Williamsville a thriving community

Published 2:39 am Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS – If it didn't kill you it could cure you.
That seemed to be the motto for home remedies jotted in Edwin White's ledger when he was one of the storekeepers in thriving Williamsville in the late 19th century.
As recounted Tuesday night for the Cass County Historical Society at Cass District Library by retired teacher Iola Holtz of Calvin Township, the settlement of 88 south of Vandalia in Porter Township in 1882 offered two stores, two blacksmith shops, a grist mill, a sawmill and a doctor. Josiah Williams named it for himself in 1848.
White had remedies for all kinds of livestock, including cattle, hogs and horses.
Some involved consuming turpentine, muriatic acid, lye, sulfuric ether and Spanish fly.
One cure centered around binding with a toad "and keep it on for eight or 10 days."
"Heaves" could be cured by a cocktail of indigo, saltpeter and rain water – a pint in the feed twice a day.
Another recipe called for three pints of vinegar mixed with six red pepper pods for "warmly blanketed horses. That will put it in a sweat and perform a perfect cure."
Another dosage was meant to heal saddle sores "leaving no scar." One had to be "applied with a feather."
These treatments addressed every malady from garget to hollow horn.
"Some of the things he sold in his store were very unusual for nowadays," said Holtz, who inherited the 1886 book from her brother, Stanley Rice.
Holtz taught for 20 years, including 35 students grades 1-8 in 1962 at the one-room Shavehead school. She also taught seven years at Calvin Hill, a two-room school.
"Sock yarn," for example, sold for 66 cents. Velveteen cost 94 cents for a yard and a half. A pair of shoes went for $2.50. He charged $4.50 for two blankets and $1.25 for a pair of gloves.
A dime bought two spools of thread, but an overcoat could run $12.
Shawls cost $3.50; a pair of rubbers, 40 cents; six yards of muslin, 45 cents; six yards of lace, 40 cents; and a gingham dress, $1.10.
White also used the pages to tabulate things he bought, such as $4.50 for wall work, 70 cents for a strap purchased in Constantine and 25 cents for headache medicine.
Like the song says, a shave and a haircut did cost "two bits."
In 1886, eggs cost 21 cents a dozen; butter, 18 cents a pound; and lard, 9.5 cents a pound. Two years later, however, eggs cost less, 14 cents a dozen; and potatoes, 30 cents a bushel.
In 1906, White bought oats for 30 cents a bushel and potatoes for 75 cents a bushel. In 1893, he had paid 50 cents a bushel for potatoes. Wheat cost 77 cents a bushel in 1906, compared to 68 cents in 1892.
"In 1906, he paid a lady for a day's work $1," Holtz related. "He had a half-day of butchering that was 50 cents. Nine days for cutting wood, $2.07."
Personal property tax on his saddles and farm equipment amounted to $1.73 in 1886, $2.59 in 1907.
White paid $4.50 for 90 pounds of beef and whiskey for 64 cents.
"In 1906," she said, "he sold a corset for 25 cents, oil cloth for 39 cents and moccasins for 15 cents. Neckties cost 25 cents. Two pair of overalls were 82 cents. Shoes were $1.25, butter coloring 15 cents and maple sugar for three cents, which I thought was pretty cheap. In 1894, he sold timothy seed for $2.19. He paid a man $1.50 for two days of shingling. Property taxes that year, 1893, were $20. He bought a cross-cut saw for $2.25 and a pump for $20, fence posts for $4 and buckwheat for 75 cents. Floor oil cloth, for 63 cents, was the beginning of linoleum."
Straw hats and suspenders went for 18 cents each.
Burying a horse set him back a dollar.
"He bought some candy in 'Jones Crossing,' and harness oil," Holtz said. "In 1894, maple sugar was 13 cents. He bought cotton flannel for 60 cents, 11 yards of print for 66 cents, boots for $2.50 and a shotgun for $4."
Another notation was that Sept. 22, 1896, brought the worst storm White had ever seen, with hail and wind gusts which blew over fruit trees. He also kept track of who passed away, of which there was an unusual number of deaths recorded in 1892. They were likely buried in Birch Lake Cemetery.
White's account also challenges the notion that the "good old days" were any better than what came later with the mention of an October trial for the rape of a 5-year-old girl (and a sentence to 10 years in Jackson).
Stolen on Sept. 14 were a watch and chain and groceries valued at $5.
Another theft involved a granary break-in in which 20 bushels of wheat were stolen. He could see where one or more persons removed the grain and loaded it into wagons for sale in Constantine. A suspect was arrested and jailed.
That November, White bought two black colts for $234.
"Horses were one of the things they really paid the price for back then," Holtz said, "because you needed them."
"It was very different with the struggles that they had," noted Vice President Donna Rodwick of Porter Township, who conducted the September meeting in the rare absence of President Marilyn Fry of LaGrange Township. "We just really have it easy."
Third-generation Eagle Scout Chris Karn will be talking about Boy Scouting in October.