Researching the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 – and Other Subjects

firelands-historical-society-museum

Firelands Historical Society Museum

 

If I had my druthers, I’d spend my free time in Norwalk, Ohio at the Firelands Historical Society‘s Laning-Young Research Center, the Norwalk Public Library and the Huron County Courthouse. But I’ve found it inconvenient to do so from my home in Colorado. What to do?

Fortunately, resources about Norwalk abound online. Beside Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and other “normal” genealogical sources, here are a few others specific to Norwalk and the Firelands I regularly use to flesh out my Sufferers’ Land and Norwalk High School Class of 1907 series of posts on this website:

  • The Firelands Pioneer: The journal of the Firelands Historical Society was first published in June 1858. The “Old Series” of the-firelands-pioneernineteen issues ran from 1858 until 1878, followed by twenty-five additional issues in the “New Series” from 1882 to 1937. During the publication of the “Old Issue,” most of the original settlers of the Firelands were still alive, and many contributed eyewitness accounts of their experiences. In 1939, the Firelands Historical Society published an index to both series. This index has been invaluable to me in my research. Most issues of The Firelands Pioneer are now digitized and just a Google search away.

  • Another important source of information about the Firelands is History of the FirelandsW.W. Williams 1879 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. Mr.. Williams used The Firelands Pioneer as an important source for History of the Firelands; he also drew from many other  primary sources, to include court records and personal interviews with settlers still surviving in the 1870’s. The resulting book is a treasure trove of histories, biographies, and illustrations for the genealogist and historian interested in this region and the families that settled there. This tome is available online, and I have posted links to the Table of Contents of the book on this website.

  • Finally, another great source is the Huron County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society Website. Here you can find links to HCCOGS Logopublications of the society, and other sources: death indexes, cemetery and funeral records, indexes of probate and court records and more. You can also request assistance from society members for a fee. This is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in researching the Firelands.

So that’s it: a short list of the resources I’ve found most useful in researching posts for this website. But there is one more that only recently become available to me: newspaper archives. I’ll tell you about that source in my next post.

 

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A Home in the Wilderness Revisited

Two hundred years ago today, September 9, 1817, Platt and Sally Benedict and their family arrived in the Sufferers’ Land of northern Ohio, ending a two month trek from their home in Connecticut. Over the next days and weeks, Platt and Sally would become the first permanent residents and founders of Norwalk, Ohio. To celebrate this event, I am republishing A Home in the Wilderness, the sixth post in my series Sufferers’ Land, which tells the story of the settlement of Norwalk from 1817 to 1857.

Happy Bicentennial, Norwalk!

 

Platt and Sally Benedict

Platt and Sally Benedict

 

A Home in the Wilderness

A day or so from their destination, Platt and Sally received bad news. Their cabin had burned down.

Mr. Stewart, whom Platt had hired to clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the sand ridge, had gone out of the cabin one morning, leaving a fire to dry his clothes. When he returned at noon for dinner, he found the cabin ablaze. He immediately left the area, not forgetting to take the provisions Platt had bought for him. [1]

The news devastated Platt and Sally. Footsore and weary, soaked and depressed by constant rain, they knew that they would have to get their family under shelter quickly before winter set in. They decided to stop at the home of the Gibbs and Lockwood families, located a mile and a half northeast of their land on the sand ridge; at the corner of what are now East Main Street and Old State Road. At four o’clock, Tuesday afternoon, the ninth of September, they came upon a cleared area in the forest where they found the Gibbs and Lockwood’s cabin and ramshackle barn. [2]

The two families lived in two one-room structures with a common roof and separated by a breezeway, one family in each cabin. David and Elizabeth Gibbs and their family had arrived in Ohio the previous year, accompanied by Elizabeth’s brother Henry Lockwood and his wife Fanny. The two families had a harder trip than the Benedicts and Keelers and each lost a child on the road. Looking at her own children, Sally must have been thankful that they had all made the trip safely.

John and Ruth Boalt and their eleven children had arrived several weeks previously. Ruth Boalt was the sister of Henry Lockwood and Elizabeth Gibbs. The Boalts were sick with malaria, or ague as the settlers called it. They lay in the Lockwood cabin, burning with fever, Fanny nursing them as best she could. [3]

The travelers crowded into the Gibbs cabin for supper. After eating, the unmarried men went to the barn to sleep and the families settled down in the cabin as best they could. As she lay in a makeshift bed on the floor of the crowded little cabin, Sally must have thought of her home in Connecticut and wished she were back there, safe and warm. During the night, a big storm blew through the clearing, rain and wind rattling the “shakes” that covered the roof of the cabin.

Dawn finally came, and the single men dragged into the cabin, exhausted. The barn had provided scant protection against the storm. Rain came through the roof as if it was a sieve, soaking their beds and making for a miserable and sleepless night.

After breakfast, the men shouldered axes and saws and trudged down the trail along the sand ridge to where the Benedict cabin had burned down. Sally helped Elizabeth take care of the children and prepare dinner for the men. Around noon, the women followed the men’s tracks along the sand ridge with their dinner. They found the work progressing well. Men had come in from the surrounding farms to help. Sally could see that by the end of the day they would finish erecting her new home.

log-cabin-imageThe log house was only twenty feet square, with no doors, windows or fireplace, but it was good enough to provide shelter. The next day, Platt moved in and Sally cooked breakfast for the men by a log next to the cabin. [4]

Over the next few days, the men continued to improve the cabin, building a fireplace and chimney with clay and sticks, chinking and mudding the cracks and cutting holes in the walls for two doors and two windows. They accomplished all this without a single nail or other ironwork. Platt had brought two sashes for the windows from Connecticut, but had no glass, so they used greased paper instead. They finished five days later, and Sally and the children moved in. Conditions were primitive. There was no furniture and no floor.

Mud spoiled the mattresses Sally had brought from Connecticut, so Platt made two bedsteads, one for him and Sally and the other for their daughters. They were primitive — frames attached to the walls of the cabin and webbed with basswood bark instead of cords. However, according to Platt, they were very comfortable, and after almost two months on the road, Sally probably agreed that they were a welcome relief from sleeping on the ground. [5]

With the Benedict cabin finished, the men moved on to the land John Boalt had purchased from Platt on Old State Highway, south-east of the Benedict’s cabin. They built a double cabin there and the Boalts moved down from the Gibbs and Lockwood homestead as soon as they recovered their health. [6]

Sally and Platt had established a new home on the frontier. Now they had to make it through their first winter.

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18.
[2] The description of the arrival at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] “Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, pp. 83-84.
[4] The description of the first night at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin and the raising of the Benedict cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[6] “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, p. 17.

 

Click Here to read all fifty-three of the Sufferers’ Land series of posts.

 

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Mystery Girl

In my last post, A Play – A Dance – A Test, we saw that according to newspaper accounts, there was a member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 not pictured in the class commencement photo. Who was this mystery student?

Her name was Gertrude Ryerson.

Gertrude, or Gertie, as she was known, was older than most of her classmates; born in 1886 in Richmond Township, she was twenty years old at the time of graduation. [1] Gertie was a country girl; at the time of graduation, she lived in Bronson Township. [2] The Ryersons were a pioneer family, having arrived in the Firelands from New Jersey around 1842. [3]

Gertrude Ryerson 1Although she does not appear in the commencement photo, I was able to find her photo in the 1906 Senior Junior study hall photo, so she was attending school her junior year. But what about her senior year.

She was not listed as a cast member in the upcoming play, Bachelor House. Nor would she have a part during commencement exercises. So, did she even show for the ceremony? I searched the Norwalk newspapers for an explanation, but found not a clue.

It’s a mystery.

Do you have the answer?

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962.”, in Ohio. Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, 1774-1973. (ancestry.com), FHL Film Number: 410277.

[2] 1900 U.S. Census, Bronson, Huron, Ohio; Roll 1288; page 6A; Enumeration District 0018; FHL microfilm 1241288.

[3] “Obituary of Mrs. Elizabeth Galley, nee Ryerson,” The Firelands Pioneer, Volume XXII, April, 1825, page 485.

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Chauquatua at Ruggles Beach

chautauqua-assemblyOn this date in 1907, The Norwalk Daily Reflector reported exciting news: a Chauquatua Assembly was to be established at Ruggles Beach.

What is Chauquatua? And where is Ruggles Beach, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

The first Chauquatua Assembly was established in 1874 at Lake Chauquatua in New York by a Methodist minister. It grew over the years, and by 1907, had assemblies all about the country, and traveling assemblies that visited towns on a circuit. These assemblies featured religious and secular lectures, musical programs, and other wholesome entertainment.

I have not found any records of an assembly being

Oak Bluff c. 1911, 1912 (Susan Orsini)

The cottage on Lake Erie where Harriott Wickham spent her summers while in Norwalk High School

actually established at Ruggles Beach in 1907, but I do know that Chautauqua programs were presented during the summer from a couple 1908 diary entries by Harriott Wickham (my grandmother and member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907). As I discussed in Summer in the Firelands on September 1 last year, Harriott and most of her classmates spent their summers on the shores of Lake Erie. Here is what she wrote about the Chatautauqua program that summer of 1908.

Wednesday, July 29, – We finally got up our nerve and went over to Chautauqua tonight for the first time. It was a sort of recital of “Madame Butterfly” by a woman in Japanese costume, and was very good. After that they had moving pictures which were not only very poor, but were also disgusting.  After the show, we all went over to the hall and danced for awhile.

ruggle-beach-dance-pavilion-the-grove

Dance Pavilion at Ruggles Beach

Thursday, July 30, – Dreadfully hot! We stayed at home and read most all day. When we went in bathing that Jerpe fellow and another had a log out there trying to dive off of it. We joined them, and so I suppose we have got acquainted with him at last. We went over to Chautauqua again in the evening, but didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t care much for lectures anyway and this was a particularly tiresome one. We went over to the hall afterwards, but there wasn’t much doing, so we came on home.

It seems Harriott was more interested in spending her summer at the beach swimming and dancing, instead of listening to lectures and or watching other “wholesome” entertainment.

There are a few Chautauqua Assemblies still operating today: for instance in Boulder, Colorado and at Lake Chautauqua. Another assembly is located at Lakeside, Ohio, and Harriott and some of her friends visited there later in the summer of 1908. In a later post, we’ll see what she had to say about in her diary about that visit to Lakeside.

 

Source: “Chautauqua Assembly,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 7, 1907, page 1, column 8.

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Norwalk Reflector Today

The Norwalk Daily Reflector has been a major resource for the stories I’ve posted to this site, especially since I began covering the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. But did you know that that newspaper, founded in 1830, is still published today as the Norwalk Reflector? That’s 187 years! 20 years longer than The New York Times, and 46 years longer than the Washington Post!

norwalk-reflectorThe Norwalk Reflector today still reports on international, national, and local news of the day, as it did in 1907 and throughout its long history. But that’s not all. In his weekly column “Just Like Old Times” author and local historian Henry Timman spins tales of Norwalk in days gone by.

An email from my sister yesterday reminded me of Mr. Timman’s column. She sent me a link to his latest column (thanks, Laura), “Home of Norwalk’s First Settlers Burns Down,” a report on the founding of Norwalk in 1817 by Platt and Sally Benedict. (In 2008, I posted about this very incident on this site in “A Home in the Wilderness.”).

Henry Timman is a talented and entertaining author, writing in the Literary Non-Fiction genre that I have tried–with limited success, I’m afraid–to emulate in this blog. His latest article does not disappoint. Please check it out.

 

Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 Ends War Scare with Japan

In my February 4 post, Pearl Harbor Harbinger, we saw that a 1907 dispute about discrimination against Japanese immigrants in California had brought the U.S. and Japan to the brink of war. On this day, one-hundred and ten years ago, the two countries concluded the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, averting the crisis.

The U.S. government promised not to restrict Japanese immigration, and the Japanese said they would not allow emigration. It seems like a face-saving exercise for Japan to me, as it effectively halted immigration.

Compared to the hysterical articles reporting of impending war back at the beginning of the month, there was little coverage in either Norwalk newspaper of the end of the tension between the two countries. The Norwalk Evening Herald carried nothing on this day, or the following. The Norwalk Daily Reflector had a short article on the day following the agreement that the agreement had been sent to the Senate for ratification.

japanese-question-to-senate

In fact, the agreement was never ratified, and it was eventually ended by the Immigration Act of 1924.

 

Source: “Japanese Question up to the Senate,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, February 16, 1907, page 1, column 7

 

Away Game in Clyde for Norwalk High School Girls’ Basketball Squad

clyde-maidensWhile back in Norwalk, the freshmen girls defeated the sophomores, and the boys’ senior team bested Elyria High School, the girls team traveled to Clyde High School to take on what the Norwalk Evening Herald called “the Clyde Maidens.” Unfortunately, the girls’ team did not echo the boys victory back in Norwalk, but left Clyde with a narrow loss, only their second in four years.

The Norwalk girls were ahead almost the entire game, but in the waning moments of the second half, the Clyde team spurted to a 9 to 8 lead. Then came a controversial call, at least according to the Norwalk papers. A foul shot with seconds remaining on the clock missed, and the Norwalk girls’ protested interference–but to no avail. The referees were from Clyde, and they ruled that no foul had been committed.

Good feeling must have been quickly restored, however. The Norwalk Daily Reflector reported that the visitors were entertained with a dinner and dance and had an enjoyable time.

Players on the Norwalk side were Florence Bascom, Harriott Wickham, Florence Davidson, Gladys Young, Edna Goodhue, Ruth Jenkins, and Ruby Hoyt traveled by train to Clyde, chaperoned by Harriott’s and Ruby’s mothers. Young women 0f their class in that day and age were not allowed to travel on their own.

Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Girls’ Basketball Team

florence-bascom-commencement-photo-1907

Florence Bascom

harriott-wickham-commencement-photo

Harriott Wickham

 

norwalk-high-school-commencement-1907

Florence Davidson

ruth-jenkins-commencement-photo-1907

Ruth Jenkins

 

ruby-hoyt-commencement-photo-1907

Ruby Hoyt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

“Basket Ball School Hall,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, 2/9/1907, page 1, column 7.

“Boys Won But Girls Lost,” Norwalk Evening Herald, February 9, 2017, page 1, column 6.

 

 

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