Pioneer Life in Ashland County Ohio

BY KATE SHOPBELL SHIDLER, WRITTEN IN 1890

As today, Feb. 22, 1890, is my fifty- sixth birthday, I thought I would like to have a talk with the boys and girls of Maplegrove and vicinity; to tell them of the old pioneers forty-five and fifty years ago; of our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, who moved here, most of them from Pennsylvania in early years, 60 and 70 years ago. They worked hard to clear up this timbered country for our and your benefit that we may enjoy the pleasures of life. Our fathers and mothers and old neighbors are nearly all sleeping beneath the clods of the valley; In the old St Lukes cemetery you will find their names and ages inscribed.

I frequently take a stroll through the grave yard, as the bodies that are mouldering there are near and dear to me by the ties of nature and as old neighbors. Our parents always spoke so highly of them that we learned to love them when quite young.

My father Jacob Shopbell moved here in 1832 from PA, and one of their first task was to build a log house, saw mills were scarce if any from the time I can remember. The people began to build hewed log houses and barns. The neighbors all, far and near, turned in and helped to build each others houses And barns, and log rolling parties were frequent, so you see we stood in need of more neighbors then. Most of the families could talk the Pennsylvania German, and the greater part of them were democrats, and their successors still uphold the same party; that is why Orange township goes democratic.

Forty-four years ago Ashland county was organized, and I well remember of us boys and girls singing,

Ashland gained the county seat,
And Hayesville met with sore defeat,
Then Hurrah  for Ashland county,
Then Hurrah for Ashland county,
Ashland girls are young and handsome,
Ashland boys are brave and winsome,
Then hurrah for Ashland county.
Ashland then, was only a small town, the hitching post were on Main st. on both sides of the street, close to the pavement. Drunkards were scarce then, and parents had work for their boys and girls.

The girls used to help the boys to flail rye, and many a hard lick we got by hitting our heads with it till we learned how to handle it right. I don't remember of attending any funerals till I got to be 14 years old, of course there were some, but little girls did not go to them. The reason we acquired good health was, we did not have the rich victuals we now have, our pie dough was made of bread dough and we did not get sweet cakes very often. Canned fruit was not known, we dried all our fruit instead of canning. The girls all wore coarse shoes as did the boys, for there were no boots. I never had a custom made shoe on my foot till I was 19 years old.

Father made all our shoes, and skin was the finest leather that we had then. Pinched waist and pinched feet were not in style then. I remember the first cooking stove that father brought home from Milan, mother thought she would not like it, but after she got used to it she would not do without it.

People all had fire places in their houses and all cooked by them, we had a crane fastened in our fire place with a part fixed to hang the dinner pot on and a dutch oven to bake in. Many a pot pie was made in the dutch oven, our skillet had legs a foot long, and a handle four feet long, we generally had potatoes and meat for breakfast and always had a cooked dinner. sometimes potatoes and side meat cooked together, and sometimes chicken pot pie and apple dumplings, if we had any apples. We always cooked our vegetables with meat, and for supper we generally had mush and milk and soup of some kind. In harvest time we always took out a 10 o'clock piece of bread and butter, ball cheese, sometimes apple pie or fried cakes made out of bread dough.

Separators and mowing machines and binders, wheel hay rakes, hay tedders and the like were not known, but the hand sickle and cradle, hand rake and wooden forks to turn the hay, and the girls could cut wheat with the sickle and bind after the cradle as well as the boys. The grass was cut with scythes and spread with a stick sharpened at each end.

The neighbors nearly all raised flax to work up for clothing and bed clothing, it had to be sowed much thicker than when we wanted it for seed. We pulled it all by hand and bound it in bunches, when it was dry we hauled it to the barn and took the flail and hammered the seed off, then took it to the meadow and spread it out over several acres, left it there till the shives were rotten, then took it home and fixed a scaffold, laid a bundle one at a time on it and put fire under it to dry, then took the flax brake and broke it. I almost imagine I can hear the sound of the old flax break yet, then they handed it to the girls who scutched it till all the shives were out, then they put it through the crop hackle, then through a coarse hackle, then the fine hackle. What we hacked out was tow, that we spun for grain sacks and chaff ticks; the flax we spun for table linen and towels, sheets, pillow slips, dresses and pantaloons. We also worked up all our wool from twenty five or thirty sheep, made coverlets, blankets, casinet cloth, flannels, linsey and father did the weaving. Carpets were not in style those days, nobody had any. We used to full our blankets, cloth and casinet by laying two logs on the floor about six or seven feet apart, boys bare footed on each log held the blankets between their feet and kicking with all their might while someone would pour hot soap suds on the blanket, it took several hours. The neighbor boys came in to help and had lots of fun. We had a rope machine that we used to make all our bed cords, clothes lines, plow lines and the neighbors made their ropes too.

Boys and girls , I wish you could have taken a peep in our old log school house that stood on the hill between Sadlers and William Kendig's just where the road leads down to John Pollock's, you could see a vast difference between our school house and the school house now. there were five windows and long desks all around the walls. The big girls and boys sat with their backs toward the wall all facing each other, the little scholars all sat around the stove facing each other and had to hold their books in their hands, as there were no desks to lay them on. The master's chair stood behind the stove, the boys wore red blouses and home spun pants, the girls all wore flannel or linsey for dresses, they wore bonnets and shawls and cloaks, and when we came in the school house in the morning we all made our manners to the master, the girls bowed their knees and the boys bowed their heads. We had a very large school, as the school district was much larger then , than now, and generally we had men of thirty or forty years of age to teach. I remember the first blackboard that was brought in the old school house, it was about three feet long and two and one half wide, some of the big boys ciphered on it. But very few of the girls studied arithmetic. In about five years after they brought another blackboard about as large as a door; they were all the blackboards the old school house ever got. Reading and writing and spelling were all the younger scholars from 10 to 14 had, and they read in the spelling book. First we had the United States spelling book, in 1845 we got the Elementary spelling book; the larger scholars read in the English reader.

I think their arithmetic was called the Western Calculator; it was a hard book for young beginners; there were a few of the larger scholars studying grammar and geography. The big and little scholars were all used alike; if the big scholars broke the rule they had to take a whipping or leave school. On Christmas we had lots of fun, the big boys would pen the master out until he would promise to treat; sometimes he treated with apples and some times with cake; how much we relished them. Yet the spot where the playground was is now farmed over and the green grass that used to grow there is no longer to be seen. Oh where are the scholars? Some have moved to the far west and some have crossed over on the other shore, some still live around here.

I went through the woods last week to see a sick woman, Miss Fast, and I went across where the old camp meeting ground was on Joseph Gray's place, and I noticed there on a large beech tree some one had carved out a meeting house with a large steeple, a door , windows and steps in the year 1840. That is fifty years ago; I remember of being at that camp meeting; mother took me by the hand and led me around the tents and went in one where Katie Hartman was, she was only a young girl and could not talk or hear. She is still living but very aged. She lives with her sister, Mrs. Heifner.

When butchering time come, it was fun to see the boys chopping sausage meat; we had a long bench, ten feet long, a board nailed on the back and at each end to keep the meat from flying out. The neighbor boys, Leidigh boys and Fulmer boys, came to help chop the meat. They could almost play a tune with their choppers.

I am afraid my letter is getting too long to be interesting, the boys and girls will get tired of reading it, although there might be lots more said.