Tag Archives: History

Mystery Structure

When walking around a historical village, I can put a name and/or purpose to most things. But this one had me stuck.

Is this for grain or produce storage? What about that trough at the bottom?        It must be there for a reason.

It all made good sense after I asked one of the employees — in 1830’s costume.

Several households together pooled their fireplace ashes in these. Once they were full they added water. (The metaphorical light bulb started to glow.) What do you get when you add water to wood ashes? Lye.

The trough at the bottom facilitated collecting the lye which would have been used to make soap.

Please give our ancestors points for being smart, clever, and thrifty. But since I remember lye soap well (my mother made and used it for laundry) I’m fine with purchasing modern detergent at the store.

Candle Power

In physics class we learned the definition of candle power as the light from one standard candle one foot away. During out last power outage I discovered that these eyes need two candle power to read comfortably at the table.

Recently I had occasion to visit a historical village. The decade for the reproductions and artifacts was the 1830’s. It was a delightful place to visit and learn. Cooking and heat from the fireplace. Light from home made candles – either dipped or molded.

And when you needed to go outside on a dark night — take your lantern.

So grateful to be living in current times — when a flip of the switch gives us many more than one candle power.

Early Safety Equipment

My working career was spent in hospitals. Part of the dress code which was common across the years and in the multiple states in which I worked was: No Open Toed Shoes.

This makes sense in hospitals and in many other workplaces. We worked with chemicals would could spill and sharp objects (needles & blades) which could be hazardous. Ignore for a moment that many people, including yours truly, have moments of KLUTZ.

So how did workers more than a century ago protect their feet? You could not order a pair of steel toe safety shoes of either a paper catalog or on-line. And they didn’t carry them at the local general store either.

The idea was imported. They quickly became manufactured locally. And while they have gone out of style and I doubt they’d be permitted on a construction site today — these examples protected many toes from dropped tools and rocks.

Wooden shoes – good for the muddy jobs plus the hazardous ones.

One Hundred Heads Per Head

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Recently I visited a tourist site as part of a day trip with an out-of-state guest. So I’m not sure if I caught the words correctly. So this may be a recommendation or it may have been a requirement. Either way, gardens were part of life for the early settlers in Missouri. So when the German immigrants arrived after several years in an Eastern city, it was natural that part of the association “rules” would include each family to have a garden.

The surprising part to me was not the idea of a garden. It was the specific amount of a specific crop. In addition to the usual beets, carrots, and potatoes, this group requested one hundred heads of cabbage be grown for each member of the household.

No — they were not going to sell coleslaw to their American neighbors. These were Germans. The great majority of the cabbage would be shredded, salted, and fermented into sauerkraut. The people who organized the immigration society determined that this was the amount of cabbage which needed to be grown to sustain a person through the winter and early spring until the garden was producing fresh vegetables again.

A demonstration garden of the German immigrants. The actual garden would have been larger, with more of these defined square planted areas. And several of them would have been row upon row of cabbage plants. Their primary source of several essential vitamins.


Built to Last

Strong wood. Intelligent designer. Capable workmen.

The result is a structure which functioned for well over a century. After a few decades, the makeup of the burden carried changed in character. And grew in both size and weight.

Located in Southern Indiana, this covered bridge served the local residents from 1863 until the final decade of the 20th century. According to the sign above the entrance, it is 150 feet long and cost a total of $5,700 to construct.

I walked it during my visit. Imagine crossing it on horseback, horse-drawn wagon, or bicycle.


Race horses. Fine whiskey. Coal. The Bluegrass State has earned a reputation for all of these things.

My travels in Kentucky were limited to driving through (usually with rain) while on my way to spend a vacation in another state. That changed in 2004 when I put it on my list of places to visit and get to know a little better.

While I did not have the time to see everything — always leave something to see on the next trip — I expanded my knowledge.

Kentucky has a unique national park centered around Mammoth Cave. History and natural wonder share the space. But I did not spend my entire visit underground. A distillery tour highlighted an afternoon. History included a visit to this reproduction cabin — the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln. I topped off my visit with a stop at Fort Knox. No, they didn’t show me the gold. But I did tour a military museum and learned more about tanks and artillery than you want to read in my blog.


Let your imagination out to run when visiting historic Kentucky sites.

Social Star

Imagine yourself in the 1861 or 1862 social season in Washington DC.

Blue Union Army uniforms would abound at every evening gathering. The ladies would wear their finest. And as women have from the dawn of time — create their own social scene and information network.

I think fine carriages and strong horses carrying the important ladies of the time through muddy streets and past the newest army encampments. They called on each other. It almost became a ritual. Included in this group of elegant ladies was the wife of an army general.

Mary Ellen McClellan (wife of Gen. George B. McClellan) socialized with the wives and hostesses of the cabinet officers.

Can you imagine greeting your guests in this fine gown?


Gown re-created from a photograph is on display at Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL

Young Hostess

Washington City, today better known as Washington DC, has had a social scene since Abigail Adams moved into the President’s House.

There have been many notable Washington hostesses since that time. Today I want to feature a young woman who set the standard for her time without living in the White House.

Kate Chase was the daughter of Salmon P. Chase. Her mother died when she was young. She attended boarding schools and developed a close relationship with her father. At the tender age of seventeen she assumed hostess duties for him, the newly elected governor of Ohio.

After a failed run for the presidential nomination in 1860, Mr. Chase accepted the position of Secretary of the Treasury from Abraham Lincoln. Kate performed the duties of his hostess well and set the standard for Washington in those years. After she married Senator William Sprague, late in 1863, she arranged for the couple to share the house and she continued hostess duties for both of the men in her life.


This charming dress has been re-created from photographs of Kate Chase. I think it would be charming to wear to a luncheon or afternoon tea.

On a Larger Scale

Clean, classic design. Uncluttered. Functional while pleasing to the eye.

In the previous installment of this blog I introduced you to a touch of Sir Christopher Wren in Missouri. Today I focus on some of his work located where you’d expect — London.

A tourist would be unobservant if they did not notice St. Paul’s during a visit to London. It’s a landmark. A reference point which I’m sure more than one visitor uses to find or confirm their location each day.

It’s on a grander scale than the bombed church moved stone by stone. Columns are thick — but they look right at home in the space with their height. Ceilings are vaulted high above the floor — giving man a hint of his importance (or lack thereof). The dome soars above, a marvel of engineering even to this day. The crypt (not a basement) contains tombs of several famous men. Including Sir Christopher Wren with a simple plaque urging you to look around for his true monument.

St Paul's

My simple camera captures a hint of the grandeur.

Classic Design

Christopher Wren in Missouri.

Yes, I mean Sir Christopher Wren, the English architect who lived and died before the United States became a nation. Missouri hosted a few adventurous Europeans – more French than English – during his lifetime. But for the most part it remained a home to Native Americans and abundant wildlife.

So how are they connected?

The story includes cities, colleges, a president and a prime minister.

There was a war. London endured bombings in which many buildings, including some of the smaller churches designed by Wren after the Great London Fire were destroyed by fire. A college in Missouri  purchased one of these churches, moved it, and assembled it stone by stone (with repairs) on campus. Then they invited the US President (a native son) and the British Prime Minister (son of an American mother) to speak on campus. (I’m not certain if the church was reconstructed before or after the speech.) Then the speech became famous because of the phrase “Iron Curtain”.

In use as the campus chapel, the Christopher Wren church stands proud today. A nice museum on the life and times of Sir Winston Churchill is in the basement. (I’d say crypt but I don’t think any bodies are entombed.)


Classic design from Wren in Missouri