Time to mow…

Guess what I did instead of writing a new Clark House Historian post! Here’s a clue, from about this time last year (revised and expanded for 2022)…

Spring weather in southeastern Wisconsin is pretty hard to predict these days. Spring 2021 was awfully dry. This year, spring has been wetter overall—I think—but the days have zigzagged rapidly and unpredictably between chill and damp or hot and humid. It’s almost like we haven’t had a proper Midwestern spring at all. And yet, the grass around the Historian’s house has already gotten pretty tall and scruffy. So it was time to get out the mower and tidy up (some of) the yard.

Maurer, Louis, Artist. The climax mower, most complete and perfect mower in the world, the Corry Machine Co., Corry, Pen. / L. Maurer. United States, None. [NY: the Major & Knapp Eng., Mfg. & Lith. Co., between 1869 and 1872] Photograph. Library of Congress.

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Preparing for planting

I’m still tied up with other projects, so I thought you might enjoy a repeat of this seasonal post from last May. I’ll be back soon with new Clark House history.

It’s mid-May in southeastern Wisconsin, and with luck the last frost is behind us. For the past weeks and months farmers and gardeners have been tending to the soil and preparing for planting. At this time of year in the 1840s and ’50s, Jonathan M. Clark would have done much the same, hitching up his team of oxen to a steel-bladed plow to cut and turn over the tough prairie grasses and break up the soil of his newly-cleared lands.

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Big Bird

I’ve been happily busy doing some special, behind-the-scenes research and event organizing for the Jonathan Clark House museum, and I don’t have a new post ready for our ongoing Alfred T. Bonniwell documents series. So how about a short historical nature break, instead?

It’s spring in southeast Wisconsin, and the birds are returning to the banks of the little creek in our backyard. (Okay, our “creek” is really a man-made storm water drainage ditch, but it’s filled with native plants and grasses and we like to think of it as a creek.) Anyway, the birds love it, and every now and then a really big bird will drop by for a snack. Like this guy, who paid us a visit last week:

Havell, Robert, engraver, after John James Audubon, Snowy Egret or White Heron, 1835, plate 242 from The Birds of America (1828-1838), hand-colored engraving and aquatint on Whatman wove paper. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mrs. Walter B. James. Public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

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View on the Catskill – Early Autumn (1836-1837)

I’m still catching my breath after writing Thursday’s big post on the life of Caroline Clark’s mentor, John G. McKindley. We’ll return to Caroline (Clark) Woodward, and see how her time with McKindley influenced her adult life and work, in just a bit.

In the meantime, here’s a lovely fall scene that would have looked very familiar to Mary (Turck) Clark’s mother Rachael (Gay) Turck, and to Rachael’s Gay and Van Loon / Van Loan parents and ancestors:

Cole, Thomas, View on the Catskill—Early Autumn, 1836-1837. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift in memory of Jonathan Sturges by his children, 1895. Public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

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Autumn in “the West” – 1841

Hey! Fall fell on Wednesday, September 22, this year, and I missed it. (Just having too much fun blogging about How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834, I suppose.)

These days—living and working inside our climate controlled, electrically illuminated spaces—it’s easy to miss nature’s seasonal changes. But you can be sure that our early Clark House residents, friends, and neighbors didn’t miss the start of autumn. Rural life was—and is—centered around the progression of the seasons, and autumn brought new farm and household chores to suit the changing weather and decreasing daylight.

So pile up your haystacks, sharpen and oil your tools before you store them in the barn, fill up the root cellar with food for the next six months or more, and keep chopping firewood for the winter woodpile. It’s time to mark the end of summer and the start of fall with a handsome seasonal image from the Clark’s era:

Autumn, No. 4: Gigantic sycamores. An ox team crossing the ford. Owl Creek, Ohio

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How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 2)

More Great Lakes Tourism – Summer, 1834

Our series of “How’d they get here?” posts is written to illustrate the nuts and bolts of how our early Mequon pioneers travelled from their original homes or ports of arrival in North America to the newly opened federal lands in Wisconsin Territory, circa 1830-1850. Today’s post continues our previous post, a first-person description of 1830s frontier tourism that we called How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 1).

Picking up where we left off…

Wednesday, July 16, arrival at Green Bay

On Wednesday, as the Sun was slowly sinking to its repose in cloud of the most gorgeous and variegated colors, we arrived at the extremity of Green Bay, and about two miles up the Fox river, we landed at Navarino,2 receiving as we passed a salute from Fort Howard, on the opposite side of the river.

Detail, Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory / compiled from the Public Surveys on file in the Surveyor General’s office … by Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle [and] Joshua Hathaway, 1837. American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Click the detail map to open a larger version in a new window. Click here for a link to the complete map at UW-M and its bibliographic information.

This map detail—showing Fort Howard, Navarino and, at the top, the southern end of Green Bay— is from the Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory, published in 1837 and the subject of a Monday: Map Day! post in December, 2020. As a reminder, this 1837 map shows all the lands officially surveyed by the federal government up to the time of publication. In 1837, the territory to the north and west of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers was still reserved for Wisconsin’s Native Americans, so the lands to the north and west of the Fox River are left (mostly) blank on this official map. But this land was not at all “empty.” The Indians, the forests, the wildlife, some of the old Métis and Anglo-American settlers—and the army—were all on the left bank of the Fox River in 1837, as they were in 1834, when the steamboat Michigan and its passengers arrived in Green Bay.

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How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834 (part 1)

Our series of “How’d they get here?” posts is written to illustrate the nuts and bolts of how our early Mequon pioneers travelled from their original homes or ports of arrival in North America to the newly opened federal lands in Wisconsin Territory, circa 1830-1850. Today’s post looks at another trip to Ft. Howard on the steamboat Michigan, this time in the summer of 1834.

In Monday’s How’d they get here? – JMC to Ft.Howard, 1833, we looked at the likely probability that from October 16 – 30, 1833, Pvt. Jonathan M. Clark left the U.S. Army’s recruiting depot at Ft. Niagara, New York, and traveled the Great Lakes from Buffalo, New York, to his new post at Fort Howard, Green Bay, Michigan (later Wisconsin) Territory. To make that late-season journey the army chartered the new and lavishly appointed steamboat Michigan.

Great Lakes Tourism – Summer, 1834

Less than a year after that October, 1833, voyage the owners of the Michigan announced two special excursions to the “Far West” for the summer of 1834. The first of these was scheduled to leave Buffalo on Thursday, July 10, headed to “the Sault St. Marie (foot of Lake Superior), Michigan and Green Bay, touching at the ports on Lake Erie and at Detroit,” and would “embrace a distance of nearly 2000 miles, during which, passengers will have an opportunity of viewing the splendid scenery of Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron, Superior and Michigan, and the rivers, straits and bays connected with them.”

“Steamboat excursion to the Far West,” advertisement, Albany Argus, June 6, 1834, page 3, via genealogybank.com. Click to open larger image in new window.

The second trip would depart Buffalo on August 12th, and would take in all the sights of the July trip, and additional notable points along the south and east coasts of Lake Michigan, including Chicago, Michigan City, “St. Josephs,” and the mouth of Michigan’s Grand River. What could an 1834 tourist to the “Far West” expect on such an excursion? We have a first-hand report from the July trip, which includes an eventful stop at Jonathan M. Clark’s post at Ft. Howard.

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