Our House: Another Piece of the Puzzle

Apparently, I started a little post about some more history on our house. Somewhere along the way, the post was set aside and I completely forgot about it. So, I think it’s time I revisit some of our house’s past.

Some time ago,  I was watching a local University of Wisconsin program on PBS about historic aerial photos. They discussed a lot of cool features for the photography and mapping system, and a lot of then-and-now photos. I of course had to check it out. Many states have similar websites for historic aerial photos but, for Wisconsin, you can easily search for photos taken in the 1930’s by going to https://maps.sco.wisc.edu/WHAIFinder/.

I had to look up our house. I was easily able to find our neighborhood. If you read my my first two posts (here and here) about the history our home, you’ll know our lot was once part of a larger farm. This 1938 photo shows that! You can seen the farm and it’s original outline, which now coincides with a few of main roads in our neighborhood. It is fascinating to see what our part of town looked like as outskirt farms and newly built rows of little houses.

To pin point where our house would be in 1938, I used Photoshop to overlay the two images. I placed green squares over the houses already existing on the 1938 image and a purple square over our house on today’s modern Google image. With a little adjusting and aligning of a few landmarks, I am able to see where our house would be on the 1938 image. I used a real-estate website to get the ages of the houses behind ours, so I could figure out which houses they were in relation to ours. You can also do this with your county’s GIS map and tax info.

Old maps and aerial images are so wonderful. I can spend hours studying them and relating it to what still exists or digging into the stories of what used to be. I highly recommend it! It’s also fun to build on to the story of our home and the land.

 

 

Cemetery Tuesdays…

I don’t know, how about it? I like having a ritual. I say ritual because routine sounds too depressing. As a family historian, general history fan, gardener, and seeker of general quiet, cemeteries fascinate me. I have checked out a few local cemeteries and have a couple I like to visit on occasion, but I am really interested in exploring more rural cemeteries. I’m going to try to research, visit, and document a new cemetery at least one Tuesday a month (or maybe weekly) and when I get home…I’m going to celebrate with tacos, because it is Tuesday after all!

I also partake in volunteer headstone searches for Findagrave.com. That will give me another excuse to get out around the area. If you’ve never used it for researching your genealogy or local history, I highly recommend it.

Cemeteries can be the homes to beautiful old plantings, headstones, local history, and are often set in lovely, little asides out in the country. They can also be holdouts for ecosystems rapidly vanishing. I would love to volunteer as a caretaker for some of these cemeteries

Today, since it’s cold, windy, and nothing is really growing yet. I want to share a few very different ways cemeteries can relate to history, genealogy and gardening.

  • Prairie Cemeteries: Did you know some of the best preserved native prairies are within the boundaries of pioneer cemeteries? Not only do you get to see and learn about those who settled the frontier, but see what grew there hundreds of years ago.  Read up about Pellsville Pioneer Cemetery in Rankin, Illinois, one of many pioneer cemeteries  guarding native prairie:

In pioneer cemeteries, a disappearing part of Illinois’ landscape lives on

Cemetery Prairies Preserve the State’s Horticultural History

photo by Michael D. Tedesco from Cemetery Prairies Preserve the State’s Horticultural History

 photos via gravegardeners.org

 

  • Local Cemeteries: Just a few short blocks from my house is one our town’s older cemeteries. It’s filled with beautiful monuments, headstones, and planters. It’s also the final resting place of many of Point’s founding citizens. Walk through one of your town’s older cemeteries, read the names. I bet there’s a few you’ll recognize as streets and neighborhoods. It can be a wonderful place for a reflecting walk, learning about local history, and for seeing beautiful, seasonal plantings. In some cases, you may even see historic plantings. Make sure to pay attention to more than just flowers. Cemeteries can be the home of many old shrubs and trees too!
  • Family Cemeteries: I have a lot of family buried in large cemeteries, a few buried in smaller country cemeteries, and very few buried in family cemeteries. These often tiny, forgotten family plots are dotted all across the United States. Some are hiding in woods, on large farms, on the corners of country roads, and sometimes tucked into neighborhoods. Even if it’s not your family, they are interesting glimpses into the past and sometimes long lasting perennials, trees, or shrubs still grow. Some cemeteries are even marked with historical markers. I would love to the Young Cemetery in Plano, Texas. It’s the final resting place of two members of my Finley line, my 5th great uncle Thomas Finley, and his sister, Prudence (Finley) Jackson along with their families. It’s a well loved pioneer cemetery with the burials of a few of Collin County’s first settlers from the 1840s! Iris and daffodils bloom throughout the cemetery in Spring, something I hope to see for myself, someday!

  • Cemetery Rose Gardens: I’m not likely to find 200 year old roses growing here in central Wisconsin, but in warmer climates, there are some cemeteries that are home to some very, very old roses. Maybe there are some around here? Who knows? Roses pop up in old cemeteries quite often. Mid summer is a great time to look for them blooming. You can also find some really amazing collections across the country.

Lynchburg, Virginia is home to Old City Cemetery, which holds the commonwealth’s largest antique rose collection. While the collection was started in the 1980’s, many of the cultivars are hundreds of years old.

In Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery volunteers have worked for over 20 years to collect and grow California’s historic roses. Roses are collected from cemeteries, homesteads, and the wild and replanted at the once derelict cemetery.

 

Now…on to Taco Tuesday.

Refocusing for 2020

Sometimes, I get wrapped up in sharing so much about my garden,  that I forget some of my other plans for this project.  Beautiful flowers and plants are just so dang distracting! I’ve shared a lot of my garden already, but I have more plans for the other side of my “Grow Your Roots” project, family history.

Last year was quite a reality check for the complexity of my project. There are so many factors that go into growing and writing about a heritage garden that it easily overwhelmed me. I also felt I spent so much time working on weeds, at my real life job, and strict genealogy, that I missed out on some of the more fun and probably more interesting aspects of this project (the  journey and experience).

I want to share the excitement of finding new information about my ancestors and finding their homesteads (or whatever is there now). I also want to embrace the travel aspect of it. While visiting my grand-father’s likely birth place was amazing, I missed the chance to experience more of the area and culture. While it is obviously different from the culture of 1915, spending time in the area can teach me about the landscape, people, and history of that place.

One of my core beliefs about history in general is that if you can find a way to personally connect to a historical figure, event, or place, history becomes much more important to you. While I have a degree in US History, I will admit much of it just went in one ear and out the other, aside for some cool bits of trivia. It wasn’t until I started researching my genealogy that history really became important to me.

Two examples of this are inspired by one ancestor. John Finley. Oh, is he a thorn in my side. But I have to give him credit for sparking my interest in the War of 1812 and the pioneer history of Illinois. I had really never given much thought to either topic, until researching him. Through that one ancestor so much history has come to life and I gained deeper appreciation for a state I previously only grumbled about.

So this year, in my quest to find ancestral homes and plants. I want to stop, take in everything about the place, and really dive into that moment and all the history that has lead up to it.

Plus,  tracking down the actual plants and flowers, is much more difficult than I originally expected.  Even if I don’t come home with a cool plant, an experience is worth it. And I can find an appropriate plant to honor my ancestors that will live in Zone 4!

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.

 

The Potato Ditch Iris

A couple of years ago, Todd and I had the chance to dig up potatoes at the farm next door to where I board my horse. The farm decided not to dig the potatoes on that parcel because there was too much debris in the field.  As it turns out, that particular part of the field used to have a house on it.

It was a blast. Not only did we dig up several buckets of red potatoes, we found all sorts of bits of the life that had been lived there before.  There was a lot of glass, pieces of dishes, door knobs, and I even found a little glass bottle intact.

I also found a big clump of iris growing in the ditch next to the field right next to where we parked our car. They had been mowed down and driven over during the growing and harvest season, but I dug up a bunch anyway. I labeled them “Potato Ditch Iris.”

It was already well into October, but I stuck them in the ground anyway. I guess the house had been torn down many years ago. I wondered how long it had been there. I started searching for any available plat maps online, and sure enough, I did find proof that there had been a house their for many years. I have overlaid a 1949 county plat with today’s satellite image. The red circle indicates the structure that used to stand there. It matches the area where we dug our potatoes!

1949 Overlay Potato Field

I’m not sure whether these iris ever grew around that house or if they were just wanderers that ended up next to that particular field. But they gave me a spark of interest to see what the field had been before it was a potato field (not that it takes much for me to start investigating for old maps).

I did get a bloom or two last year, they are nothing special in the department of exciting iris, but they are definitely historic. What I love most is the experience of discovering the flowers, and collecting the stories that go along with the place.

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