county fair

A Sweet Reminder of Our Plank Road Stories

On this fourth day of Christmas I spent the morning writing thank-you notes and eating holiday treats, including shortbread from Emily. Baked in a decorative pan, this traditional Christmas gift is as beautiful as it is delicious.  At our family celebration in Wisconsin, I admired the designs produced by Emily’s new pan. According to manufacturer Brown Bag Designs, “In the early years of our country, farm wives decorated their home-made butter by stamping it with carved wooden images. This shortbread pan reinterprets nine of these antiques designs to decorate shortbread – the best butter cookie of all.”

Plank Road shortbread pan

Emily’s “Plank Road” shortbread pan, officially titled American Butter Art by Brown Bag Designs

The nineteenth-century Yorkville families may well have used wooden butter stamps featuring images such as these.

At our Christmas celebration Emily and I conducted our own reinterpretation of the nine designs. We offer our list to readers:

  1. The fruit basket featuring an apple reminds us of Will McEachron’s orchard

2.  The pineapple, symbol of hospitality, reminds us of Vin Mather’s welcoming guests to the Mather Inn

3.  The acorns and oak leaves remind us of the oak grove near Gran Mather’s cabin and the lone oak on the Doanes’ front forty

4.  The horse reminds us of the race between Big Jim Doane’s chestnut stallion and David Banvard’s sorrel mare

5.  The eagle reminds us of Old Abe, famous Civil War mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin infantry and later emblem of J. I. Case Equipment in Racine

6.  The cow reminds us of livestock exhibited at the Racine County Fair and the Plank Road families’ new dairying venture

7.  The wild rose reminds us of the flowers in Grace Caswell’s Midsummer wreath and the hedgerows alongside the Yorkville settlers’ graveyard

8.  The sheaf of wheat reminds us of harvest time in Yorkville and farm wagons traveling the plank road to the Racine harbor

9.  The heart reminds us of the Plank Road community’s love and care for family, neighbors, and strangers

Categories: county fair, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fair Days

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Fifteen years ago when my ten year-old daughter Katrina began showing 4-H lambs at the Porter County Fair in Northwest Indiana, her nine year-old cousin David came to visit from suburban Chicago.   City boy David swept the aisles between the animal pens so faithfully that the sheep barn won the Cleanest Barn contest.

When we were not at the fairgrounds, David’s mother Emily and I worked on an idea for a book we called “Girls of the Plank Road,” a story of pioneer Wisconsin featuring the first Racine County Fair.   We had fond memories of our own county fair days, and my daughter’s Hampshire lamb was descended from the sheep that Emily and our brothers and sisters and I had shown in the 1970’s as members of the Yorkville 4-H Club.

Back then, the sheep and many of the other animals were exhibited in tents, but today the fairgrounds features an extensive array of permanent structures, including a long row of livestock barns.   The Plank Road families of the nineteenth century would be amazed to see what enormous enterprises the county fairs of the Midwest have become.

The Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fairs took place in the 1850s.

Today the Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fair took place in the 1850s.

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Mom–Our Number One Fan

Marge Demuth at Plank Road Summer celebration at St. John's Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Mom attends many of our book events–and she schedules them for us, too.

Long before Emily and I began working on the story first known as “Girls of the Plank Road,”  our mother, Marjorie Demuth, encouraged us to write.  Mostly we wrote accounts of county fair projects for our 4-H record books, but we also wrote essays and speeches for local contests by groups such as the American Legion.  Back then I did not always appreciate my mother’s prodding or her forthright criticism of my writing and public speaking skills.

Now that Mom is our financial manager and number one promoter–she sells more books than Emily and I do, and she even gives presentations, using those public speaking skills she worked so hard to teach us–I am grateful for her long years of effort on our behalf.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  The Plank Road books wouldn’t be here without you.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Delicious Celebration in the Classroom

 

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Plankroad-0062As mentioned in the previous post, after reading Plank Road Summer, students in Burlington, Wisconsin, shared their knowledge of Midwestern history at the “1852 6th Grade Fair” held on Grandparents’ Day.  No fair is complete without food, of course.  Plankroad-9999In addition to building plank roads, coloring quilt blocks, and learning about the Underground Railroad, the visitors baked scones and drank freshly-squeezed lemonade.  Inspired by pioneer girls Katie and Florence in Plank Road Summer, one student even provided a taste test of strawberry preserves.

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Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography.

 

 

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, county fair, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Florence’s Fall Bouquet

In my mind, a good book is one that I have read more than once. Some I have read many times, and still enjoy them each time I flip the book open and start reading. I know the character’s lines and what they wear, and what is going to happen next.

We have one faithful fan who has read Plank Road Summer often enough to remember the bouquet that Florence Mather makes.

“On the first day of the fair, Florence stood in the parlor. In her hands she had plumes of goldenrod and a fiery blaze of sumac leaves.She was arranging them in a pitcher, already bright with late Queen Anne’s lace.”

A “Florence Bouquet” at our Plank Road Winter book launch.

Julie K.S. Moyer, who currently lives in the Mather Inn with her husband and children, made beautiful bouquets to place on each window sill of the old Yorkville School for our book launch. We suspect that not many of our other readers recognized the combination of flowers and leaves, but we were quick to notice and appreciate it.

Julie was also the force behind getting Yorkville School #4 on the Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places.  The bright 4-H green paint that covered the railings back when we used the the building for 4-H meetings and music and drama practices has been restored to the original colors, and the hardwood floor refinished. Her attention to detail shows in the beauty of the schoolhouse, and in our bouquets as well. We are honored to have such a great fan and neighbor.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Mather Inn, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly Competition at the Fair

IMG_4697IMG_4699The county fair is home to such competitions as cattle shows, tractor pulls, demolition derbies, pie auctions, and goat-milking contests.  I admit that my sister author Hilda rose victorious when we battled one another last weekend in the goat-milking competition at the Racine County Fair.  Oh, the humiliation we authors must suffer in search of publicity for our books.   Other than being soundly defeated in the competition, I had a lovely day at the fair.  

Our book tent featured an antique drum carder which fairgoers could crank to card wool for bookmark tassels.  We also had live music–our own fiddler Matt Lutze, Hilda on penny whistle, and editor Phil Martin on accordion.   We saw familiar faces and met new readers as people stopped by to purchase a book or find out more about Plank Road Summer.    Even the Fair Royalty visited our booth to add planks to the road we were building.

During every summer of our childhood Hilda and I spent five days at the Racine County Fair.   During the weeks prior to the fair we practiced showing our sheep, refinished furniture, sewed clothes, or worked on whatever other 4-H projects were to be entered into competition.  In our day, we could hardly take five steps at the fair without seeing someone we knew.   The fair was a community celebration, and everyone wanted to be part of it.

In Plank Road Summer this is the spirit we hope to communicate in our depiction of the first Racine County Fair.   I confess that after my defeat in the goat-milking contest, I am feeling a bit like the loser of the horse race.   But strike up the music– in a true community celebration, no matter who wins or loses, everyone can join in the dance.

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See You at the Fair!

The Racine County Fair, that is. This weekend, Hilda and Emily Demuth, co-authors of Plank Road Summer, will be at the Racine County Fair in Union Grove, Wisconsin, on Saturday, August 1 (12-5 pm), to sign books and host some fun family activities.

Be sure to stop by their program tent on Saturday afternoon (it’s on the NE corner of Polley Drive and Creuziger Lane, near the Case exhibit, by Gate 5). For other events and directions, see the Racine County Fair website.

Why we’re excited: a major event in Plank Road Summer is . . . (drum roll, please) the first Racine County Fair! It was held in the early 1850s just west of the Mather Inn (one of the key places in the book).

Like the county fair itself, Plank Road Summer celebrates the community spirit and the rich heritage of the pioneer Midwest.

Hilda, Emily, and friends will be there Saturday from 12 to 5 pm. Besides signing books, they’re hosting wool-carding on an antique drum carder, a bit of live old-time fiddle music, and a display on Racine County history.

So come on down to the fair! Enjoy the rides, the 4-H exhibits . . . and meet the authors of this exciting novel for kids about county fairs, pioneer life, plank roads, fugitive slaves . . . and more!

From Plank Road Summer:

Even though she had watched the preparations day by day, Florence was still astonished at her first sight of the Racine County Fair. The north end of the Doanes’ front forty was lined with nearly a hundred wagons and buggies. The clamor of livestock provided a constant accompaniment to all the other goings-on.

Among the dozen enormous tents, Florence could pick out the dinner tent in which ladies of the Scotch Settlement church and the Methodist chapel were working together to feed hungry fairgoers. Next to the dinner tent stood a dance platform where a fiddler sawed a merry tune. Florence remembered someone’s claim that there would be enough players that the music at the fair would never end.

Mrs. Mather led the way to the domestic skills exhibits, which were flanked by a brilliant wall of quilts swaying on a line strung between two tents.

(As you may know, quilts and quilting also play a big role in the book!)

Hope to see you this weekend!

Categories: county fair, Racine County | Leave a comment

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