The morning’s light builds heat in the goldenrod field, a thicket of last year’s woody stems and this year’s giant St. John’s wort, morning glory, and lanced leaf goldenrod flowers. A Widow Skimmer extends his wings, warming his night-chilled blood. Soon he will bob and weave his way onward.
Vintage photographs lead to vintage family. Folks that shared an historical context and proximity, whose connections of love and sorrow shaped decisions that are even now rippling through my time.
I love looking at these eyes, windows to my past, staring back into my present.
Thomas W Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania took this portrait of my great-grandfather’s birth family in the mid-1870s, when Robert Minor was about six years old. The faces of his parents bear distinctive features, which I make use of as I sleuth through other photographs.
Like now, when we turn to pages eight and nine of the Minor Family Album.
The photographs are mounted on heavy cardstock, with a metallic coating–silver or gold–on the beveled, scalloped edges, a product commonly used from 1880-the early 1890s. The two appear to be in their early sixties, suggesting a portrait sitting after 1888. The puffy fullness at the shoulder of Mary Jane’s dress narrows the timeframe to between 1889-1892.
I imagine Mary Jane and Marion starting their day with the usual farm chores, milking cows, gathering egges, lighting the stove and fixing breakfast. Instructions would be given to Robert and the farmhands for the rest of the day’s chores, before the couple changed into their best clothes. A horse was hitched up to the buggy and they drove out onto the “red dog” surface, heading up the hill of Ceylon Road, past the homes of siblings and children, nieces and nephews, on their seven mile trip to Carmichaels.
What was the occasion for the photographs? A sixtieth birthday acknowledged? Their fortieth wedding anniversary celebrated?
Whatever prompted the impulse, I am grateful that the studio appointment was kept, and that I have these eyes gazing from my past.
I woke to this thought–I live three hours from my great-great-grandfather’s childhood home. The weather report promised spring sun and warm temperatures, perfect for a cemetery hunt. I gassed up my car, plotted out my routes, and headed out west through the Endless Mountains. I couldn’t help wondering why Ira Sayles’ parents and grandparents picked up and left Rhode Island.
At Williamsport, I turned north and traveled up the four lane highway where hillsides hug the horizon to the valley. Just miles from the point where Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier turns into New York’s Southern Tier, I turned off onto a winding Route 49. A stagnant band of water stretched some miles to my right, today’s Cowanesque River Recreation Area. In another moment I realized that the water was off to my left and squiggling through the soil, a river of little size. This then is the Cowanesque Valley which beckoned to my ancestors centuries ago. Alrighty. But why would the Howlands, Kings and Sayles make the trek from northwestern Rhode Island, small children, babies, pots, pans, quilts, packed into whatever form the roads required? How did this land lure people from ancestral ties, family-packed villages, established communities and businesses?
I kept driving, through Elkland, toward Deerfield Township. Knoxville and Westfield were up ahead.
I rounded a corner–to a valley opened in a welcoming hello. Flat fields stretched for miles. Farmhouses sat close to the road, their barns and outbuildings clustered close behind. Green hills rose on the horizon, tethering the fertile ground to a wide sky. So THIS was the Cowanesque Valley that pulled John and Lois Eddy Howland, James and Rhobe Howland King, and Christopher and Sarah King Sayles from the established coastal settlements to the western frontier.
The Howlands were Quaker, and their remains were buried in what is now the town of Knoxville. Quaker headstones were often inscribed with nothing more than initials and a date of death. The town decided to replace the aging stones with one durable marker honoring the burial place of the area’s Quaker ancestors.
The valley narrowed as I continued west to the Krusen Cemetery, located a short distance from the Cowanesque River bridge in Westfield. On a knoll are the remains of this town’s elders, including Ira’s grandparents, James IV King and the Howland’s daughter, Rhobe.
Turning east I took the hill-hugging Mill Street to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the resting place of Ira’s parents, Christopher Sayles and the King’s daughter, Sarah.
Pausing at the grave sites I tried hard to imagine what characteristics I might have inherited. Persistence. Patience. Imagination. Courage to get up every day even when you don’t know if you’ve done the right thing. The desire to make a building a home,and a network of people a community.
As I looked out over the hills of my ancestors I felt a piece of me relax, accepting their gifts, prepared to continue their legacy.
Page Five of The MINOR FAMILY ALBUM
How good it is to see familiar faces!!
The fifth page frames a young couple’s portrait, carefully staged to tell the story of a momentous autumn day. Robert Minor had just taken May Stevenson’s hand in marriage.
The twenty-three year old groom was dressed in well-tailored pin-striped pants worn with a frock coat and matching waist coat–a fashion which would indicate that the Thursday wedding was held during the day. His bride, seventeen year old May Stevenson, wore an exquisite gown with lace at the throat, on the bodice, and at the cuffs. The hat, no doubt designed and made by her milliner mother, Mary Jones Stevenson, was trimmed in the this same lace and finished with feathers. September 8, 1892 was a grand day for these families.
The Presbyterian minister, T. G. Bristow, conducted the service in Carmichaels, Greene County, Pennsylvania. After Robert and May exchanged their vows, and the LARGE families of both bride and groom mingled in congratulations, the newlyweds stopped by the Public Square studio of T. W. Rogers and had their picture taken. Robert stared a bit like a deer caught in a lantern’s light, perhaps rocked by the realization that the circuit of ice cream socials and steamboat shows had come to an end. A soft smile tugged at May’s face, however. The young lady had survived the arduous years following her father’s death and secured her future with this prosperous young man. Together the youngsters would join in the family business–raising cattle and children to carry on the Minor legacy on Ceylon Road, Garard’s Fort, Pennsylvania.