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Eldred Hill - Its History

Contributed by Betty Matteson Rhodes

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The story below has been typed and reprinted by Spring Creek Township researcher Betty Matteson Rhodes. Please contact Betty if you have any questions or comments.


By Florence Little Tripp (1903-1994)


Written in 1976

When pussy willows decorate the swamps and rural roads are their muddiest, the older folks take to sulfur and molasses as a Spring Tonic after a long winter but I take to the hill that was my childhood home. For those who have grown up in the country side this urge to tread the well-worn ruts again needs no explaining.

    This locale is three and one half miles north-east of the village of Spring Creek in north-western Pennsylvania and has a toe hold in the foot hills of the Alleghenies.

    Eldred Hill was named for an early settler and in 1910 supported fourteen families. By 1918 half of them had moved to the city where they obtained employment during World War One.

    By today's standards the hill folks' way of living would be considered ekeing out an existence but there was no real poverty among these people.

    Their mode of travel if the destination was within five miles was usually by foot. Everyone walked, well not quite everyone. My father was crippled with rheumatism at the age of forty-one. I don't remember seeing him stand for I was only one year old at the time.

    Dad had been a carpenter and had forty barns (including sheds) and a few houses to his credit. He spent the rest of his years in a wheel chair and died when I was thirty-two. I have an itemized list of the structure he built.

    Just before my ninth birthday, my brother, Neil, was born. On New Years Eve when I was ten my brother Irvin, then seventeen, died. Modern antibiotics would have saved his life. Deprived of help, my mother did every menial task except plow. Walter Measor did that for us.

    Behind a spring-tooth harrow, I drove our old horse back and forth across the plowed field to smooth it for planting. How I hated it! How hot the sun! I came to the house only to be sent back again. Harrowing had to be done and mother was busy with other equally demanding tasks.

    Some of the families had no well and had to carry or haul their entire water supply from nearby springs. By 1968 all of the farms were vacant, most of the old timers dead and very few buildings left. Not many of us can locate the springs. We had daily mail delivery, weather, and road conditions permitting.

    The rural carriers included Clifford Wells, Irving Briggs, Glen Eldred, Cleve Damon, and Phil and/or Mae Morton. Glen was not a relative of the hill Eldred’s [but more than likely was related somehow - editor].

    USUALLY ONLY ONE ROOM in a home was carpeted and chances were that my mother had woven that carpet from cloth strips some neighbor had bought. The loom was one my grandmother had hired someone to make at a cost of seven dollars. In 1975 I gave it to my cousin, Verna Davis, in Spring Creek. Anything in the line of crafts she can do. Cloth from discarded garments was cut into one-half inch wide strips sewed together end to end. They were rolled into a ball and when this had attained a diameter of six inches, another ball was started.

    A carpet was woven into strips, which were twenty-seven inches wide and as long as needed, for example, if an order was for a nine by twelve feet rug, four strips each twelve feet long were required. Carpet warp was used to sew these widths (strips) together. The result was a "hit 'n miss" carpet. It was tacked to the floor around the edge of the room. To launder, the widths were cut apart and scrubbed on the washboard. For the weaving, Mother charged a nominal fee. I'm sure it wasn't enough.

    Mattresses were of three varieties; straw, corn husks, or feathers. They were encased in "ticks" of heavy, closely woven cloth.

    Although all the farms contained a wood lot that supplied fuel, not everyone was so fortunate as to possess a sugar bush. For those who did, maple syrup was a cash crop. Every veteran maker of syrup knows when the time is ripe for tapping the sugar maples. Sometime in March, there comes a day when the wind is still and the temperature moderate. It may be accompanied by large wet snowflakes drifting dreamily down. It is a convenient time. Too early for preparing soil or mending fences.

    A good sap flow requires thawing days and freezing nights. Strong winds or a sharp drop in the temperature cause it to stop until another thaw. The duration of the season seldom exceeds four weeks.

    The cast iron kettle employed for boiling was a far cry from the present efficient labor-saving evaporator. Much credit is due that generation for their ability to determine the correct thickness for syrup or knowing when it reached the soft sugar stage. This was kept in earthen ware crocks and used for all sweetening purposes.

    Have you ever eaten hot waxed maple syrup that has been dribbled onto a pan of clean snow? Syrup will wax if it has been cooked to a bit above 230 degrees.

    The season over; there was sure to be a maple sugar party. Each guest was served a saucer of hot syrup that had been boiled to the right consistency to harden into pale, fine-grained sugar when stirred briskly. Pickles were eaten with this delectable confection. The Measors had the maple sugar parties.
    When syrup is boiling it tumbles and rolls until just before reaching the correct temperature for syrup, then it seems to simmer and form cratered circles and "spit" up through the center. Because the elevation of the hill was 1870 feet, it was above the danger of late spring or early fall frosts, so crops had time to mature.
    Spring greens were cowslips and dandelions. Rhubarb was ready in May and wild strawberries in June, wild raspberries in July and blackberries in August. After a woodlot slashing, blackberries come in. Once, just once, I saw about eight quarts of cream colored blackberries that uncle Hume, dad’s brother, had picked in the woods back of Mrs. Dewey's. Only the low bush huckleberries were native to Eldred Hill. They were delicious but tedious to pick. Throughout the summer, berries and garden vegetables provided most of our food.
    I am reminded that potato bugs numbered into the thousands and that the procedure for their annihilation was knocking them off the vine with a four inch wide home-shaved shingle into a tin pail partly filled with a mixture of kerosene and water. It was a child's job. At least it was this child's job.

    Each farm had a fruit orchard and a few grape vines; some apple varieties no longer grown or known were the snow apple, strawberry apple, golden sweet, sweet and winter russets and sprusian. Other fruit included pears, plums, and cherries. Measor's even had a couple of mulberry trees.
    Our grapevine was trained to cover an overhead frame. The grapes were picked from beneath. How our small flock of hens liked to wallow in the soft earth in the shade of that arbor. The poultry flock meant eggs and meat. By the time the hens took their annual vacation from laying, (approximately November till March), the thrifty housewife had several dozen [eggs] submerged in water-glass, sodium silicate, in an earthen-ware crock.

    Vinegar was processed at home. Produce was preserved by canning, drying, or stored in the cellar. During harvest, men exchanged labor with their horse drawn equipment. Cows furnished milk, butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese, and meat, as well as tallow for water-proofing shoes.

    A spring pig grew large enough for winter pork. This was brine cured or smoked or sometimes both. The fat was rendered into lard. Soap was homemade.

    The nut bearing trees were chestnut, butternut, black walnut, hickory, and beechnut. We relied on the chestnuts. There was a ready market for them. Some of my school clothes were bought with the money from the chestnuts I sold. It was before the chestnut blight and we gathered them by the bushel. There were seven chestnut trees on our farm. When the first fall frosts occurred in late September, the nuts were ripening. The frosts caused the burrs to open exposing the nuts and with the dawn, the crows were there to harvest them. Squirrels and chipmunks, too, arrived early and were busy filling their larders.

    Mother would call my older brother, Irvin, and me to get up and gather that day's crop. As with any crop, not all the nuts ripen at the same time. If you've never heard it raining chestnuts, you've missed something. A long slender pole was cut, then one end jabbed firmly into the ground and the upper end made to strike forcefully against the branches. Down came the nuts in great profusion. In 1925 the chestnut blight killed ninety-nine percent of all the trees.

    There are still a few of us around who remember the one room school and some of the pupils who attended. It was a twenty by thirty foot clapboard building in good condition, which had been constructed by L. B. Rickerson in 1880. There were three large multiple paned windows on each side plus two in the back. A well stocked woodshed was handy near the door. Heat was supplied by a sheet iron stove and a lad considered himself lucky if he was chosen to come early and have a fire started by the time the teacher arrived. For this chore, he was rewarded with a few pennies.

    At each rear corner of the lot there was an outside toilet. One for the boys and one for the girls. We brought lunch from home in a covered tin pail. On warm days we ate in the shade of two lovely pine trees by the road on the school yard. Drinking water was carried in an open pail from the nearby Pitt farm. We all drank from the same dipper.

    The school term began in September and ended in May. Prior to this era, school was in session during the summer months due to winter's inclement weather. I have one of Irvin's report cards from 1906. That term started in April and ended in September. Rose Elderkin (later Mrs. Harry Johnson), was the teacher.

    The teacher rang a small hand bell to announce the start of the day's session at nine o'clock in the morning. Edna Woodward Barber, of Ripley, New York, still has the bell that Rose used. She is Rose's niece. A fifteen minute recess in the forenoon, another at two-thirty in the afternoon and an hour at noon was routine. It was then that the air resounded with happy - well, usually happy shouts of children, releasing any pent-up tensions.

    Our favorite game was Pump, Pump, Pull Away; "Come away or I'll pull you away". Another game was Ante-Over. A leather covered yarn filled ball was thrown over the school house. Often it fell among the woody stock of the snowball bush that hugged the east side of the building and time was lost retrieving it. Baseball was popular too. I held the distinction of being the worst player.

    The teacher would be a young lady recruited from the local community. She would board with some hill family and walk to and from school. The first to teach there was Caddy Whitney. A Mrs. Sharp, daughter of a Spring Creek minister, Rose Elderkin, Susa Tubbs from Cobbs Corners, and Fern Thayer. Fern boarded with Clayton and Viola Stearns and walked over a mile; farther than that in the winter, or so it seemed. Susa boarded with Pitts and later married Alton Pitt. The school was closed during the 1910-1911 term. Frank Pitt furnished transportation in bad weather for the hill children to go to Spring Creek. In 1915, it was closed permanently. Eldred Pitt tore it down and sold the boards to Tom Aires who used them for a cabin he erected not far from Deer Head Inn. Eldred cut the schoolyard maples into firewood, which he sold in Spring Creek.

    My seventh and eighth grades were in Spring Creek. Ruth Card was the seventh grade teacher and the eighth grade was taught by Lucy Roof. Walter Measor hauled us in bad weather with his team and a homemade covered wagon. It had a long board on either side of the interior that extended the length of the wagon, for seats. For hauling us he got fifteen dollars a week. In good weather we walked the four miles each way and were paid twenty-five cents a day. There was no high school in Spring Creek after 1917.

    I remember a couple of incidents that occurred in Byron Eldred's pasture when I was walking home from the Hill School. One was in good weather. A buck sheep decided to eject me from his pasture. If you are interest in learning to vault a rail fence in a hurry, I recommend this type of training.

    The other experience took place when there was an icy crust of snow. I lost my footing at the top of the incline and sailed rapidly down toward the bottom. Before me was a tree I could straddle and grasp the trunk. I did, only to slide around it and continue the wild ride backwards to the small stream.

    HUSKING BEES designed to help in getting the year's corn husked were annual affairs. Every family known and some not so well known, within miles, was invited to come when their evening's milking was finished. Two rows of long planks put on boxes and kegs to provide seating were arranged on the barn floor so that the folks seated on one side would face those on the other side. Many bushels of corn were piled between the seats. During the evening, it kept two men busy carrying out husked ears and husks. There's nothing like a husking bee to loosen up a crowd. To add to the fun, anyone finding a red ear (some ears do have reddish kernels) was supposed to kiss one of the opposite sex. This was an opportunity seldom passed by. By the time the corn was husked the hour was nearing midnight.

    The husking bees I attended were at Measor's. All day Lena Measor had been making pumpkin pies and doughnuts. Now she served these with plenty of fresh home-pressed cider in payment for the people's help.

    Neighborhood square dances were held right in the homes. Some folks didn't believe in'em but enough of us did to form a couple of sets. A set consists of four couples. Dancing was from nine in the evening till four in the morning with intermission at midnight. For these gala occasions, each lady brought a tureen so only the coffee was furnished by the hostess. Liquor was frowned on. Evidence of it enhanced no one.

    My generation had not yet learned that they were supposed to have their dances apart from their parents. So the parents came and the parents participated and I declare, it made them young again. No expense was involved for music. Some fellow was sure to know how to play the 'fiddle' and many a farm lad could remember the square dance calls.

    After leaving a lighted room at night, one's eyes soon adjust to the darkness so they can see sufficiently to get about. If a light was carried, it was a kerosene lantern. One pitch dark night mother and I were returning from a neighbor's when our lantern went out. We had to cross a stream called the Dry Run, via stringer. A stringer is a log placed across a stream, one end on either bank. This one was eighteen inches in diameter and twelve feet long. We managed to walk it without incident. There were three of these stringers across this stream, I'd guess a yard apart and I crossed this stream, to and from school.

    I asked Clara DeJeans recently if vehicles ever used to cross there and she said it was the only road at first. Planks were placed across the stringers to form a bridge for vehicles. She remembers when the road in my time was made. A group of do it yourself farmers with a goodly amount of horse sense, (adjective mine) first plowed where they wanted the road, and then used road scrapers.

    When daffodils are in bloom you can be sure trailing arbutus is too. It is trailing in that the current year's growth is a continuation of the preceding year's stem. The plant clings to the ground. Only the leaves are visible for the clusters of small pink, and or white flowers are protectively hidden underneath. No perfume can rival their fragrance. In some areas this plant grows under pine trees but I look for mossy knolls, fields that have never been under cultivation, or even an open spot in the woods.

    Deer came to Eldred Hill in 1918.Being fond of arbutus; they pawed the snow to uncover it, thus destroying large patches. It is illegal to uproot it but how do you explain that to a deer? By 1973, it was practically extinct; at least I can no longer find it.

    Pink honeysuckles, which may be azaleas to you, bloom about Memorial Day. One bush in our pasture bore peach-colored flowers. They have a most pleasing aroma. It used to be customary to decorate graves with bouquets of honey suckles. The bush favors a locality where it has to compete with newly established undergrowth or maybe it's the other way around. Their domain will also be home to the wintergreen berry. Friends of mine witnessed truck loads of honeysuckle bushes being hauled from Brooks Hill. Presumably these were destined for sale to city dwellers.

    Mountain laurel is at its peak the third week in June. Its habitat locally is in the woods and it thrives even on large rocks. It has no fragrance, but its inch diameter white or pink flowers grow in large showy clusters. Large amounts of laurel branches are used by greenhouses for greenery in floral arrangements. This may or may not account for the scarcity of bushes remaining where I once gathered the flowers. It's unlikely they were dug for their roots seemingly have no end.

    Bittersweet is a parasite which depends on another plant for its support. I found it growing on an apple tree and arranged a couple of sprigs to form a design. Then I painted it on a set of China.

    Whatever became of foxfire? Frequently at night we would see a soft fluorescent glow on rotting stumps or logs. Never have I seen it since leaving Eldred Hill.

    Another dark night experience occurred when Florence Measor and I were walking without a light, from my home to hers where I was to spend the night. She was ten and I was fourteen. We were approximately thirty feet from her house when a blood curdling scream pierced the air. I had been taught not to run from an animal lest they know I was afraid and be more apt to give chase. Florence had no such admonition and left me like a shot. I wasn't far behind. We hurried upstairs and listened as the screams sounded farther and farther down the lane. Measors heard them on following evenings. They were made by a panther that had been taking Mrs. Dewey's sheep from the lane. The poor sheep would come to the barn but couldn't get in.

    Weeks later, Lena [Measor] did see a panther during the day. It was in a field near their storage building where she had gone for kerosene. When the animal saw her it let out the same frightening scream, then turned and fled.

    Sunday afternoon diversion was going to see the rocks in the woods back of Mrs. Dewey's. It required having to force our way through tangled undergrowth and over fallen logs to view these cool damp sentinels. They provided a happy hunting ground for young and older lads during squirrel season.

    In recent years, claims have been made of finding caves and Indian pottery among these rocks but all the would-be explorers of my time failed to unearth any. However, any plowed field disclosed Indian arrows.

    Once in a search of laurel in this wooded area, Measors came upon a mother bear and two cubs.

    New life has taken over an old hill. The name has been changed to Miracle Mountain and a Christian camp for children has been established there. But that's another story.


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