two thousand twenty
Subscribe to Wayne County Life RSS post feed
Subscribe to Wayne County Life RSS comment feed
Subscribe to Wayne County Life by email
Wayne County Life on Facebook
The East Palmyra Fire Deptartment siren just sounded for Noon on this sunny April 2, 2010.  The thermometer on my back porch registers 78 degrees already.  Undoubtedly, there will be a new record set for high temperature.

It's good Friday and the schools are closed, as are many businesses.  There is more road traffic than usual today, motorcycles especially, the normal number of trains has passed on the mainline tracks north of my house and the sky is full of jet trails.  I take a short lunch break from garden and yard cleaning to enjoy a sandwich on the old wooden front porch swing.

I recall what it was like when I first came to this neighborhood almost five decades ago.  There were three or four fewer houses then, and most had children playing in the yard after shool, vegetable and annual flower gardens and only one car in the driveway or garage.  Except for the lack of evidence of human beings, a distinct increase in the number of automobiles and no vegetable gardens, for the most part the immediate area within sight remains pretty much the same. 

With that in mind, I wonder what it might have been like one or two centuries ago when life was simpler.  I imagine what Good Friday 1910, might have been like here.  This house, already more than 100 years old at that time, had wooden clapboard siding, mismatched windows and dark green shutters, a brick chimney and a rail-less wraparound porch running across the entire front facade.  There were several locust trees and a large black raspberry patch in the back yard and a huge old American elm tree in front, all leafless at this time of year.  Somewhere in the back yard was a dump area - or to be politically correct in these modern times, a solid waste facility - sort of.  And yes, there was a wood/coal shed and an out house. 

There was no gasoline or diesel fuel tank by the corner of the former-church-turned-horse barn across the driveway.  There were no tractors on this farm until after WWII and the only petroleum products used here before that were buckets of axle grease or kerosene for heating the house.  There was no corncrib by the driveway where the present one stands nor was there any in the barnyard near the "old" dairy barn or beside the driveway near the then-Methodist church.  Likewise, the metal pole barn, ca-1980 dairy barn, milkroom and silos were absent.  The area where my son's house is now was then a huge vegetable garden and purple raspberry patch.  There was a long pile of locust fence posts several feet high behind the horse barn and the entire grassy area between the horse barn and the old barn was surrounded by American wire fencing.   

There would have been horse and buggy traffic, more frequent trains with steam-powered locomotives and no airplane noise or jet trails in the sky.  There was a lack of power lines along the muddy dirt road and the presence of a thick layer of horse manure softened both the sound and the surface. 

The air would smell of coal emissions from trains, intestinal emissions from horses and cattle, pigs and chickens, and of course, cesspools and outhouses.  The odor of wood or coal smoke from every chimney and lye soap from clotheslines in every back yard as well as the noxious smells from the tiny slaughter house in the hamlet would mingle, perhaps leaving us with mixed emotions regarding air quality.  These were just the odiferous offerings of a tiny hamlet and not to be compared or likened to those that would have prevailed in more populous areas! 

Walking into the kitchens of those homes, we'd be met by the smell of freshly-baked bread wafting from the oven or rising from puffy tall brown-crusted loaves cooling on a table covered with a dishtowel.  A hearty meaty-smelling steam could be seen pouring from beef, mutton or chicken stew simmering on the wood or coal cookstove.  Perhaps an apple pie made from the last-remaining withering apples brought from the root cellar or newly-churned butter would add distinct odors to the atmosphere.  And let us not forget the prob ability of cigar smoke in most houses and the unforgettable smell of burning candles or oil lamps. 

Open the basement door and you'd probably encounter the pungent odor from barrels of homemade apple cider, wine or vinegar.  Mold covered salt pork, corned beef and sauerkraut crocks had their own unique smell.  There would also be the unmistakable musty dankness from dirt floors and stale water in open cisterns.  And let us not forget the odors from four-legged rodents that always found food and shelter in those old cellars during the winter, and some of which did not always survive to emerge in the spring. 

Good Friday in 1810, would have been much different.  In my neighborhood, there were only two two-story buildings then, one of which was an inn/tavern (now my house with B&B facilities) and the other, a general store next door.  There were only one or two log cabins with small rough-hewn barns, a blacksmith's shop, a gristmill and an ashery.  There was a newly-completed clalpboard covered church building a few rods away from the tavern which, according to historic accounts, was heated by a fire pit in the center of the building. 

Because the tracts of land were much larger in those days, and owned by only a few individuals, a good deal of the virgin forest was still standing.  There would have been a few stumps left from those trees removed to build or to clear land for farming.  There would have been huge deposits of charcoal left from burning waste wood for potash and stragegically built rail fencing.  What few roads that existed were barely more than two ruts cut by wagon wheels or "improved" wild creature or Indian trails. 
There were no trains, cars or airplanes and it would have been relatively quiet except for the occasional soft clop, clop of horses or oxen lugging loads over the virgin soil or the jangle of harness chains and the thud of a woodcutter's ax or blacksmith's hammer.  Wild sounds would have been more prevalent.  The songs of early spring birds came from the treetops and the honking and quacking of migrating geese and ducks could be heard briefly overhead.  Wolves, coyotes and foxes barked, yipped and howled; bears grunted and growled as they began foraging for their early spring meals in the forests while raccoons, skunks, woodschucks and many other small creatures initiated their spring activities. 

Most of the ambient smells were naturally-occurring and about the only ones that were not were of wood smoke or distillery exhaust. 

How different Good Friday would have been then, and how different Good Friday a hundred years in the future will be!  Would that I could come back at that time for a day to experience what will be happening in this little corner of Wayne County in Upstate New York.


You can make a comment, or trackback from your own site.

3 Comments to "Three April Fridays"

  1. Videomark Said,

    Great job of a looking back into the past. We often remember the past through the visuals of painting and photos, but this story really brings out the scents of the past that we often over look.

    Posted on Sun Apr 04, 11:05:00 PM EDT

  2. Seth C. Burgess Said,

    Beth--what is the name of your Bed and Breakfast? Sounds like a neat place.

    Posted on Tue Apr 06, 07:57:00 AM EDT

  3. Gil Burgess Said,

    You do some interesting thinking and you've verbally painted some nice pictures while doing so!

    Posted on Tue Apr 06, 09:07:00 PM EDT


Post a Comment

Most Viewed - Last 30 days

Going Green

Church Life