From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Visit to Agenda, Kansas

Ghost town? I don't think so.


Main street and grain elevators, Agenda, Kansas

Agenda, Kansas, is an important place name in my family tree. During the 1880s, my great-great-grandfathers, Ashbel Mapes and Almus Hill had neighboring farms just a few miles from this prairie village. Their children married, and to make a long story short, here I am today!

I took these photos when we visited Agenda in July, 2012. The business district has only a couple of stores that are open. One of them is a little ice cream shop where you can get a cold soda and a plate lunch, as well as a scoop of ice cream. As I recall, it's in the building at right in the photo above.

The photo below looks down Agenda's main street from one end. The building with the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign appears at left in the photo above and at left in the photo below.


Agenda has a population of less than 100 people. Huge grain bins tower above everything else in town.  The streets are not paved, but there's a pretty good sidewalk along the front of the business district.

Ice cream shop in Agenda, KansasPressed metal ceiling, Agenda, Kansas

The ice cream shop is delightfully old-fashioned with a long wooden counter and a pressed metal ceiling. A friendly lady was tending the shop. After we ate our ice cream, she took us down to the small museum/library at the end of the street and let us inside. She also told us to be sure to walk outside through the back door of the ice cream shop.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Willoughby Cemetery: Homesteader's Rest

An old settlers graveyard in Republic County, Kansas


Willoughby Cemetery, near Agenda, Kansas

One hot day last July, my brother, my sister, and I drove up to Republic County, Kansas, and found Willoughby Cemetery. It's named for W. H. Willoughby, the man who donated one corner of his homestead to be a community burying ground.

W. H. Willoughby (my great-great-granduncle-by-marriage) was a preacher and one of the first settlers of Elk Creek Township in Republic County.  He homesteaded on Elk Creek in the late 1860s, along with a small group of brothers, cousins, and  "in-laws." This group of original settlers included  my great-great-grandfather Ashbel Mapes. Ashbel and W. H. Willoughby were brother-in-laws: Ashbel was a brother of  W. H.'s wife Rachel Mapes Willoughby.

My gr-grandfather's Charles Leslie Hill's original gravestone.
There's also a new stone for Charles and Lilly Hill  (at right.)
My family has several graves in Willoughby Cemetery. Great-great-grandmother, Martha Vining Mapes (wife of Ashbel Mapes), is said to be there, but we didn't see her grave.  I don't know if it is unmarked, or marked with a uninscribed stone, or the words on her tombstone have weathered away. Or maybe her stone is hidden by a clump of bushes or flowers.

Great-grandfather Charles Leslie Hill is buried there, beside his first wife, Lillie Mapes, who was a daughter of Ashbel and Martha Mapes. When Lillie died of "catarrhal fever" leaving three little children without a mother, Charles married her younger sister Lana Mapes, my great grandmother.

My gr -gr -grandaunt, Rachel Ann Mapes,
She was W. H. Willoughby's wife.

Several other Mapes family members are buried in Willoughby Cemetery, including  Rachel Mapes Willoughby,  and several of Ashbel and Martha Vining Mapes's ten children: James Mapes, Nellie Mapes Boyer, Lillie Mapes Hill (as already mentioned), and probably Lucy Artimus Mapes Wharton (very likely, but not yet proven.)

Also, little Clarence Hill, a great-uncle who died at the age of 3 years and a few days, is buried there. His grave is probably at the foot of his mother's Lillie Mapes Hill's grave, where a small, uninscribed stone stands.

 While we were there, I tried to photograph all of the gravestones in the cemetery that were legible or at least partly so. I planned to post them to Find-A-Grave when I got back home.

When I began editing the photos and researching the names in Willoughby cemetery, I learned that a surprising number of people there were related to my relatives in one way or another.

All of them, related or not, were from neighbor families and many were homesteaders. Some came to Kansas from New York, Ohio, Indiana, and other states, and others were immigrants from foreign countries.Their life stories were just as interesting as my own family's. (And I don't mean that they were all saints! One of them even served time for stealing chickens.)

Intrigued by their histories, I decided that I would include at least a few sentences about the life of each person in Willoughby Cemetery in his or her Find A Grave memorial. Achieving that goal has been an interesting, engrossing project. I've found obituaries for many of them in the old Republic County newspapers. For others, I've constructed a short biography from census data and other sources.

While searching the old newspapers for the names on the stones, I've found about twenty obituaries for people who were buried in Willoughby, but do not seem to have grave markers (or their grave markers are illegible.) So, I created Find-A-Grave memorials for them with their obituaries, so their stories can be retold and remembered, too.

Willoughby Cemetery in Republic County
near Agenda, Kansas
I have done about 40 memorials so far, and I still have about 25 more photographs and a few more obituaries to work through. Some of the stones in the remaining photos are badly weathered, but maybe I can figure them out with the help of Ancestry.com, Family Search, and the old Republic County newspapers.

A shopkeeper in Agenda, a little village a few miles away, told us that W. H. Willoughby gave the cemetery land with one condition -- that no one would ever have to pay to be buried there. No burial plots in Willoughby Cemetery were ever to be sold. The community still honors that promise, she added.

The first burial in Willoughby Cemetery (that I know of)
was little Margaret Miller who died in 1871.

These Willoughby children were a nephew and a niece of
W.H. Willoughby, who founded Willoughby cemetery to
serve the needs of the Elk Creek homesteader community.
Rest in peace, little ones.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ozark Ghost Town

Somewhere between Mountain Grove and Lebanon


Over the last twenty years, I've made around forty trips through the Ozarks of southern Missouri, either going to or coming home from my sister's house. She lives about fifty miles north of Springfield, Missouri, and I live in Kentucky.

On my trip up there last summer, I took a route I'd never traveled before and probably won't travel again. I turned north on Highway 95 at Mountain Grove, Missouri, thinking I'd see Dove Mountain which is just east of 95, according to the road map. But the hills were so big that I couldn't see the mountain. Or maybe one of them was the mountain? I couldn't tell.

Then I learned that a bridge was out on my planned route, so I took a long detour down some county blacktops. These roads followed every curve of the old wagon trails they were built upon, all the way to the top of every ridge and all the way to the bottom of every valley. Some of the scenery was beautiful, but I couldn't take pictures. If I had stopped in the road, someone might have come around a curve and hit me.

This little Ozark ghost town dates back to a time before
blacktop roads. Farm folks came here to buy things
they couldn't make and to hear the news of the world.
Everything changed after the Depression and WWII.
At an intersection somewhere along the way, where the blacktop road made a right-angle turn, I saw this little ghost town and pulled over to get a photo.

The main road that runs by this village was blacktopped sometime, but the street in front of these stores never saw that improvement. Maybe the brick building in the center was the last business to close.

I didn't explore. I saw vehicles at a house (the metal roof at far left in the photo), and I didn't want anyone to think I was snooping around. I drove on through the hills and valleys, and finally I came to a somewhat wider and straighter state highway that led to Lebanon, and eventually, I arrived at my sister's house in Hickory County.

The scenic route and the detour made my trip a little longer and slower, but I always enjoy backroads and the curiosities along them.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Better Bread = Less Divorce

Dr. Harvey M. Wiley, food purity crusader



Atlantic City, N.J., July 16, 1908
Dr. Wiley of the Government's "Poison Squad," Talks of Foods.

"Better bread making would lead to fewer divorces," said Dr. H. M. Wiley, of the government's "poison squad" in an address before the American Biscuit Makers association.

"Good bread, in my opinion," he added, "would help solve the American evil of divorce. If the bakers make good bread and they educate the people to buy it, the great destroyer of domestic happiness, dyspesia, would be removed and we will hear no more of the divorce problem."

Quoted from the Lewiston Evening Journal, Lewiston, Maine, July 16, 1908, page 1, column 3.

Ah, dyspesia, the wrecker of marriages! Apparently, "dyspesia" is an old-time medical term that encompassed a list of indigestive symptoms: gas, bloating, belching, nausea, heartburn, etc. I agree with the doctor that it would be a very good thing indeed to eliminate those things from marriage.

I'm smiling at the thought of Victorian spouses enduring each other's dyspesia, but I'm also remembering that food purity regulation was in its infancy in 1908. Contaminated, spoiled, and unsafe ingredients were a huge problem.

Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, (1844-1930) was the Dr. Wiley of the newspaper story I quoted above. He was the chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 1882-1912. His research into food safety changed the lives of Americans then and still affects us today.

Dr. Wiley in his laboratory at the USDA
When asked by Congress to help determine the safety of food preservatives, Dr. Wiley developed a battery of tests to detect and measure the amount being used in foods. Then he organized "Poison Squads" of volunteers who ate a diet containing controlled amounts of the four food preservatives that Wiley considered most dangerous: borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, and copper sulfate. Careful records were kept of the amount of these preservatives the men consumed, the amount that was excreted, and the condition of their health.

Because of the publicity generated by Dr. Wiley and the Poison Squads, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed by Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Surprisingly, this act did not eliminate the food preservatives mentioned above.
 "While Wiley agreed that small amounts of preservatives were harmless and could slow food spoilage, he also argued that the accumulation of additives posed a public health threat, because it was not possible to control how much a person ate over time. He was ultimately unsuccessful in fighting food preservatives, but borax, salicylic acid, formaldehyde, and copper sulfate fell out of use." (Source: "Pioneering Consumer Advocate Gave Rise to FDA")

After Dr. Wiley left the USDA in 1912, he accepted a position with Good Housekeeping magazine, where he founded the Good Housekeeping laboratories and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and continued his crusade for safer food.

In honor of his many years of public service and his pioneering work in food safety, Dr. Wiley is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Monday, September 03, 2012

Homemade Dinner Rolls Recipe

With helpful hints for beginning bread bakers


We had a potluck at work last week, and I made sandwich buns for it. They were nothing special, really -- just my usual sandwich buns -- but some of those people had never eaten homemade bread before. They were so impressed that it amused me. I guess that they previously thought that hot restaurant rolls were the ultimate in "home-baked" bread. (Although, speaking of restaurant bread, I must say that Panera Bread is good.)

Several of the girls expressed doubt that they could ever bake anything that had yeast in it. A few of them said they'd tried baking bread before and it went badly. And a couple of the young girls asked for the recipe and said they'd like to try it.

So tonight, I typed up my "Never Fail Dinner Rolls" recipe for my adventurous young colleagues to try, and I printed a few extra copies in case the previously-disappointed bread bakers want to try again. I'm actually going to offer them two different editions of the recipe -- the short version and a longer version that I wrote with extra instructions to help beginning bread bakers (below.)

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.