This post is the official beginning of a series I want to do from my Grandpa Lyle’s memories. My mother, bless her heart, who didn’t think to tell me much about her side of the family and didn’t write much of it down, did think to tape interviews with her father over a couple of years. She had a list of things she wanted him to talk about, and he did although he had his own ideas about what needed to be remembered too. These interviews were done in February 1985 and February 1986 (my mother was a teacher and these were on her winter vacation visits to her father), when Grandpa Lyle was 88 and 89 years old. The first in this series was actually my post about Grandpa Lyle and food (a big part of his life for someone who as far as I know never cooked). This is the next.
The theme of this series is life in north-central Ohio in the early 20th century. My grandfather was born in 1896 and these stories about life in Ohio were from then to about 1910, some a little later perhaps. So they provide an “up close and personal” look at what different aspects of life were like in a small village farming community. Wakeman, Ohio, is located in Huron County and the Vermilion River runs through it. It is close to the shore of Lake Erie, just south of the lake. And is part of the historic Firelands area of the Connecticut Western Reserve.
“This little bit of information I lived through and I can give you a fairly accurate description of it. My younger sister, Doris, which was Anna Doris, but she preferred the name just Doris and the word Anna has been left out of her name a good deal. But that’s her correct name. She was born in 1906. We had — six months earlier, knowing that Mother was pregnant, we left my grandfather’s house on River Street and moved into a rented house on Pleasant Street. We lived in that house for a little over a year perhaps. She was born in June. We had lived there six months before her birth and we stayed there until the spring, probably the spring of 1907. That’s as close as I can recall right now.”
“Directly, or not directly, but across the street from where we lived and about two houses to the north of us was an old house that needed a lot of repair. It was being rented to someone there and there was a change of renters and one thing or another. The house was in a low lot and sometimes water would gather around it and there was no basement under it. It was in a very bad shape but the location was good and the framework of the house was good and my father arranged to buy that house for $700, thinking that he would restore it, which he did.”
“We got moved — I have forgotten exactly when we got moved into that house, but it was not too long after he had purchased it. He had contractors come in and place timbers under the framework of the house and start jacking it up. They raised that house very high, I would say a matter of eight or 10 feet and we had to go up steps to get into it. We lived in that house up, that had been raised up there, probably for the better part of eight or nine months, maybe longer. I don’t recall. The reason: he wanted to put a basement under that. And in order to — and the ground surrounding it was low and he wanted the dirt out of the basement to fill up the, and raise the level of the earth around the house so the water would drain away from the house instead of draining towards it. The basement was dug out with pick and shovel for a little while until they could get a one horse scraper and they dug a sort of a passage way that a horse could be driven down under the house and the scraper loaded with earth could be pulled out with the horse and scraper.
How many days that took, I don’t recall. But that’s the way the excavation under the entire house — it was a two story house and about six rooms. It was a two story house. The roof needed some repair and it needed repair all over. And, of course, in those days there were no sanitary facilities or no electricity and no plumbing of any sort.”
“But we got the house raised and then Father had the basement all cemented. He prepared a place for a furnace to be installed. He had a division through the center of the house. The furnace and the storage for coal and kindling. We used corn cobs for kindling and they would put in a wagon load of corn cobs in the window. And there were two basement windows and coal would be put in the other one there and it would hold several tons of coal and a load of corn cobs. The partition divided the furnace room from the storage room. My father decided that instead of having straight walls on the sides of his basement, it would be nice to have a shelf to put things. So the wall was constructed down, oh, we’ll say with a 12 inch shelf all the way around. Concrete. The earth was faced with concrete up to this. Then there was a setback of about 12 inches. And then the rest of it was concrete or building tile. I think it was building tile was used — the upper part, to the height that they wanted it. When that was all complete, the house was lowered onto the foundation that had been made. That foundation had to be constructed, and was constructed, correctly so that the house settled onto the building tile and there would be, there was a space of perhaps three feet from the floor of the house down to the self — it was a 12 inch shelf completely around the sides of the walls there — on which we stored everything that you can, a family might want there.”
I actually visited this house as a teenager with my family, I think in the summer of 1961 or so. I can’t describe it fully and don’t seem to have any pictures of it. What I remember as a snippet is that the old kitchen had a pump in the sink as a remnant from the time before there was water and indoor plumbing. There was also a pump in the yard outside. I was intrigued. The other clear memory from that trip was that my uncle and cousins made homemade ice cream, taking turns cranking by hand, which I had never seen done before. It was delicious!
Update: I recently got permission to use the picture I have inserted. James Morgan of the www.seldomseensheep.tripod.com website was kind enough to allow me to use it. Although it wasn’t under an existing house, it gives a good idea of what the process was like. Thank you, James.