Some time ago I found my grandfather Fred L. DICKENS' 1905 - 1919 diaries. A farmer, living in Mecklenburg, N.Y with his wife and three daughters, his notations mainly concern the weather, crop progress, the hours various men worked for him, and when he worked for or helped others. Then two years ago I found three partial diaries of my grandmother Harriet KENNEDY DICKENS that fleshed out the distaff side.
With additional input from my mother, the daughter born in 1913, I was able to piece together a good picture of what daily life was like for a typical Upstate New York farm family in the beginning of the 20th Century. Once concluded, the combined information seemed too valuable to be kept just for the family. My hope in presenting it here that those interested in that time period will find it of substantial aid to their research.
Shirley Dee Taber Watt 1996
Mecklenburg Farm Life, 1905 - 1919
The DICKENS family in 1905 consisted of Fred,
age 35, and his wife Harriet "Hattie", 31. Their first daughter, Blanche,
was five years old. Fred and Hattie had been married seven years
and had recently returned to "Meck" so Fred could run the farm for his
aging father. When the diaries commence they are living in the tenant house.
Later, they moved into what was always
referred to as the Dickens Homestead across the road. Over the space covered by the diaries two more daughters were born: Grace Caroline in 1906 and Charlotte in 1913.
At first all four of their parents lived nearby on
their own farms -- Levi and Helen (nee BENNETT) DICKENS across the road,
and Allen P. and Caroline (nee GARDNER) KENNEDY outside Cayutaville.
Fred had two brothers living elsewhere -- Howard, married to Jennet, and
Charles & his wife Addie who had a young daughter Florence. Hattie's
sister Grace still lived at home but during the diary years would marry
and have the first two of her four
children. All around were relatives on both sides; GARDENER, BENNETT, VanFLEET, MORRIS, BEARDSLEY, TABER, WRIGHT, BEMENT. Other local families too numerous to mention were related more distantly.
Fred farmed his father's acres on a share basis
in the early years. Later, after his father died and his brothers
and sisters agreed he should own the farm outright, he also hired out additional
fields on neighboring farms. He employed a hired man who often rented
the tenant house for $3 a month and usually took on another man for the
growing season and harvest. (In 1919 a hired man got "$23 plus horse keep,
washing, ironing, mending and stay nights") Hattie had a seamstress
come in to do extra sewing. I am told she set up in the dining room
and my grandfather could not stay in the room when she worked because "she
always had her mouth full of pins." For her newborns Hattie had a
baby nurse who stayed about a month ($43 after
Charlotte was born) and at times someone in to help with the wash. After 1913 she had a hired girl who evidently was like one of the family for she went on outings with Blanche and, once, after she had been away over Christmas, Fred noted "Mildred came home."
It was a close, companionable life. They were a step from Mecklenburg and close to Trumansburg where Fred went almost daily and always called "the Burg." Rarely a day passed that a friend or relative did not stop by, often to "stay to supper." Long before "Women's Liberation", Hattie often drove a team to visit and sometimes stay overnight with her parents, leaving the little girls with Fred. Among other trips, she went to a "sociable" in Perry City, to a "Cornell meeting" at the neighbors, and took the pastor's wife Mrs. BROOKS (grandmother of poet Joyce KILMER) to Watkins where they went through the Glen. By family account she was an expert horsewoman and the diaries show that she drove the team often, even to Ithaca, year-round. Harriet and Fred called on sick family, friends and neighbors. Visiting was an important part of Hattie's life. Many days she would go "uptown" (to Meck) for the mail and stop in on friends or relatives and often, in the evening after her chores were done, walk to a neighbors for a chat.
Fred kept cows, pigs, chickens, ducks,
and geese. He was particularly fond of his horses and always had
two teams, heavy and light, which he used judiciously and put out to pasture
when the were too old to work. He also used his father's and father-in-law's
horses. At one point he spoke of owning and driving a three-horse
rig. Old Sarah, the big sow, was "taken up the
road" to the neighbors each year and dutifully produced large litters. The heifers, which all had pretty names such as "Pet," calved, as did "Reddie" the big red cow and the yellow cow who seems to have had no name. There were two orchards and they sold apples both locally and in lthaca. Fred also had plum, cherry, pear and peach trees that must have been only for family
To further supplement their diet, they traveled to buy honey and grapes and Fred wrote of picking wild carrots on the hill. The family also gathered walnuts to eat and sell. There was buttermilk and sweet milk and butter from the cows. And there was ice cream! My grandfather evidently loved it for he mentioned making it often (under the horse chestnut tree in summer) as well as noting numerous ice cream socials and Catha GOLDSMITH's ice cream parlor.
A farmer in the early 1900's had to do many things
by hand that are mechanized now and he made or devised tools and implements
he could not readily acquire. Among the many things Fred mentioned
doing are re-wooding a tackle block, soldering a milk can, making whiffletrees
and a 25-foot pole ladder, constructing a stone boat, and a wire stretcher
to string fence.
Amusing for me to read, but not for him, was the year he broke his axe handle. He proceeded to make another and then two back-ups. He wasn't going to be caught short again!
During the early diary years Fred also tore down the tenant louse barn and the "old house on the hill." Everything was salvaged. The wood and stone was drawn away for other use and he made a special nail chisel at the blacksmith's to pull the nails after he constructed out buildings from the cement floor up, shingled the house and barn, laid sidewalk, ran water to the barn, moved "the closet to a new foundation"... and fixed the alarm clock.
Farmers would also lend and borrow equipment and teams, work for and with each other and let their hired men contract out to a neighbor for a day or so. In 1918 Fred noted that he had borrowed "KELSEY's buzz saw and Steve WILSON's engine" to saw wood. They also helped each other fill icehouses, thresh, and raise barns, etc.
The farm year from seed to harvest turned much as it does today. In January Fred cut and drew wood, hay and coal ($5.50 a ton in 1907). He slaughtered his hogs himself until one bit him and thereafter had Lawrence McCARTHY the butcher do it for 30 cents and later 50 cents each. He smoked some of the meat, cut up and put some in brine, and made some into sausage. In winter he repaired equipment, did maintenance and spent hour upon hour picking over beans to sell. Eventually he acquired two bean pickers to help with the chore, but one or the other seems to have always been broken down.
In late January or early February he cleaned and
filled the ice house. It took 6 wagonloads, 123 cakes 13" thick,
and was covered with a load of sawdust, which he bought for 25 cents.
He also took wood to be cut at the sawmill from which he made vegetable
crates. In March he drew phosphate, sold apples, trimmed fruit trees,
tapped maples and boiled sap, sent his hog to be
bred, continued drawing wood, manure and hay, and did out building maintenance. In April he grafted fruit trees and his recipe for grafting wax is in one of the diary pockets. He sharpened fence posts, pulled or blasted out and drew stumps and rocks, pulled and burned brush and started plowing. Before the month was over, weather permitting, he would drill oats, sow
wheat, cabbage, radish and grass seed and plant potatoes, sweet corn and peas. A few years he planted popcorn, which he and Hattie sold in Ithaca for a good price.
May was the time to mark out fields and gardens
for himself as well as for his father and neighbors. One diary entry
shows helped a relative survey some land. The cattle and horses were
put out to pasture. He planted tomatoes, cucumbers and muskmelon
in one or both of his two gardens. In June he set up scarecrows,
plowed, harrowed and drilled buckwheat, turned the
calves out, cultivated, cut thistle and burdocks out of the fields, set out pepper plants, beans, cabbage and the second half of the cucumbers. He acquired the road warrant for District 99 and worked with mower and scythe on his share as well as his father's. At the end of the month he would always especially note drawing the first loads of hay of the year. He would finish
the wheat and hay by the end of July.
In August he cut and drew oats, began to plow for wheat again, dug potatoes and set out 250 strawberry plants. Toward the end of the month he would buy coal before the threshers arrived and Hattie would work overtime preparing food. When the threshing crew came in to eat they washed up outside using wash basins, some hot and soapy, others cold for rinsing. Towels were on the wash line above and there was even a mirror hung on a tree for them to use.
In September Fred rolled and harrowed the wheat and cut and pressed hay. The hay press stayed 4 days and he helped bring "the power" to his farm and then move it to the next place after his crop was finished. In 1906 he wrote: "WIXOM pressed 12 tons of hay - I pitched it alone." Lester N. CHAPMAN, who read and commented on the manuscript, said: "I assume that the hay was in the barn or a stack and he pitched to an upright hay press where two men jumped the hay to make bales that would weigh nearly 200 pounds each."
During this busy autumn month Fred also got the second
cutting of clover, dug potatoes, picked peas and set out 250 more strawberry
plants. Apple-picking began and would continue through November.
One year he mentioned taking apples to "the dry house" for 30 cents/hwt.
Now he cut corn, gleaned the wheat, threshed the buckwheat, began to shock
up the corn, pulled and
forked out beans, husked corn and picked pumpkins.
In November he cleaned and divided the buckwheat, picked, shucked and washed walnuts, set traps, made cider, put potatoes and turnips in the cellar and culled old trees out of the orchard. He had another pig killed, sold apples and hay, drew loads of corn stalks, sold ducks …and the year turned again.
With some exceptions, the farm wife's work was mostly
structured on a daily and weekly basis. Evidently Hattie had a regular
schedule. Entries include: "did my Saturday work," and "Worked hard
today, did Friday and Saturday work." She cooked, baked, cleaned,
churned, processed the daily milk, sewed, ("...finishing up a second
nightshirt for Fred when I could
find time during the day") and cared for her children, especially when ill. A 1916 entry when her youngest daughter is very sick about sums it up: "I got my work all done up early, got along nicely. Had to take lots of steps waiting on Lottie."
As the old adage goes, "Man works from sun to sun, women's work is never done." In one notation Harriet remarked, "Mopped the kitchen after lamplight." Another time she wrote: "I have not felt good at all," then proceeded to list what she had accomplished during the day, "Cleaned up the kitchen chamber, store room, the little room, my room, cellar steps, etc., and ironed a table cloth." Another day she "cleaned the woodhouse, kitchen and bedroom" in addition to her regular work.
Washing clothes was a backbreaking job. In the early years of their marriage Fred sometimes helped his young wife with the heavy chore that entailed collecting rain water, scrubbing and pounding. In her late 30s, after three children, Hattie had a neighbor, Mrs. REISH, come in to help. Teenaged Blanche and father Kennedy also helped out. Harriet wrote: "Blanche did all the rubbing except 2 sheets, 1 wool drawers and a counterpane. Pa did the pounding and rubbed the big heavy blanket." No wonder that Fred was so proud and happy when he wrote in 1909; " New washing machine came...it is a dandy...does good work!" Of course, all that washing had to be ironed with big, heavy, aptly named "sad" irons that were heated on the stove.
Bread, cookies, cake and pie were baked almost every day and sometimes candy was made as well. Fred liked his pie, even for breakfast. Both Blanche and Grace Caroline baked at quite a young age and even Mrs. Reish sometimes whipped up a batch of cookies on washing day. Callers were frequent and, along with the family, certainly enjoyed all those sweets without worrying about calories and "healthy eating."
Serving big meals was common for Hattie. Most Sundays found her preparing dinner for extended family and often friends as well. A family joke centered around Blanche wondering why they were so "poor" they had to have chicken every Sunday. For holidays Harriet really outdid herself, producing special menus. In 1903 Fred proudly noted that New Year's dinner had included turkey, chicken and oysters.
Food was the usual contribution to parties as well. Blanche took a cake, milk and a book to a friend's birthday party and the Dickens family's contribution to a fundraiser for the minister included "a platter of beef, dish of Jello, and milk." Another time Harriet mentioned taking mashed potatoes to two ladies.
Fred kept chickens (and sometimes geese and
ducks) and always had four cows. Surplus eggs, milk and butter bought
in extra income. Harriet notes that the doctor came to "pay his milk"
bill and that she sold a crock of butter to Ward's store for 47 cents a
pound ($5.12). Another time she took a basket of eggs and sold them
for 35 cents a dozen. They also sold butter
Ithaca (40 cents/lb in 1917) and in 1919, when they couldn't find a buyer, went on to Elmira to sell it. In 1914 Fred wrote that they took cream to the station for the first time.
Springtime meant an additional chore for both Fred and Hattie. He tapped the numerous maples on the property then went around each day, sometimes twice, with the horse-drawn stoneboat and emptied the sap buckets into a huge barrel--so big little Charlotte could not see over it. One maple yields approximately one gallon of syrup, a long continuous boiling down process that needs constant attention. Harriet noted: "March 3, Fred, Grace and Charlotte gathered sap, tapped trees, etc." On the 4th "Fred boiled sap all day." On the 10th her father kept the sap boiling while she and Fred went to look at a horse, but the next day she wrote: "I boiled down syrup all the afternoon. Very tired tonight." On the 13th she took her sister-in-law a quart of syrup. The process was still continuing on the 19th when Hattie wrote: "Pa boiled sap all day. This p.m. I cleansed and canned 5 gallons of maple syrup." On reading this my mother, who had done a fair amount of maple syrup making herself, commented: "That's 20 quarts! Ye gods!"
I could not determine through the diaries where the sap was boiled down, but a good guess might be in or just outside of the summer kitchen. A map drawn by my mother shows "kettle" behind the summer kitchen and this may have been because the sap kettle was huge and had to be hung over an outside fire. Also I remember being told that sap was often boiled down right in the sugar bush (a grove of maples). One of my grandfather's stories was that once when he was boiling down sap he was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. He quickly turned the vat over and got underneath. The pesky giants ran their stingers right through the iron cauldron, but Fred bent them over with his ever-ready hammer. When the mosquitoes flew away he was carried off, straddle the bail, until he finally dropped off into a haystack.
In autumn when the threshers came through their
meals were part of the contract and the farm wives vied to provide the
best spread in the neighborhood. Hattie's table would have groaned
with meat, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, sauce, Jell-O, pudding, pitchers
of milk and pie, pie, pie.
In 1916 Harriet reported having a hungry crew of 16 for supper and breakfast. The fact that they came a day-and-a-half later than expected must have made holding the food, or its preparation, an even more difficult task than usual.
Another autumn chore for Hattie and the older girls was canning all the vegetables from Fred's gardens as well as the fruit gathered from trees and bushes. On her 44th birthday in September 1918 Harriet wrote that Blanche had gotten up before her to make a birthday cake and then canned 15 pints of yellow plumbs. Hattie canned cucumber pickles and tomatoes and next day wrote that she made tomato butter "to keep them from spoiling."
Nearly all winter the whole family spent their spare minutes picking over beans. Even Mrs. REISH and her children were recruited to help. Fred paid them all, including his wife and 5-year-old Charlotte who learned what to do and demanded a wage. Her mother wrote: "Lottie picked beans this week and Fred paid her. She figured up her own account--30 cents--dear little girl, first money she ever earned. How pleased she was." Another winter chore was cleaning the carpets which meant taking them outside and sweeping them with snow.
Many friends and relatives came to stay for days, weeks and even the whole winter, as in the case of an elderly relative, Jonathan VanFLEETE. All this, of course, meant extra work for Harriet, though I suspect she enjoyed the company.
Everyone helped. Sometime after his wife died,
Allen KENNEDY "retired" and invited his younger daughter Grace and her
husband and their growing family to live with him. He spent
a good deal of time with Hattie and her family as well. Retirement
did not mean work-free leisure for this hardy man who was esteemed by both
family and community. At age 75 he no longer farmed, but numerous
diary entries show that he was involved in the heavy work both in and out
of the house. He is mentioned helping Fred kill the pigs and several
times splitting sizeable amounts of wood as when Hattie and Fred went to
Ithaca to sell apples at the railroad and his daughter noted in her diary;
"Pa had split wood all the time we were gone." More than once Hattie
wrote: "Pa and Fred unloaded and sawed logs all day." As noted above
he helped with
the heavy washing, kept the sap boiling. He churned the butter as well.
Fred shot birds with his father or friends
and fished for bullheads and suckers using a pole or spear, and once dynamite!
(They got "a small mess.") He gleefully reported another incident
when: "Silas HOVENCAMP and I went up the creek last night. Had a
lantern. Got a big sucker-he stomped it with his foot!" I've
been told that Hattie also fished for bullheads as a young woman and was
considered very brave to do so as they are vicious. Fred also set
traps, catching skunks, raccoons, rabbits, mink and muskrats. He
mentioned having rabbit for supper when a relative was over. (A notation
in Hattie's diary says: "Blanche got her furs today," and my mother thought
it meant that they had sent away skins to be made into a garment.)
In 1908 Fred sold 10 muskrats for $3.30 and skunk skins for $2 a piece.
When his dog Duey caught a
black skunk Levi paid $1 for it (for a conversation piece?). By 1919 prices had evidently gone up as Fred wrote: "caught a skunk--got $4.50 for it."
To a farmer the weather is of major importance
and the record of it takes up a large portion of both Fred and Harriet's
diaries. My grandfather never appeared to be a sentimental man and
it surprised me to see that he noted things like hearing the first peepers
of the year and seeing the first bluebird and robin. In 1908 he saw a "golden
robin" which would seem to be a
Baltimore oriole. He wrote about finding dandelions in January "some in blow, some gone to seed," and another January noted seeing an angleworm crawling on top of the ground. In February 1919 he and Arista SMITH went "up to the woods and caught some crickets and grasshoppers." One November he wrote: "Rained some a nice rainbow in the north."
During the diary years there were some
real extremes in weather. In 1905 the roads were drifted full in
January and in July it was 110 degrees in the sun. An entry for January
1906 notes: "Horses sweat standing in the stable-8O degrees," but by February
temperatures were down to 10 and 12 below. The summer of 1908 was
"hot and dusty, the air full of smoke." The drought lasted until
December when Fred wrote that three families, the DOLIWAYS, CLOCKS and
KILMERS, were still getting water from his well. But by January of
1909 he reported that "the boys can skate anywhere on the snow it is so
hard." Later in that year there was a hard frost in June that froze
the potatoes and corn. The next June was cold as well. On the
12th he wrote
"corn looks bad - only about 4 inches high" and on the 14th "first night warm enough to sit out on the stoop."
In the winter of 1912 "the stage came on sleigh" and he wrote, as he would other years, about driving the sleigh over the fields when the roads were impassable. January 1914 brought 20 below temperatures and March 1-3 a blizzard that halted traffic. "T'burg road drifted full, had to be shoveled out, our road drifted worse than I can ever remember," he wrote, "Snow blew through every crack, 3-4 feet deep on the stoop." In 1916 Hattie reported that the roads were very bad with mud up to the hubs of the wagon wheels. That same year a cloud burst in Trumansburg flooded some of the stores. 1919 produced another warm January which both described as "warm like summer" with little snow all month, Fred noting on the 23rd "still warm no snow...people plowing" and on the 24th "Ed CURRY plowed his garden today."
I was astonished to find how much damage lightning did. In 1907 "Uncle" John EDDY was struck and killed by a bolt "out of a clear sky," according to my grandmother, while she and Mrs. Eddy were sitting on the porch watching. In May 1908 lightning burned John BAKER's barn and Burt CUMMINGS' barn in Enfield Center. In June Fred wrote that another storm "killed J. MORGAN's cow, struck Tom WARREN's barn, and killed Fred GARDNER's wife." (The sequence in which he reports these events is interesting to say the least.) Cook STILLWELL's barn burned in 1910 after being hit and the Park Hotel barn in Trumansburg in 1916. In 1917 lightning killed Elmer NEWBURY, struck Thomas BOYD's house and Herb CURRY's barn, and killed two of William MORRIS' horses. During the same storm lightning "slivered" the siding of the Dickens house while the family was away. Their hired man Stewart PARKER and neighbor Mr. DARLING and his sons put out the fire.
Tag and garage sales, a favorite pastime today,
is nothing new. In the early years of the century vendues (auctions)
were the thing to do. Fred and Hattie attended many acquiring things
both for the house and farm: a work table for $1, cultivator $4, corn planter
$1.05, McCormack wheel rake $16.50, sewing table $1.25, corn sheller $2,
wagon $5, team collar $2 and pad 30
cents, 2-seated cutter $8, double light harness $14. For the house they got a mahogany davenport, a wash dish for 12 cents, cream separator, cupboard, 4-legged stool, wash bench, cherry table, looking glass, marble top table, spider (iron frying pan) set of scales, chairs and bedding.
They also bought things new. Fred duly recorded each purchase, prefacing those for himself with "I bought me ..." -overalls 50 cents; pair of high shoes $3.50, sox 40 cents, overcoat $15, cap $1, rubber boots $4, 2 pair overalls $1, a shotgun $2.50 and in 1919 a soldier's overcoat for $10. The 1907 he bought "arctic overshoes for Blanche - 80 cents," but when she was going away to school he spent $6.75 for a dress and $4.50 for shoes. The other girls got their share as well. Fred bought things for Hattie too, never mentioning the cost, among them lots and lots of hats. Fred also recorded the smallest expenditures: paint brush 35 cents, can of paint 50 cents, and even that he bought a violin string. Twice he mentioned that he and Hattie went to "do some trading," once to Watkins and another time by train to Ithaca where they "did $25 worth."
The horses had to be shod regularly. In 1906
shoeing the team cost $1.50 in Trumansburg but it cost $4 in Ithaca in
1912. Clipping a horse was 75 cents. Trumansburg stable fees
amounted to $3.50 for four days. Taxes took their cut. In 1910 the
farm was evaluated at $3,000 and taxes ($11.50/thousand) came to $34.50.
He paid $1 more for a dog license. Thirty-five cents commission was
added to the bill. In 1919 his taxes were $52.40 and he also paid the taxes
(school tax $19.09, valuation $21.10) on the 95-acre "Eddy place" which
he was also
The bulk of the family's outside activities centered around church, school, and Grange. Although they joined the Baptist church, they also attended Methodist and Presbyterian services, often going to one church on Sunday morning and another in the evening as well as attending services during the week. Whenever there was a new preacher in town they were definitely there to hear him.
I was amazed at how much the family traveled.
From what I could gather from the diaries they owned a Democrat wagon,
buggy, two-seat cutter, trap wagon, truck wagon, lumber wagon, bob sleds,
and the "big sleigh" (so there must have been another smaller one).
Several times, when Fred had large items to carry or a group to take to
a funeral or outing, he borrowed D. E.
Goldsmith's wagon and used his own team for the trip. Trains were used often--to Ithaca and Watkins, etc., by them and other members of the family when they came to visit.
Then came the automobile! In 1907 Fred's brother Charles and his wife arrived in "an automobile" and "we all had a ride." In 1912 Hattie and Fred went with A. T. KELSEY and his wife in their auto to visit brother Charles in Endicott. In 1914 Frank BEARDSLEY took Fred in his car to Watkins to see "an automobile moving picture show 'The Maxwell'." Fred, the horse lover, liked this automobile travel but held fast for a while. However, by 1915 he was getting bombarded from all sides. Harry COVERT, the model T Ford agent, took him to Trumansburg in his Ford auto, and soon Aunt Settie and cousin Winnie BENNETT arrived and took the family for a ride in their car.
Fred took a trip with three others to Seneca
Falls, Auburn and Ithaca. The round-trip of 120 miles, left him in
amazement and shortly thereafter he and Hattie "drove a Dodge car to Ithaca
to try it out." By October my grandfather could resist no longer.
He bought a Buick in Watkins and drove home the next morning with a Mr.
TIMMS who taught him to drive. The following
day Hattie and Fred took Mr. Timms back to Watkins and, Fred wrote proudly: "We came back alone in our auto."
He immediately bought a year's auto insurance
for $12. From here on the diaries tell of frequent car trips all
around the area including Ovid, Ithaca and Elmira "for footwear for the
family." During this time Dr. FORDHAM came back to Meck and used
Fred's car for demonstration. But all was not fun and freewheeling.
In December they went to Ithaca to get "some Xmas for the children," and
got stuck in a snow bank on the way home. A few days later
they went back - in the wagon!
In 1916 Fred sent $10 for an auto license and received tag number l70. He had to run the car in the shop to "charge the batteries" (sic). On the way back from a ride to Syracuse he wrote: "A son of a gun ran into us at Romulus." The next day Fred took the car to Ithaca for repairs. Soon after he bought a tire and tube for the car ($5).
Levi Dickens' sons evidently had a touch of the entrepreneur in them. (Brother Charles was always on the road, once as far away as Manitoba and another time "up north selling silos.") Evidently Fred decided to use his new possession to make some extra money--something farmers could always use. He went to Elmira and acquired a chauffeur's license ($15). Right away some people hired him to take them to Elmira for $8 and D. E. GOLDSMITH "and his men" went for a ride to Ithaca and Elmira for $10. Many other trips for hire followed and Harriet kept track of the extra income in the back of her diary.
In January 1917 Hattie and Fred made a trip
in the Buick to Elmira - with two hogs and two bags of beans! Hattie
evidently had had enough of that because later in the month when Fred put
two more pigs in the car to sell to Atwaters in Ithaca he had his daughter
Grace Caroline with him. In addition to taking "fares" various places
and transporting livestock, Fred and Hattie
drove family and friends on many trips - Ithaca, Union Springs, Watkins, around Seneca Lake, Waverly, Endicott, Interlaken -- and soon the Buick was back in Ithaca for a new battery ($34.12), brake bands, and then to have the batteries (sic) charged again. In September and October Fred went out selling automobiles. He also noted that they went to Ithaca to see a show after dinner. Then December came again.
Fred got stuck in a snow bank and had to leave the
car overnight. The next day he went back with a team and some friends
to help him shovel out. "I had to put them on some bad banks" he
noted remorsefully about the horses. He took the car to BEARDSLEY's
Garage to thaw the snow and ice off. A few days later one can sense
his happiness at being back with familiar, reliable transportation when
he wrote: "Went in the big sleigh to a family party at Winnie's."
In January he noted: "sleighs, wagons and autos all running - not much
snow," but in February it was "Roads drifted some, no autos on the road;
sleighs and wagons both running" and he drew hay to Trumansburg in
both sleigh and wagon.
In March he bought a colt.
In 1918 Fred went to Ithaca for ball bearings, sent away for an "omnibus license" ($15), "slipped in a ditch with the car," bought a new tire, sent for number plates, went for another tire, spark plugs, a rubber connector "for water circulator of car engine," and a backup light-all separate trips to Ithaca. In 1919 he had his chauffeur's license picture taken (70 cents)
and on a trip to Elmira had three blowouts.
He bought another horse.
During this time the family suffered what must have been among the first auto fatalities. In his diary notation for Saturday Sept. 15, 1917 Fred wrote: "Frank TABER (Hattie's cousin) got killed with his auto up to Elmira--ran in the railroad gates--broke his neck."
All families have their share of joys and sorrows
and I am sure the Dickens family was typical of many others. In December
1909 Fred's father, Levi, died of a stroke and in January 1914 Hattie's
mother Caroline died of the same. Fred's mother Helen suffered a
stroke in 1916 but lived. Several other family members and close
friends also passed away and Fred and Harriet
dutifully noted them all, Fred often adding that he was a bearer at the funeral. (He also noted the deaths of family dogs and horses and where he buried them.)
[See vital records extracted from these diaries.]
Joyous events are included also. Fred recorded
his sister-in-laws' wedding at their house and the birth of her babies.
A few days after his hired man's brother married Minta HOVENCAMP in 1917
he wrote: "The boys horned Will PARKER tonight." The births of livestock
got equal time on his pages. When his daughter Charlotte was born
in 1913 Fred's diary entry reads
in full: "Had a little girl baby come to live with us at half past 1 o'clock this p.m. Warm. Very muddy. Roads frozen had this morning. Hattie doing quite well. Had some pigs come this morning - 9 in all. Robins here for the first time."
Sickness was common and, pre-antibiotics
and "the miracles of modern medicine," it is amazing how many survived
serious illness. Despite the lack of powerful remedies in his little
black bag, the family doctor deserves a large share of the credit.
He made house calls, often twice in one day, and no doubt his common sense
and caring had much to do with the recovery rate. The Dickens family's
medical history is probably similar to that of most other families at that
time. Fred recorded everything from colds to tooth extractions (sadly
there were many). Often the cold or "grippe" [flu] turned to pneumonia
as it did for 5-year-old Blanche on March 7, 1905. Dr. Davis came
for the next several days and at last on March 12th, Fred noted "Had some
ice cream today, Blanche ate some." At last, on the 26th, he was
able to write:
"Blanche sat up a little while today." January 1908 saw the family suffering through a particularly trying period. Around the 1st Hattie fell ill and wasn't able to "go to town" until the 18th. The kitchen chimney burned out and mid-month Fred badly sprained his ankle. On the 28th he finally visited the doctor and on the 30th could finally report "F. SWICK did my chores this
morning, I did them tonight." (Evidently men were considered to be truly on the mend when they could "go to the barn.") Then Levi's cold turned to pneumonia!
March 4th they got a new stove but it wasn't until April that Dan UPDIKE "laid up" the new chimney. (What my grandmother did about cooking in the meantime I have no idea, perhaps the "summer kitchen" served.) In May Fred "drew away three loads of broken brick and plaster from the old chimney and two loads of coal ashes."
Over the years the girls had all the childhood diseases -- whooping cough (Fred wrote it "hooping cough"), German measles, chickenpox, etc. In 1918 4-year-old Charlotte was ill and being seen by the doctor in Trumansburg from mid-January through February 8. During this time they received a letter from Blanche who was attending school in Union Springs, saying she was ill. Hattie and Fred rushed to her (an over-night trip) and found her "lame with rheumatism." In mid-February both Grace Caroline and Charlotte had the measles and Hattie was "sick in bed," evidently not to fully recover until the end of April. A separate note at the end of one diary reads: "Aspirin tablets for rheumatism - Dr. SAWYER."
Several operations are reported. On July 2,
1912 Blanche had surgery "for a rupture." Fred noted that her uncle,
Ira SEARS, gave her a book, and on the 21st was finally able to write:
"Blanche came to the table for the first time." In 1916 Hattie's
sister Grace had an appendectomy on December 6th and returned home on the
22nd. No long stays for Charlotte however. She had had a rough start,
coming down with pneumonia when only a month-and-a-half old, but
in 1919 she bounced back from having her tonsils and adenoids out and came home the next day. All the operations took place in Ithaca Hospital.
There were none of today's quick recoveries
from childbirth in those years. When Hattie had Charlotte it was
two weeks before she was "up and dressed." Yet some things that would
have sent us rushing to the doctor today caused little or no concern.
In August 1919 Fred reported "Home all day, my foot some better -- stuck
a fork in it." It was a manure fork! It "bothered"
him for three or four days and then nothing more was mentioned of the incident. (I remember him telling me that when someone was cut while working in the barn they simply stuffed a wad of cobwebs in the wound to stop the bleeding.)
Although both Fred and Harriet often wrote and received
letters from family and friends, direct communication with the outside
world was in its infancy. When Fred received a Valentine from a young
relative it was unusual enough to be noted in his diary. In 1908
he wrote that the telephone men had put up the first part of the wires
and poles and that he had helped them for 8 hours. Fred bought telephone
poles from his father, father-in-law and a neighbor for 50 cents each.
(Whether these were poles or trees that could be made into poles and why
he had to buy them I was not able to tell.) Calls made or received
were also recorded and he always spoke of "getting a telephone from..."
rather than a "telephone call". In 1918 he "Paid for Bell
phone $7.50 in full." My mother said they had two telephones, one that covered Trumansburg and the other Watkins Glen.
Although they subscribed to the "Review and
World" by the year, and I remember my grandfather as being highly interested
(and vocal) about politics and national and world events, there is amazingly
little reference to any news outside their own and neighboring communities.
In 15 years only the following items are mentioned. On April 15,
1912, after noting that he had
worked most of the day on the fence between his property and D, U. Becker and that he changed his rubber boots for a new pair, Fred gave details of the "Titanic" sinking including the number of dead and rescued. In 1917 he noted that 41 had signed up in the first War Draft registration. In 1918 there are references to the family going to Ithaca, Watkins and Trumansburg for
"Liberty Loan meetings." On November 11th he wrote: "News came this morning at 2:55 o'clock that Germany had surrendered. Had a parade at the Burg. I played in the band. Went on to Ithaca." The following day "We all went to Ithaca to a war parade and a flying machine exposition." The only other references are from the following year when on January 6 he wrote: "Teddy Roosevelt died this a.m. at 4:15," and when he tells of a neighbor who "lost
his leg fighting in France" coming to visit while home on furlough.
Crime was minimal in those days. A 1908 diary
entry states: "Someone stole the horse blanket out of the wagon house."
It was found a week later by a friend "in an old barn down by the Perry
City cider mill." At a dance in the Hall in 1916 "the boys had a
fight with some Ithaca fellows," and in June of 1917 Fred reported two
crimes in the same entry: "Two men stopped Floyd DOTY with A. T. KELSEY's
peddling wagon and robbed him and hammered him. Someone stole Maud
HAVENS' Regents papers." It was a quiet, insular and safe world.
The Great War was over and the economy looked bright. Little did the DICKENS
family and their neighbors know that the Great Depression and another World
War would soon come...their way of life was passing. But during
the diary years of 1905-1919 there was a time that the Dickens family,
and we, would always look on as near idyllic.