Childhood on Preston Prairie
By Florence L. Downing Horner
Mt. Carroll Township, Carroll County, Illinois 1908-1918
Contributed by her daughter Alice Horner
By Florence L. Downing Horner
Note: Florence L. Downing Horner wrote this memoir of her childhood with her brother, Harvey Loomer Downing (III) for his birthday, probably about 1986. He was born August 16, 1908 and died February 2, 1996. She was born June 29, 1906 and died October 8, 2000. They were the second and third children of Harvey Loomer Downing (II), referred to as Loomer, and Eva Belle Bickelhaupt Downing. Their farm was on the northern portion of Section 15, Mt. Carroll Township, along what is now Highway 52/64. This manuscript has been edited by Alice Horner, Florence L. Downing Horner’s daughter. Most of the people named are in her Rootsweb Website -
Although I was only two years of age, I can remember about you even before you were born. We were living in the house next door east of our home, while our new house was being built. My mother was in bed in the west front room of that house expecting you to arrive soon. Uncle Earle was sent with horse and buggy to bring me to Grandpa and Grandma Bickelhaupt’s while your arrival took place. I remember saying goodbye to my mother and in later years, Uncle Earle told me I cried all the way to Grandma’s.
|Original house on Loomer Downing farm, before the main portion was torn down and the new 2-story house built. This photo is taken about 1905, and shows the kitchen door on the east side of the house. Pictured are Loomer Downing, Eva Belle Bickelhaupt Downing, and their first child, Grace Downing. Before Loomer Downing bought this farm it was owned by the Samuel Haynes and Rebecca Bechtel Haynes family. The photo is in poor condition, with a large horizontal tear through the middle.|
I remember much of our childhood play and you were always a part of it. On one occasion the dining room chairs formed a stall for the horse and that must have been you for I pulled my toy broom apart to furnish hay for the horse. Sometimes we would set those dining room chairs together to form a dentist office and we would then take turns being the patient and the dentist. Often we played mailman by fastening a cardboard box in those sliding dining room doors to serve as a mail box and then used our coaster wagon to deliver the mail. There were many indoor games we played. Tiddle-Winks when we were little and later on Old Maid, checkers, dominoes, Authors, and Pitt.
I’m sure you remember the day we were playing on the floor when Mrs. Cal Ritenour came to call on our mother. She said, “I haven’t been well for the last few weeks. I’ve just been able to get around the house and Cal and the boys have been doing the washing.” We must have always been listening in for another time Jerusha Bashaw came to call and our mother must have questioned something that she said for Jerusha answered “no, that’s because Sarah Rauser said so.” I still think of that quotation if there is any doubt about something being true. (Note: Sarah Rauser might have been the spouse of George Rauser, but I’m not positive on this.)
I’m sure you said many cute things, Harvey, when you were little for you were a cute little boy but the one most often quoted, that I can remember, was your reply to Dad’s question after you had visited the little house behind the big house on a cold winter day. Dad asked if your hands got cold and you said, “No, but me butt got cold.”
Christmas was a time that we all looked forward to when Dad would bring a tree from the timber and we would decorate it with tinsel, strings of popcorn, ornaments, and real candles in those clip-on holders. On one occasion you and I found some of the Christmas gifts were well hidden in the pantry cupboard and our Mother found us playing with a Roly Poly Foxy Grandpa. It was whisked away quickly and we never saw it again until Christmas. Click here for the Downing's "Christmas of Old"
Our summer time play changed as our age changed. I can remember making mud pies with dust from the road before it was paved. This was a very healthy ingredient for the pie making, I am sure. We spent many hours playing in that old “cooker house.” Our cupboard was an old orange crate and our dishes were broken ones retrieved from the ditch. (Note: They used the ditch as dump and it was west of their garden, and not viewable from the road.. Both the ditch and garden were west of the house.)
At one time we planted a “garden” along the creek under that arched culvert or bridge at the foot of the hill. Our plants were twigs off of trees, bushes, or weeds. I’m sure none of them grew. (Note: This was Cedar Creek, which crossed the highway just east of Downing’s house right at the line between Sections 10 & 15.) We also quarried rock for hours in the northeast corner of the barn yard above the creek and flood gate. I think Donald Ritenour helped with that project too.
At an early age we earned some money for our labor and without a Social Security number. I remember that we pulled weeds for Eugene Bashaw in his field across from our house and each of us earned 5 cents for our morning’s work. (Note. Eugene Bashaw’s farm was in the southwest part of Section 10, between Loomer Downing’s timber and Cedar Creek.) Another of our responsibilities was to bury the little chickens that died. Perhaps we just assumed that responsibility. Do you remember the cemetery that we made in the back yard along the stone wall? We built a fence around it with sticks and string, made grave markers, our coaster wagon was the hearse, and the flowers were those weeds with yellow blossoms. At one time we buried one of our cats. Blanche Bashaw helped write the obituary for it and also contributed some poetry. She even came over and walked in the funeral procession wearing her mother’s shawl around her shoulders. Today’s psychologists would have wondered about us.
After attending Chautauqua in Mount Carroll, we held our own, out in the yard, using that big wooden box for the stage. We invited some of the neighbors to come to hear our entertainment and sold or gave them tickets that we had made and perforated on our mother’s sewing machine so they could be torn off individually. I think the Petty children took part in the program too.
We spent hours trying to make a wooden hayfork that would transport the freshly mown lawn grass from our coaster wagon to the loft in the upper part of the old wood house. When that project wasn’t too successful we decided to use the loft for a playhouse and I’m quite sure we made the crude wooden ladder which we used to climb up there. It’s a wonder we didn’t break our necks.
Caring for cows became a part of our daily schedule. We were always going after them in the pasture or timber, herding them along the road or just milking them night and morning. You and I learned to milk by both of us milking the same cow at the same time, and I think one of us on each side of her and she didn’t seem to mind. We learned much about nature when he hunted those cows in the timber. Often we would pick wild flowers, look at the May apples, but not eat them, pick up pieces of slate in the slate hollow, stop at the wild gooseberry bushes to pick gooseberries or possibly to see a bird on her nest in the bush. I’m sure you remember too how we ate those wild strawberries that grew in the moss and rocks along the cliffs. At some time you probably went in that cave but I never did because I was afraid to cross the creek. I always liked to walk down those natural stone steps in the far north east corner. I haven’t been in the timber in years but what wonderful childhood memories to have for I haven’t been in a place like it since then.
As we became older, work became an important part of our daily schedule. Probably you and I spent more time together the summers that we plowed corn than at any other time.
You were 10 and I was 12. We went to the “other place” to plow and stayed there all day. You remember how we unhitched the horses at noon to give them a chance to rest while we ate our lunch under that big shade tree that still stands in Eva & Paul’s front lawn. In case you’ve forgotten, I am including with these memories an enlargement of a snapshot I have which will show you just how we looked then.
We also harrowed, made hay, and drove the horses on the hay fork. Holding those heavy double-trees so they wouldn’t bump the horses hooves while they turned was not my favorite work. Note: The “other place” was Loomer Downing’s boyhood home on what is now South Preston Road, which was demolished by the Cyclone of 1898. The buildings were not replaced until Paul and Eva (Downing) Metz bought the farm in 1954. The big tree, which had survived the Cyclone of 1898, lost huge branches in a storm about 1993 or 1994 and had to be taken down.
Regardless of how much work we did during the day or how many cows we milked at night, we still found time to play croquet, hide-and-go-seek, or some other game even if it was nine o’clock at night.
There were many interesting things that happened when we attended Preston Prairie School too. Before you ever arrived there we had to stop at Elsie Petty’s so you could sit on the porch step beside her and sing “I love little pussy, her coat is so warm.” After your solo was completed you had to make one of those funny faces for her before we could proceed to school. Lest you have forgotten about that face, I am including a picture of all the boys at school making faces and you are making your favorite one. I am also including a picture of Preston Prairie School and a group picture of the children that attended there at that time. Link to Preston Prairie School section.
In addition to our school work at Preston Prairie, we played so many games that were so much fun. I’m sure you will recall the Baseball games in the pasture south of the school house. We also played Sticks, Steps, and Ante or Andy Over the Wood House. I never did know whether we were saying Ante or Andy and never did ask. I hesitate to mention another activity, drowning out gophers in the pasture, for it seems cruel now. Those gophers never had a chance.
In the winter there was sliding down hill and also skating on the pond. We were privileged to see and do many things that most children never experience such as the cutting of ice on the pond. You remember how Dad stored the cakes of ice in sawdust in the ice house at home and how we looked forward to eating homemade ice cream on Sunday. I also remember how sometimes we were sent over to the other place after school to water the calves or other livestock and we would stop in at Dave Flaharty’s carpet weaving shop just to chat with Mr. Flaharty and to see him working at that big loom. A visit with Mrs. Flaharty, too, was unforgettable. She would show us her collection of plants in the dry sink in the sitting room and we would admire her pansy bed outdoors. I think the floors of their quaint home were entirely covered with rag carpets that he had woven. (Note: David C. Flaharty, November 30, 1844 - November 5, 1925, lived with his wife Catherine Longman Flaharty, July 15, 1844 - December 11, 1931 and lived on the Markely farm on Section 20 during the Cyclone of 1898. But they must have moved closer to the Preston Prairie School later. They are buried in Center Hill Cemetery.
At school it was always exciting to look forward to the school programs, especially the Christmas program in which we all took part. The Christmas tree would be lighted with real candles and the “stage curtain” was put up to be drawn across the front of the room while preparing the stage for special numbers. It is surprising that Preston Prairie school never caught on fire. In the spring of the year we also looked forward to those trips down Cedar Creek on Arbor Day. I guess that was Preston Prairie’s field trip and it was a real privilege.
Another of our memorable experiences, Harvey, was when we took those people who were having car trouble to Savanna after midnight on January 1st on the coldest night of the year. After we delivered them, I wasn’t too comfortable as we drove through the east part of Savanna at about 2:00 a.m. Then we began to have real trouble with our car coming up Weidman hill and you went in at Dauphin’s to get oil. From there on you sat on the hood of the car to hold the blanket on to keep the car warm while you about froze and I did the driving. At Orie Holy’s we stopped again to call home to let our parents know where we were. At the Metz farm the car stalled again. We managed to back it into their driveway and you suggested that we cover up in the car and go to sleep until morning but I was afraid we would freeze to death so we decided to walk home from there. I wrapped a blanket around me for a long skirt and we walked but I remember I ran past Center Hill Cemetery. When we got home at about 5:00 a.m. I was so cold, tired, or scared I could hardly lift my feet up to step over the curb to walk in our yard. I never could understand how our parents allowed us to start to Savanna at that hour of the night but I think they were asleep and didn’t realize how cold it was. (Note: Orie Holy was Oris A. Holy, born in 1877 and died in 1960).
If Reid could write his memories of you, Harvey, I’m sure one of them would be about the time he rode a sled down Tuckey Hill on the coldest night of winter and you followed in a Ford car and clocked him. Was his speed 30 miles an hour or more? (Note: Reid was my father, H. Reid Horner, who had a stroke in the summer of 1985 and Florence was nursing him at home. He died April 1, 1988).
In later years you and I have spent less time together but it has always been a pleasure to visit you and Ruth in your lovely homes, which are always so well furnished and so well cared for and which were earned through hard work and good management.
Happy Birthday, Harvey!
Florence, and Reid too