Memories of my Campbell Grandparents: Part I

Helen Elizabeth Campbell Hollinger Johnson (1923-2008)
With edits by
Larry Pearce

William James Campbell and Rachel Elizabeth Hoffman were my grandparents. They were married on September 26, 1889, in Allegheny County, PA. I do not have any other records of where they were married, but probably in the parlor of Rachel Hoffman’s home near Bakerstown, if the normal practice of those days was observed. [Perhaps the descendants of Paul B. Gray know these facts because his wife Bertha (my aunt) had more knowledge of Rachel, her mother.]

As a two-year old child, I can remember an elderly grandpa living on the farm with my grandparents. This was Great grandfather Thomas Anderson Campbell (TAC 1837-1925). He lived to be 88 years old and was the owner of the Campbell farm. William James Campbell inherited the Campbell farm from his father where both lived most of their years. Soon after TAC married Jane Ross (1837-1890) he purchased the farm. TAC would have been about 22 years old when his first child, and only son, William James Campbell, was born on February 23, 1859. TAC also had seven daughters younger than William James. (One died in infancy.) William James was born at the homestead of his mother, Jane Ross Campbell. [For more information on his premature birth and amazing survival story, see “Introduction: Campbell” and “Memories of my Mother, Ruth Elizabeth Gray Pearce.”]

Except for the first year or so when TAC and Jane lived with her parents, William James spent the rest of his life on the Campbell farm. A few months before he died, on October 26, 1954, at the age of 96, he was cared for in a nursing home.

Rachel Elizabeth Hoffman was born March 6, 1866, and died in May of 1946 at age 80 at the farm. She and William James had six children: Lloyd Webster (who died in infancy), Raymond Norman, Bertha Ione, Clifford Anderson (my father), William Kenneth, and Ellis Emerson Craig (who died at about age 20). [For their stories and dates see “Descendants of Thomas Campbell and Mary Crawford” and “Campbell Misfortunes.” The late Edna Gray referred to the history of the Campbell farm in West Deer Township as discussed in Memoirs of Allegheny County (1904) in the “Generation II” chapter of the Thomas Campbell Family History, compiled by Florence Bostwick, Pat Milhime Meeder, Edna, and myself in 1996.]

I can only tell what I remember about my grandparents after I entered the scene on October 8, 1923. While I was an “only child” before my sister Joan was born, August 15, 1927, my daddy and mother spent their summer weekends on the farm helping my granddad with the farming and Grandma with the housework and garden. Knowing my dad and his thrifty ways, I’m sure there was a smaller garden planted somewhere on the farm for our family also.

I’m glad that I could experience the primitive life style that my grandparents used in their home in the early 1920s. There was no indoor plumbing. Every morning there were the “commodities” (chamber pots) from under the beds to be emptied into the barnyard. The water source was a well and water that flowed through a pipe from a spring on the neighbor’s hillside about a hundred yards from the kitchen. There were no electric appliances either. They used oil lamps indoors and a flashlight, if necessary, to go outside at night. There were kerosene lamps to clean. The carbon from the flame on the wick smoked the inside of the glass chimney, which had to be washed in warm water and soap suds, or dry-wiped with sheets of nespaper. I remember when they bought an Aladdin lamp. It was fueled by kerosene and had a different kind of wick. That was a real improvement in lighting. The dining room was very much brighter. It was the only lamp lighted every evening and stood on the end of the dining table nearest to Granddad’s rocking chair.

The dining room was the only heated room besides the kitchen, which was heated by a coal-burning cook stove. The family gathered in the evening to read, visit, or play checkers. They to9ld me that when Dad was young, his brothers and sister did homework at the dining table by the light of the old oil lamp. After the evening prayers were said, Grandma led the procession up the stairs, holding an oil lamp high to light the way for all to follow. The bedrooms were not heated, so it did not take long for everyone to snuggle under the covers, and the lamplight was then blown out. Lights out!

Great grandfather TAC (and later the hired man) slept on the first floor in the log cabin part of the house. There was an old fireplace, but it was never lighted while I was there. This room was the original cabin with 12-inch thick log walls. It was the warmest room in the house in winter and the coolest in summer. The big old bed had a mattress filled with corn husks, and on hot summer days, when we would lie down there to take a nap, the husks crackled crisply beneath us. That is where I had my afternoon nap as a child, and later when my girl cousins and I got too warm or tired from our play, we often napped there because it was cool. The present main house was added later and white clapboard covered the cabin so that the logs are no longer visible.

Washday was a real experience. Sunday evening, Daddy would carry buckets of water from the rain barrel beside the barn to the copper wash boiler on the kitchen stove. Then he filled two tubs with cold rainwater beside the old wooden washing machine, on one side of which was mounted a wringer. The fire in the stove was then “banked” and overnight it warmed the water in the boiler. The well and spring water was too “hard” to wash clothes in due to the limestone bedrock.

First, on Monday morning, into the washer went the sheets, along with the hot water and homemade lye soap that had been shaved. Rachel’s sister, Aunt Mary, then took a hold of the handle on the washer lid and pushed it back and forth to agitate the sheets in the hot water. The agitator looked like a three-legged wooden stool of unpainted wood, fastened to the underside of the lid. Wooden cogs, attached to the handle moved by Aunt Mary on the topside of the lid, activated the agitator. How long this procedure continued, I never did know.

When the washer was ready to be changed, the lid was raised and the sheets were turned through the wringer into the first tub of rinse water. Then the wringer was given a 45-degree turn and the sheets were wrung into the last tub. Finally, they were wrung into a woven willow clothesbasket and carried to be hung on the wire clothesline with wooded clothespins. The wire line had to be wiped clean with a damp cloth before the sheets were hung on the line to dry. It was dirty from several sources: soot from the coal furnace in the basement, dust from freshly plowed fields, or droppings left by birds that occasionally perched on the line.

The Monday washday continued in this manner until all of the clothing had been washed and hung to dry. It was a long day of hard work. When dry, each garment, towel or sheet was unclipped from the line and folded, to be carried in the willow basket into the house and put away in the rooms of family members.

Early on Tuesday morning Grandma sprinkled the clothes with water from a basin of cold water using her fingers and rolled them tightly to dampen thoroughly in preparation for ironing. Two or three flat irons were on the top of the cook stove getting hot. There was a removable handle that released a cool “iron shoe” onto the hot stove and picked up a hot one to be used to iron the clothes. Instead of a steam iron like we use today, Grandma had an unhemmed piece of bleached muslin wrung in water to place over wool pants or skirt to steam press the wrinkles out or crease a pleat. The sheets and shirts were all made of cotton, so ironing for the whole family was an all day chore.

Our grandparents were short in stature, probably five feet, five inches in their prime. They both had twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and white hair when I knew them. Grandma was slender and sinewy in build. She would remind you of a pioneer lady who traveled with the covered wagons. She had very long, silky gray hair, wound in a bun at the nape of her neck and held in place by hairpins. In the garden she wore a blue sunbonnet with wide brim on her head, a long dress, high button shoes, and a long apron. To bring the vegetables from the garden to her kitchen, she gathered the corner of her apron and filled the apron with carrots, tomatoes, and other good things for dinner. She had a quiet humor and soft way of speaking that I always loved.

Granddad had a ruddy complexion and was bald-headed with tufts of white hair above his ears and around the back of his head. My daddy was the family barber and cut Granddad’s hair as well as my brothers’ and mine as we sat on a high stool on the back porch with a large, thin towel draped around us.
Granddad was the bandy rooster-type personality, small but mighty and always making sure that his ideas were heard. He would send the boys (or the hired man) out to hitch up the horses and get started on the afternoon farm work while he stretched out on his horsehair lounge chair for a nap. We grandchildren used to love climbing up on the high end of it and slide down when Granddad was not around to holler at us.

William James and Rachel Elizabeth were members of the East Union Presbyterian Church, located about two and a half miles from the farm. Every Sunday, Daddy took our family from our Pittsburgh home to the farm to pickup our grandparents and take them to church. There were seven of us stuffed into the blue 1927 Willie’s Knight. I really learned the Bible in my Sunday school classes there. William and Rachel always sat in the middle of the second pew so that Granddad might hear better. He never admitted that he was hard of hearing, but we all had to speak loudly to be sure he understood us.

Sunday afternoons we all went calling at Aunt Bertha Gray’s home to see our cousins, or we would visit Grandma’s sisters and other relatives. No one was supposed to do any unnecessary work on Sunday. Tending the cattle, milking the cows, feeding the chicken, cooking a big chicken dinner and doing the dishes were accepted as necessary work.
In my adult years, I always loved to go back to the farm to see if the blue-etts, violets, and trillium were in bloom. We’d look for fossils of ferns in the slate rock. If the mountain teaberries were ripe in the woods, we’d taste them. I still have fond memories of the Old Campbell farm. [See Part II to follow for more.]

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