen creek. [1]

In 1850, when the population of Norwalk reached about two-thousand, public schools opened in the village. Previously, a welter of private schools and the Norwalk Academy had met the educational needs of the community, but now public schools would provide a common experience for children. [2]

One public school teacher was Mary Janes, who boarded in the home of Mrs. John Vredenburg. Her roommate was Matilda Barrett, who afterwards married Charles A. Preston, Lucy Wickham’s brother, after the death of his first wife. In later years, Mary remembered the students she taught in those carefree days.

At twenty years of age, I was an assistant to the popular principal of the Norwalk Grammar School, Col. D. F. DeWolf. Hon. and Mrs. S. T. Worcester were really godfather and mother to this charming department in whose genial atmosphere the youth of the Village blossomed, shedding fragrance in all homes. There were Martha Worcester and Kate Wickham, Fanny Safford, Spencer Leslie, Vick McArdle and Augusta Carter, delightful Tina and Delilah Yale, Emma Wildman, Fanny Clark, Emma Husted, Mary J. Graves, Milo Cline, Lutheria Eichert, Caleb and Lizzie Gallup, Will Perkins, whom I recall as a specially lovely boy, and the Wickham brothers, with a host besides. I feel the thrill yet, experienced while the “Merchant of Venice” was acted by our amateurs, Charlie Wickham as “Shylock” and Emma Husted as “Portia”.

Can I cease to remember any of the carefree, laughing youth who trooped in the schoolrooms, all so bright, ambitious and diligent? Don’t I know how Delilah Yale came to my desk asking if she might go home, as it rained so that morning she forgot her slate pencil? Didn’t “Caley” Gallup take a very few of us out one evening to witness a séance when spirit rapping was a curiosity? Lizzie Gallup entertained me often over at her house, the hospitable board being presided over by her grandfather, Platt Benedict. [3]

One of Mary Janes’s students was Emily Wildman, known as Emma. She came to Norwalk from Clarksfield Township in 1852 when her father Frederick Wildman was elected to the office of Clerk of Courts for Huron County and moved his family into town. [4] She was a serious girl, with a piercing gaze.

Emma’s best friend was Kate Wickham who was the same age as Emma. Emma’s sister Mary Wildman, who was seven years old, became good friends with Kate’s sister Mary Wickham. The four girls spent much of their time visiting each other’s homes, often eating dinner together. Emma caught the attention of Kate’s brother Charlie, and they became sweethearts. [5]

Another of Emma’s friends was Lizzie Gallup, the youngest daughter of Hallet and Clarissa Gallup and granddaughter of Platt Benedict. She was born in her grandfather’s house on April 1, 1837, and spent much of her time there. [6]

A “Queen Bee” among the handsome girls was Lucy Preston, daughter of Lucy Wickham’s brother Charles Preston and his first wife. She was very intelligent and had an attractive personality. [7]

The most beautiful of the girls in Norwalk at that time was Fanny Benedict, Dave Benedict’s sister. She was a pure blonde in complexion; her features were a classic, her movement’s grace, her character an inspiration. She was considered the undisputed belle of the town. [8]

These girls had a carefree life in the early 1850s. They attended school together, gathered at each other’s homes and went to parties and balls with the boys of the village. Little did they know that in a few short years, this charmed life would end, and the boys they knew and loved would march off to war, leaving them to cope with the deprivations and uncertainties of life on the home-front.

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Footnotes:

[1] Description of life in Norwalk from 1840-1850 is from “Norwalk, Its Men and Women, and Some of the Girls I have Met,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, pp. 2073-2077.

[2] “The Maple City,” by P.J. Mahon, The Firelands Pioneer, July, 1878, p. 90.

[3] Reminiscences of a school teacher in 1851 Norwalk from “Pioneer Girlhood on the Firelands,” by Mrs. Mary B. Ingham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1900, p. 621.

[4] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, p. 2486.

[5] The friendships of the Wickham and Wildman girls is described in “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2097 & p. 2143.

[6] From Obituaries – The Fireland Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2451-2.

[7] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2085.

[8] From “Norwalk, Its Men, Women and Girls,” by William Wickham, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1918, p. 2105.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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