Walking Down May’s Street: mappy monday

May Laura Stevenson lay under covers, listening to eight siblings rustle from bed’s warmth into cold, thick wool layers.  Procrastinating would not reduce her chores or delay the walk to school, so up she sat, throwing off her blankets, reaching for her clothes. In quick fluid movements May covered her shivering little body, and joined the familiar morning jostle.  Ice had to be broken from animals’ water troughs; pigs had to be slopped, and chickens fed.  Stalls needed to be mucked out, and cows milked.  Breakfast had to be fixed, the table set.

May’s early life was spent on Gabler’s Knob, a farm that looked out over the bustling river town of Greensboro, on the Monongahela River in Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Born in 1874, May was the seventh of nine children born to Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson.

Prints of LightAfter a hearty breakfast the school-age Stevensons set off down the hill, past Dr. G. F. Birch’s orchard, and turned left onto the main road of the Old Glass Works*.  As William, Presley, Permelia, and May walked up the village street, they were joined by young Kramers, McCoys, Mercers, Blacks, and Gablers.  The wind coming off the river hurled the winter damp through their coats, and the would-be scholars hurried past Mr. Neil’s ferry, round the corner, and into the school house.  All together they learned to read, to write, to do their figures.  At day’s end, the group trudged on home, the Stevensons to return to more chores before settling down for the dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Floe on the SusquehannaOn Sunday, the family traveled into town, to attend services at Greensboro Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Clear and Second streets.  The sanctuary was just a block down from the Star Pottery and Tile Works, owned by Frank Hamilton and John Jones,  Mary Stevenson’s cousin. After church service, May and her family walked three blocks south on Front Street, to eat Sunday dinner  with the Jones’.  Uncle David and Aunt Cill ran Greensboro House, a family business handed down from father, John Jones, and the home to the Jones family since the late 1840s. Her double first cousins, Anna and Fannie, would regale May with stories about the latest hotel guests, and the difficulties steamboats had when the river ice grew thick. The girls imagined a day in spring when they would saunter down County Street to the quay, and board the Packet Dean Adams, traveling all the way to Pittsburgh, just to shop for a dress.  Laughter and dreams and family.

That is what I imagine for May, my great-grandmother, as I walk down May’s street in my mind. [click on the maps below for enlarged viewing]

*Some seventy years before May was born, the village on the banks of the Monongahela River had been occupied by the first glass making factory west of the Allegheny Mountains. German immigrants like May’s great-great-granduncle, Adolphus Eberhart, lent their expertise to the making of frontier window glass and bottles.

The World of May Laura Stevenson: (kinda) wordless wednesday

May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat.  What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby.  Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted.  May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades.  Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800.  Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love.  Life would hold some very hard lessons.

Music My Mother Played: The Old Lamp-Lighter

Music my mother played The Lamp-LighterIn 1946 the songwriting team of Charles Tobias and Nat Simon captured  the hearts, and ears, of a post-war audience with their tune, The Old Lamp-Lighter.  Band leader Sammy Kaye recorded the song, featuring vocals by Billy Williams, and the haunting melody hit the Billboard Best Sellers List by November.  The Old Lamp-Lighter stayed on the charts for fourteen weeks, peaking at #1.  Among Sammy and His Orchestra‘s many fans was fourteen year old Marilyn Minor, a young pianist and talented vocalist living in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Every Friday she traveled into nearby Waynesburg, to stay overnight with her Grandmother May Minor for her Saturday piano lesson.  I imagine this young teen sitting at the bench, determined to parse out the arrangement’s rhythm of dotted eighth and sixteenth notes.  And I wonder if her father, Donald, sang along, “He made the night a little brighter wherever he would go…”

Meet You Under The Tent

CHAUTAUQUA TENT WILL RISE TODAY

Performer with Red Path Chautauqua, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929

During the early decades of the twentieth century, the arrival of the big brown tent was the highlight of a town’s summer.  Under the canvas roof, large crowds would gather for a week’s worth of entertainment and education.  The Redpath Circuit Chautauqua was part vaudeville show, part educational lecture series, and at its height in the 1920s the performers and lecturers appeared in over 10,000 communities in 45 states.  Crowds, far from the cultural benefits of metropolitan areas, were thus able to hear Broadway hits, watch classic plays, and learn about the social and political ideas of the day.  For many Americans the Circuit Chautauqua was an important factor in molding the very character of the nation.

CHAUTAUQUA TO HAVE JUNIOR TOWN

Junior Town, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929, supervised by Kerma P. Bradford

Junior Town, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929, supervised by Kerma P. Bradford

The chautauqua wasn’t only for adults.  Thousands of children had their cultural horizons expanded through programming just for them, and for hundreds of young women, the job of supervising the children’s programs offered an opportunity to work and travel. One such lucky lady was my grandmother, Kerma Pauline Bradford.  In the summers of 1928 and 1929, Kerma left her hometown, Coshocton, Ohio, to set up Junior Town in a circuit that included Canton and Masillon, Ohio, and Greene County, Pennsylvania. In each community, Kerma met with the youngsters, ticket holders all, at nine o’clock the first day of chautauqua.

Kerma Bradford, Junior Town supervisor, with Bill Slater, superintendent of Red Path Chautauqua, 1929

Kerma Bradford, Junior Town supervisor, with Bill Slater, superintendent of Red Path Chautauqua, 1929

From among the assembled kids, ten boys and girls were elected to the Junior Town Council, which was then charged with assisting Miss Bradford.  Every day the Junior Chautauqua would meet from nine until noon, to play games, listen to stories, take hikes, and, most importantly, prepare the week’s project–a minstrel show or pageant–which was performed during the last day, for the entire chautauqua. 

In 1929, Kerma Bradford traveled to Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where she reported to the Big Brown Tent each morning from her room in the Wisecarver House.  Beyond her duties to Junior Town, Kerma had time for friendships, and time for romance. When the Junior Town supervisor returned to Coshocton that fall, she had many stories to recall to her kindergarten students, including the memory of a certain young man, future husband, Donald Minor.

Photographs from the Marilyn Minor Collection, archived with the author.

For more interesting chautauqua tidbits:

The Evening Repository (Canton), “Woman Directs Chatauqua Event,” August 12, 1928. http://www.genealogybank.com (accessed January 12, 2014).

The Evening Repository (Canton), “Chautauqua To Have Junior Town,” July 31, 1928.  http://www.genealogybank.com (accessed January 12, 2014).

Canning Charlotte, The Most American Thing in America: Circuit Chautauqua as Performance.  University of Iowa Press: Iowa City. 2005.

The Redpath Chautauqua Collection, University of Iowa digital collection: http://www.sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/traveling-culture/inventory/msc150.html.

Friend of Friends Friday: Slaves of the Virginia Dodsons, 1853-1865

A couple of months ago I received a query regarding my ancestors, the Dodsons of Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  In particular, Angela Pearl Dodson was seeking information about the slaves that this family owned, or that relatives of this family had owned.  I circle back to this topic today, with a posting from the special collection of the Alexandria Library: Morales, Leslie Anderson , Jennifer Learned, and Beverly Pierce. Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1865, Volume 2, D-G. Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, 2007.

The information for Dodsons, from all the reporting counties of Virginia, begins on page 85 (with the alternative spelling Dobson) and continues to page 88.  Each entry proceeds in this order:

Informant’s Surname, Informant’s First Name; Slave’s Name; Mother’s Name; Date of Birth; Place of Birth.

 

page 85 page 86 page 87 Page 88This volume contains the slave birth records for slave owners whose surnames begin with the letters D, E, F, and G, for the period of 1853-1865.  I am more than willing to look up information for other names that this volume may cover.  Please leave  your query in the comments.