Occasionally I find something in an old newspaper that really does not require any commentary.
Often referred to as “the western equivalent of the clambake,” the milk can dinner started out as a popular way to feed a crowd in the old west. To prepare the meal, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, Polish sausage, onions, and corn on the cob are steamed over an open fire. Once a year, in Hancock County, you can try it for yourself at Tuttle Orchards.
To be honest, before I started serving on the Hancock County Historical Society (HCHS) board a few months ago, I had never heard of such a thing. Phyllis Kingen, who also serves on the board, started the tradition in Hancock County in 2008. She first discovered the recipe in a 1994 Taste of Home magazine, which she still has. (This is a fact; she showed it to me!) Intrigued by the idea, she started preparing the dinners for special gatherings, and when the HCHS was looking for a way to raise funds a few years ago, she suggested they give her specialty a try.
“The first year everybody was skeptical,” she said, but the event has brought in over $1000 for the organization for the past three years. Since the dinners began, she has accumulated four milk cans. These can be hard to find, so she takes extra special care of them so we can enjoy this unique event once a year in Hancock County.
On February 19, 1891, M. C. Quigley ran an ad in the Hancock Democrat for his “New Model Drug Store” in Lee C. Thayer’s New Block. The ad stated that Quigley could be found “with a new and elegant line of drugs, paints, oils, school books, fancy stationery and everything found in a first-class Drug Store.” March 14, 1891 brought the grand opening of L. C. Thayer’s New Dry Goods Store. A new era of Greenfield business had begun!
Today, L. C. Thayer’s building at the corner of East and Main in downtown Greenfield, Indiana is located within the Courthouse Square National Register Historic District. Throughout its 121-year history, it has been home to a wide variety of businesses, including Harry Strickland’s Grocery, H. H. Zike Drug Co., Columbia Barber Shop, and Danner Brothers 5 & 10 Cent Store. It has also provided office space for attorneys, insurance salesmen, a homoeopathist, and the County Trustee.
In 1921, Chiropractor Chas. J. Wagner advertised cheap adjustments producing “a condition of health.” He stated that his Thayer Bldg. office was “equipped to give real health service.” In the late 1920’s, John S. Hill, a Naturopathic Physician, offered electric treatments in Room 17 of the Thayer Bldg. More recently, Morris Inc. occupied the building. The modernized first floor now houses 2nd Seasons, a consignment clothing shop.
The Italianate styling of Thayer’s block is common in buildings constructed between 1850 and 1880 in towns and cities throughout the Midwest. The style is seen less often in the South, where little new construction took place during those years due to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and an economic depression.
This style utilized newly developed cast iron and pressed metal technology, which allowed, for the first time, economical mass production of decorative building features. You can see the use of such features crowning the windows and decorating the roofline of the Thayer building. Before this technology was available, few merchants could afford to decorate their buildings with such elaborate detail in carved stone.
Italianate buildings are usually characterized by wide, projecting cornices and decorative brackets. The Thayer building is atypical of the style because it does not have brackets – but you will see these on many other historic buildings in Greenfield, including Thayer’s own Italianate style home (photo below). The tall, narrow windows of the Thayer building are also a common Italianate feature.
Who was L.C. Thayer?
Lee C. Thayer was born in Massachusetts in the mid-1800’s. He moved to Indiana, where he worked as a railroad engineer. After serving with the 11th Indiana Regiment during the Civil War, he returned to Indiana and began working in the dry goods business. He married Mary Oakes on June 25, 1869, but she passed away a short time later. In 1890, he built the Lee C. Thayer block to house his dry goods store, and on April 10, 1893, he married Iona Williams. Lee and Iona had four children: Lee Carlton Jr., Louise, Nellie, and Florence.
In 1901, Thayer sold his dry goods store to his brother, Hollis, who owned the Spot Cash Department Store located on the same block at 6 E. Main. Hollis combined the two stores under the name Spot Cash, but he died shortly afterwards in 1906, and Lee bought the store back. He operated it until 1911, when he retired and invested in farmland. He died in Greenfield on June 26, 1923, and was buried with a military marker in Park Cemetery.
Lee’s son, Lee Carlton Jr., attended Princeton University. In 1906, he returned to Greenfield, where he went into the dry goods business as well. He married Ora Holmes on November 20, 1911, and they had one daughter, Jane, before he died suddenly of acute gastritis and spinal meningitis on February 10, 1927. He was just 43 years old.
In addition to the commercial building that has housed so many Greenfield businesses in its long history, L. C. Thayer also left downtown Greenfield with a beautiful residential gem. Soon, I hope to explore his stunning Main Street home.
I recently discovered this interesting wedding photograph in a box of family keepsakes. Unfortunately, the bride and groom are not identified, so I have no idea who they are.
The photo is actually a “cabinet card” – a thin 4½ x 6½ inch photo mounted on cardboard. Cabinet cards were popular in the late 1800’s, but they quickly went out of style with the introduction of the affordable, easy-to-use Kodak “Brownie” camera in 1900.
The nice thing about cabinet cards is that they usually identify the photographer on the back, which can help us place the photo historically in a time and place. The back of this cabinet card identifies the photographer as “Zutterling,” located at 503 Vine Street in Cincinnati.
I began researching this photo by searching for “Zutterling Cincinnati” on Google Books, and I got extremely lucky – the photographer, Peter Zutterling, was included in Diane VanSkiver Gagel’s book, Ohio Photographers: 1839-1900. The listing for Peter Zutterling specifies that he operated the 503 Vine Street studio from 1873-1894.
Now that I have placed this photo in a fairly narrow time period, I will be looking for a wedding that took place during those years in or near Cincinnati as I continue my family research.
Once I figured out the time period, I moved on to researching the dark wedding dress. I thought the white wedding dress tradition started after Queen Victoria wore white to marry Prince Albert in 1840. So, I was surprised that this late-1800’s bride was not wearing white. Didn’t she get the memo?
As it turns out, most 19th century brides did not wear a white wedding dress. A dark dress was more practical, because she could wear it again for other special occasions. Even Queen Victoria had her white wedding gown re-styled for another use. After all, what reasonable woman buys a dress that she knows she will only wear once?
Of course, when it comes to weddings in the 21st century, practicality and reason are usually in short supply. These days, some brides spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on extravagant white gowns that are worn for only a few hours, and a bride will go to great lengths to walk down the aisle in her “dream dress,” even if it is obscenely out of her budget.
However, back in the 1800’s, before credit cards, brides had to live within their means. So even though she may have wanted a white dress à la Queen Victoria, she settled for a sensible frock in a dark shade. Only the wealthiest brides were able to pull off a white gown. A wealthy bride might also drag a long, expensive piece of fabric around behind her on the floor.
Those who were not part of the elite continued wearing dresses, sometimes even suits, of various colors. My grandmother, Sara Layton, wore a black velvet skirt and satin jacket when she married my grandfather in 1947. Not long after that, the white dress became standard. Less than ten years after my grandmother got married in her sensible black velvet skirt, my mother was playing dress-up in a white wedding gown when she was only five years old.
Today, the term “white wedding” is used to sum up the entire Western Christian wedding tradition that most of us take for granted. Within this tradition, some people have chosen to label the white dress as a symbol of a bride’s “purity,” a sign that she has saved herself for her groom, who, by the way, typically does not wear white. Women are expected to be perfect, angelic virgins on their wedding day, and men are expected to… show up.
Back in simpler times, before I earned my bitter feminist worldview, I had my own wedding dress picked out of an issue of Bride Magazine years before I had my first kiss. I spent hours studying the way the gown fell in flawless, clean lines around the bride’s perfect shape. I dreamed that one day, I would look so perfect. In these bridal fantasies, I looked a lot like the bride in the magazine picture, who was standing alone, in a field. Because the fantasy wasn’t about the actual marriage or the commitment that it entails. I really just wanted that dress. Which isn’t surprising since every Disney movie I watched and loved as a child seemed to end with a princess in a white gown walking down the aisle to her fairy tale happy ending. As a young girl, I didn’t doubt that my own life would have a similar outcome.
Now that I am a little older, and a little wiser, I would prefer it if weddings looked a little more like my cabinet card. The unidentified bride-in-dark-dress looks like she knows what she’s in for. She has no fairy tale illusions. Nothing about her is perfect. Her dress is wrinkled at the waist and elbows. After all, this is just her wedding day. This is just the man she has chosen to build a life with. Her face says it all: Hopefully I’ll get along with this guy until one of us dies, but I really don’t expect any more from this union than a nice dress that, with any luck, I will wear again.
I have never really known where my ancestors came from. In grad school, I took a course called Multicultural Children’s Literature, and the instructors emphasized the importance of knowing your own family’s culture so you can appreciate and respect the cultures of others. We talked about “white culture” in America – about how, for many of us, being white is really all the culture we know. What does that mean? I knew my ancestors probably came from various European countries, but I was entirely uncertain about the details. Some of them were definitely from Germany. There was some Scotch-Irish on my paternal grandmother’s side. When I asked family members about our heritage, I received a variety of answers, including: “We are European mutts,” “I don’t know,” and “We’re from Kentucky.”
It wasn’t until I took this class, at the age of 25, that I realized how desperate I was to know my own story. Still, the task of conducting a thorough genealogy seemed too daunting at the time as I was completing grad school and working an assortment of part-time jobs. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that I really had a chance to get serious about my research. A few months later, I made a fascinating discovery: I am a little bit French!
I grew up with a French flag in my bedroom. I was excited to start high school because I could finally sign up for French classes. My fascination with France began around the time I turned ten, when my mom gave me a little book called Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork. This book introduced me to many things I would grow to love: travel, art, gardening, and history. I studied Lena Anderson’s illustrations daily, and read the book many times over. I wanted to ride the train to Monet’s pink house at Giverny! I wanted to picnic with a baguette and cheese! I wanted a cat to follow me around while I photographed flowers!
In the summer of 1998, I got to go to France for the first time with the French department at my high school. The group met for months beforehand to discuss what we wanted to do when we got there.
“Notre Dame!” someone suggested.
“The Champs Elysees!” another traveler said.
“Versailles!” someone else called out.
Reluctantly, I raised my hand.
“Giverny?” I asked.
Sadly, Giverny was actually kindof out of the way, and no one else really wanted to go there. Still, in addition to Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, and Versailles, we also visited Jim Morrison’s grave, the Paris Opera House, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was an amazing experience to have as a 16-year-old, and one of my best memories.
Now, I wonder what that trip would have been like if I had known then that some of my own ancestors came from France. I want to make sure that, if I ever have children, they will know where they came from. So, for the past year, I have been researching and documenting my family’s story. As I continue to discover more about who I am and how I got here, I will share what I learn at www.alittlebitfrench.com. I hope my stories will encourage others to embark on their own adventures in genealogy. Thank you for reading!