Halloween in Dayton in the 1940s meant trick-or-treating. of course. Coming home with a bag full of treats or seeing the soap on the store windows, it was a night of excitement. Number one on my personal list was the treat from Ma Mathews. I don’t suppose she made the same thing every year, but in my memory it was always a popcorn ball, the gooey, sticky caramel on the freshly popped popcorn. I always hoped I could get two – one to eat on the spot and one to take home, but she was too wily to fall for that. Since she was the school janitor, she knew exactly how many children there were in town. It was no good telling her that you needed another one to take home to your sister, as she had probably just given one to your sister ten minutes ago.
continuing the Hon. P. A. Armstrong’s remarks to the 1877 La Salle County Old Settlers Reunion:
Our population was too much scattered for schools. Four Miles was not considered too far for the children to travel in attending school. Books, except the book of books, the Bible, were very scarce. There were no newspapers then published in the state and if there had been, we had no means of obtaining them, as we had no mails. There was one copy of that noble work of Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” in our neighborhood. It was read by all who could read, and constituted a kind of circulating library. I doubt not but my pious friend Col. Hitt perused the history of poor Prospect, filled with hopes and doubts, especially the doubts. The condition of society at that date was such as to render this locality very unhealthy for the Mrs. Grundys and the Paul Prys.
Even visiting was not popular, not because our people were unsocial, but because our neighbors were too far distant.
Talking societies and curiosity shops did not flourish. Nor had we any tramps, gipsies, or strolling organ grinders; sewing machine agents would have been shot on the spot. We had no difficulties between neighbors on account of trespass committed by the chickens or pigs of one upon the premises of another. The only trespass with which we were then familiar was that known as jumping of claims upon Uncle Sam’s land. These sometimes occurred and when they did occur a field fight generally followed in which whole families took a hand; but we never went to law to establish our claims, although all sometimes did seek consolation at law for bruised heads and bloody noses received in the struggle to protect our claims. It was a poor country for office and office holders. All our disputes were settled by arbitration, hence lawsuits were but little heard of.
Tea and coffee were luxuries we could not obtain for love or money, for there was none in the country.
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continuing the Hon. P. A. Armstrong’s remarks to the 1877 La Salle County Old Settlers Reunion:
To have our humble cabin selected as the place to hold divine services was considered a special favor, and the itinerant preacher (for that is the name by which they were hailed) was always a welcome guest to our firesides. Indeed we used to count the days and look forward to the time when the preacher was to come, and had our favorite club in a convenient place to slaughter a chicken for his dinner or supper whenever he came. We were happy in the anticipation of wheat bread and chicken upon his arrival. There was, however, a rumor current in those days that the chickens began to squeal as the preacher came in sight. Be this as it may, I am now under the solemn conviction that the preachers of those days were as fatal to the barnyard fowls as the chicken cholera of the present time, and yet they were a very devout and good kind of men. In many instances they rode on horseback hundreds of miles to fulfill their engagement, and not infrequently sacrificed their lives to their devotion to duty.
The pioneer preacher of all this section of the country was Rev. Jesse Walker, the uncle of David Walker, Esq., of Ottawa. William Royal, now on duty in Oregon, and Stephen Beggs, of Plainfield, Ills., were our pioneer circuit riders. They were Methodists. Elder John Sinclair, than whom God never made a better man or purer Christian, was also among the first and was the first presiding Elder.
These men worked through sunshine and storm, never faltering, never wearying in well-doing. They labored without money and without price, taking no heed of what they should eat or wherewithal they should be clothed. Elijah-like, trusting in God to be fed by the young Ravens, their labors were more than crowned with success.
Churches were built, congregations formed and sabbath schools established all over the country.
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Photo credit: By Lilly M [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
DAYTON GOODS. – We have now in daily use, and have had so for twenty-five years, several pairs of blankets made by the Greens at Dayton, and they are apparently good for a dozen years more. This accords with a recent incident at the mill. An old friend of the Greens ordered six pairs of blankets, saying that the four pairs he had bought thirty years ago began to show wear, and as the present would probably last him the rest of his days, he took enough to go ‘round. We have never seen “store” blankets that equaled those made by Jesse Green & Sons at Dayton, in point of either finish or durability, at so low a price.1
The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, 22 Sep 1877, p1, col 2
At the 1877 La Salle County Old Settlers Reunion the principal speaker was The Honorable Perry A. Armstrong of Morris, a lawyer and member of the state legislature for several terms. His lengthy speech was reported in the Ottawa Free Trader on August 18 and told of the early days of the county. Excerpts from that speech are given below.
“The state of Ohio, though comparatively speaking one of the younger states, contributed largely towards furnishing the first settlers of this county, among whom I will mention the Greens, Shavers, Groves, Debolts, Dunavans, Hupps, Brumbacks, Pitzers, Richeys, Strawns, Milligans, Trumbos, Armstrongs, Parrs, Hitts, Reynolds, Wallaces and Bruners, all of whom have left many descendants. New York also contributed handsomely to the first inhabitants, while Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and many of the eastern states had their representatives here at an early day. As a general rule we could distinguish whether the incoming emigrant were Yankee or from the Middle States.
The Yankee drove but one span of horses to his wagon and rode on the wagon to drive – the other drove from four to six horses to his wagon, riding the left hand wheel-horse to drive. The wagon of the Yankee was coupled longer than the other, had a flexible tongue held up by a neck yoke, and was of several inches narrower gauge and far lighter draft. The box was much lower and longer than the other’s, and of simpler construction and more easily taken apart to put on and oil.
The Buckeye or the Middle State wagon was schooner-shaped and closely coupled together. The rear wheels were some 12 inches greater in diameter than the front ones. It had a still tongue, which was ever busy pounding the legs of the wheel horses. The team was driven by a single line. Three sharp jerks to turn to the right – a steady pull to turn to the left, guided them.
The harness was both a curiosity and a monstrosity – a curiosity, how it ever came into use; a monstrosity by way of punishment to the poor horses who wore them. Great heavy blind bridles, huge collars, massive hames, broad backband and heavy trace-chains for the leaders, immense breeching that literally covered the hind-quarters of the wheel-horses, side-straps full five inches wide for tugs, and large bent-skin housings upon the wethers of each horse, were sufficient to melt anything in the shape of flesh.
The box was much higher at the ends than in the middle and was made of panel work, and so mortised together that the entire weight had to be lifted up in taking it off or putting it on the wagon. Hence it required the united effort of a whole family to handle it. These schooner wagons being about 5 inches wider than the Eastern wagon, they of course never tracked with them, and hence they made a new track, at least on one side. Being very heavy they sank to hard pan in every slough, and when planted they are “solid muldoons.”
These wagons, so dissimilar, each had their advocates for a while, but the superior advantages possessed by the Eastern wagon were so patent that the prairie schooners were abandoned and suffered, like the wonderful one-horse chaise, to tumble to pieces and were never repaired or duplicated.
Carriages and buggies (either open or covered) were unknown to us. Instead of buggy-riding we practiced that far more elegant and invigorating mode of pleasure-riding – horse-back exercise. Our young ladies enjoyed riding on horseback with more genuine pleasure than those of today enjoy the buggy or phaeton. It gave them rosy cheeks and robust constitutions, even though eight yards of calico were sufficient to make a dress for any of them. Our young man deemed it a pleasure to mount his horse of a Sabbath morning and ride 20 miles to escort a young lady 10 miles further to attend meeting. We had no churches or ministers at that time. Divine services were held by our pioneer preachers at private houses all over the country.”
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