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Dad – What question would you ask your great-grandfather?

20 Feb

My Dad shared, “I would ask Oren Stone why he started the Flint Woolen Mills and what brought him to Flint, Michigan?”

oren-stone

Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

The following are answers I have recreated in the voice of Oren Stone (my great-great grandfather)…

“I was born in Sennett, in Cayuga County, New York in 1833. My father and his ancestors going back many generations had grown up in Massachusetts. New England was becoming crowded and many New Englanders moved either directly to Michigan or, like my family, to upstate New York and then on to Michigan. As a boy we lived near the Erie Canal.  It was easy for us to use the Erie Canal to move west to Oakland County Michigan when I was eleven years old, this was in 1844. As you may know, Michigan had just become a state in 1837.

“Later I moved around a bit, at about age 18 or so my parents helped me purchase a stock of goods and I set up a general store. I was also a local postmaster for a while. Eventually I settled in Flint in 1857 and set up a general store there. So that is how I got to Flint.

“Now about your other question about why I started the Flint Woolen Mill. Well, I was doing pretty well with my general store in Flint. Then the Civil War years created a strong demand of wool products. A lot of local farmers, including my uncle D. Hulbert Stone, started raising sheep, my uncle produced Merino wool. Well uncle Hulbert and other local farmers came to me and convinced me that they really needed a local woolen mill, since they were paying way to much to ship wool to the mills in New England.  So I found a few local partners and we started the Flint Woolen Mill in 1867.

stone-wollen-mill-flint-michigan

Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“It started out as a small but very profitable business both for me and for our local farmers. In a few years I bought out my partners and became the sole proprietor. Later, I formed a life-long partnership with William Atwood.  We changed the name to Stone, Atwood & Company, but we were still known locally and later nationally as Flint Woolen Mills. We picked up and bought out other partners over time.

“The mill continued to grow and was known for quality wool products, cashmere, Neptunus, and suit making wool. I even added a specific Pantaloons wool product line.  Lots of local women worked in the mills and men worked as laborers.  We had a nationwide distribution system. For a while we experimented with trying a cotton mill, but that did not really work out.

residence-of-oren-stone

Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“My son Dwight Stone, your grandfather, worked at Flint Mills for a while, but he seemed even more interested in our real estate and insurance business. So I am not sure whether the Flint Woolen Mills will stay in the family after I pass on.

“A couple of my other interests: I was active in a number of civic interests, it is important to give back to the community, and Flint has been good to our family. In 1888 I even served as the Mayor of Flint. I am very proud of restoring the Stone Opera House in Flint.  It has deservedly had a good reputation throughout Michigan.

stone-opera-house-flint-michigan

Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“You may not know that I lost my first wife, your great-grandmother Susan C. Thompson. She died in 1870 when your grandfather Dwight was only 7. I remarried a wonderful woman Harriet Hayes Stewart. Her family members were very early settlers. Her parents arrived in Flint in 1833 and it is said that Harriet was one of the first white girls born in Flint.

“I hope this was helpful. Flint has been a great town for our family, I am proud to have played a key role in it development.


Author: Bruce SummersSummoose Tales, Personal Historian, also

Board Member, Regions and Chapters Chair, the Association of Personal Historians.

Additional Credits:

Annie Payne – my Association of Personal Historians colleague who inspired the question by her Blog on what she would ask her Great Grandfather.

Also:

Extract: From, Stone Flint Woolen Mills, Flint, MI (Stone, Atwood & Co.) https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15a590279d7d6e53?projector=1

As strange as the name sounds, “Stone Flint Woolen Mills”, the enterprise was started by a man named Oren Stone who was talked into creating a local woolen mill to help local sheep farmers sell their wool at profitable prices. Shipping the wool to the large mills on the east coast was not a simple matter in the late 1800’s which made it costly for the farmers. Stone opened the mill and before long, teamed up with William Atwood to rename the concern Stone, Atwood & Co. Stone’s products included blankets, flannel, a product they called “cassimeres” which might mean cashmere, mittens, hosiery and towards the end of the run of the operation a high-end “water-proof” fabric for ladies tailored suits named “Neptunus”.

And:

Extract: From Flint Woolen Mill Records https://www.umflint.edu/archives/flint-woolen-mills-records-0:

Sheep raising was one of the earliest agricultural specializations in Genesee County. Due to the heightened demand for wool during the Civil War, prices increased dramatically. Farmers in the county complained of the unfair prices they were receiving for the commodity and induced Oren Stone (born July 24, 1833 in Auburn, N. Y., died April 20, 1897 in Flint), owner of a general store, to establish a woolen mill. In 1867 he began the Flint Woolen Mills, with stock in the company being held by a number of owners. By 1870 he was sole owner.

In 1876, having survived the economic troubles of the period, Stone added William A. Atwood (born April 11, 1835 in Newfane, N. Y., died April 11, 1908 in Flint) and, at least by 1879, Charles H. Bowker as minority partners. The company then was known as Stone, Atwood, and Company, although the physical operation continued to be called the Flint Woolen Mills. Atwood’s share ranged from 1/4 in 1879 to 5/13 in 1896. Bowker left the company in 1882 or 1883; J. N. Blake joined as a minority partner in 1885 to 1890 and Edwin W. Atwood, William’s son, from 1895.

Atwood was part owner at least until 1901. By 1905 David D. Aitken and John E. Shortle had become owners. The Flint Woolen Mills folded between 1910 and 1913.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

This collection complements the larger Flint Woolen Mills collection at the Michigan Historical Collection at the Bentley Historical Library. It consists of records documenting the financial and manufacturing aspects of the firm’s history. There is little or no material reflecting the personal lives or interests of the mill’s owners.

 

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Save Your Photos Day – September 27, 2014

12 Sep

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales

I recently learned about Save Your Photos Day – This concept resonated with me. Please share this link with friend, families, and colleagues.

As a Personal Historian I interview clients and help them write and share their personal histories and life stories. I often find/discover photos in drawers, in boxes, perhaps on a wall, in a trunk, in an album, maybe on a CD, or a computer file (with no back-up).

They are often singular records of a moment in time. As families grow and succeeding generations disperse these photos are often at risk.

  • They may be lost in transition, during a rushed move, a down-sizing, or during a disaster such as a flood or a house fire.
  • Will the photo and its context be lost after the client dies. Will it become just a great photo with no story, no history, and no memories connected?

Case 1: Two of my early personal history clients had a combined total of almost 200 years of memories when they died. The good news, I had already interviewed them. I had audio tapes and hundreds of pages of transcripts with their memories and stories. The even better news was that I had re-shot or scanned, edited and digitized over 300 of their photos. The words, from the audio tapes, provided personal and historical context to the photos. The photos animated my clients’ stories and reflections. The photos made my clients’ personal history and memories come alive.

  IMG_3146 Snow in July 2013-07-14 19.50.32 Dinner Bell - Ships Bell - from Mostom house, Jim has it now 7.14.13 IMG_1120 Lloyd as Viking Toddler

I converted these photos into a PowerPoint presentation for use at the couple’s memorial service after they both died last fall. Their daughter used some of the pictures for a photo display at the service. The others were featured as looped slide show next to the display.

As the family personal historian I stood and watched the photos cycle through. A grandson in his 20s watched and asked questions.  His uncle commented, “I have never seen a lot of these”. I could provide context from my interviews and from captions I included in the manuscript of the couple’s personal history.

A few lessons learned:

  • Before the couple died, while they were living in a senior community in nursing care, their family needed to quickly clear out one floor of their home so it could be rented to a friend. Framed photos came down, drawers were emptied, boxes and albums were removed from locations were they had resided for 30 to 50 years. Challenges: the photos could have been lost in transition and in context. The good news: I had already preserved many of them digitally, with their original context and stories.
  • The family had several albums with a year by year history in photos from their father’s 100th birthday celebration. Challenges: there is only one copy and the family is disbursed across the United States and in Australia. The good news: we have over 300 photos that have been digitized and can be shared in context with the extended family.

Case 2: Another client made over 300 quilts after she retired from teaching. Her stories and memories of quilt making came alive as we looked through her album of intricately designed and beautifully crafted quilts. Most of these have been given away to family and friends or donated for good causes. We also recorded her memories of travel and vacations with her now deceased husband. Again the photos animated the stories making these memories come alive.

IMG_4227 Quilt Example IMG_4241 Quilted Sunflowers IMG_4222 Quilt example

A few lessons:

  •  Artists should take photos of their portfolio, organize them, store and share them. Challenge: my client only owns a handful of the quilts she spent thousands of hours crafting, she had a portfolio of pictures but had not shared the stories and details about their creation. The good news: during my interview we digitized and reviewed her portfolio of pictures of many of these quilts. The interview transcripts combined with the pictures provided tremendous insights into this client’s passion and artistic gifts. Looking at the pictures, she was able to recall and share rich details about why and how she created a unique design tailored for each quilt recipient.

Case 3: Making your own personal history come alive. I have recorded over a hundred hours of personal history digital audio tape with my parents, and more recently as part of a Family Reunion Show and Tell. As I start to share these personal history stories I feel compelled to include photos. The good news is that I have started taking more photos when I am in my home town, while I walk around my parent’s home, and as I explore photos and relics in my parents’ basement. The bad news is that most of my parent’s photos are not digitized, many of the older family photo albums have not always been put into context. This photographs are at risk of becoming lost memories and forgotten stories. More good news though my cousins, aunts and uncles brought photo albums to the family reunion including albums collected by their parents, we heard dozens of new stories, collectively we could identify “lost relatives”.  We now know who great-great-uncle William was, the one who died during aunt Margaret’s childhood visit to her grandmother’s house 80 years ago. We also know the same aunt Margaret stole my aunt Joan’s boyfriend. This was all revealed as part of the Family Reunion Show and Tell sessions that I facilitated.

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1929

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

 

A few lessons:

  •  Take lots of digital photos of friends, family, of trips, the seasons of the year, of sunrises, and sunsets, and of important objects that you or loved ones have collected. Re-shoot or scan, edit and file older family photos, connect them with context, stories and memories. Challenges: create a master list of photos that you want to preserve, or that illustrate and provide context or captions to personal history and life stories that you have recorded. Taking the time to do this is often a challenge. Digital photos are easy to take, one trip may yield 200 or more digital pictures and we often forget to go through them and organize or curate the ones we want to preserve and share. The good news is that professional photo organizers and personal historians can help.

Getting Canned!

30 Jul

Getting canned has certain distinct advantages.

 20140712_110818 Looking up the NF Railroad Tracks on Front Street

During my recent family reunion I walked the rail trail in New Freedom, PA and took pictures of the New Freedom Heritage Society murals, one of which showed my dad and uncle…

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

  • Getting canned vegetables ready to be processed. The Summers Family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years.

img103 Summers 100th - Horn of Plenty - Superfine Cans

During my childhood…

  • Getting canned vegetables from the basement for dinner… my mother was deathly afraid of the mice. She was sure they were waiting for her in the basement. We loved canned vegetables. We enjoyed them for dinner all winter and much of the spring. Even better, we could walk or jog down to the canning factory and ask my dad if we could pick out a dozen or so ears of corn, fresh tomatoes, peas or green beans for dinner.

20140712_110802 Local Produce - NF Mural

During my teenage years I worked as a crop inspector. I travelled out to the fields early each morning. I wandered down a row to the middle of a 40 or 50 acre field and collected a random sample of peas or green beans. This was to determine when the field should be scheduled for harvest.

  • Getting canned vegetables scheduled for processing included a few risks. One morning I was moseying down a long row and all of a sudden something flew up near my face. I jumped way back as a pheasant took off right in front of me. I am pretty sure I was more startled than he was. I still remember the incident vividly 40 years later. Then, of course, there was getting the company station wagon stuck in the muddy field. This requiring an embarrassing call to the field office to ask whether and when they could send a tractor to pull me out. It was a bit more fun to clamber up the side of 20 ton tractor-trailer loads of green beans. I had to take a sample of harvested beans to determine quality and how much the farmers would get paid.

During my college years…

20140712_110708 Into the Kettle - NF Mural

  • Getting canned brownies… my grandmother Summers made the world’s best triple fudge brownies. You could not eat more than two of them at a time. They came in an industrial sized # 10 can, so there were plenty to share with selected friends and hall-mates. Even so, I still had about four days’ worth of mouth-watering deliciousness.

During my Peace Corps volunteer years…

  • Getting canned cookies, the homemade kind that only a mom can make, was a holiday season highlight. They shipped very nicely during the two-plus weeks it took the postal service to ship them to Barbados.

20140712_110719 Onions - NF Mural

Canned vegetables provided jobs or early job experience for hundreds of teenagers in our area. For others like my dad, my uncle, my grandparents, my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather and his uncle and thousands of their neighbors, canned vegetables provided their livelihood and a nice career. They put me through college. They helped me earn money for my first car. They provided a nest egg that I invested and added to; this enabling me to put a down payment on my first home.

For some getting canned is a very bad day. For me it is not bad, not bad at all.

Show and Tell – At the Chichester Family Reunion

21 Jul

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

Many colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians have introduced versions of Adult Show and Tell. The concept is to invite adults or individuals of all ages to bring objects then to have them tell a story about why the objects are important to them.

I decided to adapt this concept for my recent family reunion. We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Chichester Family Reunion. We no longer have any of the original Chichesters, my grandmother was the last of her generation, but we still had four of the five surviving cousins from the second generation of Chichesters that were able to join us along with about 80 other family members and in-laws from generations 3, 4 and 5.

I asked each family member to consider bringing objects or photos, things that were important to them, and stories that they could share.

IMG_20140711_001132

On the eve of the reunion a few of the cousins gathered at my parents’ house to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday and started sharing stories. I learned from my namesake cousin Bruce that our great-grandfather had been mayor of Piermont, NY, he also showed me his police badge, and perhaps as mayor he also could deputize himself as a temporary police officer. I learned that Bruce’s grandfather met his future wife by wrapping a penny in a piece of paper and throwing it out a train window going through New York City on the way to shipping out to France for World War I.

The next morning I asked my mom whether she had pulled out her “Show and Tell” items. She said she would need at least five days notice to think of what she should “Show” but a five-minute walk around her house yielded a good half-dozen suitable objects. We selected a carved cane and a wooded cane carved by her Grandfather Chichester.

10559764_790400804324205_5621305879765786653_n Show and Tell

She also pulled out a quilt made by her Grandmother Chichester and located a number of family photos of her grandparents, her mother, her sister and other family members. This was just what I needed to set up a “Show and Tell” display as a teaser for the main “Show and Tell” event scheduled for the next day.

10556411_790399767657642_307878364499328536_n Jane Summers at Show and Tell - Karen

My mom and her cousins all grew up in the same small town in New York State and their grandparents lived nearby so they shared a lot of collective memories. I was afraid that we might not have enough “Show and Tell” time the next day so we did an early practice version, “Show and Tell” session 1 with my mom and her cousins. A few pulled out old photo albums and family history records and so I gathered mom and her first cousins and had her kick it off by telling a story about Grandma and Grandpa Chichester.

10447771_10204225974314767_3176056181691435408_n Show and Tell Chichester Reunion 2014

They looked at the quilt and confirmed that yes Grandma Chichester was a great quilter. She made a quilt for each of her nine grandchildren and put their names on the bottom, much like the one we used to cover the table. They looked closely at the wooden fan he made; they all remembered him carving and assembling these in his workshop in the garage. Did he start making these after he retired? No, he made these and he wood-burned carved canes his whole life. Many of the cousins still had a quilt, a cane, a fan or all three or had passed one or more of these down to the next generation.

10383847_790399814324304_6316559112438288882_o Richard Chichester made this Cane - Show and Tell - Karen

I then pulled out one of my most precious family heirloom, my grandmother’s “Shadow Box” filled with her special treasures that she kept displayed in her bed room.

10492556_790399844324301_4395276277289917532_n Show and Tell - Grandma Van Zandt's Shadow Box - Karen

This is the personal part of “Show and Tell”. My mom, aunts and uncles looked at each treasure in the box and told me what they knew or what they did not know about the object and shared a few fond stories about my grandmother. The Red Cross badges were from her time as the head of the Red Cross for the town of Pearl River, NY during World War II. She organized volunteers to knit or roll bandages and more. Later my grandmother became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), building on her Red Cross experience.

I shared my story of thinking I heard her calling to me when I worked in the American Red Cross – Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department late one night. I had to get up and go check the “dead nurse files” to see if Grandma was in there. Later I learned they only included Registered Nurses so she wasn’t in the files.

There was a horseshoe, a bit of crocheted cloth, a few combs and hat pins, perhaps from her “Flapper” days. A small pin with L.B.C. initials painted on for her mother Lizzie Booth Chichester, and even a mysterious belt buckle with a small bag behind it, to Mimi from Stran that she may have gotten as a gift from my dad’s father, were in the box.

10390114_10204225959834405_357776202003740202_n Terri Bell-Nagle and Jane Summers

It was a great way to introduce the “Show and Tell” concept and to get the story sharing started. More photos came out, pictures of my family, my first cousins, our parents, grandparents, stories about vacations in Lake George, NY, meeting up at Grandma’s for Christmas, then going over to see my grandfather, then back to Grandma’s for dessert with my other cousins.

My Bell cousins’ parents died many years ago, so my cousins could ask my Mom directly what their mother was like growing up. “She was outgoing, always the first to find out the names of the new neighbors and the ages of their children. She was a baton twirler…” to which each and every one of her children expressed, “no way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They also had a hard time believing that she went canoeing with my mom every summer. But the stories were corroborated by my mom’s cousins. Family history crowdsourcing is a great thing.

After “Show and Tell” session 1 I took time to record additional family stories with my digital voice recorder. This is a handy tool often carried by Personal Historians, well at least for me. I take one with me every time I go to visit my parents, especially for a family reunion weekend that is being held in my parents’ back yard. Several other surprising stories were revealed and gradually leaked or spread to other family members.

20140712_110143

The next morning my wife, my brother and I took an early morning walk along the New Freedom Rail Trail that spans the Mason Dixon Line crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland.

20140712_110539 Rail Trail Walkers - NF Chichester Reunion 2014

US Presidents rode trains along these tracks. Abraham Lincoln rode along these tracks on his way to Hanover Junction during his trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

Four generations of my family worked at the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant located along the tracks, but that is another story and another side of the family.

The hike reminded me more about my family stories and my family roots and I was ready for the next full day of the Chichester Family Reunion. I recorded a few more stories in the morning and prepared for the main session of “Show and Tell” scheduled for 2 pm. Cousins, aunts and uncles had been telling me for a day and a half that they had secret treasures and “Show and Tell” objects back at their hotel rooms that they were saving up for “Show and Tell”. I looked forward to the event and asked one of my cousins to take photos. Thank you Karen, many of your photos are featured in the following. But first we had the family “Chinese Auction” however this also is another story.

As the Auction wrapped up I got cousins to help me set up for “Show and Tell”. I rang a bell to give everyone five minutes’ notice to get out their “Show and Tell objects and photos, and to give us time to set up. My mom and two cousins excitedly asked if they had time to run inside and “freshen-up” before we got started. I said yes, and then other aunts and cousins headed over to their cars and pulled treasures out of their trunks.

Finally we were ready. I explained the rules, each family member has up to five minutes to show their item and tell their story. I assigned a time-keeper and shared that the bell I had been ringing to get people’s attention during the Chinese Auction was a “Show and Tell” item from my son. He volunteered at a National Boy Scout Jamboree. I dropped him off and it was about 110 degrees outside and he looked at me wondering why in the world was I leaving him in this inferno… but he brought back this great bell from the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts and the National Jamboree.

10376745_790403704323915_5052273929439078467_n Peggy Bell Destefano shows a necklace from her grandmother with an M on it from her grandmother Margaret during Show and Tell

My cousin Peggy (Margaret) showed a necklace pendant with an M on it that she got from my grandmother since they shared the same first name.

 

10540635_790403784323907_5699149401697166566_n Margaret Bond shows and tells about keys from her Grandmother Lizzie's house in Piermont.

Another Margaret showed a display box of keys that she saved from a jar of keys her grandmother had collected from their old house in Piermont, NY.

10514734_790403827657236_7111211729005349988_n Margaret Bond shows off the quilted apron made for her by her grandmother Lizzy

Margaret also showed a hand quilted apron her grandmother had made for her.

10525808_790403734323912_8838662133221259672_n Sue O'Hare shows and tells about momentos from her grandmother Catherine Chichester Erickson

Her daughter Sue shared a display case with sewing scissors, needles, buttons, crocheting, and buckles that had also come down through the family from Sue’s great-grandmother.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

My mom shared that her grandmother was a skilled seamstress and that she had made many of the clothes that her sister and her wore during their youth.

10470996_790404720990480_8366463479178371138_n Robert Cogliati shows preserved images from Aunt Viola's photo album during Show and Tell

Robert showed old family photos that my cousin Craig found in an album when he was helping to clear out his aunt’s basement. These were saved in Archival sleeves. We later compared these photos with others from Margaret’s album from her mother and with photos my mom got from her mother.

10500359_790403894323896_4910736098443802206_n Frank Bell talks about his father taking him and 3 brothers to meet Joe Namath

My cousin Frank showed a picture and shared a great story of going with his father Bennie, his brothers Greg and Bobby, his mother, and some of Bennie’s English students to visit Joe Namath in his penthouse. One of the ninth grade students that went along was Bob Costas who wrote up the story for their school newspaper. Frank told us, “I still have a copy of that story, his questions then sound just like the questions he asks now as famous sportscaster. This was during the spring of 1968, as we were getting ready to leave we wished Joe good luck in the Super Bowl.” He added that this was before the season started that lead to the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl over the then local team the Baltimore Colts. Frank and the other New Yorkers laughed knowing my family had been avid Colt fans. I remember this painful loss, Broadway Joe promised the Jets would win over the heavily favored Colts.

10551028_790404617657157_5385155620284148865_n Bruce Summers Mike Summers telling stories about Uncle Ralph

This started a round of stories by at least a dozen other family members. My brother Mike shared the story about how my grandmother would have the nine “Chichester” cousins over to their house at Thanksgiving and was meticulous about counting the silver afterward, everyone had to check the trash etc. to make sure none of the silverware had been thrown away.

10482010_790404650990487_4185524465545395222_o Uncle Ralph thinking about those silver spoons he hid from Aunt Margaret

Well one year they counted up the silver and went through all the trash but one silver spoon was still missing. Finally little Ralph, the youngest cousin confessed that he had hidden a spoon in his pocket just to see what would happen. At the current reunion he reached into his pocket and pulled out another silver spoon and said to my mom, you better count your silver.

Well the Family Reunion version of “Show and Tell” was a big hit. I came back with forty digital audio tapes. We posted hundreds of new and historic family photos on a special family Facebook site. We learned that my Aunt Margaret sort of “stole my Aunt Joan’s boyfriend.” We learned my great grandmother’s ironing board was always kept by the garden gate on weekends so it could be used to carry injured bathers to the hospital who did not know the Hudson River was tidal and hurt themselves jumping off the pier. We also solved the mystery of who Uncle William was, the uncle Aunt Margaret saw stretched out on her grandparent’s billiard table when she peeked in the room after he died. I wonder what we will show and tell at the next reunion?

Update June 28, 2017:

The next Chichester Family Reunion is in two weeks. This one will be a bit different as my Mom and one of her Chichester first cousins recently passed away. My Mom hosted most of the reunions at her home during the past 40 plus years. I likely will be thinking about Mom when we reprise “Show and Tell” as one of the reunion activities. I look forward to learning and sharing more family treasures – objects, photos, and especially stories, plus it will be great to see everyone again. Let me know, your thoughts if/when you try “Show and Tell” at your family reunion. – Bruce

 

What’s in your basement? Personal Historians want to know, but you might also be curious…

29 Dec

Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, Inc. is a member of the Association of Personal Historians

The Holidays and the start of the new year are a great time to do some exploring or cleaning out… a few recent basement finds – I took a quick look through my parent’s basement during December and the holidays, I found…

  • An old piano (out of tune) that we bought for something like $5 from the old New Freedom Elementary School (we had to take the frame off the door and the lid and wheels off the piano, then used the muscle of 5 strong teenage boys and my dad to muscle this piano down the steep outside cellar steps into the basement – it may never come out)

IMG_4018 New Freedom Elementary Piano

  • My grandmother’s sewing kit, a floor mat from my parents for boat – Summers’ Dream, a wicker basket that held toys for children and grandchildren

 IMG_4035 Grandma's sewing box, Summers Dream, Toy Wicker basket

  • A mystery box with correspondence from the 1880s from my great-grandfather (will need to explore that one in more depth)

IMG_4031 B 1880's Dwight Stone's correspondence in box

  • My father’s slides from his time as a second Lt. on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War… (I did a voice recording of his narration as we looked through the first three trays of these slides)

IMG_4016 Korea Slides

  • A Superfine picture of a can of Limagrands (my family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years) – See Summers 100 Years

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

  • The wooden wine glass holder that I made for my dad 40 years ago to attach under the basement steps (hmmm… I might need to borrow that for my own home). My dad is still using the same electric belt-sander that I used to make the wine glass holder. It is sitting in the same spot in the basement since we moved in – in 1966 (I remember using this on dozens of school project and to make my own Cricket Bat when I came back from the Peace Corps in 1984).

IMG_4024 Belt Sander - Grinder and fire truck

  • Not in the attic but in my dad’s filing cabinet was the original pencil drawn diagram of the Prisoner of War Camp used to house German Prisoners in Stewartstown, PA during World War II… but that’s another story.

I encourage you to checkout what’s in your basement or your parents’ or grandparents’ basement or attic or that bottom desk drawer, then ask them about and record the stories connected to these items and related memories, you’ll be glad you did. (Hmmm… I guess I should call my dad and ask him why he keeps a toy fire engine by the belt grinder)?

This is a second in a series of blogs about basement finds, earlier I wrote… There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…

  • I recently recorded a few updates to this mouse story.  My mom shared… An exterminator or similar service provider was checking our basement, this was perhaps around  1960 or 61 and said… “Did you know you had a rat in your basement?” Well this was enough for her to promote my older brother to head of the Summers Laundry as a 5 or 6-year-old since the washer and dryer were in basement. I also received a promotion to head of canned vegetable procurement as my mom now trusted me as a 4 or 5-year-old to go down to the basement to bring up canned vegetables for dinner.  This was in our home on Singer Road. Note: I recently rediscovered one of the old wooden bar stools from one of my parent’s former houses, I can just about picture my Mom perched high on top of this stool waiting for my Dad to come home to address a mouse or rat issue.

IMG_4023 B Bar stool from Singer Road

  • A bit of back story…  My mom explained that our first home on Third Street in New Freedom, PA also had a significant mouse problem… though possibly no rats. My dad’s first cousin had a large black walnut tree and of course black walnuts benefit greatly from being given a few months to dry out before opening.  My dad, having been married just a few years, thought that the attic would be a perfect place to dry black walnuts. Well, evidently the field mice, or perhaps they were regular house mice or more specialized walnut mice fairly quickly decided that my father was not really keeping up with his chores, since he was busy with the peak season for vegetable canning at the Summers Canning Factory, so they volunteered to turn the walnuts over each night, while my parents were trying to sleep.  My mom was less than pleased to hear the walnuts rolling around in the attic.  I was an infant and my older brother was just 2 or 3 at the time, we were not really bothered, I heard on the radio today that “white noise” such as this might even be calming, perhaps I found it soothing as I was taking my many naps during the day and sleeping through the night, though I admit I have no memory of the rolling walnuts.  My mother was even less pleased that the mice sometimes got lost on their way to and from the attic and found their way into the interior of the house, this prompting a call to my father.  He on the other hand is very proud of the fact that he trapped a record 23 mice in that house in one year. Long story short – my mom perhaps earned her phobia of mice honestly during her first 5 or 6 years of marriage.

Summers One Hundred Years

10 Dec

The following is excerpted from a 1965 pamphlet celebrating the first one hundred years of the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Company…

Thomas Mann, the author, said “Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” Here in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, a new century is beginning for all of us who are the Summers Company, and as the mortals most directly concerned we feel entitled to ring a few bells and fire a pistol shot or two in celebration. We feel fortunate in having our 100-year milestone. From its top we gain perspective on the path we have followed, and perhaps will find a guidepost to our 200th year. Down to earth again, we face the right direction, proud of our past, confident of our future.

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

It all began 100 years ago when young Charles Green Summers, only 19, went into partnership with his uncle, Thomas B. Summers, at Jessup, Maryland. The canning business was young in America — just beginning to break out of the do-it-yourself-in-the-kitchen operation and to emerge as a fledgling industry. It was an age both of free enterprise and of family participation in business; and since then the Summers name in the canning of quality vegetable has exemplified these characteristics fully.

Charles G. Summers, president 1865-1923

Charles G. Summers, president 1865-1923

It is perhaps unique in American business generally and in canning particularly that the heads of the firm for 100 years have borne the name of its founder. It is all the more remarkable that each has actively worked at the job day by day… a tradition contrary to that of the absentee owner.

Progress is Movement
Headquarters of the firm moved from Jessup in 1873 to Baltimore where it remained for half a century. In 1923, as was the case in 1873, the growing pains of the firm demanded more space and a more strategic location; and the final move to New Freedom, Pennsylvania, was made.

Charles G. Summers, Jr., president 1923-1945

Charles G. Summers, Jr., president 1923-1945

For some years after each re-location of Summers’ headquarters, operations were also maintained in the prior location. In 1932, all operations were concentrated at New Freedom, and remain so today.[1965]

Here within 25 miles of the Summers’ plant are the thousands of acres of rich farmland — some owned, some leased and farmed, some contracted for — from which come the field-fresh vegetables for canning.

Strides Forward

Firmly settled at New Freedom, Charles G. Summers, Jr., Incorporated, began to make important strides forward; but not without first meeting a serious set-back.  It was the “ill wind that bloweth no man to good” — a fire that destroyed the main plant.  Out of the ashes, however, began an era of building, of expansion and improvement that has not stopped since.  The main plant was rebuilt in 1932-1933; new warehouses were built in 1939 and 1941; and three more in 1953, 1957 and 1964.  A new equipment repair shop came along in 1946 and a new office building in 1948, followed a year later by another processing plant.

Thomas Stran Summers, president 1945-1951

Thomas Stran Summers, president 1945-1951

All this expansion gives Summers today 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space and more than 100,000 square feet of storage facilities — all covering an area of 10 acres.

From this center of operations in Summers’ 100th year were shipped over one and a quarter million cases of canned products, or 15 cases shipped in 1964 for every single case shipped in 1933! This increase in quantity over the years has been paralleled by the quality of Summers’ products… always a primary concern of management.

The Good Earth Yields Its Wealth

It has always been Summers philosophy that the earth yields its benefits only in proportion to what is put into it.  Since the Company’s aim and purpose is to produce the highest quality of vegetables for canning, it has always paid close attention to building soils of high fertility and canning its crops at the peak of freshness.  Thus, the 4500 acres surrounding the plant at New Freedom that are leased by the Company are farmed by Summers’ men under rigid controls of good agriculture; and the crops from the other 1500 acres farmed by individual owners on contract are purchased not by run-of-the-field standards but by grade only.

img103 Summers 100th - Horn of Plenty - Superfine Cans

From the richly yielding fields to the most modern of canning equipment at the plant is but a matter of minutes… and crop after crop find its way quickly and expertly into Summers’ Superfine-labeled containers.  On the way, they must pass the watchful eye of the United States Department of Agriculture’s own “Inspector-in-Residence”… an on-the-spot inspecting system first begun at New Freedom long ago in 1946.  Is it any wonder that the Summers reputation for quality canned products is as high as experience is long?

A Summers Pledge

Modern Plant and Offices 1965. Caroline S. Summers, president 1951 -

Modern Plant and Offices 1965.
Caroline S. Summers, president 1951 –

As proud as we are of our products, we are no less proud of our long relationships with people who make our success possible.  We cherish the thought that one of our workers, John F. Heck, stayed with us for 71 years; we cherish the thought that among the 45 brokers who handle our label one has worked with us for 52 years and one-third for more than 25 years! We are grateful for their loyalty, and as we enter our second 100 years, we pledge them our continuing friendship, and offer them our resolution to maintain in the future the same high standards we have lived by in the past.

Officers - 1965 Products Packed by Charles g. Summers, Jr. Inc.

Officers – 1965
Products Packed by Charles g. Summers, Jr. Inc.

 

Notes:

Thomas S. Summer, Jr. succeeded his mother Caroline S. Summers as president of the company in the 1960s working closely with his brother Dwight Summers, most of their children also worked for Summers Canning in the 1970s or early 1980s. The Summers Canning Company provided a first, second or sometimes a lifetime job of hundreds of local youth. During World War II Thomas S. Summers, Jr. worked side-by-side with German Prisoners of War, but that is another story. The company was sold to Hanover Foods in 1984. The Superfine Brand can still be seen on store shelves today.

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