Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Welcome Christmas: The Past Meets the Present

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I am an anti-Black Friday person. Only once in my adult life (and I've been considered an adult by some for a mighty long time) have I ever gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, and that was over twenty five years ago. The amount of time I wasted waiting in lines to save a few bucks on mostly unnecessary items was so aggravating that I swore I would never do that again.
So far I've made good on my promise.
But, who am I to say on what other people should do, right? If they want to spend their time off in stores, God bless 'em!
So how did I spend this particular "holiday for shoppers"?
Why...visiting the past, of course!
This is the last weekend until April for my favorite open-air museum, Greenfield Village, to be open during the daytime hours, so it is a must for me to make one last stroll along the historic streets before it's shut down.
Just like the first visit of the season (and numerous others during the summer and fall), I always accent my final visit of the season by wearing period clothing. And since there are very few Colonial/RevWar events around these parts (in contrast to a ton of Civil War opportunities), I wore my 1770s clothing again.
Unfortunately, I was, for most of the time, the only period-dressed non-Village employee there. In previous years I have had upward of a dozen or more reenactors join me, but this year I was the lone living historian. Well, until early afternoon when a couple friends from another unit showed up.
I'm sure the down pouring of rain didn't help.
But I won't ever let a little rain stop me from my time-travel adventures!
So...would you like to see how I spent this most important of shopping days?
C'mon! Grab your lantern and head to the past with me - - -
I told you it was raining - - ain't no foolin' 'bout that! 
But sometimes visiting the Village in a cool autumn rain can be just as special as visiting during a 75 degree summer day. At least for me it is, though it's not necessarily good for Greenfield Village, with the visitor count being down on such days. But it can be kind of nice for those of us brave enough to venture out in such weather.

As you can plainly see, the Village is festively decked out for Christmas, awaiting the throngs of thousands who will descend upon these streets during the upcoming December evenings to enjoy the spirits of Christmas past. 
You can bet I will be there!

Now, the very week before this final daytime visit we had a snowstorm here in Michigan, with some areas getting nearly two feet of the white stuff while my general area only receiving a couple inches. Hey! I'll take what I can get (yes, I love snow...at least until spring time, then I'm ready for warmer weather. I'm a four seasons kind of guy). The day after the snowstorm I, of course, grabbed the opportunity and went to the Village to capture the rare glimpse of the Village all snow-covered. The sun was shining and gave a magical glimmer to an otherwise already special place.
So what I thought I would do with this week's Passion for the Past posting is to blend a bit of both visits - November 22 and 27 - and attempt to write a sort of story that has somewhat of a December/Christmas feel for each picture posted here.

My first stop is almost always at the home of Samuel & Anna Daggett, located at the far end of the Village. Oh, the sights I saw on my way...
As I trudged along the wintry road to where the Dagget house stands, I passed the 1870 home and boarding house belonging to Sarah ("Aunt Sally") Jordan, who gave room & board to Thomas Edison's workers at his Menlo Park laboratory.
I could see the Ackley Covered Bridge in the distance...

Ahh! There it is - the gateway to the colonial past! The Ackley Covered Bridge was actually built a half century beyond the colonial era in America's history, in 1832. This bridge is one of my very favorite historic structures in all of Greenfield Village.

Why do I like winter so much? Well, you are about to see...
The beauty that came into view as I moved through the bridge was like a painting.

The scenery was like nothing I've seen before. It's not very often that one is able to visit inside the Village while snow covers the ground, so this day was a major bonus for many of us.
One of my favorite houses, the 1750 home of John Giddings, is rarely open beyond a few plexi-glassed rooms except during special occasions such as the Fall Harvest Weekends and Holiday Nights.

Giddings, a prosperous merchant and shipbuilder, built and lived in this home with his wife and their five children: Mary (1752), John (1754), Dorothy (1758), Mehetabel (1764), and Deborah (1770).
In December of 1790, it became the home of New Hampshire's first Secretary of State, Joseph Pearson, who, inside this house, married Captain Gidding's daughter, Dorothy, in April of 1795.

I would love to have stopped in for a visit (and had it actually been open beyond the doorway, I probably would have!), but I was determined to get to the home of Samuel and Anna Daggett, who lived down the lane a bit.
On the right, there, you see a house that was initially thought to have been built in the 18th century, but after some research and detective work by a few very astute historians, they found that this home, the Susquehanna Plantation, was actually built in the 1840s.
But what's that in the distance? Why...yes, it is the Daggett saltbox house - I was almost there!

I passed the one-room Plympton home as I made my way. The brick from the fireplace states it was built in 1640 \/
Do you see the year 1640 carved into the brick?
The original house that Thomas Plympton built burned down in the early 1700's, with the fireplace you see here the only remaining remnant of its being. The generation of the family who were living there at the time of the fire rebuilt the home around this original chimney. 
The Plympton House from the early 18th century.
And, look...the Daggett House is just beyond!

Samuel Daggett, a housewright, built this saltbox house right around the year 1750.
The saltbox style was a very popular style of architecture in colonial New England. This form gets its name from the similarity in shape to the small chests used for storing salt at that time. The most distinctive feature is the asymmetrical gable roof, which has a short roof plane in the front and a long roof plane in the rear, extending over a lean-to.
It is a beautiful example of distinctive later 17th and 18th century architecture at its finest.
Though 'saltbox' is the most familiar term for its style for us in modern times, those who lived in Connecticut (where this house was originally built) in the 1700s would have called it a 'breakback,' while folks in Massachusetts favored 'lean-to.'  
This style of New England architecture utilized a central chimney, with this one in particular having three fireplace openings on each of the two floors.

As I approached, I found one of the Daggett daughters, Asineth, sweeping the snow off the front porch.

The Daggetts were expecting the arrival of other guests to share and celebrate their abundant harvest, and Asineth wanted to give them a favorable welcome.

Here we see Mr. Daggett himself, using this day as a respite from his normal daily chores, awaits his friends arrival. 
Besides building houses, Samuel Daggett, during the growing season, worked the family farm and grew many different crops and raised several types of animals on his farm, for his family's use or to sell or trade for other things the family needed. From his account book, we know that Mr. Daggett grew wheat, corn, barley, oats and tobacco; made cider from the apples in his orchard; and raised cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. One would think that would be enough to keep the man plenty busy, but, in order to provide for his family, Daggett also had additional sources of income, including making furniture; he made chairs, spinning wheels and even coffins.
Surprisingly, we find that he pulled aching teeth for his neighbors, a skill he learned from his father.

Mother Anna and daughter Tabitha Daggett work in the kitchen preparing food for the feast.
The home life and daily activities of Anna and her daughters were closely connected to the work of her husband; each family member played an important role in producing food, clothing and household goods for the family. Anna ran the home and cared for the family, prepared and preserved food, spun yarn, made clothing, towels and sheets, gave the children their earliest lessons in reading and writing, and helped to care for their animals like chickens and pigs.
The Daggett daughters, Asenath and Tabitha, learned the skills of "housewifery" from their mother. They prepared yarn by carding and spinning, made clothing, soap and candles, tended the garden, and prepared food.
Like other families in this area of Connecticut, the Daggetts used, sold, or traded items they made for those they needed.

In general, visitors to Greenfield Village are not normally allowed in certain areas of many of the historic structures for varying reasons. However, having been a long-time visitor (over 30 years!) and a trusted friend to many of the presenters and staff, every-so-often I am able to venture into the off-limits areas, accompanied by an employee, of course. At the Daggett house, it's the second floor that is cut off from most visitors, mainly due to the fact that the stairs are spiral-shaped and short-stepped, possibly being a tripping hazard.
On this particular day, with visitors little seen, and given the fact that I was in my period-correct-for-this-home-attire, I was able to get a few interesting pictures to accent my 18th century appearance.
Heading up the spiral stairs to get a better view down the lane to see if the guests could be seen down the lane.

The second floor of the Daggett home, which consisted of mainly two large bedrooms, is very interesting to see, though now it is used as storage.
But for the folks who look up to the second floor from the bottom of the stairs, they will see a table sitting in front of a window, just for scenic purposes, as if the second floor was still used by the owners. The picture below shows that table and what sits upon it:
And there I am, gazing down the lane to see if I can catch a glimpse of the Daggett visitors, who may have been waylaid by the unexpected autumn snowstorm.

Seeing no one on the path, I carefully made my way back down the stairs to the main hall on the first floor.
I must say, there is a very different feeling when one enters a historic home while wearing clothing of the era the house represents. It's almost like...well---a belonging of sorts. I don't know...it's kind of hard to explain. But it really is a feeling like no other.

Well, without the awaited guests, dinner was served, and a fine array of meat, breads, and pickled vegetables was laid upon the table. A veritable colonial feast!

It was unfortunate that I could not stay for too long, for my time in the past drew nigh and there were other places I needed to visit, so it was then that I bid the family Daggett a good day and I was off.
Mr. Daggett kindly allowed me the use of his horse. I was to turn it in at the livery stable in town and they would get it back to him on the morrow.

Til spring time...good day.

To the livery and then to the local tavern where I decided to partake in a warm drink after the cold ride into town. 
Across the Village green I went...
I see the beautiful Martha-Mary Chapel, built right inside Greenfield Village. The bricks and the doors came from the building in which Henry Ford and Clara Bryant were married in 1888 - the Bryant family home in old Greenfield Township (from which the Village name was taken), and the bell, according to the 1933 guide book, was cast by the son of Paul Revere.
The name "Martha-Mary" came from the first names of his mother and mother-in-law.

The gray building on the left is the Logan County (Illinois) Courthouse - the very same one that Abraham Lincoln himself practiced law in.
The little red structure on the right began as a school house in 1838 but was purchased by Doctor Alonson Howard in 1855 and turned into his own doctors office.
(For more on Dr. Howard, please click HERE

The local general store and the tavern. 
The JR Jones General Store, built in ca1870 is from the Waterford area of Michigan. And the Eagle Tavern, though it can be a fine substitute for a colonial era structure (mostly on the inside), is actually from around 1831.
(Click HERE for more information on the Eagle Tavern)
Yes, I know the colonials did not decorate their tavern windows with wreaths for Christmas, though, contrary to popular belief, many of the era did celebrate the holiday. 
I still enjoy the festive look it gives, don't you?

A fine place to lay one's hat!

A hot cup of cider and I'll be on my way.
The tavern was a fine place to rest before continuing my time-travels. 
My time in the 1770s is done - my next stop will take me about ninety years or so into the future to visit friends from that period.
As I found my way into the 1860s I saw my friends whoI hadn't seen in quite a while walking up the pathway.
It was Mr. and Mrs. Carlson, who traveled clear over from Jackson, Michigan.

Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Carlson.
Though I had already eaten, I remained in their company, and we spoke about the enjoyment we've had at harvest balls, how well the harvest was, and of the upcoming Christmas Season. I told them of the plans my wife and daughter and I had to visit my sister in the growing city of Detroit for Christmas Eve.
 After spending a while in the wonderful conversations, it was time for me to take my leave, for I still  had a few more stops to make.  
With Christmas upon us, I decided to step over to the JR Jones General Store.
In fact, Mr. Jones himself, looking very fashionable in an Abraham Lincoln-style beard, was manning his shop.

After purchasing a few unique Christmas presents, I found my way to the birthplace of Henry Ford. This was the first house Mr. Ford restored (to the year 1876) and the last one he commissioned to have placed inside the Village before he died.
The Festive Fence of the Ford Farm.

In 1876, the centennial anniversary of the birth of our nation, the patriotic fever was high, similar to our bicentennial in 1976, and the Ford's displayed their American pride by decorating their tree with American flags.

Speaking of farms, next up we have the birthplace of tire magnet Harvey Firestone. Originally built in the earlier part of the 19th century and remodeled in the 1880s (which is the era shown), this is a real working farm with animals, plowing, cooking, cleaning, and all else that goes with life on a Victorian farm. It's one of my favorite places to visit.
The dirt road to the farm, on this day, was covered in snow. The corn shocks in the distance are set for animal feed. If you look above the house and barn you will see a flock of geese flying over head.

Since I have posted often on visiting this farm, I will keep this one short and sweet: today it's all about the sheep. My wife, a spinner and dyer of wool, loves sheep, and she wants a couple for our own home. Well, due to city ordinances, that's not allowed so she gets her sheep-fix by visiting Firestone Farm. Or has me take lots of pictures of them when I visit without her.
Well, there you have my visit to Greenfield Village. As you know, I am there as often as I am able, but, just like researching and reading about history, I cannot seem to get enough of that historical place. The months they are not open, from January through early April, are a bite in the night for me. Thank the good Lord for my pictures, my videos, and my Facebook page (Friends of Greenfield Village) to carry me through that "tough time."

But wait-----there's more!!! Don't click off yet - - - -

~The present~
One of the traditions my wife and I began when we were first married (more than 30 years ago) was to venture out into the country side and cut down a Christmas Tree. This just seemed to be the perfect way to begin the Holiday season - full of tradition and, well, old-timey crafty kinda stuff.  
After a couple years we found what we consider to be the perfect Christmas Tree Farm - Western's in Applegate (located up in Michigan's thumb). And our kids - three of whom are now adults (including one married with a child of his own) - look forward to this fun family day, and they look forward to it every year - my daughter has said this is her favorite day of the Christmas season.
That's really saying something! 
And this year was even more special - - - read on to find out why:
Western's supplies a *free* horse and wagon ride out to the trees. Is this not perfect? Yeah...we love it.

Over the river and through the woods...okay, so we're not going to grandmother's house, but we are definitely way out in the country.
The trees we like are just beyond the horizon.

And here's the reason why this year's Christmas Tree hunt was the best ever: my one year old grandson came out with us for the first time ever! We even gave him the saw to cut the tree down! Yeah...he's a tough little bugger!
Keeping the family traditions alive...

With the tree cut, my two oldest hauled it back to the cabin to get it shaken (not stirred), wrapped, and tied to the van.

Here is a video clip of my kids carrying the tree:

Meanwhile, back at the cabin - - -
My four kids, my daughter-in-law, and my grandson having a warm by the fire.

Oh (heh heh) here they are, warming up their phalanges by the roaring fire.

Feel the heat on a late November day up north.

Santa Claus meets Benjamin. 
Ben would have very little to do with the man with all the toys, but he'll grow to love him, though. Just wait and see.
The guy with the dreads? Why, that's my oldest son. Ben's pop. 

More traditions - - - - - decorating our Christmas Tree - - -
Here is Ben helping his Nonna (Italian for grandma) decorate our tree. He loved to look at it but didn't like touching it - he got pricked by the needles while out at the farm, which gave him cause for not getting too close.

It's a family affair. 
We're one of those families that some people love to hate: homemade eggnog, hammered dulcimer Christmas music playing, lotsa laughing and joking...and we do quite a bit as a family.
I am bless'd.

Here is the finished product.
Hey - - wait just a minute------something isn't quite right...we are an old-fashioned traditional family who many believe lives in the past, right?
Well then, let's give the people what they want:

You want tradition? Well, it isn't our Christmas Tree unless it's candle lit. Yes, that's true. We have been lighting the candles on our trees for over 25 years, and I will tell you, it is a beautiful sight beyond anything you have ever seen.
In fact, click the arrow/link below to see a short video clip of our candle lit tree:
Yep----here's the link \/

Well, there you have my collection of The Past meets the Present photos.
The past: visiting Greenfield Village on Black Friday in all its historical glory.
The past meeting the present: cutting down and then decorating our Christmas Tree -- - - a Christmas just like the ones our generation never really knew.
It is a special time, the Christmas season, if you'll allow yourself to make it that way.
Much more special than shopping your time away...
Until next time, see you in time.


Unknown said...

Very nice posting. I really enjoyed it. We light our tree to and only fir a short time with fire extinguisher close at hand. It is indeed a lovely and magical site!

Gina @ VictorianWannaBe said...

Loved it Ken! Thanks for taking me back in time with you! The snow on and around the historic buildings/homes is just beautiful!

An Historical Lady said...

Dear Ken,
Finally getting around to leaving a comment on this most wonderful and enjoyable post! We loved it! Thank you so much for the needed boost of Christmas cheer.
Wishing you and your lovely family the most Merry Christmas ever!