Sufferers’ Land – Post 31 – A Terrible Tragedy

Sufferers’ Land

A Terrible Tragedy

by Dave Barton

On Wednesday, August 28, 1833, less than a month after the birth of David Benedict, Lucy Preston learned that there had been a horrible accident at the Benedict home on Seminary Street. Little Platt Benedict had been badly burned. Lucy hurried to the house to see if she could help. Now nineteen years old, she had the reputation of being a capable nurse.

Pioneer FireplaceWhen she arrived at her friend Fanny Benedict’s house, she learned that young Platt had come downstairs early in the morning and stood by the fireplace to get warm. An ember landed on the boy’s nightgown, catching it on fire and burning him badly. Fanny and Jonas were in terrible shock from the sight of their son running through the house engulfed in flames.

Lucy went in the bedroom where the boy lay to see if she could help. He was delirious and begged for water. The doctor refused to allow him any, a practice of that time. The boy’s plight moved Lucy, and later, when she was alone with him, she gave him all the water he wanted. Throughout the night, she and other women of the village kept watch over the boy, but they were not able to save him. He died the next day.

The loss of a young child is a terrible thing. Even in those days of high infant mortality, it caused immense grief in the family and the village. Jonas and Fanny would have two more children, both girls. However, their lives, scarred by the death of their firstborn son, were doomed to pass from tragedy to tragedy — disappointment to disappointment. [1]




[1] The story of the death of young Platt Benedict is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver (Unpublished), by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, p. 17.

The image of the frontier fireplace is from Rusler, William, A Standard History of Allen County, Volume I; The American Historical Society, Chicago, IL and New York, NY; 1921; page 240.



This post was first published on this blog in 2009.


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Battle of Chickamauga I – Muskets and Medicine

 In her memoir Little Doctor on the Black Horse, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton does not describe the Battle of Chickamauga, because David Benedict did not mention the battle in any of the letters he wrote to his wife. Instead, she added a few pages at the end of the memoir, as if it were an afterthought. In the right order, this, and the two posts that follow should be read after Little Doctor on the Black Horse, Post #4: A Prisoner of War on this website.


Battle of Chickamauga – Part I

by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton


There is no account of the Battle of Chickamauga in D. D. B.’s letters, but years later the steward, Solon Hyde wrote a book, A Captive of War [1] in which he told his war experiences. The following is from that book (condensed).

On September 19, 1863, the rising sun was gilding the crests of the north Georgia hills as the 17th O.V.I., Col. Connell commanding, completed a frosty night’s march from the right flank of Rosecrans’ army to the extreme left, and deployed just to the west of the hills that bordered the Chattanooga Road. The blue clad line, tense and quiet as yet, extended some six miles along the front. Then, the boom of cannon; a shell fell nearby. The battle had begun.

 The medics had had the luck to find an excellent hospital site at the foot of a wooded hill, in a grove surrounding a gushing spring whose clear waters were carried in a wooden trough to a log spring house. The supply wagons rushed straw from an old barn, while the doctors, steward and “special duty” soldiers who served as nurses unpacked and arranged instruments and supplies. The red hospital flag was run up and some twenty tents erected. The flood of casualties began. The tents soon filed. Many more lay on heaps of straw throughout the grove, with less severely wounded propped against trees. The overworked ambulances could not keep up with their removal. Throughout the day, the doctors and nurses worked at top speed, bandaging, stitching, administering sedatives (asedetida, valerian, opiates and whiskey) while the bloody heap of amputated arms, feet and legs grew higher.


Union Field Hospital

Union Hospital at Savage Station, Virginia – 1862


 The surgery of a century ago now sounds fantastically inadequate. Anesthetics were crude, antiseptics still beyond the horizon. No penicillin, no sulfa, no blood bank, no sterilization. Instruments were washed, when and if, in any available water. Chas. Johnson in Muskets and Medicine, says: The frightful handicap of Civil War surgery was a lack of knowledge of asepsis and antiseptics. The surgeon was making use of the very best lights of his day, dangerous as some of them were. [2]

With the dawn (Sunday) the battle resumed. The Rebel line had advanced so far that the Cloud’s Spring hospital site [3] was now to its right and rear, too far behind the fighting to receive so many casualties. But soon the Confederate sharpshooters spied the red flag amidst the trees, and their rifle fire was followed by artillery shells which soon sent doctors and nurses scurrying behind trees or over the hill. David and Hyde took refuge in the spring house.

Wham! A shell struck the ground beyond the hut. The loose straw blazed, the flames spreading toward a tent. Solon grabbed a bucket of water and started for the fire, but a ball close to his head sent him scrambling back to shelter. The lone patient in the tent, whose ankle had been almost severed in the battle, managed to crawl out, his useless foot dangling, and was carried to safety.

Suddenly, from beyond the road sounded the blood-curdling Rebel yell, and a group of horsemen burst from the woods. Hyde seized the sheet from the amputating table and waved a bloody flag of truce. The 17th’s hospital had been captured by Col. Scott’s troops of Forrest’s Cavalry! The colonel, upon learning that he had taken a hospital of wounded, both Blue and Gray, at once detailed men to guard and assist, and also took over the Cloud’s home on the hilltop, for additional shelter.

Later a small Union force swooped in, recapturing the site, only to be, themselves, hemmed in and cut to pieces. The doctors went on with their work, too busy to worry about the changes.

Next: Chickamauga II – Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to Breakfast


Editor Footnotes

A Captive of War[1] A Captive of War is a memoir of the Civil War experiences of Solon Hyde of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In addition to his descriptions of the Battle of Chickamauga (which includes how Doctor Benedict and he stayed behind with the wounded as the other medical personnel “skedaddled”), Solon tells of his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war, to include his time at Andersonville. After the war, he assisted Clara Barton in her work to identify the dead at that notorious prison camp. The book was published in 1900 by McClure, Phillips & Company. That version is now available online at Google Books. In 1996, Solon’s great-grandson Neil Thompson republished the book. It is available on Amazon. As an account of what Union prisoners of war experienced during the Civil War, this book cannot be beat. I highly recommend it.

Muskets and Medicine[2] Harriet did not include this gruesome passage that proceeds her quote from Muskets and Medicine :  “. . . Captain William Colby . . . was in a comatose state from a bullet that had penetrated his brain through the upper portion of the occipital bone. The first thing our surgeon did was to run his index finger its full length into the wound; and this without even ordinary washing.”

Like Solon Hyde, Charles Johnson was a Hospital Steward during the Civil War, serving in the 130th Illinois Volunteers. After the war, he became a medical doctor, and in 1917 published Muskets and Medicine, an account of his experiences in the war. As with Solon’s Captive of War, it is available online at Google Books. This is a highly readable account of daily life in the Civil War, with a great account of medical practices of the day (pages 123-134). I also recommend it for anyone looking for personal accounts of the war.


Chickamauga Hospital Locations

[3] The Cloud House Hospital was located at the far left flank of the Union lines. I found online at “Medical Support at the Battle of Chickamauga,” Chapter 5 of a thesis by someone named Rubenstein (if you know anything about this thesis, please let me know in the comments). A sketch on page 76 (at left) shows the location of Cloud House (top center), and descriptions of the fate of the hospital are on pages 77 and 84-85. An endnote on pages 93-94 also provide a discussion of varying accounts by participants. For those interested in the Battle of Chickamauga, the endnotes provide good sources for further research.



harriott-wickham-1915-20-2About the Author: Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton   (1890-1981) was born in Norwalk, Ohio to Frank and Agnes Wickham. Her father was the youngest of twelve children of Frederick and Lucy Wickham, early settlers of the Firelands, and her mother was the great-great granddaughter of Platt and Sarah Benedict, who founded the city of Norwalk. Educated at Norwalk High School and Wooster College, she became a teacher. She marched as a suffragette and worked for the Labor Department during World War I. After the war, she went west to teach school, and became one of the last homesteaders, proving up a property near Wheatland, Wyoming. She married Angus Barton in 1924 and they raised four children on the homestead through the Dust Bowl and World War II. In the late 1940s, she and her Angus moved to Ohio, where they spent the rest of their lives. During the 1950s and ‘60s, she wrote “Little Doctor on the Black Horse,” poetry, and short stories, some which were published in various journals and magazines.

Next: Chickamauga II – Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to Breakfast.


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Hear the Chants Sung Once More

David DeForest BenedictI wrote this article about my great-great grandfather the summer of 2003, while I was living near Charleston, South Carolina. David Benedict was a Union surgeon during the Civil War. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to the army before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham (member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907), wrote Little Doctor on the Black Horse, a short history about David Benedict based on her memories of him, and letters he had sent to his wife during the war. One letter that she included in her memoir, describes an excursion David Benedict made to Savannah, Christmas Day 1864.

Over fifteen years ago, I visited Savannah to retrace his steps, and wrote this article to describe my day, reliving history.


Hear the Chants Sung Once More

by David Barton


I thought I would go to church today and hear the chants sung once more. After breakfast and fixing up some, the chaplain and I started on foot for the city, 5 mile. We took what was once the R.R. track, as it was better walking.

With these words, David Benedict begins a description in a letter to his wife of his visit to Savannah, Christmas Day, 1864. Because I lived in nearby Charleston, one day I decided to visit Savannah and see if I could find the landmarks my ancestor described on Christmas Day, almost one hundred and thirty-nine years ago. I didn’t go on foot, of course, but did do some ‘fixing up’, putting on a suit and tie.

I wanted to go to St. Paul’s on Madison Square, but could find no one to direct me. Then I saw one that looked like an Episcopal Church but it was not open. Then someone came along, and I found it was the right place, would open soon and the sexton would give me a seat.

St. Johns ChurchI found an Episcopal Church on Madison Square, but it is called Saint John’s, not Saint Paul’s. Perhaps David Benedict got it wrong, or maybe it was a typographical error when the letter was initially copied.

In any event, I believe it is the church he visited. Next door stands the Green-Meldrim House, which is open for tours. General Sherman made this house his headquarters during his stay in Savannah, although I understand he did not move in until after Christmas Day. A tour guide in the house told me there was only one other Episcopal Church in Savannah during the Civil War, Christ Church. But when I told her that David Benedict described the church he attended services in as being Gothic, she said it must be Saint John’s. I went by Christ Church later, and I agree with her. The facade of Christ Church is Greek Revival style, not Gothic like Saint John’s.

It is a nicely furnished church, in Gothic style, inside and out.

Saint John’s is a nicely furnished church, and then church altarsome, with a wonderfully, intricate panel of Christ behind the altar.

The stained-glass windows are nice, although from the date on one, they apparently were not there in 1864 – at least not all of them.

There are great beams in the ceiling and the floors and pews are made of beautiful wood, stained a dark brown. All in all it is, in my judgment, more than simply ‘nicely furnished’.

A good organ and well played. Their singing was tolerable.

The organ was very good. I don’t know if it is the original, but it is large, taking up all of a good-sized gallery above the front entryway. I was impressed with the singing by the present-day congregation as much as David Benedict was of the singing of the congregation when he visited.

One lady tried to overdo herself, I suppose because the church was crowded with Yankee officers. Many citizens were present, both men and women, but not a pretty one amongst them. Perhaps the pretty ones would not condescend to show their graces to this mob of “Lincoln Hirelings” or “Mudsills”. Most of them were dressed in black.

The average age of the present-day congregation is also not young, but the demographics are different than they were in 1864. There were several African American couples present, which I doubt was the case during the Civil War. I didn’t see many ‘pretty ones’. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly. I tried to imagine the scene Christmas Day, 1864. Bearded Union officers and men dressed in uniforms stained from days of marching and battle, sitting among citizens dressed in black. That must have been a stressful service.

The chants were good, the reading of the service good, but he left out the prayer for the president, prayed to it, and around it. I had a nice prayer book, and in the margin I wrote: “This prayer was omitted Dec. 25, 1864”. The preacher was very good.

The chants. I wondered what they were. The service I attended was Morning Prayer, and most of it was sung in a chant. There is more kneeling and bowing in the Episcopal Morning Prayer than in the Roman Catholic Mass. And Morning Prayer doesn’t even include the Eucharist. They have a communion service at noon, but I didn’t stay for that. After the service, a woman told me that St. John’s still uses the old Common Prayer Book. So the service I participated in was what David Benedict would have been familiar with.

The prayer for the president was not omitted from the service I attended. Of course, I did not write anything in the prayer book.

The Episcopal service reminds me of the Methodist Church, which I grew up in. John Wesley’s Church of England background is much in evidence in Methodism. An interesting side note, in 1836, John Wesley was pastor of Christ Church, the Episcopal Church I mentioned above. This was before he left the Anglican Communion and established the Methodist Church.

The preacher the day I visited the church was also good. He is The Reverend Gavin Dunbar, who is the vicar of the parish. He spoke clearly and persuasively – and long. I’m afraid I can’t remember all that he said.

After church I went to the Pulaski Monument, where I met the chaplain. The inscription reads: ‘Pulaski, the Heroic Pole, who fell, mortally wounded, while fighting for American Liberty, 9th Oct. 1779.’

Pulaski monumentPulaski Monument is not in Pulaski Square, that would make too much sense. It is in Monterey Square, which is an equal distance south of the church. It is an imposing monument: a tall, white obelisk, with a statue of a woman on top. The inscription is on the opposite side from Madison Square and reads just as David Benedict reported. I tried to picture him standing in front of it, carefully copying it down so he could enter it correctly in his letter to his wife.

The square would have been different one hundred thirty years ago, when David Benedict stood there. It was winter then, so the weather was much different than the stifling humidity I experienced. Also, the ravages and privations of war would have stripped the area of the many trees that now grace this pretty square.

After lunch, I drove back to Charleston, happy I had made the trip to Savannah. By retracing the steps of my ancestor and worshiping in the same church he had, I felt a connection to him and his time.


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Norwalk, Ohio in the Civil War

On this, the anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, we’ll take a look at the role of soldiers from Norwalk, Ohio in that struggle.

Norwalk actually fielded a regiment in the Civil War, the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I), [1] which was organized from September to December 1861 at Camp McClellan in Norwalk. [2]

The 55th O.V.I. was not at Appomattox with Grant on April 9, 1865, though. The day of Lee’s surrender, they were in North Carolina with General Sherman’s armies. Their war would not end until April 25, with the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston’s army at Bennett Place in Durham County, North Carolina. [3]


Bennett Place

A restoration of Bennett Place, North Carolina, site of the surrender of the largest number of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.


Another citizen of Norwalk with General Sherman’s armies on April 9th, 1865 was my great-great grandfather, David Benedict. But he was not serving in the 55th O.V.I. He was a surgeon with the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. [4]

David Benedict had been with the army since the beginning of the war. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to his regiment before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The army finished their march across Georgia on December 21st, 1864 when they accepted the surrender of the city of Savannah. A few days later, on Christmas Day, David Benedict went into the city from his camp in the outskirts to attend church and do a bit of sightseeing. He wrote a letter to his wife that evening, describing his day.


David DeForest Benedict

Doctor David Benedict


Years ago, I visited Savannah, and, using his letter as a guide, followed my great-great grandfather’s steps as he travelled through the city that Christmas Day so many years ago. In my next post, Hear the Chants Sung Once More, I’ll describe what I found.



[1] For a history of the 55th O.V.I, see 55th Ohio Volunteer Regiment, on Wikipedia. A comprehensive bibliography is at 55th Ohio Infantry, compiled by Larry Stevens.

[2] Camp McClellan was located somewhere on the banks of the east branch of the Huron River; exactly where, I do not know. See Camp McClellan (Norwalk, Ohio), at Ohio Civil War Central for a description of the history of the camp.

[3] An account of the Confederate surrender is at Bennett Place, on Wikipedia.

[4] A history of the 17th O.V.I is at 17th Ohio Infantry on Wikipedia. A roster listing David Benedict is online at The Civil War Index: 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry  page 537.


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Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907

In my last post, we explored how Suzan Rose Benedict experience with women’s athletics while attending Smith College from 1891 to 1895 might have influenced fellow Norwalk High School teacher Minnie Cleghorn to start a girls’ physical education program. Today, we’ll check in with Miss Cleghorn to see how she fared with her athletic program at Norwalk High School, and with her life in general.

When Millie began the school year the fall of 1906, it was without her very good friend Suzan Benedict, who was now back at Smith College as an Assistant in Mathematics. This was Suzan’s first year teaching at Smith. The previous year, she had earned a Masters in Mathematics at Columbia University in New York City. [1]

How do I know that Suzan and Millie were very good friends. Well, for one thing, in 1906, Millie was living in Suzan’s house at 80 Seminary Street in Norwalk, known as “The Fortress” to the young people of the time, and had been since at least 1904. [2] And she continued to live there after Suzan left for Columbia. Not only were they good friends, they were business partners, too. In addition to teaching mathematics at Norwalk High School, Suzan was a realtor, and in 1901, she and Millie went in together with other teachers at Norwalk High School to buy land in a new development north of town. [3]


80 Seminary - 1880

“The Fortress,” 80 Seminary Street, Norwalk, Ohio, 1881. Doctor David Benedict stands on the front lawn. His wife Harriott is sitting on the front steps. Suzan Rose Benedict and her friends play croquet to the left of the house. Sadly, this stately home was torn down around 1995 after a fire.

In 1907, Minnie was forty-three years old. Since 1897, her first year at the high school, she had lived in Norwalk during the school year, visiting her mother and father in Wellington often, and spending her summer vacations there. [4]

I do not know where Minnie lived when she first arrived in Norwalk, but by 1904, she had taken up residence in the Benedict home at 80 Seminary Street. [5] Perhaps she had moved in before, but that is the earliest mention I can find of her being there. On June 11, 1900, she was not listed as a resident when Census enumerator Fred Husted visited the home. [6]

If in 1907, Suzan Benedict was not living at 80 Seminary, who was? David Benedict had died of a heart attack in 1901, [7] but his wife Harriott was still alive, although I believe that at this time she suffered from what has been called the “Benedict Curse:” Alzheimer’s.” [8] Mrs. Benedict’s caregiver would have been her eldest daughter Mary, who like Suzan and Minnie, had never married, and a granddaughter, Eleanor who was a sister of Harriott Wickham, Class of 1907. [9] A few years earlier, another Benedict daughter, Hattie, had moved into the house with her husband William Benham. [10]

After she started living in the Benedict home, Minnie became more active in the Norwalk community. At school, she led the high school orchestra, and was the sponsor of the school newspaper. Outside school, she became active in the Women’s Temperance Union and the Junior Auxiliary at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and organized a book club that met weekly at the Benedict home. [11]

Of most interest to us, is her involvement in athletics. Sometime, soon after she arrived at the school, she took over the girls’ athletic program. Or more likely, instead of taking it over, she started it. The only photo I have of her is a group shot of her “in the ranks” among her student in the 1906 girls’ gym class as they did calisthenics, probably Swedish Gymnastics, which involves light calisthenics, and was popular at Smith College when Suzan Benedict attended there.



Minnie Cleghorn (third from right in white blouse) during a 1906 girls’ gym class in school hall on the 3rd Floor of Norwalk High School.

By 1904, Minnie had organized girls’ basketball teams that competed in intramural and extramural matches at Norwalk High School. [12] Although women’s college teams played Senda Berenson’s “line game rules,” high schools were more likely to play a five-player boys’ game, often named the ‘YMCA game.” Many high schools also allowed “interference rules,” where players could block and attempt to take the ball away. Most high schools in the Midwest played the YMCA game using interference rules. [13] Norwalk newspaper articles of the girls’ games reported rosters with five positions, two forwards, a center, and two guards, so I assume the Norwalk team followed the norm and played by YMCA rules.

That’s the story of Minnie Cleghorn’s life in Norwalk High School, and her involvement in fostering the Athletic Girl at the school, as I know it. To conclude this series on the Athletic Girl, in my next post we’ll take a look at Minnie’s legacy at Norwalk High School, and how she impacted the future lives of her female students.


[1] “About College,” (Smith College Monthly, Volume 13, Number 1, October 1906) p. 66. Also: Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, Pioneering Wemen in American Mathematics: the pre-194 PhD’s(American Mathematical Society, 2009), 27, and Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, “Supplementary Material for Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s,” 74: Suzan Benedict remained at Smith College the remainder of her life, rising to Chairman of the Mathematics Department. In 1914, she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and was Class Dean at Smith for the Class of 1926. A summary of her life is at “Suzan Rose Benedict” in Wikipedia.

[2] “The Norwalk Directory,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, April 1, 1904, page 5, column 2.

[3] “Greater Norwalk is Assured,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 6, 1901, page 1, column 4.

[4] Minnie’s father James Cleghorn died in 1899. His obituary is at “Wellington,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, February 10, 1899, page 4, column 2.

[5] “The Norwalk Directory,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, April 1, 1904, page 5, column 2.

[6] 1900 US Federal Census: Kenton Ward 2, Huron County, Ohio; Roll: T623 1288; Page: 10B; 11 Jun 1900.

[7] See “Post # 17 The Later Years,” part of the Little Doctor on the Black Horse series on this website for an account of David Benedict’s last years and his death.

[8] I often heard stories of the “Benedict curse” while growing up; most of the Benedict daughters were afflicted by it, as were generations after them (to include my father). However, if Harriott Benedict suffered from Alzheimer’s, it probably should be called the “Deaver Curse” (her maiden name). I have been told by family that she suffered from this horrible disease, and that account seems to be supported by a diary entry written on the day of her death in 1909: I am glad that I am among the elder children, so that I can remember Grandmother as she was before this sickness.

[9] Mary (Mamie) Benedict, never married. Her niece Eleanor Wickham (my godmother), lived with her aunt from a young age under strange circumstances, as explained by Eleanor’s sister, Harriott Wickham (my grandmother), in a 1976 diary entry. The reason for [my mother’s] illness was caused by their stealing Eleanor from her – when I, as a little tot was very sick, & Eleanor was sent over to her grandmothers, where Aunt Mamie became so attached to her that she went in a tizzy when they tried to take her home Aunt Lil finally came over & told Mother that she was being very selfish not to let “poor Mamie” keep her’ & that she was taking her back as Mother had another child & she (Mama) was being very cruel to “poor Mamie,” who (incidentally) was driving them all crazy with her crying. Grandpa & Grandma (who had always spoiled “poor Mamie”) would not interfere – as, of course they should have!

It was their fault that poor Mamie was so spoiled. She had been a seven month baby, but was a perfectly healthy person (physically) though not (I think) mentally. Not mentally deficient, but never really grew up! – to stand on her own feet. Too timid – she just got her way by crying – and making everyone uncomfortable.  I was shy as a young child, but Mama made me stay in her clothes closet “if I had to cry.” She would say “I’m just not going to let you grow up like your Aunt Mame!” I never have been able to cry since, except in private – and not often then! I feel reasonably sure, also, that she (Aunt Mame) infected Eleanor with her unreasonable distrust of men! If she had grown up in her own home, I think E. would probably have married. When I was growing up, we visited Aunt Eleanor at 80 Seminary Street many Sunday afternoons. I remember her as an elderly, rather aloof woman who spoke with the same flat unemotional voice as my grandmother, but lacked her warmth of spirit.

[10] William Benham was Hattie’s second husband. Her first marriage was Henry Owen in 1881. Henry suffered from tuberculosis, so the couple moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where Henry was superintendent of the water works. In 1885, they returned to Norwalk for his father’s funeral, and he contracted pneumonia and died. Hattie remained in Norwalk after his death, and in 1897 married William Benham. The couple lived in William’s home on Main Street until sometime before 1905 when they moved into the Benedict home at 80 Seminary Street. Hattie never had children. See her WeRelate person page for details of her life.

[11] Around 1904, articles mentioning Minnie’s extracurricular activities began appearing in Norwalk newspapers. For instance: reading club, “Among the Clubs,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, November 7, 1905, page 3, column 4; advisor to the high school newspaper, “High School Newspaper,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, November 23, 1905, page 4, column 3; temperance society involvement, “Temperance Service,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, November 25, 1905, page 1, column 6; and member of the Norwalk lady’s orchestra, “Ladies Rehearse,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, April 6, 1905, page 1, column 3.

[12] “Norwalk Girl Won,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, December 19, 1904, page 2, column 3. Eleanor Wickham played in this game.

[13] Robert Pruter, “Chapter 8: The New Athletic Girl and Interscholastic Sports”, The Rise of American High School Sports and the Search for Control: 1880-1930, Syracuse University, 2013; 149.


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Summer in the Firelands

As we approach Labor Day, we look back on a summer of outdoor activities and vacation trips. But how did people in the Firelands spend that period between June and September? In those days before the advent of air conditioning, whole families (less fathers who stayed in town to work) would decamp from hot towns and cities to cottages on lakes, at the seashore, or in the mountains. In some parts of the country, this tradition continues, albeit, now only for weekends.

Growing up, I spent part of my summers at “the cottage” in the Firelands, on the shores of Lake Erie, about an hour and a half west of our home in Cleveland. I remember “the cottage” as a musty old building with wide porches set between a cemetery and the lake. I loved the air of family history that permeated the place.

Squirrel House 1972

The Cottage at Oak Bluff in 1972 – as I remember it.

At the time, I was aware that it had been in our family for generations, but had scant knowledge of how it came into the family. Decades later, I found at my mother’s house a story written by my grandmother. Titled, “The Squirrel House,” it filled in the gaps in my knowledge and gave me a glimpse of a time when many families in the Firelands, and across America, would spend their summers at the beach.


The Squirrel House

by Harriott Barton [1]

About 1892, Judge Charles Wickham [2], Judge Samuel Wildman [3], brother’s-in-law, and Dr. David DeForest Benedict [4]  bought from Mr. Douglas, father of Will Douglas, the property which they named Oak Bluff, because of the huge old oaks that grew along the hilltop. Each of the three owned a front lot upon which he planned to erect a summer cottage. The remainder of the land to the west of the cemetery and south and west of the cottages was held in common. Later they sold the west lot to Captain John Adams [5], brother-in-law of Wickham and Wildman. He built a fourth cottage.

David Benedict - Firelands Pioneer

As this was in the “Horse and Buggy” age, it was necessary to have a stable. So a long, narrow shed was erected facing west, just beyond the south-west corner of the cemetery, close to the entrance from Lake Road. A partition separated the Benedict part from the larger Wickham-Wildman part. There was a wide door on the west side of each room. Between the road and the lake was Common Property — an old peach orchard, neglected, and no longer very productive. Later it was fenced for a pasture. Then it was used for a tennis court.

The Wickham and Wildman cottages were built, I believe, in 1893. On the Benedict lot, overlooking Cranberry Creek, was the old cabin, its floor mostly rotted away; the door sill a good three feet above the badly eroded ground. On my first visit someone lifted me up to look inside. What floor still remained in place was covered with heaps of chewed hickory nuts and acorns. Back in town I chattered about the squirrel’s house, and that became its name.

Harriott Wickham 1893

Harriott at age 3 in 1893, about the time when she named the cottage “Squirrel House”


That winter Grandpa and old Bill Mears (uncle of Mrs. George Harkness) cleaned and repaired the old cabin. They put in a new roof and floor . . . Grandpa loved to work with wood. In Norwalk he had a workshop above the chicken house on the slope of the hill behind the garden on Bank Street. They built two partitions in the cabin for a dining room on the west, with the east part cut into two small rooms, the kitchen to the south and a bedroom on the north.

In the front yard they made a large wooden platform about a foot above the ground for a floor for the big four room tent which housed the rest of the family in the summer. Each room held a bed and a wash stand with bowl and pitcher. Wash water was carried up from the lake; drinking water from the Ruggles or the old stone trough south of Ceylon.

The cabin bedroom was reserved for Grandpa and Grandma [6] when she was there. They usually took their vacation in early fall, when there were usually fishing boats on the shore. I now suspect they found more peace and quiet at that time.

Through the summer the place was always full of family! Although Aunt Fannie [7] was till in Colorado, there were still Aunt Lil [8], Mame [9] and my mother [10], also Cousin May [11], our grandmother’s orphaned niece from Canada who married Fred Christian [12], my father’s nephew. May had been a part of the Benedict family for several years.

As the years passed and Grandpa’s tribe increased, he saw the need for larger quarters, so by 1896 he was involved in a new project; bedrooms to complete his house. He personally chose the boards he wanted to use – many for their knots, which he found interesting for their varied designs.

The actual building, I believe, started in the fall of 1896 and finished in the spring of 1897. Again Bill Mears assisted. They erected the frame and fitted the perpendicular siding boards, using sawhorses made during the winter in Grandpa’s workshop. The only clear memory I have of the actual building is it standing back of the house about 30 feet (there was no fence at that time). Grandpa was sitting astride the ridgepole with his snowy hair and beard — he looked just like the Santa Claus on a Christmas card!

Finally, the house was finished! A living room and two bedrooms on the ground floor; upstairs four bedrooms opening onto a narrow hall. The bedrooms’ inner walls were really just partitions, seven feet high. No ceilings up there — to allow for better ventilation. A porch (roofed) ran across the front of the living room along its east side to join a porch in front of the dining-kitchen part, and around the east side, where the steps led down to the back yard and the privy. No doorway was cut between the new part and the kitchen-dining area, in order to keep flies out of the front part of the house.

Oak Bluff c. 1911, 1912 (Susan Orsini)

The Squirrel House, 1911

There was no fireplace, as in other cottages. Grandpa had grown up in a family haunted by the memory of his older brother who, at the age of three, got up too early one morning, caught his night clothes afire, and was burned to death. Some years later my mother had one built in the living room.

Having finished the house and furnished it — largely from the attic at 80 E. — a number of surplus things from the dismantled Deaver home in New Haven [14] were stored there. The little ash stands were the property of Uncle Will Benham [14], who had had a rooming house in Chicago during The Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892-3.

Having finished the house and furnished it, Grandpa decided that, to protect it from dripping bathers, there should be a bathhouse; so he proceeded to build one! — on the slope of the bluff just west of the steps down to the beach. The south side of the shed-like building rested on a shelf-like cut in the slope up from the beach (the south part of which was higher and much drier than now). The north part of the shed-like building rested on tall posts resting on stones set into the beach. A north-south partition divided it into rooms — ladies to the east, with a door onto the stairway; the men’s room (to the west) going onto a plank walk between the building and the hillside. Each room had a window, a table and hooks on the wall. It saved many a wet trail in the house!


At the beach – 1908

It was at about this time that Aunt Fannie, her husband [15] having died very suddenly, returned to Norwalk with her three children, Benedict [16], Mary [17] and Agnes [18] and became part of the summer household in the cottage. I’ve often wondered how our three mothers put up with us!

Eleanor, Harriott, Ben Hottel 1

Harriott (bottom left) her cousin Ben and sister Eleanor

By this time Grandpa’s angina had become much more severe. The last year he came to the lake he began having very sudden and severe attacks of pain in his chest. As he insisted upon being quite active, I was assigned the task of keeping an eye on him.

I was nine years old by then and had been very devoted to Grandpa. The problem was that he did not want to be considered an invalid and kept telling me not to follow him. One day he collapsed in the drive back of the Wildman cottage. I came running up and he was a bit cross about it, saying he was just tired and was resting! and he wished I would stop following him.

I was, of course, old enough to understand that he as in great pain, but determined to keep going. And he did until the next January when, overnight, he died suddenly at the age of 68.

If he could look in on Oak Bluff now, more than seventy years later, I’m sure that he would be happy that some of his family are still enjoying, as he did, The Place on the Lake.


Genealogical Notes

When reading old stories like “The Squirrel House,” do you often wonder who all these people the author mentions are? Who are “Aunt Lil,” and “Grandma,” and “Judge Charles Wickham” and all the rest of these people Harriott Barton mentions in passing?

Well, I have the answers to those questions for you. Below are the full names of everyone mentioned in “The Squirrel House,” along with their relationship to Harriott. Click on the links for a WeRelate Wiki article that describes their lives. Let me know if you have additional information about any of these people, and I’ll update their article. Or you can  join WeRelate Wiki and update it yourself! That’s the beauty of Wikis–collaboration!

[1] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton (1890-1981). Author of “The Squirrel House.” Daughter of Agnes and Frank Wickham.

[2] Charles Preston Wickham (1836-1925). Eldest brother of Frank Wickham. Civil War veteran, judge, and U.S. Congressman.

[3] Samuel A Wildman (1846-1934). Brother of Charles Wickham’s wife Emma. Civil War veteran and judge.

[4] David DeForrest Benedict (1833-1901). Harriott Wickham Barton’s grandfather. Surgeon in the Civil War where he was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga.

[5] John Adams (1843-1927). Civil War veteran. Husband of Mary Wildman, Samuel Wildman’s sister.

[6] Harriott Deaver Benedict (1835-1909). Harriott Wickham Barton’s grandmother. David Benedict’s wife.

[7] Fannie Buckingham Benedict Hottel (1863-1940). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[8] Ellen Eliza Benedict Wickham (1868-1942). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[9] Mary Deaver Benedict (1857-1931). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[10] Agnes Caroline Benedict Wickham (1861-1934). Daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s mother.

[11] Mabel (May) Curtis Christian (1868-1911). Ward of David and Harriott Benedict. Married Fred Christian.

[12] Fred Christian (1866-1935). Son of Katherine Wickham Christian, sister of Charles Preston Wickham. Married May Curtis.

[13] Homestead of James Deaver and Harriott Shaon Deaver in North Fairfield, Ohio. Parents of Harriott Deaver Benedict and Harriot Wickham Barton’s grandparents.

[14] William Benham (1858-1923). Second husband of Harriott Benedict Benham, eldest daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. Harriott Wickham Barton’s aunt.

[15] Andrew Hottel (1852-1899). Husband of Fanny Benedict Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s uncle.

[16] David Benjamin Hottel (1890-1955). Son of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.

[18] Mary Hottel (1895-1981). Daughter of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.

[19] Agnes Hottel (1897-1983). Daughter of Andrew and Fanny Hottel. Harriott Wickham Barton’s cousin.


For additional information about Oak Bluff and the Benedict and Wickham families, check out Family, by Ian Frazier.





DeForest Genealogy


FIRELANDS CONNECTION: Read a genealogy of Sally DeForest Benedict, who with her husband Platt Benedict, founded the town of Norwalk, Ohio in 1817. Sally is the namesake of the Sally DeForest Chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (DAR) in Norwalk, Ohio. This genealogy is an excerpt from the transcription of a handwritten notebook I discovered in my grandmother’s papers. The family history in this notebook was the work of two descendants of Sally DeForest Benedict, Agnes Caroline Wickham and her daughter, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, who separately researched and made entries in it over a period of seventy years.  Agnes Wickham wrote roughly half of the entries in the notebook from 1909 to 1915.  In 1915, she gave handwritten copies of her work to each of her five children: Eleanor, William, Lucy, David and Harriott.  Harriott continued her mother’s work off and on for the next sixty years, adding entries as late as 1977.



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