now and then helen kull

now and then

This month we reminisce one last time with Patricia Whitehead Stoner and her reflections on Ewing’s past, as recorded by her in 1940. Reading through her 15-page paper written for a college assignment, and selecting portions to share, it feels to me somewhat like an archaeological dig. The paper is one small 8.5 x 11 source of “descriptive artifacts,” revealing a tiny glimpse into a particular place and time in Ewing’s past.

Here’s a sampling of those artifacts from life in the mid-1800s, in Mrs. Stoner’s words, as told to her by older family members and friends:

On a typical 1860’s farmhouse: The parlor was only used for special occasions, and at other times was kept religiously closed. If a speck of sunshine dared penetrate the shades in order to try to fade the ingrain carpet, it was a very venturesome speck of sunshine indeed! There were the traditional haircloth chairs and marble-topped tables. You had to step down two steps into the kitchen. Rag rugs graced the dining room and the upstairs, and the ceiling and walls were whitewashed.

Meals: The menu in those days was not particularly varied, but they got along very well on meat, fried potatoes, homemade bread, butter and cottage cheese. The food was cooked on a big iron stove. Chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, ducks, geese and turkeys were part of every farm. Milk was kept cold in a spring, As Cousin John termed it, ‘Twas a long way to the refrigerator.’

Cousin John continued, ‘We raised all kinds of grains, and put up our own meat, pigs and beeves. We’d have a big hog killing and make sausage. All the neighbors would help and take their share home. Next time the neighbor would kill anything, we’d all have a share in it, and so on. It was a real cooperative system, and it worked fine!’

Cousin John adds, “We didn’t go into Trenton to buy often. We were so self-sufficient that the only things we needed were sugar, tea and raisins, and things like that. We’d buy enough for two or three weeks. The trolleys took about three quarters of an hour to get into Trenton, and we used to joke that a horse could get there much faster.”

Social Activities: As for parties and good times, “we used to have a company every so often. That’s what we called them – ‘having a company.’ I can remember it yet. We most always had the same thing: pound cake, lemon butter, chicken and scalloped oysters. Then there [also] used to be quilting parties, with the quilt spread out over ever so many women, and a candle burning in a candlestick set right on top of the quilt, so the ladies could see.”

“Outdoor sports were much the same as they are today. Sledding, sleighing and skating! Although the sleds were not the “flexible flyers” of today, still it’s the fortunate child of today who’s been sleighing with bells and horses and everything. Then in the summer there was fishing and swimming and digging for eels. Marbles and checkers were enjoyed, but cards were positively banned. They were a sin and not even to be thought of.”

Of course, Mrs. Stoner also mentions the Ewing Driving Park on the page before, “a good half-mile [horse trotting] track, [which] has done much towards the improvement of the blood of horses in the vicinity, affording opportunities for training not previously accessible to the farmers and horse owners of the township.” It’s curious that card playing was banned, but horse racing was accepted.

Trades: While farming was by far the primary occupation within Ewing, Mrs. Stoner mentions other trades that were present around the township: blacksmith, cobbler, wheelwright; and in Birmingham there was even a silversmith. Other businesses, such as innkeeper, postmaster, schoolmaster or mistress, storekeeper, were found where the occasion demanded.

And I would add, historian and writer—as Patricia Whitehead Stoner was that and more. I am most appreciative of the Stoner family for supporting the sharing of this reminiscence.

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