Yorkville, Wisconsin

Making History at the Home Farm

Hilda and Emily Demuth grew up on Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville, Wisconsin, a few miles north of Union Grove.

Hilda and Emily Demuth spent many hours working and playing in this barn in Yorkville, Wisconsin.

Tonight at 6:30 Emily and I will talk about our books in one of our favorite places–the hayloft of the big old barn at Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville Township, Wisconsin.  The History Seekers of the Union Grove Area have invited us to speak, and our sister Gretchen Hansen and her husband are hosting the event.

Six of us Demuths grew up on Bo-Mar Farm, known to our readers as the McEachron homestead, and we have vivid memories of working and playing in that barn.  For many summers we sweated and scratched as we hauled and stacked bales of hay in that loft.  In cooler weather we built castles–complete with dungeons–of straw bales.  Our 4-H lambs were born in that barn, and Mr. Vyvyan came to shear every June.  My horse and our two ponies grazed in the pasture for many years.

After we all moved out and Mom and Dad no longer kept livestock, Dad laid a new floor in the empty hayloft, hung basketball hoops and a swing, fenced off the open end, and built a staircase up to “Grampa’s Playpen.”   Twenty Demuth grandchildren and plenty of adults have played in that hayloft in recent years, including musicians at a genuine barn dance.

barn building pic

In the year 1900, the Yorkville community worked together to build this barn.

One of the Demuth family treasures is a photograph of the barn-raising, a turn-of-the-century community event.  I hope the men who built the barn and the women who fed them all had time and energy for dancing when the work was done.

Many different kinds of activities have taken place in that barn over the past hundred and fourteen years, but one of the most unique occurred just a few years ago.  On a brisk autumn day our nephew Thomas Martin Hansen was baptized in that hayloft, which was hung with family quilts as a backdrop for a marble baptismal font and conveniently furnished with church pews.

 

Categories: Childhood Memories, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Brigid’s Day!

Today is Brigid’s Day, also known as St. Bridget’s Day, but many readers may not realize the significance of that name in the Plank Road books.

In Plank Road Summer, Gran Mather’s given name appears only twice.  At the Yorkville smithy, Old Man Caswell calls Gran by her first name, and at the Ives Grove store, Gran introduces herself to Marshal Carter: “I’m Brigid Mather.”

I chose “Brigid” as Florence’s grandmother’s name because of its connection with the ancient Celtic world.  Gran Mather is a healer in the pioneer community who speaks the old Cornish language and cherishes the traditions of her native Cornwall.

The Celtic Brigid, or Brighid, triple goddess of fire–the fire of inspiration, the fire of the hearth, and the fire of the forge–was Christianized as St. Brigid, or Bridget, patron saint of poets, midwives, blacksmiths, travelers, and fugitives.

Readers of Plank Road Summer will surely recognize the significance of those occupations to our story.

And careful readers of Plank Road Winter may realize that little Birdie is named after her great-grandmother–when the schoolmaster calls the roll, she responds to the name “Brigid Caswell.”

Interestingly,  Saint Bridget is also the patron saint of milkmaids.

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Plank Road Visions

Some of us tell stories in words, others in pictures.  Our photographer sister Gretchen captures moments in light and shadow, and her visions have included the Plank Road world of the twenty-first century.

John G reading PRS at night

This award-winning photograph shows a young reader in the very bedroom in which Emily and I imagined the McEachron sisters looking out over the lilacs behind the farmhouse.  Careful observers may be able to recognize the book in this picture, a choice that gladdened our hearts.

The autumn photograph below shows four children at home watching their Yorkville neighbors harvesting the fields once farmed by the McEachrons.

children watching Yorkville harvest

Like our favorite stories, Gretchen’s visions have a timeless quality. It’s easy to understand why she specializes in photographing babies and children in southeastern Wisconsin. You will find more of her work at Gigi’s Joy Photography.

Categories: Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: | 1 Comment

“On the Feast of Stephen”

Whether you think of December 26 as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day or simply the day after Christmas, we hope you enjoy making music and sharing family traditions during the winter holidays. Here’s a timely excerpt from Plank Road Winter:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

Father’s voice in the familiar carol woke Sophie as it did
every year on the second day of Christmas. In her opinion, he
might be one of the finest singers in Yorkville, but the break of
day was hardly the ideal time to share that fact.
She and Linnie groaned and pulled the quilt up over their
heads. But Birdie sat right up in her trundle bed. After Father
boomed out the saintly king’s verse, she chimed right in with
the little page’s response. Sophie and Linnie had no choice but
to swell the chorus:


good king wenceslas

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.


By the time they sang about the little page treading in his
master’s footsteps, John Alton joined them from the next room:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing!

Sophie was still humming the carol when she made her way
down the back stairs to the kitchen, where Mother was serving
up breakfast. While Sophie was not fond of many of the
old-timers’ traditions in Yorkville, she thoroughly approved of
the way the Caswells ended the Christmas season. Back in the
plank road days the Cornish settlers would go a-wassailing on
Twelfth Night. All the wassailers came last to the Mather Inn,
where they stayed on for dancing to see Christmas out.

(from Chapter 25: Boxing Day)

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | 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

A Portal to the Past

Hilda and Emily Demuth signing copies of Plank Road Winter

Back in the 1970s when Emily and I attended Yorkville 4-H meetings in the old schoolhouse we knew as the Clover Center, we never dreamed that someday we’d be signing books in that very building.

On a glorious Sunday afternoon in September our families and friends and neighbors gathered for the Plank Road Winter launch party.

Dancing at the Plank Road Winter launch party in the Yorkville 4-H Clover Center

The doorway into that 1886 schoolroom was a portal to the past as the musicians played old tunes and the dancers circled and stomped on the sturdy wood floor.

John and Susan Nicholson of Frogwater

Some of those in attendance wore period attire, and these visitors from the nineteenth century mingled easily with our twenty-first century guests.

Our caller, Patricia Lynch of the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society, taught the figures of each dance.  Members of her Victorian Dancers group ably helped beginners of all ages and also demonstrated several Civil War dances.

Nineteenth century and twenty-first century guests mingling on the dance floor at the 1886 Yorkville schoolhouse

Around three o’clock when the Packer game was about to start, which meant that nobody was in line to have a book signed, Emily and I were able to take a few turns on the dance floor ourselves.

Many thanks to everyone who attended the launch and to all who share our delight in preserving traditions such as old-time dancing, especially in places like that beautiful little Yorkville schoolhouse.

Categories: Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Plank Road Winter

On Sunday, September 30, 1:00-4:00 pm, Emy and I look forward to welcoming the public along with old friends and neighbors at the Plank Road Winter launch party.  The celebration will be held at the 4-H Clover Center, 17640 Old Yorkville Road, a few miles north of Union Grove,Wisconsin.  This 1885 schoolhouse stands at the very heart of the original Yorkville settlement.

Set almost twenty years after the adventures of Katie and Florence, Plank Road Winter features thirteen-year-old Sophie Caswell, who longs to escape the dull farming community of Yorkville. Sophie’s plans are thwarted when the Chicago Fire leads to the arrival of twelve-year-old Hans Hoffman and his family at the nearby McEachron farm. While Sophie stubbornly pursues her dreams, Hans struggles to adapt to a world very different from his bustling Chicago neighborhood.

In the spirit of nineteenth-century community gatherings, the entertainment at the Plank Road Winter launch party will include traditional music provided by John and Susan Nicholson of the Milwaukee band  Frogwater and old-time dancing called by Patricia Lynch of the West Side Victorian Dancers.

We hope to see you there!

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Winter, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Signs of Spring

Lilacs blooming on March 28, 2012, near Valparaiso, Indiana

For the first time in my Midwestern memory the lilacs are blooming in March.  The white lilacs in the front yard of my Indiana farmhouse must be confused indeed.  Years ago I dug up these shoots from the enormous hedge that rings the back yard at the McEachron homestead in Yorkville, Wisconsin.  Like the settlers who brought lilac bushes to Wisconsin from their homes in Eastern states, Emy and I have both transplanted lilac bushes from Wisconsin to our respective homes in Illinois and Indiana.

Most years my blooms in Northwest Indiana are about two weeks ahead of those in southeastern Wisconsin.  In fact, when Emy and I planned the Plank Road Summer launch party for May 2009, we ended up gracing our table with lilacs from Elmhurst and Valparaiso because the Yorkville lilacs were not yet in bloom.

It seems propitious that the lilacs are blooming again as Emy and I sign our contract for Plank Road Winter. We hope that readers of our first book will appreciate the fact that even in this wintry tale, the lilacs of Yorkville make an unexpected appearance.

Categories: Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Summer

The lilacs in my yard, some of which have been brought to Illinois from the McEachron homestead, have bloomed and faded. The cold, wet spring has turned overnight into a blazing hot Memorial Day. Though I have another week of school, I am looking forward to summer days when I can dedicate more of my time to writing. (Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.) Another revision of Plank Road Winter is underway, and other stories linger in my mind, waiting to make their way onto a printed page.

I also have a quilt to make, though not as intricate as those in Plank Road Summer. I’ll be cutting up old t-shirts to make a quilt for my son to take to college. Pieces of his grade school, middle school, and high school years will travel with him on his new adventure.  A piece of my grade school days just came back to me. Mr. Schmidt, my first principal, just commented on our “About the Authors” page. Please click to the Comments on that page to find a brief memory of my early years at Yorkville School.

As another summer arrives, I hope you all find time to enjoy whatever changes the season brings to your life.

Categories: Childhood Memories, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

At the Well

Mather Inn Well

Emily Demuth and her daughter, Louisa, at the Mather Inn well excavation.

  

The archaeologist, Norm Meinholz, was digging at the site of Mather Inn again this month.  This time, I managed to get back to Wisconsin while the dig was still open. Meinholz had uncovered part of the old foundation and established the exact location of the Inn, when  it stood facing the Plank Road.   The Mather Inn itself still stands  a stone’s throw away–it was moved many years ago, and now faces what would have been the Section Line Road between the Mather and McEachron properties.   

Just a few paces west of the foundation, the archaeologist had found the well.  Stones formed a perfect semi-circle (only half had been uncovered).  It was easy to imagine Katie pulling a bucket  of water from the well, setting the bucket on the stone rim, and peering at her reflection–even though that scene was edited out of our book during an early revision.    

Many scenes never made it into the final version of Plank Road Summer, including one which our mother particularly liked.  This lost scene was the first introduction to the Mather Inn from Katie’s point of view:  

“Katie walked past the grand front door that led to the parlor and the ballroom upstairs–that was for guests.  She hurried round past the porch on the west side, which led to the dining room–that was for teamsters.  At the back of the house she rapped at the kitchen door–that was for neighbor children.  Mrs. Mather was very particular about the proper use of doors.”  

As I walked around the original site of the Inn and stood where the front door had once been, I slipped back in time–back to when traffic sounds were the creak of a harness or clopping of hooves, and when water came not from the faucet but from a bucket drawn daily from the well.  Had Hilda and I seen this circle of stones a couple of years ago, I’m sure we’d have kept the well scene in our book.  

Click here to read a newspaper article about the first dig.  

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Mather Inn, On Writing, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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