Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy 170th Birthday, Wisconsin!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

May 29th is considered Wisconsin’s birthday because that is the day, in 1848, that Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state.

Ruth and I, along with our siblings, grew up in the great state of Wisconsin on a dairy farm, milking Holstein cows. Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland because it is one of the nation's leading dairy producers and is famous for the quality of the cheese produced here.

Wisconsin is also known for its cranberries. Sixty percent of the nation’s cranberries are produced here and the world’s largest cranberry festival is held each September in Warrens, Wisconsin.

The state wildlife animal is the white-tailed deer.

The state insect is the honeybee.

The state grain is corn.

And the state bird is the American Robin.

What I love most about Wisconsin is the beautiful change of seasons, with my favorite being autumn. And, of course, I love to hit the backroads of Wisconsin for some peaceful shunpiking whenever the mood strikes me!

Happy Birthday, Wisconsin, and Happy Shunpiking!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Learnin’ and Dancin’ in Raleigh, Indiana

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In April, 2013, Ruth and I passed through Rush County, Indiana on our way to photograph for several days in the beautiful state of Ohio. Our goal in crossing this county was to visit the ruins of Raleigh School.

Known as Washington Township School, its life began in 1877 as a red brick, three-room grade school. At first, there were only two teachers for 140 students in these three rooms. Some of the children traveled to school on horseback, so there was also a barn where their horses could be kept while they attended school.

William S. Hall, Trustee of Washington Township, had come up with the plan to consolidate several one-room schools into Raleigh School, which is known as the first consolidated school in the nation. On the lawn, in front of what was left of the school, sat a boulder with a bronze plaque mounted on it. The plaque read: This marks the site of the First Consolidated School in Indiana. Established 1876 by William S. Hall, Trustee of Washington Township. "Our school was the first, make it the best." Erected by Tuesday Study Club, 1927.

In 1906, the original building was replaced with a yellow brick high school building, which operated until 1955, followed by a few years of serving grades one through six. In 1968, the school was closed. Two years later, it was sold to a local farmer, with the provision that it be torn down. For some reason, it wasn’t completely destroyed. Still standing is the entrance and the belltower.

After photographing the school ruins, we drove towards the small crossroads town of Raleigh. At the edge of town, just down the road from the school, a man was mowing his lawn, so we stopped to talk with him. He told me his name was Luther, he was 78 years old, and his wife had attended Raleigh School. He also said that there was an upcoming Raleigh School reunion to be held at the dance hall in Raleigh. And then he explained how the dance hall, built in 1947, came to be.

After the end of World War II, when the people of Raleigh were getting back to their lives, they were reminiscing about how they used to roll up the rug in someone’s living room, turn on some music, and dance. Marion Miller, owner of the only service station in Raleigh, suggested that they hold a dance at the service station. They could dance on the concrete around the pumps.

They rounded up a piano, which was played by local pianist Mildred Miller, along with a couple of guitar players and square dance caller Donald Clausen. They danced that Saturday night away beneath the lights of the gas station and continued to hold dances there every Saturday night until it got too cold to dance outside.

Then they started making plans to raise the money to purchase a lot and building materials for a dance hall. They bought almost 700 bags of cement and close to 90 men worked together to mix the cement, pour the concrete floor, and lay the concrete blocks to complete the building. The men volunteered their time after work and on weekends. The women fixed meals to feed the hungry men. In 1973, they installed a hardwood floor, which was surely easier on the legs and feet.

The hardwood floor is still in use and dances are held there on Saturday nights. After we finished talking to Luther and were getting ready to leave, Luther’s wife came over to the car and reminded us that it was Saturday and there would be a dance that night. She urged us to stay for the dance, but we had places to go and photographs to capture. So, we told her to have a good time and we headed out of town, but not before we captured a couple of photos of their wonderful dance hall.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Who Do You Think You Are?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Ten years ago, in late April, 2008, Ruth and I took a 9-day trip to Missouri and Arkansas to photograph in the Ozarks for the first time. On the 9th day, we had a lot of ground to cover and spent the morning making our way to what would be our last stop, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, before hitting the highway home.

Ste. Genevieve is a city of about 4,400 located approximately 60 miles south of St. Louis. It was founded in 1735 by French Canadians and is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri, which became a state in 1821. Unfortunately, it was already around 1:00 p.m. when we arrived, and we knew it would take us about 8 hours to get home from there. So, we had to work quickly.

We stopped at the first brick building west of the Mississippi River (shown above), which was built circa 1785. Historical information from the Old Brick House Restaurant said, "The Old Brick House was erected by John Price, local merchant and ferry boat operator between Ste. Genevieve and Kaskaskia. Tradition has it that the bricks were brought from France in boats as ballast. The building was also the site of the first Territorial Court in the District."

Ste. Genevieve's Historic District is said to contain 29 types of architecture, with some buildings dating back to the late 1700's. The Bequette-Ribault House, built by Jean-Baptiste Bequette, Sr. in 1808, is noted for its “poteaux-en-terre” construction, or “posts-in-the-earth,” a reference to its vertical logs built directly into the ground. Five such “poteaux-en-terre” structures remain in the United States, and Ste. Genevieve is home to three such buildings.

We also visited the Louis Bolduc House, a French Colonial "poteaux sur solle" or "posts on sill" vertical log house that was built circa 1792 by Louis Bolduc. Bolduc was a prosperous French Canadian lead miner, merchant, and trader.

The Bolduc House, which is now a museum, is a National Historic Landmark. It is surrounded by a stockade fence, which would have been used to keep the animals away from the house. The steep hip roof covers an enclosed porch, which was called a “galerie.” The galerie was beautiful with rustic wooden shutters on the windows and antique barrels and tools displayed.

All of these structures from the 1700s were impressive, but my favorite place was the Church of Ste. Genevieve. Founded in 1759, Ste. Genevieve Parish is the oldest parish west of the Mississippi. The current church is the third one erected on this site, with the main body of the church being completed in 1880.

There was one more very special place we visited before leaving around 4:30 p.m. It was another "poteaux sur solle" home built circa 1790 by Francois Janis and known since 1804 as the Green Tree Tavern. The house is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the oldest surviving original structures in Ste. Genevieve. In November 1807, it was the site of the first meeting of Louisiana Lodge #109, the first Masonic Lodge west of the Mississippi River. Also known as the Janis-Ziegler House, it is thought to be the oldest residence in the state.

I didn’t realize just how special the Green Tree Tavern was until I watched an episode of the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” on the TLC Channel in April, 2015. It featured Grammy-winning musician and activist Melissa Etheridge, who was searching for the history of her mother’s French Canadian ancestors. The show starts with Melissa saying that her father grew up in a family of migrant farmers in a small town near St. Louis, Missouri.

She traces her five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis who left Quebec, Canada, traveled the Great Lakes and then down the Ohio River to Kaskaskia, which is now in Randolph County, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from Ste. Genevieve. At that time, Kaskaskia was a strategic trading hub in the French Territory. Nicholas was an experienced fur trader.

In 1787, after the French lost their territory east of the Mississippi in a battle with Great Britain, Nicholas, at age 67, decided to move his family across the Mississippi to the colony of Louisiana, which was then governed by Spain. He and his family moved only a few miles to Ste. Genevieve, but they crossed an international boundary, making them “immigrants from the United States.” In 1796, Nicholas gave his entire estate (the house, barn, stable, garden, and orchard) to his son Francois.

In the last few minutes of the show, as Melissa Etheridge speaks with a local historian about this, he tells her that the house from the estate that Nicholas turned over to his son is still there and arranges for her to go see it. As she drives up to the house, I realize that it’s the Green Tree Tavern! It’s only shown for a few seconds, but I know it immediately, especially because I remember the water pump that I had seen at the back corner of the house. If you look closely at the photo above, you will see it (shown close-up below).

The show ends with Melissa saying, “I have a strong belief that the influence of your ancestors, that influence of their journeys, of their adventures, of their thoughts, of their dreams, are handed down through traditions, through ways that we don’t even know.”

I agree with Melissa. Our ancestors worked hard, suffered greatly, had the courage to take chances, and lived their lives to the best of their abilities to establish a foundation for future generations. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

This episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” was produced by Shed Media. All content is copyrighted by Wall to Wall Media Limited.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!