Saturday, November 28, 2009

Headquarters, Holtdale

The earliest memories of home of my syblings and I were of the original family home at Holtdale. The house sat in the middle of three acres of beautiful lawn dotted with numerous flower gardens and many shade trees. I remember large, red-maple trees, a mulberry tree, hickory nut trees, sweet cherry trees and several wild cherry trees. Hanging from many of these trees were bird boxes. Other bird boxes perched on large poles placed about the yard, some of which were made especially to attract a bird called a Purple Martin that came to the area every summer. I can recall the delight of the adults when the first purple martin was sighted in the spring that chose one of our boxes for its home.

I can name only a few of the great variety of flowers that provided beautiful blooms from early spring well into late fall. In the flower garden itself were peonies, iris, hollyhock, sweet William, many species of roses, gladiolus and so many others. Many of them were aromatic and a walk through the lawn could be like a walk in a perfume factory. Placed here and there throughout the lawn/garden area were benches where one could sit quietly and just enjoy the serenity of the place. On Sundays, it was common to have complete strangers drive up to the house and ask if they could walk through the gardens.

We always had a vegetable garden large enough to supply much of the year’s vegetable needs. The orchards took care of our fruit needs and were on the hilltops. The "hollow" between the hilltops, was fenced off from the orchards and functioned as pasture for the two to five cows we usually had for our milk and beef. We occasionally had a pig or two, always chickens and frequently turkeys. It was a reasonably self sufficient operation. It had to be during those depression times when we kids were growing up.

Dad and Mother worked long hard hours on the farm. Dad and, sometimes, Uncle Frank, performed most all of the required physical labor and Mom helped harvest the fruit to some extent, but she mainly took care of the home and stand. Her big area of responsibility was the family. She kept house, prepared all the meals, canned everything in sight, did everyone's laundry, including ironing white shirts for Grandfather's office work, and took exceptional, loving care of four wild, runny-nose kids. All in all, it was a pretty hard life for both of them, but they felt they were securing their future, and it was worth it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

John and Agnes Childs, my paternal Gr Grandparents

John Worrell Marshall Childs entered this world January 1, 1838 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, second son of Lorenzo and Ann Caroline (Marshall) Childs. He was given his maternal gandfather’s full name, John Worrell Marshall, to honor Ann Caroline’s recently deceased father (d. 1833). Brooklyn remained Lorenzo’s home for the next few years until the family moved to Pittsburgh and then to Fallston, Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Agnes Baxter Ecoff was born 28 January 1848 in Rochester, Beaver County, Pennsylvania to Margaret (Alman) and Ralph Ecoff, both long time Pennsylvanians. I have no knowledge of Agnes’s childhood. As an aside, my sister Miriam’s casket lies immediately on top of Margaret (Alman) Ecoff’s casket. The plan was to move Miriam when the family purchased a burial plot. Three months later, Grandmother Holt died, a plot was purchased and here we are, 88 years later, and Miriam is still with Gr-Gr-Grandmother Ecoff. May they both rest in eternal peace.

On the 30th of September, 1869 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, John and Agnes married. Why Pittsburgh, I’m really not sure. John joined his father, Lorenzo, in the machinery business in Smith’s Ferry, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. One year later, 30 September 1870, John Worrell Marshall Childs, Jr. arrived on the scene followed by daughter Grace in January, 1875, Agnes Gertrude, my Grandmother, 6 December 1879, and finally, Blanche in July, 1883. The family was now complete

The business prospered and John built a lovely home there for his family on the banks of the beautiful Ohio River. This was before all the dams were built on the river and each spring during run-off the river could be very treacherous as witnessed by this picture of John’s and Agnes’s home after one of those rambunctious spring floods.

John, working closely with his father, Lorenzo, over the few short years before Lorenzo's untimely death in 1864, acquired Lorenzo's highly developed entrepreneurial bent. The business grew exponentially during the years of his stewardship. The business exists to this day, although much diminished in scope. John died February 5, 1920 and his beloved wife, Agnes, survived him living until June 25, 1931. They are buried in the Childs plot in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spoofing Grandad Holt

Grandad Holt-middle, Clyde Holt, right.
Grandad Holt had two Hobbies that he pursued
avidly almost until his death, fishing and hunting. I can’t prove it, but I believe he was born with a fishing pole in one hand and a gun in the other. He was without a doubt one of the most accomplished squirrel hunters ever to lift a gun. His marksmanship was legendary. His favorite weapon for squirrels and rabbits was a small, Fox, 20 gauge, double barreled shotgun. Rarely did any of us who hunted with him bring home more game. When he and his younger brother, Clyde, were in their eighties, each bought a beagle rabbit hound so they would have a dog to hunt with in the morning and another fresh one in the afternoon. He shot his last deer when he was ninety-one. In his last few years of hunting, he was a little hesitant and a bit unstable on uneven ground so Uncle Frank would walk with him to a tree or stump then leave him for awhile. If Frank heard a shot or after a half hour or so had elapsed he would return and they would move to another vantage point.

One Thanksgiving, in the mid-1930's, the family was sitting around digesting one of Mom’s wonderful holiday dinners and talking about the morning’s hunt. Rabbit hunting Thanksgiving morning was a ritual with the males of our family. The season would end on the last day of November and Thanksgiving was most likely the last day we could hunt together. That day the subject got around to whom could shoot best and whose gun patterned best. In typical Holt argument mode, each stoutly defended his weapon and prowess.

To settle the question, Dad proposed we drape a newspaper over the wire fence that set off the back yard from the cow pasture, back off and pattern each weapon. Dad went first and did real well. Uncle Frank was up next and duplicated Dad’s prowess. Dad, who had carried Grandad’s weapon out for him, snapped the gun open, inserted a shell then handed him his trusted 20 gauge. Grandad stepped up to the toed mark in the dirt, quickly mounted the gun and shot. Both Frank and Dad hurried to the newspaper and with much fanfare announced that Grandad had missed the entire newspaper. Grandad frowned in total disbelief, then hurried to the target certain that his two sons were spoofing him. They weren’t. "What the devil?" Must have been the dang shell, "I’ll try again," he said. Back we all trooped to the line. Dad gave him another shell and he reloaded. Again, only this time with great deliberation, he mounted the gun, and did something he never did--carefully aimed--and fired. The whole gang excitedly trooped down to the target. Not a single pellet in the paper. Then the laughter exploded as Uncle frank and Dad literally had to sit down they were laughing so hard. They had taken the shot out of several of Grandad’s shells and then carefully replaced the end wad. We laughed heartily about that incident every Thanksgiving for years. Such wonderful memories.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meet My Parents: John & Naomi (Davis) Holt

My father, John Childs Holt, had to have been a wonderful Christmas present for his parents, Frank Raymond Holt and Agnus Gertrude (Childs) when he arrived that cold, snowy, 23rd day of December, 1900 in Butler, Pennsylvania. The family didn't remain in Butler very long and soon moved back to their home territory, settling in Rochester, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Fourteen months later, minus six days, on an equally cold and snowy day, the 17th of February, 1902, in Fallston, Pennsylvania, Jessie Virginia (Thornhill) presented her husband, Herbert Albert Davis, with a beautiful daughter whom they named Naomi Alberta. Can't you just see the pride and love in his eyes? After all, not only was she his first (and only) daughter, she was named for him.

According to Grandad Holt, Dad was always a very curious, mischievous, into everything, youngster. Even during his toddling stage he was a handful so it is incongruous to see him as grandmother dressed him for his 1903 or 1904 trip to the photographer. But I guess that was the way it was done. Grandfather was a very successful dentist those days and provided a comfortable living for his family. And, I've been told, Grandmother was one who always wanted things done "just right." As with all the Holts I've known, hunting and fishing was an important part of male family socialization as is amply demonstrated by this picture of Dad taken c1914.

Athletics played a large role with Dad in school. According to my Uncle Cleo Davis, who went to school with him, Dad was an outstanding football player. His kicking prowess was apparently legendary and he could, even under pressure, kick a football consistently + 70 yards in the air. His reputation was such that his picture and one of the footballs he kicked was still on display in Rochester High School in the 1970's when Uncle Cleo Davis visited the school.

Mother's childhood was quite different. The family moved constantly though staying within, roughly, a 30 mile radius of Beaver Valley where Grandmother's parents, John and Fanny Bell Thornhill lived. Mother's brother, Cleo, stoutly maintained that he had gone to twenty different schools by the time he entered Rochester High School. Because Grandad frequently had jobs in remote places Mother usely stayed with the Thornhills in Beaver. This picture of her in 1909 at 7 years old in first grade in Beaver, was taken one of those times. One of the many places the family lived that was fairly remote was Lime Kiln Hollow. The children attended school there for several years. In 1936 when Uncle Cleo and his family visited from California we visited then completely abandoned Lime Kiln Hollow School and took a picture of Mother and Uncle Cleo in its long-abandoned remnant.
One of the more permanent jobs Grandfather Davis had was managing the very large swimming pool at Rock Springs Park (no longer in existence) at Chester, West Virginia where the photo of him on the moon was taken. (see Blog # ) This is a picture of Grandmother and Uncle Cleo, the first two in the back row. in that pool. While living there the family attended the Christian Church and this picture of mother, 12 or 13 years old, was lifted from a group picture taken of her Sunday School class.

The family had moved to Rochester, Pa. by 1918 when Mother started her Freshman year in Rochester High School where she was soon glamor struck by the school's rising, athletic star, Sophomore, John Childs Holt. Two years later, the two eloped and married in Cumberland, West Virginia, Sept 15, 1920. Dad played football that fall but the two never completed their High School education.

My sister, Miriam Ruth, was born 2 1/2 months prematurely, 7 March, 1921. She lived just 2 months and 4 days and died 11 May, 1921. That was an exceptionally tragic year for the family, Grandmother Holt died of an aneurysm on September 6, 1921. Mother contracted pneumonia that fall and they moved to the farm where, on the family Doctor's orders, they slept outdoors for the next two years. My brother, John Childs Holt, Jr. (Jackie) was born August 15, 1924. Shortly after he was born, Dad left by train for Stanford, California, where, by invitation from legendary Coach Glen "Pop" Warner, Dad was recruited to play football for Stanford University.

I must add here that the Offensive line Coach at Stanford then, was Claude Thornhill, an equally famous coach, who had also been an All American football player at the University of Pittsburgh, was my Mother's uncle. Predictably, because Dad had failed to complete his High School graduation requirements in 1921, the Stanford Office of Administration officials informed him he could not continue at Stanford. By then Mother, and their new son, John Jr. ("Jackie,") had joined him in Stanford. John and Fanny Bell (Smith)Thornhill, Claud's parents and Mother's Grandparents as well as her parents, Virginia (Thornhill) and Herbert Davis, were living there at the time so the little family stayed with them until the following spring when they returned to Pennsylvania.

There is a tragic climax to this chain of events. My brother, Jack, while playing around a barn being built on the farm, fell and struck his head on the head of a nail protruding from a discarded board, and died that night, the 15th of August, 1924, of a brain hemorrhage. Dad completed his High School requirements in 1925 but never returned to Stanford. I have his High School Diploma.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Life and Death on the Farm

The stretch of Tuscarawas road extending from our neighbor on the East, John Gillespie, to the West edge of our property was maybe a half-mile long and relatively straight. For whatever reason, it attracted speeding and was very dangerous for both us kids and animals.

I can't remember the number of dogs and cats we owned that were killed on that particular stretch of road. Some were killed outright, but the most devastating were those that were badly injured and had to be shot. Their loud, screaming howls of pain seemed to penetrate your very existence. Those anguished screams, which held we kids transfixed, would go on until usually either Dad or Grandad would come running with a shotgun. At the bang of the gun those anguished screams of pain abruptly stopped but were followed by equally heart wrenching sobs and tears for a dear friend lost. No one wasted money on veterinarians for dogs in those tough financial times. We kids learned about paved roads, fast traffic and life and death at a very young age.

One of those days that taught us a first-hand lesson occurred when we kids were watching the fruit stand for Mom. We were out in front of it playing---not on, but very close to, the pavement. All of a sudden we were literally frozen in place by a blaring auto horn and the screaming, screeching of tires. Our heads whirled to face a barreling, rocking, skidding automobile almost upon us. We were frozen in fright where we stood. The driver, going much too fast, had swerved to miss a bunch of dogs that had tumbled out of the weeds alongside the road, milling around a bitch in heat. As you can imagine, we were transfixed with fear where we stood. The careening vehicle, with horn screaming, hit my brother Rod, slamming him down and running over him. It stopped with him under the back axel. By then, we all were screaming and crying in abject fear. Sis ran for Mother and I ran to Rod. The driver was totally devastated and couldn't even get out of the car. I heard Rod screaming from underneath, toward the back of the car. Just as I started to crawl under to get him Mom arrived, yanked me out of the way and dived under the car to where Rod was laying. She pulled Rod out from under the vehicle and, except for a few serious bruises and scratches, he was just fine. Terrified, as we all were, but fine.

We also learned about birth and life there on the farm. Mom always raised chickens and turkeys. Eggs were cheaper than peeps, and we had plenty of eggs, so Dad purchased several incubators for hatching them. Also, many an old hen hid her nest out in the weeds and would eventually come in clucking proudly, leading her little brood of running fuzz balls. I enjoyed watching the hatching process in the incubators best. Several times during the incubation period, each egg was "candled," to determine whether it contained a fetus, or was still alive and well. Candling--actually looking through the shell using a light source to silhouette the fetus--was done by cutting a small oval hole in the base of a round Quaker Oats cereal box and putting either a candle or low wattage light bulb under it. An egg would be taken from the incubator and placed on the lighted oval hole. It always seemed like a miracle to me to watch the changing fetus until the baby chick pecked it's way through the confining shell and emerged all wet, gooey and hungry.

There have been a hundred or so folks visit the blog but only two have commented. I really would appreciate your comments as to the blog's focus and content, good or bad, or suggestions as to where you think it could be improved. There is a link providing an avenue for your comments just beneath the last sentence of each blog. Hope to hear from you. B.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Henry and Dorcas Holt to America--1730

Henry Holt emigrated c1730 from Ireland with his new wife, Dorcas and her parents William and Jane Armstrong. This information is from Dorcas's obituary, however, it did not name either Henry or her parents, saying just, "with her husband and parents." A Mrs. Vashti Seaman, a descendant through their grandson, John Holt, gave data to the DAR suggesting that Henry came from Thames, England and was the son of Rowland Holt (and Priscilla Ballow) brother of Sir John Holt, Lord Chief Justice of the British Supreme Court, both sons of Sir Thomas Holt. There are two christening's recorded for the Henry Holt who is definitely of the the English family: Source, IGI Index c302, Event: Father: Rowland Holt, Mother, Lucretia, Christening 12 Oct 1701, Saint Botolph Without Aldersgate, London, England. #2: Event: Father. Rowland Holt, Mother, Presca or Persca, Christening, 12 Oct, 1701, Charterhouse Chapel, Finsbury, London, England. I have no explanation for the different names cited for the mother. There is no firm documentation linking our Henry to this Henry, but the circumstantial evidence is exceptionally strong.

Rowland, Henry's father, had Estates in both London and near Dublin, Ireland. The Armstrong family lived in County Monaghan, Ireland, so there was no more than 40 miles between them. And, as the story handed down through successive generation's goes, Dorcas was either working for the Holt family or living nearby when Henry and she married. Some believe they eloped. At least that story is extant within the family lore of their more modern descendants. Dorcas must have been both exceptionally beautiful and bright, as she could neither read nor write and Henry, wealthy and educated, had attended prestigious Cambridge University, and according to University records, matriculating there in 1720 at age nineteen. There is no record of his graduating, however.

Several family researchers, over the 280 years since their arrival in Colonial America, have made the statement that Henry was indeed an English gentleman. He is also supposed to have been a silversmith in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The first documentation I have of the family in America was the 27 September 1733 Christening of Henry's and Dorcas's son, Thomas, in the Episcopal Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As an interesting aside, Benjamin Franklin and his family were attending members of that church then. Franklin and wife are buried there.

Family lore indicates that, sometime between 1733 and 1735, Henry disappeared while on a business trip. There is no confirmation of that either. Another speculation is that Henry might have gotten tired of the frontier and looked for greener pastures elsewhere. It has also been speculated that he learned of his brother's death and realized that the home estate in England was now his and headed for England but his ship was lost at sea. Who knows. All we know is that in 1735, Dorcas was hauled into court in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and scolded for beating up a male who had beat up one of her female friends. Henry was not mentioned.The next documented incident in her life was her marriage to Arthur Buchanan, another Irish immigrant, in 1738 in Gloucester County, New Jersey.