Sufferers’ Land – Post 10 – A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

Sufferers’ Land

A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

by Dave Barton

That fall, Captain Enos Gilbert and his family arrived in Norwalk. They bought the unfinished house started by Amos Abbott, and, until it was finished, lived in a shanty workers had constructed while making bricks for Platt. The court met while the Gilberts were still in the shanty, and they boarded several members of the court there. The rest of the court stayed with the Benedicts or with David and Mary Underhill in their house a few miles to the west in Ridgefield Township. The Benedict house was so crowded that the boarders lay spoon fashion on the floor. Even then, there was not enough room for everyone and one of the lawyers slept sitting in a chair.

Soon after the court met, Enos Gilbert finished his house and several other settlers moved onto the ridge. In October, a young woman passing through the village on her way to David and Laura Underhill’s homestead saw but a few buildings – one store, two or three dwelling houses, an unfinished court house, and a tavern, consisting of three or four rooms below, and a place to dance above. It was kept by Enos Gilbert. [1]

The rest of that year and early in 1819, new settlers moved onto the sand ridge, building houses and stores in the settlement.

Businesses also started on the outskirts of town. A gristmill was erected on Reed’s Creek, one and three-quarters miles south of the village, and Platt and a settler named Obadiah Jenney built a sawmill a half mile south of town. Captain Peter Tice started a distillery just south of where the Courthouse is now. These three industries were essential to the new settlement. The sawmill made lumber out of logs and the gristmill and distillery turned corn into a marketable commodity.

That summer, Platt built a two story house in front of the cabin, using the brick he had had made the previous year. In July, he became Postmaster for Norwalk, and established the Post Office in his new home. The first mailbag he received contained only a single letter. [2]

Now the Benedict home would be the center of the social and business life of the community, the place where settlers in the village and nearby farms would stop for mail and news of the village and the outside world.

The town continued to grow. All the trades and businesses required to support the court and those who worked in it arrived — Druggist, Jeweler, Tavern Keeper, Baker, Carpenters and Joiners, Master Masons, Tanners, Couriers, Shoemaker, Cabinet maker, Hatter, Saddler and Harness maker. [3]

Around 1820, the first school in the village of Norwalk began in the shanty on Platt and Sally’s property, built two years before by the workers who made bricks for their new house. Eight or ten students attended, including Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict. [4]

That same year, a man passing through town reported that Norwalk village was small, but appeared thriving, with one or two stores doing a fair business. Enos Gilbert, afterwards Sheriff, kept tavern in the frame building since occupied as a hotel by Obadiah Jenney, and now standing next west of Whittlesey block. – There was no church building. The houses were all on Main Street, and north of that was low, marshy ground with no settlers on it. Natural trees, chiefly oaks, were growing in Main Street, and after passing the center of the village the track became very narrow, worming among the trees. [5]

Norwalk had become a thriving village, but the level of growth Platt and Sally dreamed of had not materialized. After the initial burst of immigration, the flow of settlers dwindled as people bypassed the Firelands for lands further west.

Years later, an early settler explained what happened. About the time of the first settlements in this vicinity, in consequence of the favorable reports which the few who had got into the country made to their friends east to encourage them hither, the land owners got the impression that there was a great speculation to be made in their lands, they at once put them up to about double the price of government lands, and the result was to push the tide of emigration still farther West, where they could get lands for the sum of ten shillings per acre; this could be done by crossing the county line West into Seneca and Sandusky counties, yet the crowd was for Michigan. [6]

Norwalk would not grow as fast as Platt and Sally had hoped, at least not yet. For the time being, they would continue to grow their businesses as best they could, adapting to life on the frontier, and turning the little village on the sand ridge into a civilized town.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, p. 43.
[2] Descriptions of the first few years in Norwalk are from “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 20.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Portland,” by F.D. Parish, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1859, p. 21.
[4] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 21.
[5] “A Journey from New England to the Firelands 55 Years Ago,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, p. 88.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville, by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 33.

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 9 – Education on the Frontier

Sufferers’ Land

Education on the Frontier

by Dave Barton

Most settlers from Connecticut were well educated and interested in their children’s schooling. In those days on the frontier, classes were only in session during warm weather. Norwalk did not have a school, of course, so Sally and Platt had to look for something nearby.

One room school house

One-room schoolhouse attended by Abraham Lincoln in 1822. From Wikipedia Commons.

The first schoolhouse in the area had been built in the fall of 1816, a few rods from the township line between Ridgefield and Norwalk, on Lot No. 1. It stood upon the bank, on the left hand after crossing the bridge, upon the present road to Peru, about half a mile from the bridge.

It was made of logs, with a chimney of sticks plastered inside, the fire occupying nearly the whole side of the building. The seats were made of split logs, the flat side up, resting upon sticks, which were driven into them in a sloping direction. The desks were coarse, un-planed boards, running the whole length of the three unoccupied sides. The scholars sat with their faces to the wall.

The teacher of this school in the summer of 1818 was Ann Boalt, the daughter of Platt and Sally’s friends, John and Ruth Boalt. Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict attended the school, along with other settlers’ children, to include Lyman and Manley Cole and David, Isaac, Aurelia and Louisa Underhill. [1]

Another student in the school was Mary Ann Morse. She knew the Benedicts well, recalling in later years going with my cousins to “The Oak Opening” or “Sand Ridge” as Norwalk was then called, to look for wild strawberries. We came in sight of Platt Benedict’s log house, then the only log house in Norwalk, and my cousins said the county seat is to be here. [2]

 

Footnotes:
[1] Description of the first school in Norwalk Township is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, pp. 43-44.
[2] Quote is from “Recollections of Northern Ohio,” by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, pp. 83-86.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 7 – The First Winter

Sufferers’ Land

The First Winter

by Dave Barton

For a few days, provisions were low. Then Platt bought a deer from an Indian for a dollar. Until then, the family subsisted on green corn and turnips from the garden Lewis Keeler had planted for Platt during the summer and milk from two cows they had purchased in Canfield.

Winter SceneWinter would arrive soon, and they needed to obtain enough food to last until spring. However, that took money, which after the expenses of land and travel was in short supply. To make up the shortfall, Platt took a job with a crew cutting a road between Norwalk and Milan. He earned sixty dollars which he used to buy enough pork for the family to make it through the winter. [1]

So far, no one else had settled in what was to become the village of Norwalk. In early November, a man passed the sand ridge on his way to his new home in Peru Township and wrote that the Benedict cabin was the only building there. [2]

Over the previous year, almost all the townships in Huron County had at least a few New Englanders settle in them, and many of the new settlers were acquaintances of Platt and Sally. On Christmas Day, the Benedicts and other Connecticut settlers gathered at John and Ruth Boalt’s house for a “Yankee” Christmas dinner. Although the feast was spare, the settlers had to be thankful. They had survived a long arduous trip, and had established themselves in their new homes. Over the next few years, they would build on this beginning to establish a life similar to what they had in New England.

After Christmas, five to six inches of snow fell and the weather stayed cold for the next six weeks, making for good sleighing. Platt and Sally took advantage of these conditions to visit friends who had also moved from Connecticut to the Firelands. One day they visited nine different families.

During the winter, Platt took many logs to Major David Underhill’s sawmill in Ridgefield Township, dragging them one at a time behind a team of oxen. Occasionally, Sally accompanied him, riding on a log, in order to visit Mary Underhill. [3]

The first winter in their little cabin was hard, but also had its good times. Years later, Sally wrote, many pleasant evenings we spent beside that fireplace, cracking nuts, and eating — not apples — but turnips. You need not laugh, these raw turnips tasted good, when there was nothing else to eat, and as the flames grew brighter, our merry party would forget they were not in their eastern homes, but far away in the wilds of Ohio. [4]

Even with these good times, winter must have seemed long and depressing to Sally. Finally, spring arrived, bringing the promise of better times. Flowers carpeted the ground beneath the bare branches of the surrounding forest. [5]

So far, the results of their move had not been encouraging. No one else had settled on the sand ridge. Without a town, the venture Sally and Platt dreamed of would come to nothing. But with spring, news came that changed their prospects for the better, giving them hope that the future would be as bright as those spring flowers on the floor of the deep woods.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[2] Mr. Pearley Sanders account of passing through what is now Norwalk in November 1817 is in The Firelands Pioneer, June, 1858, p. 42.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[4] Sarah Benedict’s description of early life in Norwalk is from Family, by Ian Frazier, pp.57-58
[5] “Historical Sketches – Townsend,” by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, March, 1860, p. 4.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 3 – Return to the Firelands

Sufferers’ Land

Return to the Firelands

by David Barton

 

In January of 1817, Platt again started for The Firelands, traveling in a one-horse wagon. He stopped in New York, where his sister lived with her husband Samuel Darling. Samuel accompanied his brother-in-law west, driving a second wagon.

The two men traveled through driving snow to the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River, where they found a sleigh that belonged to a man by the name of Holley, who had left it there on his move to Florence Township in the Firelands. Leaving one wagon, they loaded the other on the sleigh and set out in extremely cold weather, traveling north and then west, bound for Erie, Pennsylvania.

A foot of snow covered the ground, excellent conditions for sleighing. In Erie, they left the wagon and headed south in the sleigh to Meadville, Pennsylvania. Here their luck changed for the worse. It began to rain heavily, melting most of the snow. They continued on to Canfield, Ohio in the sleigh, but upon arriving there decided to exchange it for another wagon.

They reached Norwalk Township in early March and boarded with the Gibbs and Lockwood families, who had arrived in the township in April of the previous year after a horrific journey, during which each family lost a son. Other settlers had arrived in the neighborhood the past couple years, and Platt set about recruiting them to help erect a cabin on the sand ridge. [1]

log-cabin-imageHe had no trouble finding willing helpers; most settlers looked forward to assisting new neighbors. In later days, one of them would recall — When the pioneer had been swinging his axe for weeks, and maybe for months, together, it is often cheering to hear that there is to be a log raising in the neighborhood. He anticipates at once the pleasure that is to be derived from meeting his neighbors, and having with them a little social chat, or the exchange of a few sprightly jokes. [2]

On the appointed day, the settlers assembled on the ridge. Snow began to fall and Platt suggested postponing the work to another day. However, Levi Cole, who lived in nearby Ridgefield Township, said that the snow would not hurt them, and the men pitched into their work. [3]

The meadow along the ridge had few trees, so the men went to a nearby lowland area to cut logs for the cabin. They stood in ankle-deep water while they worked — a miserable experience that begged for the relief of a libation. Usually the owner of a cabin being raised treated his helpers with whiskey, but Platt gave Jamaican Rum instead, which his new neighbors greatly appreciated.

They worked until mid-day when they broke for dinner, pork and potatoes prepared by Major David Underhill’s wife Mary that morning and brought to the site from their homestead on the border of Norwalk and Ridgefield Townships. It is easy to imagine the men clustered around the unfinished cabin in the snow, steam rising from their plates. [4]

After dinner, the men continued to erect the cabin, following a familiar pattern. Logs were cut, rolled up, and their corners notched together in a square form to a suitable height. For a roof, the gable ends were carried up to a peak, with logs or poles, from one end to the other, at suitable distances apart. — Their staves were then made, and layed (sic) upon the poles, each layer being well secured with heavy poles upon them. [5]

They finished building the cabin that evening. Although it was a rude structure, it would provide shelter for Platt’s family when they arrived. Satisfied with his progress so far, he made final preparations prior to returning to Connecticut to fetch them.

He hired a Mr. Stewart to stay in the cabin during his absence and clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the ridge for ten dollars per acre. Because Mr. Stewart had no provisions, Platt purchased a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour for him.

Platt also arranged for Lewis Keeler to fence an acre of land around the cabin and plant potatoes, corn, and other vegetables so they would be ready to harvest when he returned with his family. [6] Lewis had traveled to the Firelands in 1816 as teamster for David Gibbs and Henry Lockwood in order to prepare a homestead in advance of the arrival of others of the Keeler clan. [7]

Before he departed for Connecticut, Platt met a friend named Captain John Boalt, who also wanted to settle in Norwalk Township, and sold to him one hundred acres of his land on Old State Road, about a mile southeast of the center of the proposed village of Norwalk.

Saturday, the fourth of April, Platt started for Connecticut in the same wagon he had brought to Norwalk. En-route he contracted dysentery, which made travel difficult. It took him a month to make the trip. As soon as he arrived in Danbury, he began preparations to move his family to their new home. [8]

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[2] This description of how a cabin raising was a diversion to the early settlers is from “Memoirs of Townships – Clarksfield”, by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, p. 21.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[4] The story of the raising of Platt Benedict’s cabin is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, By Ruth, Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1860, p. 42
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville” by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp.31-32.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18
[7] “Obituary of Lewis Keeler,” The Firelands Pioneer, 1882, p. 158.
[8] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18

 

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“Sufferers’ Land” Post #10 – A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

That fall, Captain Enos Gilbert and his family arrived in Norwalk. They bought the unfinished house started by Amos Abbott, and, until it was finished, lived in a shanty workers had constructed while making bricks for Platt. The court met while the Gilberts were still in the shanty, and they boarded several members of the court there. The rest of the court stayed with the Benedicts or with David and Mary Underhill in their house a few miles to the west in Ridgefield Township. The Benedict house was so crowded that the boarders lay spoon fashion on the floor. Even then, there was not enough room for everyone and one of the lawyers slept sitting in a chair.

Soon after the court met, Enos Gilbert finished his house and several other settlers moved onto the ridge. In October, a young woman passing through the village on her way to David and Laura Underhill’s homestead saw but a few buildings – one store, two or three dwelling houses, an unfinished court house, and a tavern, consisting of three or four rooms below, and a place to dance above. It was kept by Enos Gilbert. [1]

The rest of that year and early in 1819, new settlers moved onto the sand ridge, building houses and stores in the settlement.

Businesses also started on the outskirts of town. A gristmill was erected on Reed’s Creek, one and three-quarters miles south of the village, and Platt and a settler named Obadiah Jenney built a sawmill a half mile south of town. Captain Peter Tice started a distillery just south of where the Courthouse is now. These three industries were essential to the new settlement. The sawmill made lumber out of logs and the gristmill and distillery turned corn into a marketable commodity.

That summer, Platt built a two story house in front of the cabin, using the brick he had had made the previous year. In July, he became Postmaster for Norwalk, and established the Post Office in his new home. The first mailbag he received contained only a single letter. [2]

Now the Benedict home would be the center of the social and business life of the community, the place where settlers in the village and nearby farms would stop for mail and news of the village and the outside world.

The town continued to grow. All the trades and businesses required to support the court and those who worked in it arrived — Druggist, Jeweler, Tavern Keeper, Baker, Carpenters and Joiners, Master Masons, Tanners, Couriers, Shoemaker, Cabinet maker, Hatter, Saddler and Harness maker. [3]

Around 1820, the first school in the village of Norwalk began in the shanty on Platt and Sally’s property, built two years before by the workers who made bricks for their new house. Eight or ten students attended, including Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict. [4]

That same year, a man passing through town reported that Norwalk village was small, but appeared thriving, with one or two stores doing a fair business. Enos Gilbert, afterwards Sheriff, kept tavern in the frame building since occupied as a hotel by Obadiah Jenney, and now standing next west of Whittlesey block. – There was no church building. The houses were all on Main Street, and north of that was low, marshy ground with no settlers on it. Natural trees, chiefly oaks, were growing in Main Street, and after passing the center of the village the track became very narrow, worming among the trees. [5]

Norwalk had become a thriving village, but the level of growth Platt and Sally dreamed of had not materialized. After the initial burst of immigration, the flow of settlers dwindled as people bypassed the Firelands for lands further west.

Years later, an early settler explained what happened. About the time of the first settlements in this vicinity, in consequence of the favorable reports which the few who had got into the country made to their friends east to encourage them hither, the land owners got the impression that there was a great speculation to be made in their lands, they at once put them up to about double the price of government lands, and the result was to push the tide of emigration still farther West, where they could get lands for the sum of ten shillings per acre; this could be done by crossing the county line West into Seneca and Sandusky counties, yet the crowd was for Michigan. [6]

Norwalk would not grow as fast as Platt and Sally had hoped, at least not yet. For the time being, they would continue to grow their businesses as best they could, adapting to life on the frontier, and turning the little village on the sand ridge into a civilized town.

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Footnotes:
[1] “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, p. 43.
[2] Descriptions of the first few years in Norwalk are from “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 20.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Portland,” by F.D. Parish, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1859, p. 21.
[4] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 21.
[5] “A Journey from New England to the Firelands 55 Years Ago,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, p. 88.
[6] “Memoirs of Townships – Fitchville, by J.C. Curtis, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 33.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #9 – Education on the Frontier

Most settlers from Connecticut were well educated and interested in their children’s schooling. In those days on the frontier, classes were only in session during warm weather. Norwalk did not have a school, of course, so Sally and Platt had to look for something nearby.

The first schoolhouse in the area had been built in the fall of 1816, a few rods from the township line between Ridgefield and Norwalk, on Lot No. 1. It stood upon the bank, on the left hand after crossing the bridge, upon the present road to Peru, about half a mile from the bridge.

It was made of logs, with a chimney of sticks plastered inside, the fire occupying nearly the whole side of the building. The seats were made of split logs, the flat side up, resting upon sticks, which were driven into them in a sloping direction. The desks were coarse, un-planed boards, running the whole length of the three unoccupied sides. The scholars sat with their faces to the wall.

The teacher of this school in the summer of 1818 was Ann Boalt, the daughter of Platt and Sally’s friends, John and Ruth Boalt. Jonas and Eliza Ann Benedict attended the school, along with other settlers’ children, to include Lyman and Manley Cole and David, Isaac, Aurelia and Louisa Underhill. [1]

Another student in the school was Mary Ann Morse. She knew the Benedicts well, recalling in later years going with my cousins to “The Oak Opening” or “Sand Ridge” as Norwalk was then called, to look for wild strawberries. We came in sight of Platt Benedict’s log house, then the only log house in Norwalk, and my cousins said the county seat is to be here. [2]

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

GO TO NEXT POST – A Village is Born on the Sand Ridge

Index of Posts

Footnotes:
[1] Description of the first school in Norwalk Township is from “Scattered Sheaves – No. 4, by Ruth – Maj. Underhill”, The Firelands Pioneer, September, 1860, pp. 43-44.
[2] Quote is from “Recollections of Northern Ohio,” by Mrs. John Kennan, The Firelands Pioneer, 1896, pp. 83-86.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #7 – The First Winter

For a few days, provisions were low. Then Platt bought a deer from an Indian for a dollar. Until then, the family subsisted on green corn and turnips from the garden Lewis Keeler had planted for Platt during the summer and milk from two cows they had purchased in Canfield.

Winter would arrive soon, and they needed to obtain enough food to last until spring. However, that took money, which after the expenses of land and travel was in short supply. To make up the shortfall, Platt took a job with a crew cutting a road between Norwalk and Milan. He earned sixty dollars which he used to buy enough pork for the family to make it through the winter. [1]

So far, no one else had settled in what was to become the village of Norwalk. In early November, a man passed the sand ridge on his way to his new home in Peru Township and wrote that the Benedict cabin was the only building there. [2]

Over the previous year, almost all the townships in Huron County had at least a few New Englanders settle in them, and many of the new settlers were acquaintances of Platt and Sally. On Christmas Day, the Benedicts and other Connecticut settlers gathered at John and Ruth Boalt’s house for a “Yankee” Christmas dinner. Although the feast was spare, the settlers had to be thankful. They had survived a long arduous trip, and had established themselves in their new homes. Over the next few years, they would build on this beginning to establish a life similar to what they had in New England.

After Christmas, five to six inches of snow fell and the weather stayed cold for the next six weeks, making for good sleighing. Platt and Sally took advantage of these conditions to visit friends who had also moved from Connecticut to the Firelands. One day they visited nine different families.

During the winter, Platt took many logs to Major David Underhill’s sawmill in Ridgefield Township, dragging them one at a time behind a team of oxen. Occasionally, Sally accompanied him, riding on a log, in order to visit Mary Underhill. [3]

The first winter in their little cabin was hard, but also had its good times. Years later, Sally wrote, many pleasant evenings we spent beside that fireplace, cracking nuts, and eating — not apples — but turnips. You need not laugh, these raw turnips tasted good, when there was nothing else to eat, and as the flames grew brighter, our merry party would forget they were not in their eastern homes, but far away in the wilds of Ohio. [4]

Even with these good times, winter must have seemed long and depressing to Sally. Finally, spring arrived, bringing the promise of better times. Flowers carpeted the ground beneath the bare branches of the surrounding forest. [5]

So far, the results of their move had not been encouraging. No one else had settled on the sand ridge. Without a town, the venture Sally and Platt dreamed of would come to nothing. But with spring, news came that changed their prospects for the better, giving them hope that the future would be as bright as those spring flowers on the floor of the deep woods.

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Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[2] Mr. Pearley Sanders account of passing through what is now Norwalk in November 1817 is in The Firelands Pioneer, June, 1858, p. 42.
[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[4] Sarah Benedict’s description of early life in Norwalk is from Family, by Ian Frazier, pp.57-58
[5] “Historical Sketches – Townsend,” by Benjamin Benson, The Firelands Pioneer, March, 1860, p. 4.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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