American lives were changed forever when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. My grandmother’s stepfather, Wally Jordan, served in the Navy later during WWII, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a brief time. He was not there during the attacks, but had photos of the attacks with his other military photos. I’m guessing the prints were offered by the military. Let’s not forget those who died defending their country 75 years ago.
Many family historians know that recording your family history does not only include recording birth dates and death dates of all our relatives. It’s also important to remember what happened in their life in between the dashes… who they were, what they valued, and what they loved to do.
On my mom’s side of the family, spending time in the kitchen has always brought my family together. When I was young, cooking wasn’t a chore. It was a time to spend with my mom, my Nana, my aunt and my cousins, and occasionally my uncle and my Papa. It was a time to talk and learn and laugh. Almost everyone perfected their favorite recipe: Papa made his peanut brittle, my aunt Pat loved peach cobbler, my mom baked excellent bread and coffeecakes, my uncle George cooked bean soup, and I made speedy brownies. Especially during the holidays, the kitchen was always full of happy cooks.
One of my Nana’s many talents was baking the perfect homemade pie. I know that everyone thinks that their grandma is the best baker in town, but Nana’s pies were truly the best pies around. I’ve never really eaten a pie that can rival it.
Surprisingly, my Nana, Millie Drake, didn’t learn how to bake from her mother. She actually learned to cook and bake from her father-in-law, Charles Drake. Charles had lost his father when he was a child, and lost his mother when he was a young adult, so he probably learned how to cook on his own. Nana grew up in town with many siblings, and her mother always took care of the cooking on her own. When Nana and Papa got married, Nana quickly had to learn how to cook and help manage her father-in-law’s farm. I’m not sure exactly where she learned how to bake a pie, but it was likely from him.
Being connected to the farm meant that there was always plenty of fruit and berries to make into pies. After many years of practice, she had perfected her pie crust. In our family, it was said that you could either be a bread maker or a pie maker. It was hard to get both perfect. If your hands were used to kneading bread, you’d tend to knead the pie crust dough too much and it would be tough. If you excelled at making pie crusts, you would probably under-knead the bread dough. (I’m trying to excel at both, but I’m not sure how well I’ll do! I need many more years of practice.)
Here’s Nana’s recipe for her pie crust and apple pie. Like many older recipes, it’s not something that you can make just from following the recipe. Her written recipes are usually sparse on directions, and just rely on background knowledge. I learned to make the pie crust by watching how Nana’s hands carefully folded the ingredients together, and listening to her reasons for adjusting the measurements for one thing or another. Things like the weather can affect how much milk to add, so you have to watch the dough and constantly adjust. You can’t just mix the flour and shortening, you need to cut the shortening into the flour until it’s crumbly. You can’t mix too much, otherwise it doesn’t stick together well. Likewise, her “recipe” for apple pie filling doesn’t include any directions, just ingredients. And even the measurements would change from one recipe card to another! Most of the spices were adjusted to taste. A good cook can always rely on instinct.
Nana was well-known in our town for her homemade pies. Nana and her friend Jan Campbell used to make dozens of pies for Genoa’s Pioneer Day in August. The pies would be sold at the pie sale. When I was young, I remember going to Mrs. Campbell’s house the day before the sale. Her large kitchen was filled with friends and family making pie crust, cutting fruit, assembling pies, or tending the oven. The pie-making extravaganza was something I looked forward to every year, but it was an exhausting day of baking. I’m sure Mrs. Campbell, my mom, and Nana were relieved when they finally retired from doing the pie sale.
Nana’s pies could bring the family together. Most Sundays when I was growing up, my family would get together for a meal. My aunt and her family lived next door, and my Nana and Papa lived close by, so it was easy to see each other often. Nana would make some kind of dessert for Sunday dinner… usually a pie, but sometimes Mississippi mud pie or berry crisp. If it was July, she’d make a pie out of the black raspberries that grew in our backyard. If it was fall, we’d get apples from Edward’s Orchard and we’d have an apple pie. My uncle used to work in the Department of Agriculture in South Carolina, and he gave her a recipe for peach pie that he’d acquired from a local peach farmer. Sometimes she’d get Door County cherries to fill her pies. It was always fresh fruit, and it was always delicious! We’d also have a whole spread of pies for Thanksgiving… Apple Cranberry, Mincemeat, and of course Pumpkin! My Papa had his own special way of mixing up the pumpkin filling.
Whenever I make a pie, I think fondly of Nana and how she loved to share the sweetness of life with others. Nana passed away last summer. We ate the last pie that she made at Thanksgiving last year. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be making the pies. I’m thankful for all her life lessons, and for teaching me how to make something sweet for those I love. These are traditions that I hope to keep alive with my children someday.
Rolling out the dough for one of the pies this year.
Sometimes you live through history. I am blessed to have witnessed the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years. Being a Cubs fan is just in my blood.
When I was growing up, we’d try to go to a Cubs game once a year. As a kid, Chicago seemed very far away, and traveling to a Cubs game seemed like such a trip. Most of these trips were organized by a local bank, who sold tickets to its members and would take us to the game on a big fancy Cubs bus. We’d usually sit on the third base side, under the balcony so we were protected from the sun and the rain. My grandfather (Papa) would buy tickets for the whole family, and we’d spend the day at Wrigley. I’ll never forget sitting next to Papa during the game while he explained who everyone was on the team, and gave us some light commentary.
The rest of the season, Papa would often listen to the Cubs games on WGN while he worked. He’d always know the score of the day’s game, and could tell me all the stats if I asked. In his own quiet way, he loved the Cubs, and loved to see them win. He remembered the last time they were in the World Series in 1945. He played baseball on a community team about that same time. I’d imagine that he listened to those games intently on the radio with his brother and dad, or gathered at a teammate’s house to cheer them on.
The love for the Cubs runs deep on my dad’s side of the family too. My grandmother’s side of the family lived on the North side for several generations, and her uncle Ed lived within blocks of Wrigley Field. Great-Uncle Ed and Great-Aunt Edna were like grandparents to my dad, and he loved to go and visit them. Some of my dad’s earliest memories are visiting them over summer breaks and holidays, and of Wrigley Field. Uncle Ed and his son Jim were devoted fans who hardly missed watching or listening to a game. They’d watch the home games on WGN every afternoon and absolutely loved Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau, and respected humble players like Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and others who were happy just to play the game.
Going to a Cubs game was probably the best part of the summer for my dad when he was growing up. They would get General Grandstand seats, usually just off center of home plate. They’d walk to the stadium early, watch the end of batting practice, and then usually waited for the crowd to leave after the game. Probably the best day at the park came when he was about 10 years old. It was a double header day. The first game was something like 18-16 (Cubs win) and the second game was 1-0 Cubs.
Even though the Cubs were not “winners” in the usual sense, they embodied the good things about many people around the country. You loved them because they continued to play well (not great) and were popular. Even in their worst years, they packed the place day after day. Wrigley is a comfortable pleasant place to visit. Most people who cheer for the Cubs are life-long fans. There hasn’t been much to draw the people who cheer only winning teams. So the loyalty is there. For the people who aren’t baseball fans, they probably know someone who is a Cub fan.
The Cubs have certainly made history this year. Many of their fans are devoted, lifelong fans who love their team and their city. Through many years, the Cubs embodied the good things in life, like hope, loyalty and commitment. Even in their worst years, fans turned out to watch the games at “the friendly confines.” Many lifelong fans hoped and prayed for this day, but never got to see it happen. This year many new Cubs fans were born, but I am proud to say that Cubbie Blue runs deep in my blood. I’m so happy to say that I’ve seen this day, and I’ll never forget it. We can finally say again, The Cubs are World Series Champs! Go Cubs Go!
“Hey Chicago, what do ya say, Cubs are gonna win today!”
My sister and I before the World Series game 5 on Sunday, Oct. 30.
When I was young, I’d go driving with my grandfather Ed Drake, and he would often point out local landmarks and tell me little tidbits about each place. When we would drive on Pleasant Hill Road, we’d pass his old family homestead. He had fond memories of growing up there. He would mention getting into mischief with his brother, and raising chickens and other animals. Just recently, I remembered that Papa had mentioned that he and his brother discovered some hidden spaces in the barn. At the time, he didn’t realize their significance. Looking back now, it appears that our old family farm was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Located in Mayfield, IL, the Pleasant Hill farm was established by Ira Douglas, an early Mayfield pioneer. Ira Douglas was one of the very first settlers in Mayfield Township, arriving in the fall of 1836. At that time, the whole area was prairie grass, with some marshes in the low-lying areas, and some forested areas close to the Kishwaukee River. For his homestead he chose the top of a small hill in the Northeast corner of the township, and named his farm Pleasant Hill. From this hill, you can surprisingly see pretty far across the open prairie. Pleasant Hill Road is named after this estate. Besides farming, Ira Douglas raised cattle, horses, sheep and hogs on his 450 acres.
The abolitionist movement was particularly strong in rural DeKalb County. By the start of the Civil War, over 1,000 households in the county were antislavery supporters (about 25% of all households). Last weekend, the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society commemorated three prominent Underground Railroad stations in DeKalb County.One of these sites was the Mayfield Congregational Church, which was once the Mayfield Wesleyan Methodist Church, a congregation of antislavery supporters. Ira Douglas was a member of this church, which was located at nearby Brush Point. Like many of his neighbors, Ira Douglas was outspoken against slavery and its evils and was willing to break the law to help those who were escaping slavery. He subscribed to the Western Citizen, a prominent anti-slavery newspaper that served Illinois and the surrounding areas. The Mayfield Wesleyan Methodist Church had its roots in about 1839 in his log cabin, located near the site of the large frame house that he later built. As Nancy Beasley points out in her book The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County, Illinois, the group started as a Bible study, but “one might surmise that the evening conversations may have turned to social causes of concern and to discussion of slavery in particular. The small group continued to worship regularly at the Douglass home for a couple of years until they moved their meetings to the new Pleasant Hill School [across the road], and later to the Brush Point School” (p. 118).
The Mayfield Wesleyan Methodist Church as built in 1860 in its present location at Brush Point. He was friends with known Underground Railroad station agents like the Nickersons, the Nichols and the Townsends. Two of his daughters married into the Nichols and Townsend families. He was definitely part of local efforts to aid fugitive slaves. Whether his farm was actually a station on the Underground Railroad hasn’t been officially recorded.
My grandfather and others who grew up exploring the farm know that it was a testament to Ira Douglas’s commitment to the antislavery cause. Based on descriptions from Papa and others who lived there after him, his farm was definitely one of many local places that sheltered fugitive slaves. There were secret doors and rooms in the sheds and the hay barn. A room under the shed had a hidden loft in the corner where someone could hide. There was also a hidden room in the basement of the house with a small tunnel that lead to one of the sheds. The Douglas family lived there for almost 30 years before slavery was finally abolished in 1865. Who knows how many people Ira Douglas and his family were able to shelter during those years!
Ira Douglas passed away in 1888. He is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery across the road from his house. His obituary doesn’t mention his role in the antislavery movement. My grandfather’s grandfather, Gustaf Medine, rented the farm for a while from Ira Douglas’s son, Ira W. Douglas, and purchased it from him sometime after 1905. When my great-grandfather (Gust’s son-in-law) Charles Drake lost his farm in the Depression about 1936, Charles Drake brought his family to the Pleasant Hill farm. Papa spent much of his young life on this farm, attending school at the one-room schoolhouse across the road and working and playing in that barn. When Charles passed away in 1948, Papa and his brother gave up farming and sold the farm at auction. Through the years, there have been several more owners, and many of the children who grew up on that farm remember spending many hours playing hide and seek in the hidden spaces in the barn and shed. By today, all of the outbuildings, including the big hay barn, have been lost.
Because the outbuildings are no longer standing and the house has been remodeled, there is no surviving evidence of Ira Douglas’s role in the Underground Railroad. Even after slavery was abolished, there were many who had hidden fugitive slaves that never spoke openly about their role in the Underground Railroad. There are most likely countless men who risked their livelihoods to aid escaping slaves, and when their job was no longer needed, they quietly went back to normal life. Their courage to stand up for justice shouldn’t be easily forgotten. There are also countless lives that were saved from the horrors of slavery, and I hope that someday their courageous stories can also be told.
Timeline of the Pleasant Hill Farm:
1836 – Ira Douglas arrives in DeKalb County and settles in Mayfield Township. He may have been the first settler in the township. Several other families settled in Mayfield Township about the same time.
1837 – The first meetings of what will become the Mayfield Wesleyan Methodist Church take place in his log cabin.
1840 – Ira Douglas appears in the first census taken in Illinois.
1840 – 1865 – Ira Douglas supports the antislavery cause through his participation in his church, his subscription to the Western Citizen newspaper and by giving shelter to fugitive slaves on his farm. Sometime during this time, he builds a large frame house to replace his log cabin, and the log cabin is disassembled.
1865 – Slavery is abolished in the United States with the passing of the 13th amendment.
1871– Pleasant Hill appears as the residence of Ira Douglas in the 1871 DeKalb County Plat Atlas with a school and cemetery on the west side of the road. A view of his farm is also provided in the plat map.
1884 – My great-great grandfather Gustaf Medine arrives in America from Sweden. He begins farming in DeKalb County and rents property.
1888 – Ira Douglas passes away and his sons Cyrus and Ira W. Douglas purchase the property.
1892 – Ira W. and Cyrus A. Douglas own the property. The map of Mayfield Township in the Plat Map shows the house with a barn and several outbuildings on the east side of the road, and the small schoolhouse and cemetery on the west side of the road.
1905 – Ira W. and Cyrus A. Douglas own the farm, and Gust Medine owns property to the west, based on the 1905 Plat map. A newspaper article mentions that Ira W. Douglas lives on the farm.
1910 – Gust Medine appears to own the property in the 1910 census. (Property ownership papers needed to confirm.)
1927 – Gust Medine passes away and his estate continues to hold the property.
1929 – Gust Medine’s estate owns the property, based on the 1929 Plat Map. Several families live on the farm before 1936, including the Melvin Voltz family and the James Garvin family.
1936 – Charles Drake purchases the land and moves his family back to the Pleasant Hill Farm.
1948 – Charles Drake passes away and his sons Ed and Chuck Drake sell the farm at auction. The Pluister family purchases the farm.
1948 – abt. 1962 – The property is owned by Chas. & Maggie Pluister.
abt. 1962 – 2016 – The property has been owned by at least three other owners, including Floyd Mollet, Knute Olsen Jr. and Mr. Stores. Several other families have rented the property.
1987 – The hay barn (already in weak condition) and the shed fall down in a tornado/storm.
after 1994 – The rest of the outbuildings are torn down and the house is remodeled.
2016 – Ira Douglas’s house still stands.
The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County, Illinois by Nancy Beasley, 2013.
Nancy Beasley, speech made at the dedication of an Underground Railroad plaque at the Mayfield Congressional Church, Mayfield, Illinois, Oct. 15, 2016.
Past and Present of DeKalb County, Vol. 1 by Lewis M. Gross, 1907. (pages 151-152)
Portrait and Biographical Album, DeKalb County, Illinois, 1883. (pages 323-324)
A Journey Through DeKalb County, vol. 3 by Stephen J. Bigolin, 2004.
From Oxen to Jets: A History of DeKalb County, 1835-1963, by Harriet Wilson Davy, 1963.
Combination atlas map of DeKalb County, Illinois, 1871.
Plat Book of DeKalb County, Illinois, 1892.
Standard Atlas of DeKalb County, Illinois, 1905.
Atlas and Plat Book of DeKalb County, Illinois, 1929.
Atlas of DeKalb County, 1955.
Personal electronic correspondence with Becky Kaufmann, Rhonda Mollett Kitsos, Carrollene Burtch, Nancy Michael and the Facebook group “Genoa-Kingston, Remember When…”.
When I was growing up, I saw my maternal grandparents (Ed and Millie Drake, who we call Nana and Papa) nearly every day. Papa would take my sister and I to and from school every day. He was very interested in our school lives, and knew all of our friends. He had attended high school in the same building as me, 68 years before. Papa had lots of hobbies, but he was never a huge sports fan. He’d casually watch whatever sport was in season at that time, and always followed the Cubs, but otherwise wasn’t devoted to one sport or another. That’s why I always found it puzzling when he asked how our high school basketball team was doing. I wasn’t friends with anyone on the basketball team, and I barely followed our high school teams anyway. I didn’t find out the reason for his interest in high school basketball until I was a freshman in high school.
One day, I was waiting in the lobby of our high school, waiting for Papa to come pick me up. While I was waiting, I looked at all of the sport trophies and awards that were in the display cases in the hall. One particularly old trophy caught my eye. When I looked closer, I saw that the trophy was from 1938-1939 when our basketball team played in the districts tournament (a big deal back in the day for such a small country school!). I was startled to read Papa’s name on the list of players on that team! Apparently Papa had a hidden basketball talent!
When I got into Papa’s station wagon a few minutes later, I asked him whether he was on the team. Sure enough, he played basketball, with his brother and his cousin! He was tall(ish) and lanky and played the forward position. Although he said that he wasn’t the best player, he really enjoyed the game. In the year that they won the trophy, they had been the first Genoa team to compete in a tournament, and played in the Sectionals tournament in Elgin. The beat New Trier in the first game, and lost to Dundee in the second game. They travelled around to the area towns, and the tournament game in Elgin was probably the furthest that they travelled. His cousin, Emerson Medine, was also on the team. His older brother, Charles, had graduated by the time that they competed in the tournament, but was a pretty good basketball player himself.
They played games in what I knew as the “Old Gym” at the high school, and they practiced in the large room above the gym in what I knew as the band room. Papa would tease me about my Converse Chuck Taylors, which I thought were cool, because they were just plain gym shoes to him. They wore high top sneakers for basketball. After that revelation, whenever I passed that trophy at school, I felt so proud knowing that Papa helped get that trophy. I was in the last class to ever attend high school in that building; my sophomore year, the school district opened up a new high school and the old high school became a middle school.
Lesson learned: Always ask about your relative’s high school days. Perhaps they participated in an interesting sport or club! They will certainly have stories to tell.
My great-grandfather, George Weil, grew up in an orphans’ home in Pennsylvania. This unique time in his life always intrigued me, because we never knew much about his time there. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot more about his story.
As I mentioned in a previous post, George’s mother, Louise, died in 1898 when George was 9 years old. They lived in Pittsburgh at the time, and he had one older brother and three younger siblings. His father, Conrad, apparently couldn’t take care of the five children on his own. A month after her death, he placed the four oldest children under the care of Concordia Orphans’ Home in nearby Jefferson, Butler County, PA. I don’t know what happened to the youngest child, Anna Louise. She was only one year old, and would have been too young to give to the orphanage. I presume she had either died before then, or was taken in by another family.
The Concordia Orphans’ Home was located near the Marwood train station, and is part of what is now Cabot township. It would have been a morning’s train ride and then a one hour walk from the train station to the orphanage. In 1898, it was part of a larger property that also housed a senior living home. Luckily, the organization is still in business as a senior living facility, now called Concordia Lutheran Ministries. They were kind enough to search through the archives for me to find some wonderful gems!
The children are living at the orphanage in 1900 when the census is taken. We had never been certain when the children were given to the orphanage. Not only was I able to get the entrance papers for the children, but also their discharge dates and tidbits about their lives from the housefather’s journals!
Their father, Conrad, agreed to pay $12 per month to house all four children. He lived for a few years as a laborer in nearby Pittsburgh, and by 1910 has moved closer to the orphanage to work in a local coal mine. It seems that he may have had occasional contact with his children through the years, but lost touch with George, Marie and Conrad when they got older.
Mr. H.W. Lensner was the housefather for all the years that my family members lived at the orphanage. According to excerpts of the housefather’s journals and CLM blog posts, life was not easy there. High standards were kept for behavior, classwork and chores. However, the children would often get into mischief, sometimes in serious trouble. My great-grandfather George was rarely mentioned in the housefather’s journals, except for two occasions when mischief could have caused him serious harm. In July 1899, the housefather notes that George fell from the loft in the barn where the children weren’t allowed. He suffered from a concussion (He wrote, “I thought to have a dead child in my arms.”) but later recovered. Two years later, “George Weil and George Moser ate some mushrooms yesterday, and today are rather sick.” They apparently recovered from that excitement as well.
George’s brother Karl caused more headaches for Mr. Lensner. He ran away from the home at least three times, once having to be tracked down and brought back by his father. Another time in early 1901, he broke into the housefather’s office and stole some money. He lied about what happened and forced another boy to take the blame. He was later found out. Mr. Lensner said, “Made more sad discoveries in the evening. Either some of the lying thieves must leave or I am not staying any longer […] Carl Weil, who always behaved real well outwardly, is the thief and rascal. […] Carl Weil, the arch hypocrite, again escaped. The police are after him.” A few months later, he was returned to live with his father. I presume that he was too much of a handful and “rascal” to stay at the orphans’ home any longer.
Lesson learned: Never be afraid to ask and also don’t be afraid to ask twice.
[To be continued…]
To read more about Concordia Orphans’ Home, visit their blog and search for “Humble Beginnings” to view the various posts about their time as an orphanage.
Excerpts and student lists from the housefather’s journals: “Journals of the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Orphanage and Old Folks Home” Journal entries made by housefathers and superintendents, from 1883-1935. Provided by Concordia Lutheran Ministries via email.