A Home with a History: The Hall Homestead

It’s been a while since I’ve done a family history post, now that I am in gardening mode. This one also took a while to research!

I have done some research on Todd’s side of the family and he has some deep roots in Wisconsin. Lucky for us! I’ve also been researching his ancestral homes. Many are no longer standing, including one in Madison (where the iris his great-aunt gave me originally came from).

Before we moved to Wisconsin, Todd and I would come to stay with Janet, his great-aunt, for a weekend or even longer (she also helped Todd plan his marriage proposal to me!). She lives just a block off one of Wisconsin’s largest lakes. And it wasn’t like visiting some old stuffy lady. Janet is a character and a well-loved, well-known local. On occasion, she would pull out old family albums and tell us all the stories. I loved it.

She told me many stories of her grandparents farm in Viroqua, and that the farmhouse was moved into town many years ago. I’ve tried to figure out which one it may be and even where the Leonard farm was. I have yet to find that house. In the process of searching for that farm, names started popping up in old maps that were familiar and I started discovering even more family ties in Vernon Co, but never pursued them.

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Aunt Janet, Todd, and myself at one of our favorite lunch spots!

A couple years ago, we were visiting and looking through some stacks of albums and photos and an old faded family portrait jumped out at me. Behind an old frame, the faded picture showed a family standing in front of a house. Not exciting. Unless, you’re me and you’re trying to track down ancestral homes.

The Hall House

The old photo in the old frame

I immediately started interrogating Janet about the photo. She wasn’t sure who was in it or where it was, but I wasn’t about to give up. She ruled out it being the storied Leonard farm, but not the other side of her family, the Halls.

I took several photos of the photo and worked on enhancing the features on the computer when I got home. Soon, the figures became somewhat familiar. They looked like people I had seen before. Not in person, but in many other old family photos. Their features were too small and blurred to make out, but other things like height and statures gave me clues.

Hall Home Enhanced

I determined it was members of the Hall family and based on the age and my own recognition from other photos. I believe the photo may be of John R. Hall, his wife, Effie (Osvald) Hall, and three of their children. The children should be Clarence, Elda Mae, and Elmer Eugene. Elmer Eugene would be the youngest, born in 1894. Their youngest brother, Harold, was born in 1897.  I think that should place the photo right around 1896? Below are some photos of John, Effie, and a portrait of the family.

I did some searching, as always, through some historic maps and found J.R. Hall owning land just south of Viroqua in the late 1890s. Sure enough, when I overlaid the maps, I found a house that looks suspiciously similar to the one in the photo. At least from what I can tell on Google Maps!

After some more sleuthing, I am certain this is the Hall farm just south of Viroqua. The farm itself has a long history from what I’ve been able to pull out of various maps and a great excerpt from History of Vernon County, Wisconsin, together with sketches of its towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens; history of Wisconsin, published in 1884. You can see the entire book here

Mrs. Martha A. (Sabin) Hall is the relict of Ralph Hall, who with his family came to Vernon county in October, 1856, and settled on section 5, town 12 north, of range 4 west, where Mrs. Hall with her family still resides. Mr. Hall purchased the farm of Oscar Henry. He was born in England in 1830, and came to the United States in July, 1843, with his parents, who settled in Cook Co., Il. He was married in Illinois in 1851, to his present widow, Martha A. Sabin. Mr. Hall died July 6, 1872. His father, George Hall, died in Illinois. His mother came to Viroqua in the fall of 1865, where she still resides. Mr. Hall was a highly respected and industrious citizen; was a charter member of the Vernon County Agricultural Society, and was also for some time treasurer of that organization, and was also at one time chairman of the town board of Viroqua. Mrs. Hall was born near Cleveland, Ohio, in October, 1830. Her parents, Sylvester and Phebe Hall, settled in Cook Co., Il., in 1841, where they lived till their decease. Mrs. Hall has three children — Phebe A., wife of Henry McDermott, was born in Cook Co., Il.; Ananias, born in the town of Viroqua, in December, 1858, and John, born in 1868. She still resides on the homestead farm, which contains 140 acres.

I completely lucked out finding this bit of information. It is super rich not only in genealogical information, but for tracking down the ancestral home. I had seen this biography before, but used it only for the genealogy. When I reread it, I was excited about it all over again.  All the bits and pieces are adding up. And to have a photograph of the home from so long ago is even more special.

Martha and Ralph Hall

Ralph Hall and Martha (Sabin) Hall

In the decades after this biography, based on a few historical maps, the farm went to John Ralph before 1896 then on to his brother Ananias some time before 1915. I have yet to do much research after that. I am just too excited to see what’s still there knowing that the land hasn’t been turned into a neighborhood yet, and there still seems to be an old farm house on it.

My next plan of action is to contact the current owner of the house and send a copy of the photo to them. Hopefully, as with all attempts to visit ancestral homes, they current owners will respond positively!

Last year, I visited my paternal grandfather’s birth site, and the year before we collected my maternal grandmother’s flowers. This year, I think this is the farm to see!

A little side note for genealogy nuts: Ralph Hall, is my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather on his paternal grandmother’s side.

 

Grow Bags, Again!

Last year, I grew my tomatoes and peppers in two different types of grow bags. The tomatoes were grown in 5 gallon felt bags, and the peppers in 5 gallon plastic grow bags. It was a huge success. Below is a couple of picture of my set up…

I used Pro-Mix All-Purpose Mix as my main planting medium. You can buy it in 2 cubic foot compressed bales that expand to around 4 cubic feet. It was the first year I tried the mix after spending some time trying to find an economical, but good quality potting mix for my containers. Previously, I used Ferti-lome and Black Gold Organic, both of which I love, but didn’t want to use for this project. I’ve started using Pro-Mix for everything I pot! For each bale of Pro-Mix, I added 1-2 bags of .75 cubic foot composted cow manure. I did add some granulated slow feed fertilizer, but I can’t remember what I used! This year, I used Jobe’s Vegetable and Tomato Food. I planted up my seedlings with all of the tomatoes in the felt bags, and most of the peppers in the plastic grow bags. I set them out in the lawn where I liked them and drove my stakes into the ground next to the tomatoes that would need it. I also topped my bags off with a layer of mulch (just leftover clearance stuff I had around).

While I did need to water more often, I had no blight and no weeds. All of my tomatoes produced well and the peppers did especially well. We have a short growing season and some times cooler temps, I think the addition of the black containers helped add some heat to the soil.  I fertilized with a water soluble fertilizer once a week. I’m not too picky about fertilizer. I’ve tried everything from expensive organic varieties to just Schultz. I’ve had good luck with all of them. Eventually, I hope to settle on Espoma or AlgoPlus. Espoma is easier to find and typically my go-to choice for any fertilizer I use, but AlgoPlus makes an amazing product too!

Here are links to what I used to grow my tomatoes and peppers last year and again this year. The grow bags specific grow bag are unavailable, but there are plenty of other sellers, just check reviews!:

I planted out much later this year because of our unseasonably cold spring. I like to push it and plant out Mother’s Day weekend, this year it wasn’t until Memorial Day weekend. Things are looking good though! This year I put down weed barrier so I don’t have to try to mow around the bags. Eventually we will put a border and some mulch down. I haven’t set stakes yet either, I will when I need to. My current water soluble fertilizer is Schultz Tomato…it was on sale.  Here’s how things are looking today:

 

What to Read: Some of My Favorite Garden Books

I have been pretty lucky to score a number of great gardening books from local books sales and Goodwill. I also have a nice long list of books on my Amazon Wish List (especially more related to historical gardens). Some I pickup just by chance, others I find out about through magazines, blogs, and from suggestions of friends! I am always excited to hear about a great garden book, especially if it involves history, iris, or is just really well written.

Here’s a few of what’s currently on my bookshelf:

  1. Epic Tomatoesby Craig LeHoullier: Reason to love it? If you have ever tried and loved a Cherokee Purple Tomato, you better be thanking Craig. The book highlights some great tomato varieties, troubleshooting, and was my inspiration for trying grow bags. I’ve followed Craig’s tips on growing tomatoes in containers and I’m hooked!
  2. Founding Gardeners, by Anderea Wulf: This was the first book I read of hers and I can’t wait to read more. It’s an interesting and engaging look at some of our founding fathers’ obsessions with horticulture. I most loved references to era contemporary books and the amazing Bartram’s Garden.
  3. Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, by Joseph Tyconievich: I am all about historic plants, but the idea of creating my own cultivar to pass down is pretty exciting. All these heritage flowers we collect started somewhere. Being a ‘blooming heirloom has to start somewhere, why not with you or me? This book inspired me to try ‘selecting’ pansies…um…it didn’t work out. I do still have a dream to create my own iris or tomato. This is the book I’ll be using for guidance.
  4. The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, by Stephen Buchmann: A great quick reference for all the cultural history and significance of flowers. It touches everything from prehistory, pollinators, fads across the world, and cultural practices that use flowers.

  5. A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts, by Kelly Norris: I feel like this is a must have book for any Midwest iris gardener. Kelly is based out of Des Moines, Iowa which means he has first hand knowledge of the wackiness that is Midwest weather. His love of iris began with his grandmother’s garden, and he’s an experienced and active iris breeder. Best bit of the book? The TENACIOUS tip to go ahead and dump a little straight bleach on iris rhizomes showing signs of rot. I credit this tip, and the tenacity to do it, for saving many of my iris this past spring.

  6. Plants with Style, by Kelly Norris: If you live in the Midwest and are looking for some fresh perennial ideas, this book is great. I happened to get at Goodwill for $4 and enjoyed the suggestions.
  7. Projects for Small Gardens: 56 Projects With Step-by-step Instruction,  by Richard Bird and George Carter: I picked up a slightly older, spiral-bound version of the one in the link, at Goodwill for a couple of dollars. It is awesome. There are specific plans for a lot of cool containers, fences, and raised beds. There are even suggestions on what to plant. I haven’t had a chance to build anything yet, but I do have at least 3 projects picked out!

  8. The Well-Designed Mixed Garden, by Tracy Disabato-Aust: I have a couple of her books, but what I like about this one are the illustrations and plant lists. She provides some great plant descriptions, including a lot hardy down to zone 3 (so important Northern gardeners, like myself). Lots of plans to take into consideration too.
  9. The Big Book of Garden Design, by Time Life Books: a little older, but worth it. Principles of garden design and different styles are presented, then tons of different layouts. There are a few that don’t work for my zone, but plenty of alternative planting options are given. A great source for landscaping ideas.
  10. Wildflowers of Wisconsin, by Stan Tekiela: I like to take country drives to look for patches of flowers left over from old homesteads, and to admire gorgeous gardens in general. I also love seeing the wildflowers. It helps being able to look them up to see if they may be something leftover from settlement or wild! Plus, I’m just a flower nut, so I like to know what I’m seeing.

I would love to read up more on historic gardening and design! One thing I find really interesting is the hunt for books that are relevant to my zone. I live in Zone 4B and sometimes the choices are slim or redundant. I love reading up about pioneers of the past and those pioneering our plant future too! What’s on your bookshelf?

Blooming Heirlooms: The Long Wait

It was June, 2017 when Todd and I went to Omaha to collect my grandmother’s flowers. This will be the first year any of them bloom. Collecting family heirlooms of the blooming variety can be frustrating. Of the many plants we collected, I would say maybe 1/3 survived to this point. Granted, I am still novice at this but we lost the lilacs, roses, and most of the peonies. The iris survived despite two winters of sitting under water and ice for several weeks at a time. There is also one chunk of peony that has refused to give up, batch of daylilies, and, one or two bits of hosta survive too!

 

This year, the iris have budded up! I have been watching as the neighbor kids hit balls into our yard. One definitely hit a bloom-stalk, but fortunately it didn’t break. Heavy storms were called for last night, so I clipped one boom stalk and brought it in. This morning, as I sit here typing this, I am looking at a big, white bloom on my Grandma Pete’s iris. It’s the first time since I was too little to care that I’ve seen them bloom.

That can be the daunting reality of collecting heritage plants. Sometimes, there is only once chance to collect and from that moment on, you are the keeper of that family heirloom. Unlike stashing photos away in climate-controlled closet, plants have a lot more environmental stress. The transplant can be stressful alone, aside from whatever weather mother nature wants to throw at you. Waiting for years for blooms can be tiring too. It is not an endeavor for anyone with little patience, that’s for sure!

As I sit here, overjoyed to see this one bloom, I think about how happy I will be to finally share some of my blooming heirlooms with family. All the time waiting and stressing about the plant, I’ve thought about how I want to share a pieces of it with all my family! I have some pretty cute ideas…but we will see how it turns out. That’s a plan for later this summer.

Thanks for the iris, Grandma!

Grandma Pete in 3322 Garden

Great Grandma’s Lilies of the Valley

If I remember correctly, the first time I thought or learned about heirloom flowers in my family, was when my mom told me her lilies-of-the-valley were originally from her grandmother’s house.  I have yet to figure out if they came from my Great Grandma Hanson or Great Grandma Petersen, but they grew at my Grandma Pete’s for years and I think several family members have splits from them. These will forever hold a special place with me as the first “blooming heirloom” passed along to me.

Many see these tiny white bells as an invasive, little weed. It creeps through fence lines and continues to pop up each spring despite all efforts to eradicate it.  Personally, I love them (they smell so good and are so pretty). Our house is no exception to the invaders. When we moved in, the entire back fence line had them growing, and there is a large patch along the back of the house too. I just mow them down after blooming.

When my mom gave me a clump of my great-grandmother’s Lilies-of-the-Valley from her yard, I had to figure out how I would keep them separate from the current patches. At the time, I worked for a garden center and had the chance to take home a large ceramic pot that had broken into a few pieces. I glued it back together and buried it about half way into one of my existing flower beds. So far, the pot has never heaved from the ground and the lilies haven’t spread from it. I will probably need to split them out more often to keep them healthy.

Each Spring they are sweet reminder of the generations of gardeners before me. I’m also a huge fan of partially buried pot! It gives a little bit of extra interest!