1901 Reminiscences of 1850s Greenville

Thoughts and Reminiscences
Authored during a recent visit to his natal soil by a citizen of Iowa
Bonapart, IA, Dec. 17, 1901
Greenville Journal

DEAR EDITOR:

One day early in September last, a friend said to us, "Uncle John, let's go to Ohio. An excursion goes out next Tuesday - I haven't seen my old home for ten years, and, I'd like to go. I'll take care of you." His home is in Belmont, ours in Darke county. Preliminaries were soon settled, and on the morning of the 10th of September we responded to the familiar 'all aboard' of the conductor of our 9:30 a.m. train for the East, and without accident or incident worthy of note, except that the front trucks of our coach were derailed for an hour at Logansport, Ind., we arrived at Dayton, Ohio in time for breakfast, on the morning of the 11th.

We had not been to Dayton for fifty years and soon realized we were a stranger, looking in vain for familiar faces and friendly recognition. At 8:30 p.m. we boarded a train for Greenville, feeling sure that among many remembered names of persons and localities we would soon be free from our intense feeling of loneliness, and be at home. While sitting and looking out of the car window, oblivious to everything but our own thoughts, a touch on the shoulder with a "tickets, please" from the conductor aroused us. "did you not take our ticket to Greenville?" we asked. "Why did you not get off at Greenville; I called it loud," he said. "Will stop in a moment and let you off." When we stepped from the car we were within fifty feet of the spot where the first engine, the Jacob Burnett, that ever crossed Greenville Creek on the D&U railroad went crashing through a trestle work, and landed on the sod fifteen feet below. Instantly visions of E.f. TAYLOR, then president of the D&U, Judge FARRAR, Allen LaMOTTE, John WHERRY, Dr. GARD, Lemuel RUSH, and others more or less prominent in the locating and building of the road, flashed before our mind, and for the moment, felt that we were in Greenville. We wended our way up town and like Orestes "rolled our eyes this way and that way" in search of some familiar object or remembered face. But all is changed. It is said that Nero boasted at his death that "He found Rome in brick, but left it in marble." We left Greenville in mud, but found it in brick and cement. Approaching Broadway and Public Square - looking upward, brick downward, brick, brick everywhere. We have seen Public Square too muddy for men to fight on with decency, but now find it paved with brick from center to curb, in all directions. We looked in vain for some outline of the battle ground where Israel WURTS whaled the Kentuckian - or where SWISHER - first name forgotten - proved to the community that John BUCHANAN could be whipped. We awoke from our reverie and sought and soon found our brother, I.G. HILLER, primary and principle cause of this visit to Greenville, and with him went to the Hotel Miesse, where we hung our hats up and shook off that uncomfortable feeling of loneliness, that had well nigh overcome us. In the reception room of the hotel, we saw for the first time, a fire of natural gas. In southeastern Iowa we have natural gas in abundance, but different from this - our kind will not always create a fire, but frequently does, but the fire always turns under the jacket, and the gas is always piped from one of those regular "bores", and not from the far away vales of Indiana, as we understood that was by the fire of which we were sitting.

Soon after entering the hotel, our host and hostess came in. Brother Isaac says to us, "John, do you know this lady?" We looked and thought, but failed to recognize her. "did we ever know her?" we asked. "Yes. Don't you remember Laura McKLIANN?" "Yes. Is this Laura?" Our surprise was complete. When we saw her last, she was a cute little dark-eyed maiden of five or six summers. Her husband, Mr. WENGER, we remembered only by name, was personally acquainted with his father. They met us so cordially, that it drove every vestige of loneliness from us at once, and made us feel at home.

When we left Greenville in 1855, the land whereon the Hotel Miesse stands was in cultivation, but back in the thirties a log house, two stories high, stood on, or near the location of the Miesse, known then as "Scribner's Pork House", in one corner of which was printed the only newspaper, the "Darke County Advocate", that was then published in Greenville and our recollection is, it was the embryo of the present Greenville Journal. We found, as we feared, the most of our old-time friends were laid away in the cemetery - only a very few of them were yet in town. We found and recognized our friend, and father's friend, Dr. I.N. GARD. He had been our family physician as far back as we can remember, but when he put on that genial smile that always seemed natural to him, we knew we were in the presence of the Doctor. John DEVOR, Esq. we knew, after the second look. Except those two, we found no others in Greenville that we could recognize without help. His Honor, Mayor CHENOWETH, and the Hon. Judge COLE, admitted that they went to school to us when we practiced as a pedagogue, and we doubt if they can prove they ever would have attained to their present honorable positions had they not attended our school.

After finding and renewing acquaintance with some of our living friends, we set out to find the "Loved spots our infancy knew". We looked for the site of the old jail, and for the residence of Christopher MARTIN - "Tiss" as he was familiarly called - a pious christian gentleman, a friend to the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. We did not find it, but as we remembered, it was not far from the present jail. We remember that at one time the authorities had incarcerated in the old jail two men, strangers, for some misdemeanor, don't remember what, and they tried to work up a little sympathy in their own behalf by acting religion; they were very pious, sung hymns and spiritual songs in real orthodox fashion, read a lesson from the scriptures, and offered prayer every night and morning. Some one told "Uncle Tiss" about it, and urged him to appeal to the authorities to take legal steps at once to have them released, for they were good christian men, and were being persecuted. "Uncle Tiss" thought the matter over and concluded maybe they had Paul and Silas in the old jail, and he would go over and investigate. One morning, about the hour of prayer, he walked across toward the old jail, and when he got within earshot of the prison, sure enough he heard the voice of prayer. One of them was praying with all the earnest devotedness of a Methodist bishop. "Uncle Tiss" was a Methodist; he paused to listen: and he heard: "O Lord God Almighty, do thou send a shower of anvils, crowbars, log chains and sledge hammers and smash this damned old jail to hell". Our pious friends will please pardon us for quoting verbatum. "Tut, tut," says Uncle Tiss, and turned on his heel and went home, determined not to interfere.

The general appearance of the Public Square was a little familiar - no trouble to point to the Dr. BRIGG's corner, J.C. POTTER's, J.L. WINNER's hotel of the forties, the Charlie HUTCHINS' corner where the little unpleasantness that occurred between Greenville and Dayton at the opening of the D&U RR originated, which ended in a hand to hand skirmish at the depot just before the train pulled out for Dayton, where, it was said, Theodore BEERS straightened his left arm in the faces of three or four Daytonians, and they fell every time. The Frank HAUGHTON corner was still there, then across the street the CRAIG tavern of the long ago; more recently the residence and office of Dr. G. MIESSE. The HUFNAGLE corner, made conspicuous by the absence of the old building was readily remembered. The old time market house, that stood near it, is gone. The church and the school buildings of the old time are also all gone, and have been replaced by new, substantial and imposing structures, we believe, in every instance. Minatown, fifty years ago, consisted of two modest dwellings and a tanyard. Now it is an ambitious young city, with its two hundred and fifty or more children of school age. We were shown the new school house, recently completed at a cost of $22,000 with construction, arrangements and appliances all strictly modern. While standing just inside the main entrance, we noticed a young pupil come tripping in from the play ground, put his mouth over a small nozzle of a hydrant, and stand there till a steam engine a mile away pumped a drink of water into him. We thought of our own school boy days, when we didn't know any better than to do our own drinking. Out on the Gettysburg pike we had an occasional glimmer of recognition, but when we sought the MARTIN hill that used to loom up in the dim distance so prominently, we found it non est -- gone - only a hole in the ground to mark the place where it stood. We wondered what the Psalmist meant when he sung of the "everlasting hills"; the MARTIN hill could not have been one of them, we thought. On the Milton pike we recognized the site of the SAWYER still house, and remembered some of the noble human wrecks caused by having been bitten by the imperial worm that lay coiled within its walls. The CARNAHAN hill is still intact, surmounted by the same old house, and has the same general appearance it had a half century ago. When we came to the old home of our grandfather, Judge HAYS, and took a cursory view of it from the road, we almost regretted having come at all, for we saw at once that time and modern taste had made material changes so much so that it had taken nearly all the sacredness out of it. The orchard was there, but the deep tangled wintwood and the log meetin' house that stood in it, had been swept away and a large neat brick church erected on or near the site of the old one, also a commodious brick, subdistrict school house near it, the latter emblem of literature, science, and human honors, the former worship, the fear of the Lord, hence a perfect civilization. We thought it fitting that the two should be near together, should go hand in hand - and we were comforted. One third of grandfather's house - the log kitchen - is gone, the other, set back and reduced one fourth around, to make room for a large, fine, appearing two-story farm house. ___ and __ at its new appearance was natural but awkward. The absence of the old kitchen awakened sleeping memories within as thick and fast, and they come to us and sorrows, and childhood's disappointments. We were wont to go to the kitchen at night to give uninterrupted vent to childhood's glee, and rollicking fun; we went in the daytime to pour into the ever-ready-to-listen ear of grandmother, our boyish sorrows and disappointments. In our youth and young manhood, when the young ladies and gentlemen - we called them girls and boys then - of the neighborhood would gather in -- grandfather's house was always a popular resort for young folks - we somehow always got to the kitchen; possibly because grandmother always kept pies, doughnuts and cookies there, and we knew it; and the cellar was beneath, where the apples and cider was kept.

But where are now those genial spirits that we met with so often in that old kitchen? Most of them have gone to the cities of the dead, their tombstones tell us where and when; and the few of us that are left are benumbed with age, encumbered with the aches and pains incident thereto; yes, our "evil days have come and we have no pleasure in them." Goodbye, old kitchen, "ever to memory dear"; we expect to talk of thee when we join those associates on the other shore. The new barn was easily recognized. It has carried its fiftyfour years very well, but the old log barn over the run, is not, nothing remains of it but the place where it stood. The old blue stone - the largest boulder we ever saw, that lay on the opposite shore from the house, of the branch - or "run" as we called it - is ruined. Seven pounds of dynamite had proved too much for its primitive beauty, and had sadly marred it by breaking it into three unsightly pieces, too large to be removed, and are lying there mutely, but sadly rebuking the ruthless hand that made the attempt to destroy it. We saw the place where the old house stood in which we were born - and was our home for the first two years of our life. We thought of our mother and wondered if we had given her as much worry and sleepless anxiety as boys usually do. We expect we did, and the thought makes us sad. But she is gone; we parted from her a little more than fiftyeight years ago. We saw her tomb in the HILLER graveyard. Grandfather is also gone. We took him by the hand and said goodbye nearly fortyseven years ago, and that sainted old grandmother twenty-one years later. Those dear old bodies lie in western Indiana. The question comes to us now, shall we meet again? Yes. Shall we know each other there? Yes; a thousand times yes. Did we not believe it, we should be most miserable.

From a point near where the Cincinnati Northern RR crosses Mud creek, as far as the eye could reach on Mud creek prairie and "SCRIBNER's pasture", we could see nothing but corn; yet we think we located the spot where, in 1840, we listened to Wm. H. HARRISON - "Old Tip" - while he made a speech, just before he was elected president of the United States. The picture of his mild visage, his gestures and positions on the stand, is painted on the tablets of our memory in vivid colors. We scored our eleventh birthday late in October of that year. "SCRIBNER's pasture", west from the Mackinaw depot, was, in those days, the trysting place of a regiment of state militia, of which Mark T. MILLs was Colonel and John S. HILLER was Adjutant. We remember of seeing them in full dress uniform on more than one occasion. We also remember seeing on the parade ground, Major DUGAN, an old man, and an ex-soldier of the Revolution; he always came dressed in full "continentals" and when he would get full of SAWYER whiskey and patriotism, he would begin to shout: "Blue! Blue! Continental Blue! War!" and would keep shouting at short intervals as long as the whiskey would work. We also remember of hearing in that same pasture a speech from Tom CORWIN, the "wagon boy", and we yet see the "yaller" chalk in his eyes as he rolled them from side to side, in a peculiar way, when he wanted to emphasize a point, or adorn a tale.

Tecumseh's point was easily recognized, only one modest dwelling having been built since. The Morningstar house, built by John R. BURDGE, still stands. We remember the footprints of the Mound builders on the Bill COUNER farm; the excavations for antiques have not defaced them much. The old home of "Uncle Bill" McKHANN is changed materially. That of James McGINNIS is still there, but the noted peach orchard is gone. All along the Winchester pike as far as we saw it a mile west of Sharpeye, the country has been denuded of timber; slushes, ponds and quagmires have been drained, creeks and branches have been made straight, the land brought under a high state of cultivation, and we doubt if there is a finer looking country, or a better on earth. It reminds us very much of one of our townships in southern Iowa; we mean its general appearance. Our own old home is so materially changed that we almost regret having seen it at all. The old familiar buildings are all out of sight, timber nearly all gone, fences removed entirely or their locations changed. The little spring branch - our especial pet - that used to wend its serpentine way down by the kitchen in its laughing, rollicking merriment, dancing and sparkling in its liquid light, with all the joyous freedom of its own tumbling, rippling, gurgling, noise, is now compelled to go down a gentle incline, straight, cramped as with a modern corset, or an insane straight jacket or standing collar and wear as much primp dignity as an antique maiden, while attempting to ape modern conventional society. Alas! Alas! But we doubt the propriety of some things in this world, anyway.

We made a short visit to the little city of the dead near by, walked through some of its streets, noticed carefully the names on the door tablets, and found the houses all occupied by the owners. Did not find any that were "For sale, or rent." We missed the old log church; it is gone, peace to its ashes. We had known it for more than sixtyfive years. Our first days at school were spent within its sacred walls. It was the first church building in Darke county, and was built in 1819. Eighteen years more would have made it a centenarian. Oh! Why are the boys in such haste to remove all the old landmarks! We think the authorities mad a grave mistake when they decided to tear down the "HILLER meetin' house". We found our old time friend and chum, James MILLS at the old stand; solid as if to the "manor born". He decided some years ago to let his beard and hair grow long in single blessedness. Why, I don't know - hardly think it was because of a vow.

The site of the old log school house, in our home district, is still in status quo. The timber lot that joins the site on the east, through which our school path ran, looks to us about as it did sixtyfive years ago. The place where the pond was - all there but the water - the ball yard; and one oak tree, the one that always stood for the home base of all our games, remains the same. After the new log house was built, on the north side of the road some eighty rods west, we still used the old play ground. We tried to recall the names of the teachers that we went to, with our educational troubles, inside the walls of those log school houses, and we recalled Aaron HILLER, John S. HILLER, Wm. BIRD, John L. CURTIS, Harvey WILLIAMSON - or John C., we forget which - and Samuel V. SHAYLOR, in the old house. In the new we recall but three - Hezekiah SWARTZ, Martin ULLERY and Joseph COLE. All but the two last named, as far as we know, have gone to "that bourne from which no traveler returns." Hence the intense pleasure we felt in being permitted to take those two living teachers by the hand, in their own homes, is more easily imagined than described. Their wives we would not have recognized, had we not met them at their own homes. When they answered to the names of Sarah SHIVELY and Mary BRADY, we knew them at sight; but fifty years of remorseless time does sometimes change the appearance of the human face, but we were surprised to find that those two girls had borne the weight of the days of their years so well; they looked younger than we expected to see them.

While contemplating the site of the old school house, our thoughts went back, yes, we "rolled backward the tide of the years", and was a boy again. Incidents that came to pass within and around those old walls came trooping into our memory in numbers, that if written at length would make a volume. We will not tell of them now, but we do and will cherish many of them as among the brightest spots in our experience; and we expect to recall them, and talk them over again, when we meet those chums and schoolmates at the bar of the eternal. We will relate but one reminiscence of the round log school house. One very cold Christmas morning, the snow at least ten inches deep, we made our way bright and early to school, in lively expectation of some extra fun. We had heard it whispered for a day or two previous that on Christmas, the "big boys" would bar the teacher out, and demand a treat, and we wanted to be there to see. The "big boys" as we remember were John COAPSTICK and Benjamin and Samuel CLARK. There may have been others, probably were. The big boys got there early that morning and built a roaring fire in the primitive outside wooden chimney, then carried in enough extra fuel to stand a siege, for they did not know just what "Long John" would do - John L. CURTIS was the teacher. The door was then shut and securely fastened, but when any of the scholars came it was carefully opened to admit them; and once inside, we were happy. At a late hour, perhaps 9:30 a.m., some one said "There comes the teacher," and quicker than Tam O'Shanter's spooks blew out the lights, all was still. The teacher went to the door, lifted the latch, gave a gentle push - the door didn't open. He then demanded admittance. A small sheet of paper was passed out to him through a crevice in the door stating the terms upon which we proposed to admit him - a treat of something, don't remember what. He read the paper carefully, then said, "No, boys, I won't do it." "Then stay out," came defiantly from our captain. Then, everybody pulled themselves together, and with bated breath, awaited the beginning of hostilities. The teacher began with a feint or two - "Would go to Greenville and bring the sheriff", he said. That didn't do. He then began chopping a large tree that stood near, as if he would make it fall across the school house and crush it. No go. Then he disappeared, and was gone so long that we though he had retreated. We would have dinner, so we added fresh fuel to the fire and got our lunch baskets and were having a picnic. But to our consternation we found instead of retreating he had climbed to the roof of the house, and threw a large package of dry red pepper pods, and some sand sulphur - we always doubted the sulphur part as it wasn't necessary - into our fire, then placed a board on the top of the chimney, and sat down on it, and kept it there, and in less time than it takes me to tell it, the room was filled with smoke, and O! shades of Pluto! Such a coughing and sneezing -t'would have made a wooden boy sneeze - mingled with screeches, shrieks, and yells terrific, was never known since the world began. We all went for the door, it opened - it had to - and about thirty of us tried to get through a three-foot door, all at once, but we got out, nobody knew how. Then we saw the teacher sitting on top of the chimney, looking pleasantly, and not coughing a bit. We invited him to come down. He did. We made our peace with him, and went to our books - after noon.

We are glad we made the trip. We are glad that our friend, "Mack", made the suggestion that we go, and our heart goes out in gratitude to the Giver of all good for the pleasure and solid enjoyment we had - and we had all we could take care of, from start to finish. A few of our old time friends that are living, we failed to meet, and we regret it much, but good bye, old home; good-bye all ye scenes of our childhood and youth, we feel that we shall see you on more in this life, but our co-actors in these scenes, we will meet again. They have nearly all gone now, and our three-score and twelve years admonish us that we, too, will soon cross over. Already we feel the chilling winds from off the cold river, and note and count the land marks, as time carries us on toward its turbid waters. "Good night. Good night."

J.A. HILLER

Contributed by Sara Reed

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