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: Chicago Fire, community, Frogwater, old-time dance, Patricia Lynch, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin history, Yorkville School
The 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.
This morning Patricia Lynch, Civil War dance instructor in Milwaukee and president of the West Side Soldiers Aid Society, emailed me a wonderful treasure–a PDF of a page from a dance tunebook used by Yorkville settlers in the plank road days.
According to the file description listed for this example of “Pioneer Dance Music” in the Racine Heritage Museum, the handwritten notebook of tunes and dance notations was “brought from the east by Rubin Waite in 1837 and used by three generations of the Waite family: Rubin Sr., his son Lorenzo, and his grandson Menzo, who donated the book to the Racine Co. Historical Room.”
The page is marked “3d Sett” and contains a reel and two jigs. Neatly-inked quarter- and eighth-notes caper above a swirling script:
First 4 R & L/ Bal – 4 Swing/ Ladies chain/ All promenade //
These figures are familiar to square dancers and contra dancers today. Old-time dance communities still flourish in the Midwest, following in the footsteps of the Yorkville settlers who promenaded in the Waite’s Corners schoolhouse or the ballroom of the Mather Inn.
Click here to see the 3rd Sett
If you attend the Plank Road Summer book launch at Yorkville Elementary School (see the Events page), you can join in old-time dancing with caller Dot Kent and the Hoosier Recruits, a contra dance band. The Recruits may well be playing a dance or two out of the Waite family tunebook.