Louisa Ashley Hammond's Memories of Cedar Falls, Iowa
When I Was A Girl:
The Memoirs of Louisa Ashley Hammond, 1831-1912
March 28, 1911
The children at home say to me, "Grandma, please tell us a story about when you were a little girl." Perhaps this is what Mrs. Davis wanted when she requested me to talk of the past.
When I was a child aged five years, my heart overflowed with joy never to be forgotten. The occasion of my delight was the return of my father after many weeks absence, he having been in the west, looking over the state of Illinois, with reference to making there a future home. This was in the fall of 1836.
The months following, neighbors and friends showed eagerness to know his opinion of Illinois. He was delighted. So were the listeners, when they heard his glowing description of the grand fertile western prairies.
The following May 9th 1837, there stood near old Tug Hill on the state road south of Martinsburg, Lewis County, New York (forty miles north of Utica), a procession of new white canvas-covered wagons representing five families. Horses were the best, wagons trim and tidy set on good springs, also spring seats, and the added luxury of carriage steps. That western party of pioneers, now in readiness, found themselves surrounded by neighbors bringing good wishes and goodbyes.
The last adieus spoken, we are now moving on, through New York, across southern Canada to Detroit, Michigan, and on through that state, often over corduroy roads where our spring seats were truly appreciated. Later across the northwest corner of Indiana, and onward southwest to Joliet, and on to Plainfield, reaching our destination June 9th, 1837, after a four-week journey.
It may seem strange to some we should have taken this slow way of traveling. But in that early day it was the only practical way — no railroad, no steamboat on the lakes. The fall previous, my father's visit to Illinois was by sailboat. Time: 21 days. Freight went by water to Chicago. Some individuals came by stage, but especially in the west, such had their trials. They paid their fare but were frequently obliged from deep mud to walk for long distances beside the almost empty stage. So we felt ourselves fortunate to belong to a party, really a Mutual Aid Society.
We crossed the Illinois prairies in early June. They were surely beautiful beyond description even in their uncultivated state. An expanse of verdure and flowers under the grand dome of the heavens bounded by the horizon. Here and there a bed of strawberries, more plentiful as we neared the streams. No fences — at least, a fence was seldom seen. The timber was along the streams and its shade seemed to beckon the weary traveler to refreshing rest. The groves were named first or gave names to the settlements. Plainfield was first called Walker's Grove. Mills were built early for sawing and grinding.
On our arrival the highest hopes of our entire party were fully realized. Soil three feet deep and very fertile. Beside, its location was on the direct stage route from Chicago to Ottawa, Illinois, bringing a semi-weekly eastern mail. When the stage horn sounded its arrival in Plainfield, the Joliet postman received one or two mail sacks, which he brought to Joliet on horseback. Any person receiving a letter paid 25 cents for it.
On our arrival the trials of "The Black Hawk Indian War" were about three years in the past. The Fort was still in good condition half a mile down the river from Electric Park.
There was a Baptist and a Methodist church, small in numbers but each church had a temporary house of worship. Those same buildings were used for school. In an early day, Plainfield Baptist Church was a denominational landmark equaling any in northern Illinois. The members were strong, earnest, devoted Christians, alive and at work under a splendid leader and pastor, J. E. Ambrose. He and his most excellent wife made their pastoral visits among the scattered membership on horseback, both on the same horse, which was no uncommon way of riding.
The Lord's Day church services attended by people from far and near were what we would call "All Day Meetings". Sunday school at noon, each pupil having memorized seven verses. Gospel of John the favorite for the lessons. After the Sunday School a basket lunch was in order, while waiting in anticipation of the 2 p.m. meeting (the second preaching of the day). This waiting lunch hour was indeed a social one and usually pleasantly and profitably spent.
My father's and mother's home — with a splendid well — joined the church lot on the west the first three years. That well! To this day it seems to me a little like Jacob's well, appreciated by all. It was most excellent water and reminds one of the Temperance songs during the nationwide "Washington Temperance Reform". I say "reform" because previous to about 1840, hard work was supposed to demand strong drink in almost any society.
But now Christians awoke to the sin of Intemperance. A lesson was taught them by six Baltimore Reformed Drunkards. Some of those earnest meetings can never be erased from memory. I recall some of the songs popular when I was nine years of age. Here is the first verse of one:
In Baltimore the reform begun, begun, begun,Another was:
The drink that's in the drunkard's bowlThe last was sung to the tune, "The rose that all are praising".
But I didn't finish about the churches. The pitch of the choir was usually taken from the leader's tuning fork. But as improvements are bound to come in any age, we were later blessed by a very sweet musical instrument. It was a small melodeon pumped by the elbow — before any were made to pump by the foot. It was owned and played by a musical sister, Mrs. D. D. Green, the mother of our Mrs. Josephine Harris.
Occasionally, during the morning church service, after the sermon and second prayer, an announcement was given stating, "After the singing the marriage ceremony will be performed". The gentleman and lady faced the audience. The solemn vows were spoken. Bride and groom remained standing. A short benediction, then followed greetings by the whole audience one by one as they passed by, and on. The following Monday eve, the Home Reception was given by the bride's parents at her residence.
In those days, "when I was a girl", evening Singing Schools were fine and popular recreation. I would like to introduce the boys and girls of today into the scenes, schools, and society of my girlhood, chiefly to show them the different appearance of a room lighted by present-day methods and one lighted by tallow candles in tin sockets, on each of the window casings. That was before even kerosene was known, except as "Rock Oil", a famous rheumatism medicine.
Those were the days when wolves howled about the homes. Herds of deer galloped the open prairies and sought shelter from the cold windstorms in the groves of timber. Flocks of wild turkeys, geese and prairie chickens were no novelty, but seen very frequently.
The poor colored fugitives fleeing from the horrors of slavery were occasionally (as night came on) at the door of Abolitionists of Plainfield, and there they never failed to receive the most needed help for bodily comfort, and usually a good ride on toward Canada. These were favors by the merciful shown to the oppressed in the time of the wicked law, then upon our national statute books, called The Fugitive Slave Law, compelling every citizen to aid any officer who was assisting a slave-owner to recapture his slave.
In those days, I tried to be a helper in more than one way. My father's work was always right in my judgement. He was notified that there was a woman in Plainfield fleeing from slavery and the question was asked him, "Can you aid us?" He replied, "Yes". My father harnessed two horses, attached them to a two-seated carriage in which he and I rode two miles south from the farm, arriving in Plainfield in the dark of early evening. We called at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Miles Royce for our colored passenger. She was ready. The faithful horses plodded on toward Chicago while we mused, and sometimes spoke in subdued voices.
At sunrise we were riding east on Lake Street in the city, our passenger's face buried in her lap. We were nearing Dr. Dyer's Depot — not underground except in name. [That is, they were nearing a station on the "Underground Railroad".] She was sheltered safely for the day, with needful care, and at night again passed on to other helpers, till at last she reached the land of British Protection, Canada.
Many other things are worthy of mention concerning my days of girlhood. The prairie fires, so vast and frightful. The wolf hunt which I attended with our entire family when Joliet, Troy, Plainfield, DuPage and Lockport were each largely represented, forming a circle at the hour of starting, planning to meet at a specified center and time, between Plainfield and Lockport, at 10 a.m. All moved to the appointed place. When that circle was about one-half mile in diameter a fine drove of wolves, surrounded, huddled together. Then came the signal for firing, when all were suddenly killed and the distant neighbors met socially with congratulations on the success of the party.
All this when I was a girl. Womanhood is a later chapter.