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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Pioneer Living in the 1820s

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 19, 2008


"The Trials and Inconveniences of Country Life 65 Years Ago" is the subtitle of the newspaper article from the "Steubenville Evening Star" of January 8, 1891.


It is a continuing series by an unknown author under the title "Pioneer Living."


Over a century ago, this series of articles reviewed the early pioneer life of our area to reveal how difficult existence was for those pioneers.


The subject of the article is James F. Johnson, a well-known wool buyer, who arrived in Steubenville with his mother in 1822, barely 25 years after the community was established.


With the death of his mother in 1825, Johnson was sent to live with the Coulter Family, some 6 miles west of Steubenville.


The area was still thickly blanketed with virgin forest, yet about 20 acres had been cleared around the house for agriculture.


The house itself was constructed of round logs with a split clapboard roof


Inside, there was but one room 20 feet square with 2 doors and 2 windows opposite each other.


The glass in the windows formed 4 lights, the doors described as "squatty" being no more than 5 and a half feet high.


The door hinges were made of young hickory wood, greased periodically to prevent squeaks and keep them moist.


The wood floor was made of planks 3 inches thick.


The stone chimney sat on one side of the room, and was 10 feet wide and served to heat the house and provide for cooking.


Potatoes were a main food source, cooked a "peck" at a time in the coals of the fireplace.


Corn meal mush was made in a huge pot holding 8 gallons and swung over the fire with a "crane."


One large bed occupied the center of the room of the house.


The children slept upstairs in what was called the "garret" reached only by going outside and climbing a ladder to a small hole that opened into the attic space.


At daybreak, the children would scurry back to the warmth of the downstairs and prepare for another day of work.


The only school in the area was called "Beech Grove" and resembled the house in design.


The clearing of the land was a major task in the 1820s.


The trees would be fallen and those not suitable for construction would be rolled into piles and burned.


Usually a community effort, people gathered to help and the day ended with a meal of boiled beef, potatoes, corn pone and milk.


The celebration of a "clearing" was completed by a dance of the Scottish reel, with a cold lunch served about midnight.


By the writing of the article in the 1890s, the area civilization had advanced to the point that these pioneer stories seemed old.


Today, we have difficulty imagining life so difficult, and we have little understanding of a day in 1825.