[Editors Note: The issue of social security is prevalent in our lives today. But this has always been a concern. In exploring our town's archives, Rich Church has come across information about how people met the needs of being cared for in their later years. In this article (and another to be published in the […]
This article was published on 1990, in Leisure Weekly, a Keene-based entertainment newspaper that has long since ceased publication. Many things have changed since then, but some will remain the same, even with the new renovations ~ Gordon Peery (author).
Not too long ago a piano tuner submitted a bill for work done on the piano in the Nelson Town Hall. With his invoice he included the following comment:
“Because of the age of this piano and long abandoned construction practices, it is impossible to give this piano a highly accurate tuning. It has numerous false beats, inharmonicity, and heavy wear. Surprisingly, the overall tone is superior and the action is still fast and responsive. I suspect the piano is favored by those who play on it.”
Over the past decade I have come to know that piano well, playing for contradances that occur regularly in the Nelson Town Hall. I have always enjoyed playing it, though from its condition it seemed like I shouldn’t.
The remarks of the piano tuner helped me to understand why I enjoyed playing it. Then it occurred to me that what was said about the piano was also a perfect description of the hall itself.
The old timber frame building doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy. The light fixtures, the windows, the architectural lines, all clearly address function over aesthetics. But the building, in its simplicity, harbors an elegance, or perhaps rather, a neutrality that facilitates the elegance of song and dance within.
Go to the Nelson Town Hall on any Monday night of the year and you’ll find anywhere from a handful to several dozen dancers moving forward and back, up and down, intertwining, moving through the graceful figures of a contradance. Though the Monday night dance is just about 10 years old, the contradance tradition in Nelson goes back long enough so that no one really knows when it began. Continue Reading »
A snowy morning in February found Dave Birchenough and me crammed into the cab of a grapple skidder rumbling through the woods of the northeast corner of Nelson. There was a logging job underway on the old Sawyer Farm. We were able to drive my ageing truck up the old town road (abandoned since 1860) to the landing near the farm. The skidder was using its grapple to stack logs on the landing. Another machine was feeding a huge chipper.
“Are you the owners?” Chuck Rose yelled over his diesel. “No we’re amateur historians.” I answered. “You’ve come to the right place”, he said, “There are lots of old stone walls and old roads in these woods.”
“Have you found a cellar hole over there?”, I said, pointing to the south and the side of Rollstone Mountain.
“Yes”, he said, “Get in and I’ll take you up there.”
Following skidder roads and straddling stumps and boulders, the machine clawed its way uphill to a table of relatively flat land between Holt Hill and Rollstone Mountain. We got off beside the 30 x 40’ foundation – the original home of Benjamin Sawyer, his wife, Tabitha, and their fourteen children. The land sloped away to the north with beautiful views through the thinned, leafless woods. A beautiful place and an exciting discovery. The site was covered in several feet of snow.
Roxbury was born in an Act of The New Hampshire General Court in 1812 and formed of pieces of Packersfield [now Nelson], Marlborough and Keene. The creation of Roxbury was a co-operative effort led from within Packersfield by respected citizens. It took years of negotiations led by a determined group of families who had settled in the town’s southwest quarter at about the time of the revolution. They were united by their near simultaneous settlement and by their origin. Most came from Rutland, Massachusetts. Town Records make it clear that the special needs of those living in the southwest corner of the town were recognized and accommodated. They had roads, a school, leadership roles in Packersfield government and there was concern for their spiritual lives. It was a far different process than the formation of Sullivan over the “remonstrance” of Packersfield. It also took twenty-five years.
The negotiation seems to have begun the year Sullivan was formed. The petition for a new town made the usual case of citizens being cut off from the center of the old town. In fact Packersfield residents living in what would become Roxbury had to travel about four miles by road to the Packersfield meetinghouse. Still, southwestern Packersfield was connected by the town’s most important road – the one that connected it to Keene. Indeed there was a well-developed network of roads with road building as active there as in any part of the town. They had their own school house and most of the families mentioned in this article had sheds for their horses at the meetinghouse on the hill in Packersfield. The process was a negotiation not a seizure of land with Packersfield citizens presenting their case for a new town in Packersfield town meetings. Continue Reading »
Imagine driving back to Nelson from Keene along Route 9 and coming to a store called the West Nelson Country Store. Today that’s the Sullivan Country Store. But for two fraudulent signatures on a petition in 1786, East Sullivan might be in Nelson today.
Nelson, called Packersfield prior to1814, has lost three large chunks of itself to the formation of new towns since its incorporation in 1774. This is the story of the first of these: Sullivan. Towns in New Hampshire granted by the Masonian Proprietors consisted of lines drawn on maps in Portsmouth with little reference to the geography except for major rivers and the existence of previously granted places. History has proved these divisions unstable and many New Hampshire towns have been formed subsequently from pieces of older towns. In Cheshire County examples of such new towns are Troy, Sullivan, Roxbury and Harrisville. Three times between 1786 and 1870, the legislature determined that citizens would be best served by the creation of new towns formed from significant parts of Nelson and adjoining towns. Continue Reading »
Nelson History Day Dec. 14, 2013, 11:00 AM Olivia Rodham Library
The Library is sponsoring a presentation of the new 2014 Nelson Calendar with historic photographs of Nelson’s past to excite an interest in the upcoming 250th anniversary of Nelson’s founding which will happen in 2017.
Adding to the history theme, new books about Nelson’s past by local authors Renn Tolman, Terri Upton, and Bruce White and copies of a CD of Tolman Pond life by Karen Tolman will be presented and available for sale.
And a special event will be the unveiling of the painting of Helen Towne by Marie Spaeth that was purchased by contributions from generous town residents.
Please join us for a fun morning with Christmas cookies and cider.
Karen Tolman was going through some old pictures of Nelson this spring and came across this picture of the center of Nelson taken sometime in the late nineteenth century. One notices immediately how densely settled our town center was then. Karen’s eagle eye noticed that our town hall had front steps in those days and that the building looks taller than today. Karen, Bert Wingerson and I have solved some of this puzzle using old photographs, original town records, a very interesting deed and a history of town buildings written by the Reverend Millard Hardy (1850-1939.)
The history of the Nelson Town Hall that stands on Nelson Common today is one of periodic change and renewal. It was built in originally1846 using pieces of the Second Meetinghouse and new material. Once the Congregational Church was finished and ready for use, the Second Meetinghouse on the old common was disassembled. The porches were removed as intact units and moved to their current location on Old Stoddard Road and reassembled as the home of George Whitney. Jack Bradshaw owns “The Porches” today. The forty-five by sixty foot frame was disassembled and substantially reworked to become the present Town Hall. This Town Hall was taller than it is today and had front steps. It has been changed a number of times to accommodate the needs of the Town. Continue Reading »
The Sawyer Family’s contract (see the prior article) transferring the family place from father to son in return for lifetime of support was a common arrangement many families found useful. Historians call these “maintenance agreements.” In the Sawyer case it provided a working farm for a son looking to establish his own farm and provided his parents with an assurance that they could live comfortably when they were no longer able to work the farm. The author has read and recorded ten contracts between generations in Packersfield and Nelson covering nine families. These are in the form of deeds recorded at the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds. Undoubtedly many more families made similar but less formal, arrangements. The ten formal contracts we do have, document the change in the daily life of early Nelson as farm families changed from a virtually cashless and self-sufficient lifestyle to one more integrated with others and, indeed, the whole world. World events beyond the world of New England hill farms determined the changes these agreements reflect.
All of the agreements required the provision of housing and a means to stay warm. The Sawyers got their own house; others were provided “comfortable house room” – their own space in the common house. Jacob and Abigail Wheeler, for example, got “the east front room in the house now standing on the farm in which they now live with the privilege of the kitchen, oven and sellar [sic] and chamber [upstairs room] as may suit them.” When Augustus sold that hillside farm and moved to Avery Sprague’s 140 acre farm on the Old Stoddard Road, the Wheelers moved with him. Their new living arrangement gave them the right to the “two north rooms….with the privilege of using the chamber, oven and cellar as may suit them…”
The day-to-day requirements of life reflected in these agreements changed as life on Nelson’s farms changed. Continue Reading »
We will be scanning photos on three different days at the Library:
Monday the 12th from 10 to 1
Wednesday the 14th from 4 to 6
Thursday the 15th from 6-7:30
History Group members will be there to assist.
Do you have old photos of Nelson and Munsonville – people, scenes, events – that you are willing to share? A group of local residents has been meeting informally to start putting together a digital archive of historic photographs of our town. Nelson’s 250th anniversary in 2017 is not far off, and we hope to be able to publish as many photographs as possible online (on the History section of this web site) or (if we stumble upon a pot of gold) in print.
We are asking people to bring their treasured old photographs to the library during Old Home Week, August 10-17, where we will be set up to scan them, write down caption information, and return the originals. We do not want to keep any original photographs. We would be happy to email you a digital file of your photographs. Watch for notices in the Old Home Day issue of the Grapevine II, the Moving in Step calendar, and posters around town for specific times for scanning.
The Nelson History Group usually meets on the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the library. The group is informal and voluntary, and anyone interested in local history is welcome to take part. For more information, call Karen Tolman (827-3226), Don or Barbara Bennett (847-3347), Bert Wingerson (847-9945), or Susan Hansel (847-9918).
[Editors Note: The issue of social security is prevalent in our lives today. But this has always been a concern. In exploring our town's archives, Rich Church has come across information about how people met the needs of being cared for in their later years. In this article (and another to be published in the near future) Rick shows us what solutions were put in place.]
Families moving to a frontier town like Packersfield employed a number of strategies to sustain themselves. They often came with others they knew from their hometowns and settled near one another in their new home. Often those clusters of new arrivals were related. In the second generation they often took steps to keep the farm in the family and provide for their old age. The Sawyer Family who settled in the northeast corner of Packersfield did all of these things. Continue Reading »
This photograph was recently discovered. It shows our Town Hall, but close scrutiny reveals that it is up a half-story from its present height (see the stairs leading to the door). Stay tuned for more information about this: when was the photo taken, when did the hall get “lowered” , etc. Click on the image for an enlarged view.
[Editors Note: Candyce Fulford has found (and transcribed) three articles from the New Hampshire Sentinel (now Keene Sentinel) published in March of 1891. The first and third are written by "Themistocles", and the middle article by "Recorder". While a variety of news is covered, the focal point seems to be about maple sugaring, and a rivalry between the two reporters becomes quite evident.]
Date: Wednesday, March 11, 1891 Volume: XCIII Issue: 10 Page: 5
The Presiding Elder of the Methodist church has appointed Rev. William Merrill to preach here each Sunday, and his first discourse was delivered in the hall last Sunday. An effort will be made to organize a Sabbath school, next Sunday. Hereafter, service will begin at 10:45 o’clock a.m., instead of at 1:30.
Already preparations are being made for the annual sugar-making, and perhaps it is with the view to obtaining the government bounty on maple sugar that a few are making improvements in their appliances. H. D. Taylor has contracted for one of Wheeler’s new process evaporators to be put in this Spring, which is expected to make a saving in labor and time, with less waste, and improvement in quality. The furnace is portable and made of iron. We haven’t room for extended description, but presume Mr. T will be pleased to show it in operation to all his friends and give them a taste of sugar.
If the destruction to sugar lots goes on as it has in this town for the past twenty years, it won’t be long before all the maple trees in town won’t make sugar enough to be entitled to a bounty.
Badly drifted roads affected the attendance of the regular meeting of Granite Lake Grange last Friday night, but nearly one-third of the members were present, and enough to make a good meeting. The report of the special committee on a children’s fair, in the Fall, was heard, and the proposed plan accepted. The committee was granted a sum of money with which to issue premiums, and it is hoped that enough enthusiasm will be developed to make the projected fair a success. The Lecturer’s programme consisted of music, readings and a talk upon the subject of maple sugar-making. Past Master Taylor read a paper upon maple sugar-making in the earlier times, and remarks were made upon the subject by several experienced sugar-makers. The evidence was all in favor of cleanliness as the first requisite for first quality. The theory was also advanced, based on tests and observation, that the flavor and lightness of color depended a good deal on the soil upon which the trees grew. The subject for the next meeting is How can we make our homes more attractive, in-side and out?”
Gideon Vigneau has sold his place at the centre to Mr. Simmons of Keene, head clerk for Wm. G. Hall, for a Summer residence. Mr. V. is moving to Keene.
Date: Wednesday, March 18, 1891 Volume: XCIII Issue: 11 Page: 5
Town meeting has come and gone, and perhaps it may interest the outside world to know, as in the days of the civil war “All is quiet on the Potomac;” so we make the announcement. Circumstances over which we had practically no control having rendered it inadvisable to attend that meeting, we are obliged to take reports concerning it, at second hand. We think we speak advisedly in the statement that the vote of the town transferring all future town meetings, and the transaction of all town business, to Munsonville, by a meager majority variously stated at from one to not over three, said vote being secured by the action of a good number, owning little or no real estate, as a flagrant disregard of the rights of a majority of real estate owners of the town which is unprecedented in the history of Cheshire county.
The young people connected with the Y. P.S. C. E. furnished refreshments on town meeting day, the proceeds to be appropriated to the payment for the new organ, recently purchased.
F. D. Taylor and George Bailey were chosen new members of the school board on March 18th.
Preaching at the Centre by Rev. Mr. Newhall, March 15th. It is announced that preaching services will now be held regularly till the middle of next month, by which time a stated supply is expected.
We think Brother Themistocles is very liberal in the free advertisement he gave H. D. Taylor in relation to the implied invitation to friends or the public calling to see the operation of his new sap evaporator, and to test the virtue of his maple sugar. If there should not happen to be enough of Mr. Taylor’s sugar to go around, we would suggest that Themistocles is himself a sugar maker, and we hope Mr. T. will be equally liberal and direct those wishing to test free sugar to give him a visit and try his sugar for themselves.
Date: Wednesday, March 25, 1891 Volume: XCIII Issue: 12 Page: 5
There was a quiet wedding at the home of the late Ezra Wilder, on the 15th inst., the contracting parties being Miss Lucy M. Wilder and William Wood, and the officiating clergyman, Rev. William Merrill of the Methodist society in this village. The future residence of the bride and groom will be Fitchburg, Mass.
At the chair shop the timber is being fast converted into stock and it is probable that all now in the yard will be sawed up much earlier than has usually been the case. The band saw, under the direction of Sawyer Gibson, seems to be doing excellent work and proving to accomplish what was claimed for it when put in, viz: – A time and labor saver, and an economizer of timber. In the finishing department, several new and very attractive styles of chairs are now being made. Samples recently shown your correspondent were considered of a taking style, and excellent in workmanship and finish.
Sumner P. Fisher expects to move into his new house about April 1st.
Perhaps we were somewhat liberal in our implied invitation to taste Mr. Taylor’s sugar, but we only referred to those persons interested in improved sugar apparatus and did not expect the whole community would accept it as an invitation to a feast. When Themistocles gets a new evaporator he will be pleased to do as he suggested Mr. Taylor would be glad to do.
Sugar makers in this vicinity have not tapped their orchards yet.
At the regular meeting of the Granite Lake Grange, last Friday evening, it was voted to have a public sugar party in the near future, the date to be determined by a committee. The lecturer’s hour was given to readings and a discussion of the question, “How can we make our homes more attractive inside and out?” In the opinion of the speakers it was not necessary to have unlimited means to make our homes more attractive, but the great essentials were neatness and order about the premises, and a cultivation of the homely virtues of good nature and forbearance about the household. Shade trees and flowers, a well kept lawn and vegetable garden are no small items in the attractiveness of a farm home. For the next five months the grange will meet but once a month, the third Friday. Subject for April 17th, “Temperance.”
Frank B. Hardy has been incapacitated from work for two weeks with erysipelas in his face, but is now nearly recovered.
The record of District Number Seven ends as it began. By 1851 that nice brick building, built only thirty years before, needed a major overhaul. Some in the district thought it needed to be replaced. In that year there was an article on the school district warrant to repair the building. It was passed over.
In 1854 James Derby, Darius Farwell and William Seaver petitioned for a special meeting to consider building a new school. The resulting warrant had two articles. One to build a new school and one to repair the old one. The meeting voted to have the Prudential Committee make repairs. They didn’t.
In March 1855, Joel Bancroft, the second generation of that family to be involved with the school, and Chauncey Barker petitioned for a special meeting to repair and enlarge the school. At the next meeting on April 5th, Chauncey Barker moved that the district buy 22 desks and seats and arrange them after the Woodcock Patent; take down the old seats and remove the partition between the school room and the entry. Voters said “no”
Undeterred, and only five days later, there was another petition for a special district meeting to see if the district would appoint a “Disinterested Committee” and delegate to them the power to decide whether to repair the school. Three weeks later, the district meeting voted to appoint a “Disinterested Committee.” The committee members were from Hancock.
The “Disinterested Committee” chosen:
Nelson had done this before. In 1838, when the brick schoolhouse in Nelson Village was built, a private group asked to build a second floor at their own expense.
When it was finished, there was a dispute about what each party’s share should be. A disinterested committee of Hancock people was appointed to sort it out. Wisely the committee held the upstairs group responsible for the front 5 feet of building that housed the stairway to the second floor, but held they were not to pay for the roof that the school would have had in any case.
In three weeks the Disinterested Committee recommended “covering the floor, furnishing lathing and plastering the walls, fixing the window frames to receive the lathing, affixing Woodcock Patented seats instead of the old ones…” The building really had deteriorated in the thirty-five years since its construction. Continue Reading »
Early Nelson schools experienced vandalism. Numerous rules were adopted and published by the town that defined responsibility for damage and that give us a picture of the problems for schools almost two hundred years ago – problems not so different from today. An example is an 1838 set of bylaws adopted on the occasion of the opening of the two-storey brick schoolhouse in the village.
To preserve the schoolhouse from petty damages:
First: That from and after this day if any person or persons shall break a square of glass from the schoolhouse in this district, such person or persons shall replace the same within two days after it is broken or pay the sum of twenty-five cents to the agent of the district to be appropriated by said agent to the use of the district. Continue Reading »
Editors Note: This is the fourth in a series of historical articles on the subject of schools in Nelson.
While school districts were largely self-governing, they were subject to town oversight and a growing body of state regulation on the qualifications of teachers. There were two bodies established during this period to oversee the operation of Nelson’s schools: The Prudential Committee and the Superintending Committee. These committees seem not to have existed simultaneously and made reports to the town suggesting that their functions were nearly the same. In their reports we learn what was being taught in the schools and read opinions about the quality of that teaching. These committees also presented rules of school conduct for consideration at town meeting.
Reproduced below is such a report for 1829:
1829 Report of the Nelson Superintending Committee
There was a report on the performance of each school. The comments for School Number Seven reads as follows: Continue Reading »
by Bert Wingerson
The solid stone walls of the foundation of the large mill built in Munsonville are all that remain of this early industrial site at the outlet of Granite Lake. In 1814, Asa Beard built the Cotton Factory, as it was called, and a boardinghouse for mill workers in what was then a remote section of Nelson to take advantage of the waterpower provided by the dammed up Factory Lake.
The boardinghouse is still standing and is now serving as a private residence. These two structures are the heart of what was to become the village of Munsonville. Continue Reading »
The subject of heating the building consumed approximately one third of the written record of early school district meetings. In 1820 men bid to keep the fire at the school at $1.00 per week. Five different men supplied both wood and fire lighting for that 8-week winter school session. It is quite a modern idea: subcontract a whole function. In this case heat.
In 1823 the procurement method changed and the district started buying wood. Wood was bid off by individuals and often each cord supplied by a different bidder.
School Number Seven burned 4 cords in a winter school session lasting twelve weeks. Buying their heat this way dropped the cost to $4.99. Continue Reading »
by Rick Church
The cross-stitched sampler that Sophia Griffin created as an eleven-year-old girl in Packersfield in 1801 has come home to Nelson. This is a story of an old Nelson family; interest in family heritage and local history, the marvel of communication that the Internet provides, and the generosity of Nancy and Ray Foster.
A sampler is an early piece of needlework stitched, or wrought by a young girl in school with silk thread on a linen background as a demonstration of accomplishment. Samplers can run the gamut in quality and complexity. The first attempt at making a sampler usually contained only alphabets, numbers, name, date, and sometimes a small amount of decorative stitching. Sophia Griffin’s sampler is a good example of a simple sampler done at a young age.
This spring Nancy and Ray Foster of St. Petersburg, Florida were doing a much needed weeding out of long stored and treasured things. Among them was a sampler that had been given to Nancy’s mother, Doris Parrish, by her longtime friend, Carolyn (Peachy) McGlinty in the early 1970’s. The sampler came with a written history that had come from a family bible. Nancy recalls: “ I cannot recall how the sampler was transported to Woburn, but once it was in Woburn, my Mom proudly displayed it on her dining room wall. At that time, there was never any discussion as to where Packersfield was or who the little girl may have been, only that it had more sentimental value than historic.” Continue Reading »
This is the second installment of a long article on the operation of one of Nelson’s early schools. The main source for the series is the seventy page record of School Number Seven from 1820 to 1858 which was generously donated to the town archives with many other valuable historical papers by Ethan Tolman. Thanks to a grant secured by Susan Hansel, the record of School Number Seven is preserved and available to the public on a CD at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library. The balance of the source documents are the Nelson Town Records preserved in the Town Archives and material on the Woodcock Patent located at the Cheshire County Historical Society. Click here to read the first article in this series.
Folks who were in Nelson in the late nineteen-nineties will recall it took the Nelson School District three years to design, achieve political support for and build an addition to the Munsonville School. In 1821 School District Number Seven faced similar issues and dealt with the inadequacies of the old wooden building in a matter of months.
A year after repairing the school roof for $7 the District launched a major project: 1821 February, “voted to appoint a committee to examine the schoolhouse and see what repairs are necessary and report to the next meeting.” The committee members were Bethuel Harris, Palmer Bryant and Samuel Scripture. The committee took a week to do its work. There is no record of their report, but it resulted in a district meeting in March to consider a warrant article to raise $200 to build a new school house or repair the old one.
At that meeting the district voted to build a new school locating it on James Bryant’s land on the east side of the road that led to Dublin from Captain Scripture’s. This is on the Tolman Pond Road across from Scripture Road today. It was to be made of brick and be 20‘ by 23’ with a wooden shed on one end. Major Bethuel Harris was chosen to make out the bill of materials for the project. Then they adjourned for 10 days. Continue Reading »
This is the first installment of a long article on the operation of one of Nelson’s early schools. The main source for the series is the seventy page record of School Number Seven from 1820 to 1858 which was generously donated to the town archives with many other valuable historical papers by Ethan Tolman. Thanks to a grant secured by Susan Hansel, the record of School Number Seven is preserved and available to the public on a CD at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library. The balance of the source documents are the Nelson Town Records preserved in the Town Archives and material on the Woodcock Patent located at the Cheshire County Historical Society.
Settlement in Nelson had increased remarkably in the years immediately after the revolution increasing from 186 in 1776 to 721 by the first national census in 1790. With that growth came things that made settlements, proper towns: things like schools. In an era when we worry about dwindling school enrollment in our town of seven hundred, it is ironic to think back to 1790 when Nelson (then Packersfeld) had seven hundred and twenty-one inhabitants and a surfeit of students.
Nelson divided itself into nine school districts in 1789. Thanks to Ethan Tolman’s donation of a collection of his mother’s papers, the Town Archives has the written record on one of those early school districts from 1820 to 1858. School District Seven included the Southeast Quarter of the town from the area of Tolman Pond (Bryant Pond in those days) to today’s Harrisville it included the Bancrofts at the current junction of the Cabot and Tolman Pond Roads, the Yardleys on the Clymer Road, Samuel Scripture on the Scripture Road and Grovers and Morses around Tolman Pond. Later came the Tolmans, the Bryants, the Farwells and the Harris’ of the mill village that came to be named after them.
When those first school districts were established in Nelson, each was given their proportional share of 270 pounds and required to build a school. School taxes were levied on the whole town and funds were allocated to each district in proportion to their valuation. Continue Reading »
Home Life in Nelson
(provided by Bert Wingerson)
The kitchen in most homes is still the center of activity although it is very different from the old Nelson kitchen described by the Rev. Edwin Noah Hardy (1861-1950) in an edited selection below taken from his manuscript Home Life in Nelson written early in this century.
THE OLD KITCHEN
The old kitchen was the best loved and most used of all the rooms of the house. It served not only as kitchen, but as dining room, sitting room, parlor, and general living room for the whole household during several decades of Nelson history. Even the young swain did most of the courting of his sweetheart there in the presence of others. The itinerant shoemaker and other specialized workmen plied their trade there for the family, and members of the household worked in the kitchen at handicrafts to earn a few extra shillings or supply particular needs of the family. For the first and well into the last century, everything was handmade and homemade; each family priding itself on its ability to make just about everything — tools, garments, furniture, etc. — required for daily domestic use.
The kitchen was also used on occasion for making candles, cider, and soap, as well as for apple parings and quilting parties. In the kitchen the flax would be broken, the heckle spun and woven, the wool fleece transformed into the homespun suit, in fact, the kitchen was distinguished among other uses as the household workshop. The women were extremely industrious and any leisure secured from the common routine of domestic duties was eagerly used for mat-braiding, chair caning, palm-leaf-hat making, button making, spoon molding, beadwork, and fancy sewing and knitting. It was rare indeed when the kitchen was not being used for some of these activities.
The entrance to the kitchen was ordinarily through a large door from the lean-to or shed. The windows were few and small. In the early homes cupboards, closet and pantries were rare. The kitchen dresser with wooden or glass doors or more often doorless held the pewter and china dishes in common use and the spices, cooking utensils, and baked foods.
The huge fireplace with a hearth of stone, brick or tile was the distinguishing feature of the room. By the side of fireplace stood the settle, a high backed wooden bench with arms wide enough to hold two or three adults. This was the favorite seat for the aged members of the family. [It was the warmest place in the house]. Inside of the fireplace were one and often two iron cranes with S-shaped hooks of various lengths to hold the kettles. The skilled housekeeper could by proper adjustment of the kettles on the swinging cranes hasten or slow the cooking of her dinner at will. The swinging crane was a Yankee invention and not in common use until nearly the time of the first settlement of the town . Nearby would be a motley collection of skillets, griddles, pots and pans, and a boot-jack, tin lantern, and dinner horn.
The kitchen was unpainted and unplastered and ordinarily without sheathing. The bare boards became blackened and grimed with smoke from the fireplace. Hanging from the overhead beams in the fall would be drying pumpkins, strings of apple rings, bundles of sage, flag root, thoroughwort, pennyroyal, catnip, checkerberry, and other herbs.
On the side opposite the fireplace was a sink with a wooden shelf attached. A lead pipe, or far more often, a square wooden trough would carry waste water through the outside wall. The water pail stood on the sink shelf and wooden or tin basins were in the sink. Extra kettles and skillets, scouring sand or brick, a pan of grease for use on cowhide boots, a box of sulphur, and other nondescript articles found a safe hiding place in the enclosure beneath the sink. On the shelf over the sink would stand a row of neatly polished candle sticks, the tinderbox, and other needed things. Hanging nearby on the wall was the knife box. The good bone-handled knives and two-tines forks were expensive and highly prized.
Over the door hung the old flint-lock gun with powder horn and bullet pouch nearby. In the chimney corner would stand the birch-shaven broom and the house mop. There would be common wooden-bottomed chairs and stools for the family use. The long dinner table was somewhat narrow and usually supported by X-shaped legs. Of course, there was in the evolution from log cabin to the larger frame house, a corresponding evolution of the furnishings from the roughest and crudest to furniture of exceptional grace and beauty.
Three very important items in the old kitchen were the big brick oven, and the Dutch and tin ovens. The brick oven was built into the side of the fireplace. It had a flat floor four or five feet in length and about three feet in width with an arched top and an iron door. A great fire would be built once a week, usually on Saturday. When it was heated to the proper temperature, the hot coals would be shoveled out, and the floor brushed clean. It would then be ready for use.
The tin oven or “roaster” made of tin or sheet iron was used mainly for roasting meats. It was open to one side [facing the hot fire in the fireplace] with a spit that could be turned to allow even cooking. The results were a more delicious roast than modern appliances can produce. Underneath the spit was a drip-pan that caught the juices and fat from the roast that was used to baste the roast and make gravy. [Vegetables roasted in the drippings have an incredibly good flavor!] The Dutch oven was used for bread and cake baking. [It was a heavy kettle with a lid made of cast iron. It was placed over the coals in the fireplace and additional coals were heaped on the rimmed lid to provide even heat. Baking time is about the same as a conventional oven.]
Round and square gridirons were used for broiling meat by placing them over red-hot coals raked onto the hearthstone. Some were made to save the delicious dripping from the meat. Potatoes were generally baked in the hot ashes.
A shovel, tongs and an iron poke were necessary for tending the fire and for cooking. A long-handled wooden [or iron] shovel was required for the brick oven. Dusted with Indian meal [corn meal], the mass of prepared dough was placed on the shovel and than, by a dextrous turn of the hand, was slid off into the desired corner of the oven. This shovel was also used to remove the baked loaf of bread or the cake.
A cookbook in the writer’s possession printed in 1837, indicates that the cooking stove was just then coming into use in the larger cities. It first appeared in 1819, but did not come into general use until 1850. It was unknown to many a home in Nelson until much later and with it cam radical changes to the domestic life described here.