The old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder" was never more true than when the electricity goes off. I spend months at a time never thinking of electricity at all, and now I am consumed with thoughts of electricity and coffee and how wonderful both are.
I was awakened abruptly just after midnight by the sudden absence of all the white noise of this seemingly living and breathing house. This one hundred fifty-year old building was run entirely without electricity for its first seventy-seven years. The original open hearth was replaced by wood burning stoves and tallow candles by kerosene lamps.
Mansfield is notable for having
played football under electric lights in 1897, but electrification did
not reach the masses until much later. In 1897 a Wellsboro Agitator news
item reported that "most of the stores in Blossburg are now lighted by
electricity." Also in 1897 it was reported that the "Mansfield Electric
Company proposes to light the streets with five 2,000 candle power lamps
and 70 incandescent 16 candle power lamps at an annual rental of $900 which
is $350 more than yearly cost of the kerosene lamps now in use. It will
be an all night service and cover the whole territory of the present kerosene
|However early electrification came to cities and towns, it was much later for the rural areas. In Mansfield there is a historical marker in front of the Tri-County electric building that says that in 1936 seventy five percent of Pennsylvania farms did not have electricity. In the summer of 1936, my uncle, Homer Tice, and his friend Frank Beardslee dug the holes for the electric poles from Lawrence Corners in Rutland Township, through Elk Run and up to Gray Valley in Sullivan Township. They were young fellows at the time, and they were paid fifty cents a hole. It took them the whole summer. The two nine-foot shovels and the nine-foot crowbar they used are in my museum now.|
In October of 1936, my grandfather, who lived in this same house where I now reside, wrote in his diary of working on the lights. I take that to mean wiring in preparation for the utility to come. On October 27th, he mentioned, "Electric lights was turned on." Roseville was ahead by a year and a half. On 25th of June 1934 Eugene Crippen recorded that "the first electric wires came to Roseville today." On the 28th he wrote, "Electric ‘juice’ for the first time." These and other diaries can be read on my web-site.
It took no time at all for us to become completely dependent and reliant on this resource. When we lose electricity now we feel isolated and abandoned. Our functional lives come to a halt, and we don’t know what to do. Once daylight comes, I tend to pace from one end of the house to the other thinking about coffee. My good neighbor, the farmer next door with the generator, called to check on me and I told him I could get along just fine if I could plug my coffee maker in at his milk-house for a few minutes. Having done that, I returned home and continued to pace, coffee mug in hand, thinking of the still dropping temperature. Sometime after nine, the magic moment arrived. All the white noise returned at once in a jolt. The doorbell rang as it does when "juice" is restored. All three dogs ran barking to greet the new arrival. The two cats fled in the opposite direction from the unseen intruder. Pandemonium broke out in full force, and I was reunited with the civilized world once again. Electricity and coffee are fine things, indeed.
The earliest homesteads by American Europeans in our Northern Pennsylvania area were established after the Revolutionary War. While Native Americans had engaged in agriculture in the river valleys, the hills remained fully wooded. Many acres of the wilderness in this area had been bought up by land speculators such as William Bingham who owned millions of acres in New York, Pennsylvania and Maine. Henry Drinker was another large landholder in this area. Our early settlers often purchased land from the Bingham Estate, the Drinker Estate or other large land holdings through land agents employed by the owners.
One of the most frequent questions people ask about their migrating ancestors is, ”Why?” Land in New England was getting worn out, scarce, and expensive. People had large families then, and farming was what almost everyone did. Many of the young people and some of the middle aged moved into the newly opened wilderness to establish their own lives. They migrated to an area over several years in extended family or neighborhood groups, so they were often already an established community when they moved. One family story that has come down tells of Connecticut family that had been persuaded that the hills of Pennsylvania were soil rich and stone free. One child, walking along beside the wagon and throwing stones was told, “You better throw all the stones you can now, because there won’t be any when we get to Pennsylvania.”
Our first settlers, primarily from New England, New York, and Vermont literally cut their way through the forest, built a rough lean to shelter and started cutting down as many trees as they could as fast as they could. Typically the farmstead family could clear and make productive about an acre a year. The well-to-do among them might have one cow, a pair of oxen, chickens and raise a pig and later some sheep. Fewer than a third had one or two horses. By 1832, a decade after the settlement of this area started in earnest, the Sullivan Township tax records show that the average property holding was 77 acres 9 of which were “improved,” and the reminder as “wild lands.”
The horses and oxen were for transportation and field work, and both were rented out to those who did not have their own “beasts of burden.” The family cow, the chickens, and the pigs, along with the vegetable garden fed the family. Grain had to be planted and hay harvested to feed the animals. The sheep and flax crops provided fiber for handmade textiles. Pots and pans and farm tools were cherished items and were mended when they wore out.
Late nineteenth century obituaries of the early pioneers tell of carrying corn for fifty miles to be ground at the nearest grist mill. Stories pass down of encounters with panthers and bears. One tells of the old woman who chased a bear which had taken a piglet. She chased the bear with a hot poker from the hearth and got her pig back. It sounds amusing, but it tells us that in this act of desperation that pig was as valuable to her as her life.
With a newly migrated young population and a high birth rate, the demographics were very different from our own. In Sullivan Township in Tioga County, my test case again, the average age of the population was fifteen years old. With a total population of 1357, only 100 were past the age of fifty. Two hundred fifty six were under five years of age, the highest number in any age group.
Our pioneer farm families were resourceful and
determined. The level of self sufficiency by which they lived is almost
beyond our imaginations.
Natalie Phelps of Potter County collects and preserves Barn Dance calls
|Joyce M. Tice
Mountain Home Magazine
Our old folks in this part of the world will tell us about all the great Saturday night square dances they went to in their youth. Dances were held in nearly every community, in the grange halls, the parks and in the cleared-out lofts of barns. They were accompanied by a small dance band and a caller who told the dancers which of the moves to make. These include “promenade all,” “Do-si-do,” and many others. Everyone knew the moves and could follow the calls. Polka and “round dance” were also part of the mix. The dances were part of the glue that held the community together.
Natalie Phelps of Coudersport joined a dance band in the mid fifties when she was just a teenager. Natalie’s Irish father was a singer, and music was always part of her life. Natalie played guitar and sang, but when the band’s accordionist left, she took on the challenge of learning accordion in less than a week, and succeeded. She played for the dances at the Odin Grange between Coudersport and Austin, and she hosted a radio show from WFRM in Coudersport called, “Allegany Mountain Jamboree.”
Natalie went on to play for thirteen years in a square dance band in Nashville which performed old time mountain music. About four years ago she moved back to Potter County where she raises and markets organic produce through an organization called Food Matrix.
When Natalie saw that so many of the old barns were gone and that the barn dances were no longer part of the local culture, she felt the loss. Odin Grange held its last dance way back in 1961. Some of the older folks who remembered her suggested they get the dances going again. In 2006 they formed a three-person dance band and did just that. They had an accordion, a guitar, and an upright base fiddle. Natalie became a caller for the first time in her life, because no one else was available. Many community members who had attended the dances decades ago did so again, and cried. The “Pie ladies” came back with their pies, and they cried. Everyone cried and danced to the songs and calls of their youth.
It was then that Natalie contacted and started studying with the old-time callers who remained. Theirs was a dying and soon to be lost art. Lisa Rathje of the Pennsylvania Institute for Cultural Arts encouraged her to apply for a grant to record, collect and preserve these cultural treasures. With the help of the grant, Natalie has been interviewing and recording the callers and writing down their calls.
She has discovered regional differences. In this area the calls are sung. Specific calls are paired with a specific song, and they belong together. The song may incorporate the call. An example would be the call “promenade your partner,” and the song, which is a filler while the dancers perform the step, would be “Oh my darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away.” The 8 beats of the song reflect the 8 beats of the step. In other regions sets of calls may be used interchangeably with a variety of music as long as the beats fit the dance. In this case the calls are not sung.
Natalie has also observed that the dances and calls evolve. Further south in the state the same calls are used but the steps have become more complex and new ones developed. Her theory is that with longer warm seasons they have more time to dance.
The Northern Tier Cultural Alliance has designated 2008 as the Year of the Barn. As part of this a real old-time barn dance will be held on May 24. The place is the restored Waterwheel Farm barn on the old Lent Farm on Route 49 in Colesburg, east of Coudersport. A community supper will be held in the barn’s basement at 6 PM. Film crews will record the dance. Three callers will lead the dances: Harry Erhardt of Port Royal, PA., Ray Wetherby of Belmont, NY, and Natalie Phelps of Coudersport. There will be room on the floor for 18 sets at a time with four couples per set.
Natalie points out that not only the calls have history. The dancers, too, have their own set of tales that have become part of the area’s lore. There’s the time a clumsy young man leaped in the air during a dance, caught his toe on a young woman’s crinoline and fell to the floor. Unaware, she kept dancing while the crinoline unraveled layer by layer still attached to his toe. She cried when she saw what had happened. Her mother had just bought it for $5, and she knew she was in trouble. The Coudersport girls and the Sterling Run girls used to have fights during dance breaks. They’d remove and pile their crinolines in the corner until they were done beating each other up. Then they’d put them back on and dance some more.
Ah, the good old days. You can experience them
again on May 24 in Colesburg.
2008 marks the 40-year anniversary of my marriage. While the late Mr. Schafranek, my spouse, met an untimely demise in our 22nd year, a surprising number of the wedding presents, like the Energizer bunny, just keep going with no sign of heading to the scrap heap yet.
Admittedly, I have never put an undue burden on my kitchen appliances, but they do get used, and forty years is a long time no matter how you look at it. They function not only in their original purpose but also as a reminder of the people who gave them. Whenever I make mashed potatoes or cookies using my hand held mixer, I am reminded of my boozy landlady in Binghamton who gave it to me. I can’t remember her name, but I do remember her with fondness. My favorite “soup pot” is the Teflon lined Dutch Oven from my husband’s company. In truth it should be replaced as the Teflon is worn, but I’ve never been able to find one with the same depth. The father of my Maid of Honor worked for GE, so she gave me a GE electric can opener that has opened many a tuna can in forty years. An ex-roommate gave the blender. It has had both blade and bowl replaced but the motor still runs fine.
|The toaster was one of the earliest electrical
appliances. It was first invented in Britain 1893 and the pop up toaster
in 1919. Some of the early one-side-at-a-time-toasters have found their
way to my museum in supposedly working order. I am not about to risk a
short proving it. The blender was invented in 1922. The Sunbeam Mixmaster
was patented in 1928 and was marketed from about 1930. I have one of these
of 1930s vintage in my museum, too, but lack the courage to test its functionality.
Electrical appliances of all kinds entered the market in the 1920s and 1930s as electrification spread to all the areas of the country. Imagine the rural householder of the 1920s looking at all the new conveniences advertised in the magazines and unable to actually buy and use them until the mid-1930s when electricity finally reached the farms.
It really seems that the newer appliances don’t last as well. I can’t comment on the newer blenders or hand held mixers since the ones I have may never need to be replaced, but I’ve never been able to get a coffee maker to last longer than six months to two years no matter what price I paid –high or low. It is the same with answering machines. On the other hand, I replaced my 1969 era refrigerator in 2002 and my electric bill dropped by $50 a month. There’s an improvement.
I have surveyed some of my friends, and in general it seems that wedding presents last longer than husbands. One of my friends who married in 1950 still has a functional waffle iron, and she has passed on her mixer to a granddaughter who continues to use it. She also still uses her now collectible Candlewick crystal glassware that she says everyone who married in Mansfield in the 1950s received. That’s because Saidie Finesilver carried it in her store, and that’s where people shopped for wedding presents. Sadie would be surprised to see how far her influence has spread. Blenders, irons and coffee pots are still in working order in households much older even than mine.
Maybe I’ll have my enduring gifts buried with
me in the tradition of the ancients. They can be a little curiosity for
archaeologists a millenium hence.
Games are as old as our species, and board games go back for thousands of years. Four boards and some pieces for “the Royal Game of Ur” dating date back 4500 years were found in cemetery ruins in Mesopotamia in the area that is now Iraq. That does not make them the first that ever existed, only the oldest found so far. Some that are elegantly crafted of expensive materials are works of art and were used by upper class folks. Some of the simpler ones for the lower classes playing the same game were made of wood or even scratched into stone much as today’s children would map out their hop-scotch grid on a sidewalk with chalk. The earliest versions would have been made of less durable materials that would not survive time.
Mancala is another game that was around for thousands of years and developed into hundreds of variations, some of which exist today. The American game marketed as “Wari” is a version of Mancala. The board consists of a series of cups or recesses. The object is to capture as many stones as possible in your own collection cup from your opponent. It is a strategy game, not a game of chance. Its earliest versions probably were played by scooping holes in the ground to use as collection cups with beans or small pebbles as playing pieces.
Go is an ancient Chinese game that is unusual in that the rules are the same today as they were 4,300 years ago. It is said that the game was developed to strengthen mental ability. Go spread throughout Asia and finally reached Europe about 1600 A.D. Its strategy is to capture “territory” on the board by getting your pieces to outline a greater amount of space than those of your opponent.
Mah-Jongg is also a Chinese game that originated about 4000 years ago. It came to this country in the 1920s and gained popularity. It is said to be similar to the card game of “Rummy” that I used to play with my maternal grandfather who knew more ways to play solitaire than any other person I ever knew, and he cheated at them all.
Chess is a strategy game more familiar to us. It also originated in the Orient and moved around the world over centuries. The names of the pieces as played today represent the social classes in Medieval times. Today you can play chess in tournaments or even with your computer. Whole books have been written on its complex history.
Checkers grew out of an ancient game, which was developed thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia. In Britain it is called Draughts. The first tournament was held in 1847, and the first computerized version was developed before World War Two by Alan Turing. The calculations had to be done on paper. In 1952 the first computer chess program that actually used the computer for calculations was developed.
Monopoly is a modern game and has always been my favorite board game.
It had several ancestors including an 1883 game by George Parker called
“Banking.” In 1904 Lizzie Magie invented “The Landlord’s Game.” She
re-patented it in 1924 but did not develop or market it to its potential.
In 1933 Charles Darrow adapted it and produced the first 5000 of the game
we know as Monopoly. He sold them in Philadelphia. In 1935 he patented
it under Parker Brothers. Today it has evolved into many versions with
a variety of themes, including a fully electronic version more reflective
of today’s business practices. My father and I used to start a Monopoly
game after Sunday dinner and still be at it when supper was ready. You
can even play online now.
|Monopoly game from late 1950s with wooden, rather than plastic, houses and hotels.||Collector editions of Chess and Checkers.|