Posts Tagged With: Mather Inn

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

Thanksgiving at the Mather Inn

May readers everywhere give thanks with those they love.  In honor of the day, here are two timely excerpts from Plank Road Winter:

(from Chapter 21: At the Smithy)

On the day before Thanksgiving, the aroma of cinnamon
and nutmeg and baking pumpkin wafted through the Mather
Inn.

Sophie looked up from her task of rolling dough.
“The Grand Duke’s latest banquet, you know, featured a
charlotte russe. And it was adorned with spun-sugar eagles and
bears, and the flags of the United States and Russia. I don’t see why we have to serve something as ordinary as pumpkin pie.”

Mother set down the mixing bowl with a thump. “I hope
the Grand Duke’s kitchen crew works harder and complains
less than mine. Go out to the smithy, will ’ee, and tell Father to give his arm a rest.”

“I think we ought to honor the Grand Duke’s visit by cutting little eagles and bears of pastry scraps to decorate the pies.”

“Sophie, go out now.”

Sophie wrapped a shawl over her shoulders and crossed
the yard to the smithy, stepping in time to the ringing of the
hammer as Father and John Alton worked together at the
forge, singing the refrain of one of their favorite songs:

And sing WHOA, my lads, sing WHOA!
Drive on, my lads, I-HO,
And who wouldn’t lead the life
Of a jolly wagoner?

* * * * * *

(from Chapter 22: Thanksgiving)

Though Hans was in no mood for celebration, all of
the McEachron families joined the Caswells at the Inn for
Thanksgiving dinner. The sideboard in the dining room was
covered with pies, and the aroma of roasting turkey wafted
through all the rooms downstairs.

After helping Elsa take her coat off, Hans piled their wraps on the bed in the freshening-up room. In the dining room, benches lined the end of the long table where extra planks had been added to extend the length.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “The benches from the plank road
days appear again. Mother likes to have them out on family
occasions. But, of course, she never has to sit on them.”

“Plenty of folks would be thankful to have a solid bench
and a fine feast like this,” Hans said, but Sophie had already
flounced away.

Elsa climbed onto a bench, and Hans sat down beside her.
Across from them sat Linnie and Birdie. Other cousins jostled
for seats on the benches, the boys elbowing one another and
the girls smoothing their skirts to make room. Billy slid in next to Hans, while Maggie Banvard, home for the holiday, was
given a chair among the grown-ups.

Grandpa and Grandma sat beside Sophie’s grandfather at
the head of the table. Granfer Mather had opened a hotel in
Burlington when the teamsters’ wagons no longer traveled the
plank road during the harvest season. Everyone joined hands
as Granfer Mather gave thanks for the harvest, though for
weeks the McEachrons had been talking of what a poor yield it
was. When Granfer Mather prayed that those who suffer would
be comforted, Hans tilted his head to glance at Mama, whose
shoulders gave a slight heave as she clenched Uncle Amos’s
hand.

Categories: Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, 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

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

Writer or Archaeologist?

I didn’t always want to be a writer–I had other plans for my future.  For a long time, I wanted to be an archaeologist.  I remember digging up bits of old pottery from the rock pile behind the sheds. Finding a particularly colorful piece, I imagined some woman’s sadness about her favorite vase being broken.

My greatest archaeological discovery was a small arrowhead that I found in the pickle patch when I was twelve.  My brother and sister insist the only reason I found it was that I was too busy looking at rocks to pick pickles.

Seeing the Indiana Jones movies in high school fueled my desires–so much so that when I went away to college, I ended up with the nickname “Indiana Emy.” As it happens, my journey took me in another direction, and I never did find much more than that treasured arrowhead.

Archaeological dig at the original site of the Mather Inn

But last fall, an archaeological dig took place at the original site of the Mather Inn.   And I missed it!  A real archaelogist dug up shards of flow-blue pottery, and old nails, and even an entire jug, intact.  By the time I visited in October, the dig site had been covered back up.  But as I kicked about the site I spied a bit of white shining in the sun.  Not an arrowhead, but a broken shard of pottery.  Perhaps a bit off a plate, a platter, or a chamberpot from the Mather Inn. Somehow that little bit of physical evidence brought our Plank Road story closer to life.  Florence and Katie are fictional characters, but the Mather Inn was real.  Meals had been eaten, teamsters had been served, dishes had been washed.

I’m glad there are people at work, digging up bits of the past for us.  And though I’m not one of them, maybe my writing can help preserve the past as well.

Categories: Childhood Memories, History of Plank Roads, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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