Posts Tagged With: Plank Roads

Generations Celebrate Wisconsin History Together

Grandparents' Day guides at St. John's Lutheran School

Grandparents’ Day guides at St. John’s Lutheran School

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

On March 14, sixth graders at St. John’s Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin, celebrated Grandparents’ Day by hosting an interactive classroom fair inspired by Plank Road Summer.

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

The students in Mrs. Claire Rehberger’s class chose their own projects, which resulted in a fascinating variety of activities and exhibits for the older guests.  Visitors to the classroom were invited to build a plank road, make scones and lemonade, color quilt blocks, taste strawberry preserves, listen to a live reading of Plank Road Summer, experience an audiovisual presentation about the Underground Railroad, and play a memory game about technology “Then and Now.”

 

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John's

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John’s

Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography

 

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Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Writers’ Retreat over Winter Break

After celebrating Christmas and the New Year with our families, Hilda and I snuck away for a much-needed writers’ retreat. We escaped to Wisconsin, where we holed up for two nights at the Lawson House Bed & Breakfast in Hales Corners.

Though we had already completed several drafts of “Plank Road Winter,” we worked through another rewrite, changing the point of view from first person to third person, shifting a main character in the book, and strengthening the sequel’s connections to “Plank Road Summer.”

The Lawson House could not have been a more perfect place to write. We learned that the house is located along what had once been the old Janesville Plank Road, which runs into Milwaukee. We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts and wonderful hospitality. The large front room with a fireplace and comfortable furniture allowed us to settle in for hours of reading our manuscript aloud, editing old chapters, drafting new ones, and laughing and crying together as sisters do.

During breaks from our writing tasks, I leafed through various historical books scattered about the room. In one, I read about the Hales Corners Stock Fair that had taken place once a month from 1871-1958. This bit of local history actually wound up in our novel. We left the Lawson House inspired and refreshed with a manuscript ready for our editor to see.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Of White Oaks and Fall Colors

When I settled down to read Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, my attention was drawn to a beautiful color photo of oak leaves. The article, by Laurie Casey, was celebrating Illinois’ state tree, the white oak, which provides a majestic color show this time of year.

One tree authority, Donald Peattie, even called the white oak “the king of kings” in A Natural History of Trees. The magnificent shape of the tree, its fall colors of maroon and russet and wine, are all celebrated. And then, the article stated, “For all its glory, white oak is becoming rare.”

According to Kris Bachtell, a horticulturist at The Morton Arboretum, “White oak used to be a dominant tree here, but most were cut down to make plank roads, as well as furniture, flooring, boats and barrels.”

Imagine my distress, as a member of The Morton Arboretum and an avid fan of nature, to read that the demise of the white oak was caused by building plank roads a century and a half ago.

Imagine my despair, as an author of Plank Road Summer, to actually read the words “plank roads” in the Chicago Tribune, and then realize the tragic consequence of the roads.

And so I am putting out an appeal to readers of Plank Road Summer–if it is within your power, if you have the space and ability, please plant an oak tree! A  white oak, a bur oak, any of those majestic trees, would be a legacy worth planting.

As for those of us in lots too small to ever support an oak tree, we’ll just have to enjoy the trees we find in our neighborhoods, parks, and arboretums. And maybe wonder how many more there would be, had the white oaks not been made into plank roads.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Plank Roads | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Graue Mill Changed our Story

When Hilda and I first began working on Plank Road Summer, we didn’t exactly know how to go about writing historical fiction. One weekend when Hilda was visiting me in Elmhurst, I suggested that we go to nearby Graue Mill to “soak up some atmosphere.” I had been to Graue Mill before and knew that it was built in 1852–the exact year our story was set–so I thought the place would be a good source of inspiration.

We watched the miller grind corn and examined all the household items and farm tools on the upper floors. As we were looking at the display in the basement, Hilda said to me, “You know, we should put the Underground Railroad in our book.” Graue Mill, of course, is a documented stop on the Underground Railroad in Illinois–a place where fugitive slaves were hidden on their way to freedom in Canada.

“We can’t just ‘put it in,'” I said. I’m the historical stickler. I told Hilda we would have to prove that fugitive slaves traveled through the Wisconsin neighborhood in which Plank Road Summer takes place before we could put that information in our story. But then Hilda reminded me of childhood stories of a neighbor’s house with a tunnel to the swamp in which slaves had supposedly hidden. And we remembered that a building in Rochester was supposed to have been used in helping slaves.

When we started to research the subject, we did indeed find the solid evidence we needed to prove that slaves could have made their way past the properties in our book. (Saying any more than that would be a spoiler) But yes, Hilda, we could (and did) put the Underground Railroad into our book. In fact, it became a large part of our story–and all because of a visit to Graue Mill.

On Sunday, Sept. 6, I’ll be at Graue Mill from 12:00-4:00. Come buy a book, make a wool butterfly, add a plank to my road. And soak up the atmosphere of Graue Mill and the Civil War encampment on the grounds. It’ll be a great day for inspiration!

Categories: Childhood Memories, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Rochester Wisconsin, Underground Railroad, Why this story | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return to the Wade House

I was a tween (though the term wasn’t used in the 1970s) when I first visited the Wade House in Greenbush, Wisconsin.  The restored historic inn caught my imagination, especially because back in Racine County, a neighbor’s house had also been an inn along a plank road.  At the Wade House I admired the tea leaf dishes in the dining room, the woodstove in the kitchen, and the third floor ballroom.

Back at home I spent hours poring over the photographs in the Wade House souvenir booklet,  imagining stories that might have taken place within the inn if the historically dressed mannequins had suddenly come to life.  Pretty soon I began to wonder what might have happened to a girl sitting on the front porch of my own house as she  watched the passing wagons stop next door at the Mather Inn.  Though the Mather Inn was a much smaller and humbler version of the Wade House, I thought the stories could be just as interesting.

Twentysome years later Hilda and I visited the Wade House again while we were researching Plank Road Summer.  Though the mannequins were gone, the docents who led us through the house gave us a detailed sense of what life at an inn was like.  We learned that innkeepers used to count out floorboards in the ballroom to mark sleeping arrangemements, a fact that made it into our book.

Soon Hilda and I will head to the Wade House once more, this time for a book-signing.   Back when I was making up stories about little girls in the ladies’ parlor I did not imagine that someday I would return with my own published novel about an inn along a plank road in Wisconsin.

Stop by to see us at the Wade House during the Arts and Crafts Fair–Sunday, August 23, from 9:00-3:00.  We’ll have our own craft projects going–you can make a wool-tassel book mark or wool butterfly and add a plank to our road.   Copies of Plank Road Summer will be available for purchase and signing.  We hope to see you there.

Categories: Childhood Memories, History of Plank Roads, On Writing, Wade House | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

“They wrestled for it”

“I think they wrestled for it.”  This was one Wisconsin student’s answer when we asked who had the right-of-way to the planks if two wagons were traveling toward one another on a one-lane plank road.

Since the book launch in May, Hilda and I  have spoken to various groups at schools and museums and bookstores.  Last week we were guest speakers at the Graham Public Library in Union Grove, Wisconsin, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of our hometown library.  In  our historical presentation, we spoke about how the stories we’d heard as children had influenced our writing.  Several members of the audience also had stories to share that evening.

The biggest news is that we think we have found the old McEachron tollhouse.  A former neighbor from a mile or so east on the plank road (just past the Rise) said that she had been told that her house was once a tollhouse.  As Hilda and I drove by the the house in question, beyond the tree branches and building additions we saw the unmistakable lines of a tollhouse like the one on the cover of Plank Road Summer.  We suspect that this is indeed “our” tollhouse, moved to that location after the Plank Road era.

One woman recalled that when she taught at Waites Corners School, Edith McEachron would visit and tell stories of the early days in Yorkville.  Potawatomi Indians were present at the birth of one McEachron baby.  When the child was born, the Indians took the baby outside and tossed it to one another, leaving the McEachrons to wonder whether they would get their child back safely.  They did.

One man mentioned that his family home in New York State was on the national registry of Underground Railroad stations.  Every plank road, every community and crossroads, has stories to share–and some are better than fiction.

As to the question of the right-of-way, the more heavily laden wagon stayed on the planks, while the lighter wagon would pull onto the dirt lane.  But I bet that somewhere along those many miles of plank roads, there’s a story of how two men wrestled for the right-of-way.  Let us know, please, if you uncover such a tale.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Underground Railroad, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking the Plank Road to the Classroom

Thanks in part to museum educator Victoria Duhamell, who expressed her eagerness for curriculum materials today at the Westchester Township History Museum, the Plank Road Summer teacher’s guide is up and running.  You can find the guide and other educational links at our Resources for Teachers.

The eight-page PDF includes an overview of the themes and values in the novel, discussion questions, suggested activities in various subject areas, and brief explanations of the history of plank roads and the Underground Railroad in the Great Lakes region.

Many thanks to Wisconsin teacher Gretchen Demuth Hansen and Indiana educator Sherri Nord for their help in developing these materials.

This guide is a work in progress, and we look forward to hearing from educators in classrooms, home schools, museums, historic sites–from all of those who enjoy putting new materials to the test in their eagerness to share the adventure of learning.

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plank Road Trippin’

Nine winters ago Emily and I were plugging away at our Plank Road book, snatching time from our families and other responsibilities–“sneaking away to write,” I called it.  When we weren’t scribbling, we were daring to dream about what our summer would be like if I received a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship.

I got the grant.

After much whooping and hollering we  finalized our plans for the Plank Road Trip–a week of travel to historic sites with a Dickensian entourage (two authors, our mother, Emily’s husband Franklin, our sister Gretchen, and six children, ages four to ten) followed by a week of digging in archives and scribbling without the entourage (courtesy of Mom and Dad and Gretchen, who looked after the children while we snuck away to write).

Many of Wisconsin’s best-known historic sites are relevant to Plank Road Summer:  Wade House was an inn on a plank road, Pendarvis was settled by Cornish immigrants, and Milton House was an Underground Railroad station.  The Scotch Settlement church building attended by the McEachrons now stands in Stonefield Village.  The living history interpreters at Old World Wisconsin and other sites provided us wonderful details about daily life in pioneer households.

“We’re the Demuth sisters — we’re writing a book.”  That line opened doors and drawers and cupboards for us, as volunteers and staff members shared what they knew, eager to discuss the making of strawberry preserves or the threshing of wheat.

Nine winters later, we are planning a reprise of the Plank Road Trip, this time to schedule book signings.

At this point we don’t know whether our entourage will be quite as Dickensian, but we do know how much we owe to the volunteers and staff at historic sites who share our passion for the past.

Categories: On Writing, Plank Roads | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Gift of Story

In a few weeks the entire Demuth family–six siblings and their spouses and eighteen children–will gather in Wisconsin with Mom in the farmhouse on the plank road.  Better than packages, holiday goodies, or Christmas music will be our time together and the stories we tell.

Often we share memories–remember when Cousin Tommy was stationed in Panama and surprised us by calling on Christmas Day? Remember the blizzard when Dad drove the snowmobile to Grandma Elsie’s to keep her furnace running?  Remember when Mom and Dad were away and and we kids–well, Mom doesn’t like to leave the room in case somebody tells a story she hasn’t heard before.

But Mom herself is always good for a story.  We all enjoy a retelling of a Sunday afternoon in the 1960s when Mom went to visit the neighbors.  With Dad in charge, our four-year old brother left the house and rode his tricycle down the highway in search of Mom.  Fortunately, the Packers were playing, so the highway was completely deserted.  God and Vince Lombardi looked after our brother that day.

Family stories explain who we are and help us remember where we have been.   Communities have stories as well. In Plank Road Summer, Mr. Mather tells of a guest putting nails in a feed trough at the Mather Inn.  That bit of local lore is true, according to a letter that Edith McEachron wrote to her nieces and nephews.  Aunt Edith shared that story of the plank road days to help her family remember their heritage and appreciate their community.

As you gather with your family and your community during the coming weeks, may you appreciate the gift of story.    Hilda and I  look forward to sharing with you the families and the community in Plank Road Summer.

Categories: Childhood Memories | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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