New Digs (well, actually, really old digs)

I am now working the summer schedule for Old World Wisconsin.  I am still at St. Peter’s Church playing the pump organ and singing to the rafters on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  I am also working at the Hafford house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Mary Hafford was an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. with her husband and son, living first in New Jersey and then settling in Wisconsin where she had family members who had also moved there.  She had two more children here, and then, at the age of 36, she was widowed.  Her husband had worked on the railroad and owned no land or property.  She could neither read nor write.  Somehow, she had assets (possibly from a railroad company’s pension plan?) amounting to $500, twice the average for the village where she lived.  She spent $150 to buy two lots in a rural village where she had been renting lodgings.  Presumably, there was a dwelling on that lot, a worker’s cottage.  She took in laundry and did the washing, ironing, and mending from her home so that she could look after her children.  By the time she was 53, in the year 1885, she was able to hire carpenters to upgrade her house to a more respectable cottage.  This home is the one that is now on Old World Wisconsin property, right next to St. Peter’s Church.  It has one large room (combination kitchen, dining room, living room) with a small bedroom and a pantry on the ground floor and two bedrooms upstairs.  It has a kitchen garden in which is growing lavender, sage, rosemary, alpine strawberries, thyme, and other fragrant herbs.  The wash tubs and clothesline are set up outside so that visitors (kids, mostly) can try their hand at washing without electricity or plumbing.  The laundering process in the 19th century could take up 3 days of the week.  For Mrs. Hafford, it would probably be 6 days a week.  Soaking, boiling, spot treating with lye soap, scrubbing on the washboard and rinsing would require multiple trips to the pump with two large buckets.  One article estimated that women carried 400 lbs. of water in a week for laundry.  After the clothes were dry, she would heat the irons on her wood stove and press them.  One of the irons we have weighs 6 lbs, though it’s only about 5 inches long.   I get the feeling this woman had no need for a gym membership.   She pumped iron, literally, at home often enough!  So this is the story I interpret for visitors.  When there are no guests to chat with, I sit in the rocker and crochet rag rugs.  I just learned this skill last week.  I pass the time wondering what it would be like to be unable to read and write.  Yesterday was my first day in this position.  Sorry I didn’t post a blog entry, friends, I was just too tired and hungry and out of time by the end of my day!  Here are some photos to whet your appetite.  More to come!

14 thoughts on “New Digs (well, actually, really old digs)

  1. I remember Lionel’s grandmother using an iron like the one you mention to do her ironing back in the 80’s ! She never wanted to use an electric one and I must admit it was amazing to see how perfectly ironed her shirts were once she’d finished with them (100% cotton, with fancy buttons and lace …) !! Definitely an energy-saving way to do it, too. The only tricky thing was testing the temperature 😉 but she obviously had mastered the technique. And all this was done on her kitchen table, on several layers of sheets. Once again I find myself wondering if
    modern technology is really a step ahead …

    • We do a Laura Ingalls Wilder camp and weekend event every year. She was born in Wisconsin in 1867 (Little House in the Big Woods, On the Banks of Plum Creek), and the historical period exactly matches our Crossroads Village. So your thoughts are right on target!

  2. When I first moved to Ireland in 1980 I lived in a 2 up 2 down cottage with no running water and had my daughter a few months after the move.. My husband used to bring me 5 gallon drums of water from a local well, I boiled kettles on a cooker ( burning coal and sticks) and washed nappies etc in a small tin bath !! so it wasn’t just way back that things were hard !!! 🙂

    • Wow! Do you have photos? Wait! I think I remember you posting a photo of the house now; you mentioned trees that had been removed, right? Would you have photos of the interior when you lived there?

      • The house I posted was the one we built when we knocked the old cottage down Scilla.. I’m sure I have photos in a drawer somewhere though heaven knows where as I have hundreds of photos from years ago!…I know I have photos of it being knocked down.. we built half a house attached to it then knocked it down and built the other half of the house

  3. Re : L.’s grandmother and the iron. She would just leave it on a gas burner for a few minutes and then it seemed to keep the heat quite well for some time afterwards ! I can still see her husband watching the (color) T.V. in the living room while she was “pumping iron” in the kitchen 😉 !!

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