Monday, April 26, 2010

James A. Garfield and his Hudson connections

On April 26, 1981, "A Shooting Star", a play about the life and death of President James A. Garfield written by WRA alumnus John Shaw '40, was presented at Hudson High School performed by a cast from Hiram College. The play had already been successfully staged in Hiram, in Williamstown, MA and in Washington, D.C. when the production came to Hudson. It came here because John Shaw was a Hudson resident, and because of Garfield's connections with our town.

Born in a log cabin in Orange Township, north on Route 91 to present-day Moreland Hills, Garfield was associated with Hiram College, first as a student, then as its President. When he and Lucretia Rudolph were married in April, 1858 their wedding was solemnized by the Rev. Henry L. Hitchcock, President of Western Reserve College in Hudson, and a personal friend. Garfield himself kept a diary continuously from 1848 until his death in 1881, so his visits to Hudson can be traced. We learn that on October 3, 1859 he came to Hudson for a speaking engagement and stayed overnight with Dr. George P. Ashmun, a prominent Hudson physician who at that time was serving in the legislature as State Senator for Summit and Portage Counties. Ashmun's son had been our student, and was soon to be named to the cadet corps at West Point. Ashmun lived in a house on Aurora Street near Christ Church Episcopal which was demolished many years ago.

The following day Garfield spent on the campus of the old college visiting with President Henry L. Hitchcock at his suite in the President's House on Brick Row, and then with Professor Nathan P. Seymour at his home on Prospect Street. There is no evidence that Garfield ever met Hudson's John Brown, whose Raid at Harpers Ferry took place just two weeks later, but he certainly was very aware of him and wrote some impassioned entries in his diary about him. When Brown was executed later that year, Garfield wrote in his diary, "Brave man, Old Hero, Farewell. Your death shall be the dawn of a better day." Garfield went on to a distinguished career as a general in the Civil War, then was elected to Congress in 1863. He was one of the most important members of the House until his own election to the Presidency in 1880.

It is not surprising to learn that in 1873 while he was serving in Congress, Garfield was invited to give the commencement address at Western Reserve College in Hudson. It seems likely that he might have preached at the old Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Division Street at that time. Decades after his assassination and enshrinement at the impressive tomb at Cleveland's Lakeview Cemetery, Garfield's great grandson, Rudolph "Bob" Garfield '46 came to WRA as a student. He later served on WRA's Board of Trustees and was the winner of the Waring Prize in 2003. A copy of John Shaw's play, "A Shooting Star" can be found in the WRA Authors collection at the John D. Ong Library.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Apples, Maple Syrup, and Potatoes: WRA's Farm Years

Between 1916 and 1953, WRA offered a student "farm activity" that was part of the school curriculum. This was carried on at Evamere Farm on Aurora Street, the 300 acre estate that belonged to school benefactor James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925). When Ellsworth reopened the school in 1916 he had the farm option included to give students a chance to be outside one afternoon a week, and to contribute to the welfare of the school. Almost everything that was done on the farm benefited students and faculty alike. The large herd of cattle provided eggs and milk that were used in WRA's kitchen, as were the other crops that included corn, apples and potatoes. In the late winter students could go to the sugar bush at the north end of the farm and tap trees to produce maple syrup, also used for meals. In 1919 Ellsworth deeded the farm to the school and the school's agriculture teacher offered classes and accompanied the students to the farm for their hands-on experience.

Ralph Burl Simon, who had a degree in agriculture from Ohio State University, came to the school in 1919 as a teacher of biology and a few years later became manager of Evamere Farm. He would be in charge of the farm program for over thirty years, retiring in 1952, about a year before the program was discontinued. Students participated in a wide variety of tasks including milking the farm's herd of Ayrshire cattle (although much of the milking was done by machine), cleaning out the barns and chicken coops, plucking chickens, assisting the hog master, collecting milk cans, helping to clear the fields in the fall, and stocking the barns and silos. In the winter they could cut and store blocks of ice from the farm ponds at a time when the school and many faculty homes still used ice boxes instead of refrigerators. Students could learn how to use the ice-cutting saw while sliding across the ponds. In late winter they followed draft horses back into the sugar bush to tap maple trees, hang the buckets, and later retrieve the sap.

In the fall of 1949 Mr. Simon reported that the school had an abundant crop of apples and potatoes, and that both were largely harvested by the student body working in the fields and orchards. He noted that this was the best year for apples in about a decade, and many would be used for cider, applesauce or apple pies, all of which would be served in the dining hall. Many apples would go into cold storage. The fall crop of potatoes also proved to be an excellet one with more than a thousand bushels gathered and packed. By this time the farm activity was not a requirement, but many elected to work their afternoon at Evamere Farm. In 1951 Bert Szabo became the Evamere Farm Manager, the last one WRA would employ. He had a background in agriculture and was responsible for his student helpers. He later wrote that by the early '50's "students no longer were interested in donning work clothes and cleaning the barn or feeding chickens. They detested the odors of the barn and chicken-house." So the farm program came to an end in 1953.

Two years later, a huge auction and "complete dispersal" was held at Evamere Farm in May, 1955 at which the school sold off its herd of 74 Ayrshire cattle and lots of farm equipment. Evamere Hall itself was dismantled, and the farm was sold off in parcels, much of it to the Hudson Schools for their campus plan along North Hayden Parkway (named for WRA's Headmaster). In June, 1957 Bert Szabo left to take a position with the Akron Metropolitan Park District. Of all the buildings that made up Evamere Farm, only the Gate House survives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Famous Potatoes" had link to early missionary

Henry Harmon Spalding (1803-1874) and Marcus Whitman (1802-1847) were the two pioneer Protestant missionaries who brought the Gospel to the territory that is now Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Their 1836 trip across the Rockies on the Oregon Trail with their young wives has a prominent place in the history of the American West. Both men hailed from Prattsburg in upstate New York, and while Marcus Whitman was educated in the east to follow a medical career, Henry Harmon Spalding completed his education by coming to Hudson to attend the old Western Reserve College and graduating with the class of 1833.

His betrothed, Eliza Hart, followed her fiance out to Hudson, lived with a relative, and attended the Ladies School conducted by Mrs. Nutting, wife of Rufus Nutting, at their home on Hudson Street, now known as the Nutting-Farrar House, used today as a faculty residence.

In November, 1833 Spalding and Eliza were married in the old Chapel on our campus, an event recorded in the diary of a fellow student, John Buss (1811-1879) who spent the rest of his life as a store keeper in Hudson. The young couple now went to Cincinnati so Henry could attend the Lane Seminary and be ordained in the Congregational/Presbyterian Church. Meantime, Marcus Whitman made plans to become a medical missionary in the Oregon Country, and on a chance meeting with his former neighbor, asked Spalding to join Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, as partners in this missionary endeavor to the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In 1836 the four went to St. Louis and eventually caught up with a large gathering of hunters and mountain men who were headed across the Rockies toward Oregon. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Hart Spalding became the first American women to cross the Rocky Mountains, a notable accomplishment although neither were seeking notoriety, but instead were committed to bringing the Gospel of Christ to the "heathen" Indians.

While Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were posted to a mission station near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, the Spaldings had been asked to take the mission at Lapwa among the Nez Perce Indians in what is now Idaho. It was while he was trying to teach the skills of agriculture to his Indian followers that Spalding planted the first potatoes in the Clearfield River valley in 1837, thus initiating the crop for which the state of Idaho would later make its claim. Today, the state officially recognizes Henry Harmon Spalding as the pioneer missionary who first introduced "famous potatoes" to Idaho. Less successful were his efforts at conversion, although Spalding had more success than his counterpart, Marcus Whitman. In November, 1847 the Whitmans were among fourteen mission workers to be massacred by the Cayuse Indians to whom they had ministered for eleven years. The Mission Board then recalled the Spaldings who settled in what is now Oregon and where Eliza died a few years later leaving Henry with the care of their four young children. Late in his life, Henry returned to his old post at Lapwa where he died in 1874 and which is now known as Spalding, Idaho.

Better remembered are the Whitmans, probably because they gave their lives to the cause, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, a highly regarded liberal arts school, was founded as a seminary and dedicated to the memory of the Whitmans and their colleagues. Marcus Whitman is also represented in Statuary Hall at the U. S. Capitol. We should be proud of the contribution made by Henry and Eliza Spalding who both lived and studied in Hudson, and were married at our old Chapel, and who went on to lead model lives of courage and Christian dedication.