As you know, I enjoy researching the many historic homes inside Greenfield Village
(see my complete linked listing at the bottom of this post for those I've done so far),
and in doing so I get a deeper, almost encyclopedic history lesson on the houses
and the people that lived in them - a sort of mental immersion - and this material
mostly includes the little-known information in our American history.
Yep---trying to bring the past to life.
We know well the homes of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson have been preserved...and why wouldn't they be? They were our first three presidents - three of the men among the chosen few who set the foundation of the United States of America.
For so long it was taught that it was only the rich or those who did "great things" whose homes were worth saving. But it took a man like Henry Ford, the automobile magnet and his Greenfield Village, to help us to realize that saving homes of the every man and every woman were just as important. For instance, I am certain that the original owners of such homes and buildings once belonging to house wright & farmer Samuel Daggett, merchant John Giddings, school teacher John Chapman, Dr. Alonson Howard's office, and this cabin/birthplace of McGuffey Reader author William Holmes McGuffey would have been quite surprised to learn the houses they were born in or lived in would one day be preserved in a museum where millions of people could walk through, admire, and learn from. And most of these structures certainly would have met the wrecking ball, for most of America and the world would be going, "Who are these people and why are we saving their homes?"
|Chopping and gathering wood was a top chore.|
And not just any wood, but the correct wood to be
used for cooking or for warmth.
Well, according to Henry Ford, these are the people who made America. Mr. Ford has been quoted as stating: "History is more or less bunk..." which has been repeated often ever since, actually getting him in a bit of trouble in those days of the 1910s. But what most folks don't know is that this "bunk " comment was stated for reasons other than what the press said. It is here that I quote from the book, A Home For Our Heritage by Geoffery C. Upward: "...what (Ford) meant and explained many times in later years was that written history reflected little of people's day-to-day existence." As Henry Ford said, "History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
Oh! Not that the wars and politics were not important in building our country---of course they were! But without the harrows - the farmers - and the every man and woman, there is no country. And it's these good folk that Ford championed, and it's who I champion as well (as if you couldn't tell from my living history posts here lol).
So let's look into the lives of one of these everyday people who actually gained some fame - not necessarily great fame such as Ben Franklin or James Madison - but of a more or less forgotten fame in his important accomplishment and contribution: writing the most well-known school books of the 19th century.
Since there is very little information about the actual McGuffey's who lived in this tiny log home, I will also include on what their lives may have been like, to give the reader - and any visitor to the cabin - a better understanding of these frontier folk from over 200 years ago. In this manner we can piece together what their lives could very well have been like during their time living here, including the type of furnishings used, the foodstuffs that gave them sustenance, and other strong probabilities of daily life, for researchers at The Henry Ford have excellent resources on, for instance, household furnishings from the same time period and geographic location, including twenty five probate inventories of families from the general area of the cabin's location, specifically those of the Scots-Irish heritage. I also combed information from my own personal library, which is fairly extensive in its own right.
|My lovely wife, Patty, and I in the doorway of the 1789 cabin.|
Perhaps we are representing William and Jane Holmes, the grandparents
of William Holmes McGuffey. Yes, we are of that age...
According to sources at the Benson Ford Research Center, located on The Henry Ford campus, there is a strong probability that this cabin was built by William Holmes McGuffey's maternal grandparents, William and Jane Holmes, in West Finley Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, likely a first-stage frontier cabin (meaning they planned to build and move into a nicer home as soon as possible).
The Holmes family first settled in West Finley in February 1789 and were one of the first settlers in the area. This fits in perfectly in research showing that log cabins began to rise throughout the American back-country at this point in time. There are few such cabins from the 18th century or older that are still around; just by being a frontier log cabin of the early republic period gives it the important link to America's past. However, through my research at the Research Center I learned that this cabin was in very dilapidated shape when Henry Ford acquired it. It was no longer being used as a home but, for many years, was used as a loom house, spinning room, and then a sheep barn.
|The McGuffey Cabin on its original site|
(click the picture to enlarge)
As the structure had largely collapsed by the time Ford saw it - no walls were completely standing - Edward Cutler, Ford's architect, measured the remaining chimney foundation for later recreation, and had trees - suitable to replace the missing deteriorated logs - cut down and prepared for shipment to Greenfield Village in Dearborn in November of 1932, and from January to August 1934 the reconstruction process began, though with some modifications. Originally a rectangular cabin, when completed in Greenfield Village it was no longer rectangular but squared, and one log higher (10 logs high) than as was originally built in 1789 (9 logs high).
A smokehouse was found on the Pennsylvania site and recorded, but was not moved with the McGuffey House. The smokehouse in Greenfield Village was a replication completed at the same time as the house, and in 1942 a pen with sheep had been added, giving visiting guests to the Village a more complete picture of early American life.
When the cabin was originally reconstructed inside the Village, it was done so with materials and techniques popular at that time. Time has shown that some of the choices made during the reconstruction actually greatly increased the rate of the structure's deterioration. The materials used had a serious harmful effect on the cabin. Later efforts to repair the house aggravated the problem, so in 1995 the building was determined to be a safety hazard and was closed to visitors.
In the Fall of 2002, the McGuffey Cabin was re-renovated and re-restored (though it would have been cool I think to have restored it back to its original rectangular shape).
It was Henry and Jane Holmes' daughter, Anna, aged 21, who married Alexander McGuffey, aged 30, shortly before Christmas in 1797, and the two began their married life in this log home. While living there they had their first three children: Jane (1799), William (1800), and Henry (1802).
It was Alexander and Anna's 2nd child, William Holmes McGuffey, who would one day author the McGuffey Readers School Books.
Now let's have a look at the general history of life in a cabin during those late-18th century days:
The men and women who built and lived in these small one-room cabins out on the frontier cleared the land and lived in what we would consider to be primitive conditions. You’ll notice that most of these early log cabins look different to the well refined, round logged cabins that we are used to seeing today. The logs used in early cabins were usually hewn to achieve flat walls; this made the appearance of the structure more house-like, and also helped to withstand the elements, as all of the soft outer sapwood was removed.
For those living north of the Mason-Dixon the climate could be very harsh, and settlers also dealt with annoying insects and dangerous animals, including bear. Having left friends and family behind in the East, many women faced homesickness and isolation. In the early years of settlement, women experienced many other challenges as well. Commonly, there were no close neighbors or nearby towns to provide much social interaction. Men were usually away from the home for long hours, working in the fields or hunting and leaving their wives with no adult companionship. There were numerous accounts of loneliness and depression.
However, from what I've read, at this cabin the McGuffey's lived in a more close-knit community with neighbors and family not too far away.
|This young lady is lucky, for her cabin home has a window.|
The men in these frontier communities were often found farming the fields - manuring, plowing, harrowing, planting, and weeding - or hunting for game in the nearby woods, chopping wood for heat and for cooking, repairing tools and fencing and any possible problems about their homes (roof leaks, etcetera).
Women also contributed to frontier life. They made much of what the family needed to survive, resulting in a self-sufficient farm. In addition to taking care of the home and raising children, frontier women provided medical care, raised livestock, and grew vegetable gardens to supplement the family's diet. They made butter, candles, and soap, preserved food for the winter months, and made their family's clothing, often of cloth that they wove themselves. This work kept women extremely busy. In addition, some women also helped with farm work and also performed other men's duties when necessary.
Neither the men nor the women questioned their roles in the family structure. Each played as important a role in the family as the other, and both knew it.
Children had their chores as well: the breached boy would be out with father on the farm or hunting or chopping while the daughter would be learning to run a household like her mother, among their other daily duties. Girls and boys would both care for the animals, including grooming and feeding, as well as gathering eggs, plus empty the chamber pots and trim the candles.
The household ran like a well-oiled machine: everyone had their part and place, and one missing link could throw a wrench into the entire operation.
Now, think about this: within a matter of minutes you just read of daily chores done by a frontier family. But these chores took hours, days, weeks, and months to complete, and, for farming or weaving/spinning, a year to complete. Each chore was a necessity and each had to be done, in many cases, for survival. We can be proud of such pioneers as the McGuffey’s, who survived and thrived out on the frontier.
|"I wonder when my husband shall be home.|
'Twill not be too long, I pray..."
However, there was another family that settled in that very same county not too many years before: the Hamiltons (no relation to Alexander Hamilton).
For regular readers of Passion for the Past, you may recall in other postings where I have mentioned a book about life in colonial times called "The Cabin Faced West" and how it affected me and played a pivotal role in my future in history. I bought my copy at a school book fair many years ago when I was only around nine or ten years of age - we're talking around 1970 here. And, as a young boy, I didn't care that it was a story based around a girl who was about the same age as I, for it was also about history that showed daily life in 18th century America, and there weren't very many like it available at that time. In school, even way back then, we were instructed to learn names of famous people (as I mentioned earlier), historic events (usually wars), and dates of said events. Though I understood the importance of knowing this information - and I did learn it - names and dates was what I was not quite as interested in.
I wanted to know how people in the past lived their daily lives.
I wanted to read what it was like for people like me to live "back then"; the average sort of people I may have known had I lived in those old days.
I wanted to know of their everyday experiences.
It was this one book, more than any other I have read, that was life-changing for me, for it directed my future course into my passion for American History.
There is one particular part (or scene) that I did enjoy where the author dramatized an actual historic event that took place when George Washington just happened to visit the Hamilton family at their cabin as he explored western Pennsylvania. You see, throughout the story, Anne Hamilton wanted nothing more than to be back in her nice home in Gettysburg in eastern Pennsylvania, not in a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere. That is, until General Washington showed up. Ms. Fritz wrote a dramatization of how the event may have played out on that September 1784 day when George Washington and his party were preparing to leave that he said what Ann would treasure forever afterward. He stood at the doorway, looking toward the west, his eyes resting on Hamilton Hill, yet somehow going beyond.
“The future is travelling west with people like you,” he said to Miss Hamilton. “Here is the rising world – to be kept or lost in the same way a battlefield is kept or lost.”
George Washington turned to Ann and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Through the courage of young girls as much as anyone’s. Some day you will live to see this whole country a rolling farmland, bright with houses and barns and churches. I envy you, Miss Hamilton.”
Ann felt her heart turning over within her. She looked out on Hamilton Hill. It seemed to her she had never seen it so beautiful - the trees more stately, the sky closer...
Though this conversation was the author's own dramatization, Washington actually did visit the Hamilton family at their western Pennsylvania cabin in 1784, and even wrote about it in his own diary!
(To read more about Jean Fritz and this wonderful book - the book that plowed me head-first into my initial love of American history - click HERE)
The association I make of this book with the McGuffey Cabin is that both homes were built in the same county and both stood at the same time! It would not surprise me if the cabins were very similar in style.
Most rural families had a smokehouse on their land to help preserve their meat. When Henry Ford's men went to dismantle the cabin for shipping to Dearborn, Michigan, there was also a shed (smokehouse) found on the Pennsylvania site and recorded but was not moved with the McGuffey House. The smokehouse now in Greenfield Village was a replication completed at the same time as the house.
Smokehouses were invaluable to the pioneer of the 18th and 19th centuries, for it was a necessity for food preservation. After rubbing the ham or bacon (maybe even fish) with a salt mixture and letting them set for a few weeks, the meat would then be hung from the rafters in the smokehouse.
|Behind the cabin is the smoke house, where, even without refrigeration, |
meat could be preserved.
The smoke was created directly below the hanging meat by a fire in the floor of the structure and was made from aromatic woods such as hickory or apple and sometimes even corncobs, which flavored the meat and created a crust that prevented its ruin by flies or other pests.
|Not much meat left hanging from the smokehouse rafters.|
But there sure is a lot of gray hair on this old man!
If this were 1790 (instead of 2023) and I was my same age,
my birth year would have been 1728.
The McGuffey family would probably have eaten a combination of foods found wild and those grown or raised. The surrounding forests were filled with game: white-tailed deer (venison cooked fresh, dried or smoked, made into a stew), wild turkey, wild hogs, opossum, raccoons, squirrel, rabbit, quail, passenger pigeons, wild nuts such as hickory nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, hazel nuts, berries such as strawberries, raspberries, black berries, fish from nearby streams, and wild greens.
And grown in the kitchen garden or, if they had the land, on their farm: wheat, potatoes, greens, corn, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkins, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, beans, onions, herbs...
|Looks like it's fall harvest time for the kitchen garden.|
I did a little photo-trickery for this picture
They would/could also have had meat and poultry from their own livestock such as pigs & hogs, cows, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, sheep/lambs (great for their wool as well!), and the variety of cakes to be made from their corn, such as corn bread, hoe cakes, corn meal much, porridge, pone, puddings, and the staples of bread.
We mustn't forget the fruits grown, including apple trees (much more widespread in the later 18th century and into the 19th than a hundred years earlier), and pear trees.
I can say from experience that it is tough to stay warm while inside a cabin in the pre-furnace days of the 18th and 19th centuries.
|A constant chopping of wood was necessary. But that's one chore that would warm you twice: while you were chopping the wood and while you were burning the wood!|
But one still had to dress for the weather while inside.
Winter wear stockings, flannels, shirts, trousers, coats, and double layered gowns, petticoats, and jackets all had to be altered and repaired after being stored away for the summer months, while new items had to be made to replace those worn beyond repair. Anne Eliza Clark thanked her mother for the yarn mitts, which were of “great service to me when I sweep my chamber and make my bed.” Mittens were commonly worn inside as well as outside because, in many cases, there was little difference in the temperature.
|We are not in the McGuffey Cabin, but, instead, the Waterloo Cabin. What you see here are a few of us all bundled up and eating our dinner meal right next to the hearth, for the weather outside was frightfully cold. This would had been our lives had this actually been in the 18th century...and living in a cabin.|
Knitted mitts and extra layers under the skirts were common winter-wear for the 18th and 19th century woman, while wool coats & cloaks, knitted hats & mittens, and boots were all a necessity for the man. My knit cap you see me wearing here, I am proud to say, came from raw wool that my wife first sorted, scoured, then picked the dirt, dung, straw, and other impurities out of, hand-carded, spun into yarn on her spinning wheel, dyed with natural dyes (I believe she used black walnut here), then knitted.
Yes, perhaps we both may had been Alexander & Anna McGuffey!
|Looks cozy, doesn't it?|
Many people would cover their front doors with blankets or by pulling a heavy curtain across it to keep out the cold, but for those with an upper floor bed chamber or, in the case of a cabin, a loft, there seemed to be little difference from the outside; in 1793, Abner Spanger spent time clearing his attic bed chambers of snow!
|A dim light and little warmth comes from the fireplace.|
A low level of lighting created only pockets of brightness, leaving most of the room in darkness.
It is highly unlikely that two candles would be burning in such a tiny area. Light coming from the hearth would be plenty, and frugalness would win the day...er, night.
|Gray skies and fallen snow outside can make for a brighter inside.|
Too much daylight for a candle, but this is for historic atmosphere.
|A feeble circle of light emanates from the cabin's tallow |
candles with extra illumination from the fireplace.
Forget about the TV shows and Hollywood movies showing a brightened room by a single candle, or, better still, a cabin filled with a dozens candles all lit at once (talk about waste!); I believe most of us have had the candle light experience and know better, especially with our 'modern' eyes used to the electric light.
These two photos do give a fair idea of what it was like to be shrouded in the darkness of a long winter's night.
|Taken without a flash, it seems my camera grabbed every spec of |
light it possibly could, giving this picture a brighter atmosphere.
For most, these candles were sparingly used. This attitude was not unusual, for it was a great luxury for many to have candles, especially out on the frontier. George Channing recalled his youth in Rhode Island where "little children were obliged to find their way to bed in the dark."
|"This day Jack Frost bites very hard..."|
And bite hard he certainly did, as you'll see in the story below:
|I sat there inside the cabin on a bitter winter's night...|
see the story below:
I recollect a nasty late December storm with a wintery rain/snow/wind mix occurring while I was at Greenfield Village a few years ago during Holiday Nights. It was a damp biting-cold mess, that's for sure.
On such a night, very few visitors bothered to even show.
But I was there, dressed in my 1770s period clothing, and, even though I covered myself with my thick woolen cloak, I was soon soaked, from my leather buckled shoes up to my tricorn (cocked) hat. With each step along the slushy Village streets, my toes soon went from cold to numb, and, thus, I became much colder and was just covered in the large, heavy wet snow that continued to fall.
It wasn’t long before I had enough - it was time to leave.
On the way out I made one more stop, and it was to the 1789 McGuffey log cabin, for I saw smoke billowing from the chimney. I opened the wooden door and peaked in to see (and feel) a warm fire blazing in the hearth with the solitary presenter sitting near the fireplace. The warming glow from the candles and hearth were inviting. The presenter could tell I was pretty miserable. Seeing the wet mess I had become, she beckoned me in to sit on the bench near the fire and to dry off. So there I sat, feeling very similar to what our ancestors must have felt in the same situation. The heat emanating from the fireplace felt so good, especially as I could see and hear the wind-swept wet pellets beating -tap! tap! tap! tap! tap!- against the outside logs and lone window. I could even hear the sizzling that each drop made as it came through the chimney and landed in the fire.
I sat on the bench...and got warm...and, as the presenter and I had a fine conversation (centering on history, of course), I actually somewhat dried off.
It was one of the most magical living history moments I had, and it happened without trying. The immersed feeling, with no modernisms about, was as if I were in the past of over 230 years ago...
At one point, a visitor happened in and graciously took a few pictures, one of which you see here, taken that very night while I was hold up, drying off, and warming inside the small cabin; it could have been 1789…a cold moment in time...
By the way, contrary to popular myth, our ancestors did not "go down (go to bed) when the sun went down" (except maybe in the summertime when the sun set much later and rose earlier). Yes, it's true that activities such as reading, writing (either in diaries or letters), mending, any paperwork for business transactions (bartering/selling), and doing necessary textile chores by hearth and candlelight actually was the way of the pre-electric light world during the evening hours.
In 1802, just five years after they married and moved into this cabin, Alexander and Anna McGuffey moved their young family further west to an unsettled area of Ohio. There they settled on 160 wooded acres, built a new homestead, cleared the land, and established a small farm.
Five more children were born to the McGuffey's.
As the eldest son, William probably worked alongside his father and assumed many of the same responsibilities mentioned earlier of other boys raised on frontier farms.
Without a nearby school or church or even a community life of any sort, his parents played a significant role in his life. William's father was a fearless, adventurous, disciplined, and hardworking man, which seems rather obvious. But he was also illiterate.
His mother was a strong, serious, pious, and literate woman, and also had an especially great influence on her son. Anna taught all of her children to read and do arithmetic. She was always attempting to find ways for her children to receive more education.
As a young man, William Holmes McGuffey established a reputation as a lecturer on moral and biblical subjects while he was teaching at Miami University. In 1835, he was asked to create a series of four graded readers for primary level students. He had been recommended for the job by longtime friend Harriet Beecher Stowe.
|The most popular reader|
of the 19th century.
The Eclectic Readers (commonly, but informally known as the McGuffey Readers) were a series of graded primers for grade levels 1–6. They were widely used as textbooks in American schools from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, and are still used today in some private schools and homeschooling.
Most schools of the 19th century used only the first two in the series of McGuffey's four readers. The first Reader taught reading by using the phonics method, the identification of letters and their arrangement into words, and aided with slate work. The second Reader was used once students could read. It helped them to understand the meaning of sentences, while providing vivid stories which children could remember. The third Reader taught the definitions of words and was written at a level equivalent to the modern 5th or 6th grade. The fourth Reader was written for the highest levels of ability on the grammar school level.
He compiled the first four readers (1836–1837 edition), while the fifth and sixth were created by his brother Alexander Hamilton McGuffey during the 1840s.
Other types of schoolbooks gradually replaced McGuffey's in the academic marketplace. The desire for distinct grade levels and less overtly religious content, and the greater profitability of consumable workbooks, all helped to bring about their decline. McGuffey's Readers never entirely disappeared, however. Reprinted versions of his Readers are still in print, and may be purchased in bookstores across the country. Today, McGuffey's Readers are popular among homeschoolers and in some Protestant religious schools.
If you recall what I wrote above how it was the everyman and woman who helped to build America as much as the great founders we study about in our history books, well, here is something to ponder: if each of us researched our own family history, these long forgotten or unknown everymen and women would be recognized and remembered by their contributions, even if they were "just" farmers, blacksmiths, coopers, merchants, teachers, writers, house builders...just the same as the McGuffey's, Daggetts, Giddings, Plymptons, Chapmans, Howards, and so many others.
Yes, they, too, will live on...
Lovin' America's fine history...
Until next time, see you in time.
Nearly all of the McGuffey information here came from the Benson Ford Research center, located on the campus of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, though I gleamed some from internet sources as well.
As for the daily life activities, I garnered snippets from a variety of sources in my own personal library, a list of which would be very long.
Instead, here is a link to a posting I wrote of some of my favorite research books:
Instead, here is a link to a posting I wrote of some of my favorite research books:
To read on other Greenfield Village homes and structures I researched, please click the following links:
Ackley Covered Bridge 1832
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace. Not so much anymore. But Greenfield Village has one from 1832.
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace. Not so much anymore. But Greenfield Village has one from 1832.
Daggett House (part one)
Learn about the 18th century house and the family who lived there.
Daggett House (part two)
This concentrates more on the everyday life of the 18th century Daggett family, including ledger entries.
Doc Howard's Office - The World of a 19th century Doctor
It's 1850 and you're sick. Who are you going to call on? Why, good ol' Doc Howard, of course!
Learn about the Eagle Tavern and 19th century travel
Eagle Tavern: Eating Historically
Taste history while being immersed in the 1850s
Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village
Learn about the boyhood home of Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate.
The Giddings House
Revolutionary War and possible George Washington ties are within the hallowed walls of this beautiful stately colonial home.
These buildings were once a part of everyday life in American villages and towns and cities - including the Gunsolly Carding Mill, the Loranger Gristmill, Farris Windmill, Hanks Silk Mill, Cider Mill, and the Spofford and the Tripps Saw Mills, all in one post!
Noah Webster House
A quick overview of the life of this fascinating but forgotten Founding Father whose home, which was nearly razed for a parking lot, is now located in Greenfield Village.
The Plympton House
This house, with its long history (including American Indians) has close ties to Paul Revere himself!
Henry Ford did more for preserving everyday life of the 18th and 19th centuries than anyone else! Here's proof.
Tales of Everyday Life in Menlo Park (or Francis Jehl: A Young Boy's Experience Working at Menlo Park)
Menlo Park is brought to life by one who was there. First-hand accounts.
Richart Carriage Shop
This building was much more than a carriage shop in the 19th century!
And for some haunted fun,
Ghosts of Greenfield Village
Yep - real hauntings take place in this historic Village.
Yes, some of the structures that now sit inside Greenfield Village have connections to America's fight for Independence.
Follow the route that Thomas Edison took as he rode and worked on the rails in the early 1860s, including the Smiths Creek Depot.
Virtually each structure inside Greenfield Village has come from another location, I took on a project to seek out the original locations of many of the local buildings.
Where they first stood when they were first built.
Homes that played a role in our country's fight for Independence.
Research has shown that, as a young attorney, Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building. I think this post will make you realize just how close to history you actually are when you step inside.
Recreating this store to its 1880s appearance was extremely important as the overall goal, and so accurately reproduced items were needed to accomplish the end result, for many original objects were rare or too fragile, with some being in too poor condition.
This post is part history and part family history: a blending of the two. And one way to show how you can place your ancestors in their time.
Saving Americana - that's what Henry Ford did - and in doing so he showed everyone the importance of everyday life history. This is how it all began.
Nothing is placed randomly inside the structures at Greenfield Village. The curators carefully consider each and every object before allowing it to become part of the site.
And the Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford covers over 250 years of fashion (from 1760 onward) and is the premier museum costume shop in the country.
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