GrandPapa's Letter part 4
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh

THE VILLAGE OF PRATTSBURGH

Father had been in the merchantile business in Prattsburgh several years befor his marriage, and for about sixteen years afterwards, and was a successful business man, owning considerable property and a good business when in 1836 he went to Buffalo and entered into partnership with one Alanson Palmer, who was a very wealthy Real Estate dealer in that city. In Crary's Buffalo Directory for 1836-7 I find the following statements in relation to that firm and its members. VAN VALKENBURGH, Jacob, firm of PALMER & Van Valkenburgh; House Washington Street above Eagle.

PALMER & VAN VALKENBURGH LAND BROKERS, 268 Main Street; Kremlin Block Up Stairs.

PALMER SCHOOL was founded by the liberality of Col Alanson Palmer for the gratuitous instruction of six boys and six girls from each ward; together with Books and stationery.

The firm was very successful for a time, and supposed to be worth several millions of dollars, but it failed in the general crash in 1837 and Father returned to Prattsburgh as we have seen by Mothers letter, and resumed business there.

Col. Palmer remained in Buffalo, and is reported to have died in the POOR HOUSE some years later.

When I first knew my parents, (or any other person?) they lived in a large old fashioned yellow colonial house with white blinds at every window, located on a corner lot fronting the "SQUARE?" in the Village of Prattsburgh in the County of Steuben and State of New York, which Village is located in a valley through which runs a little creek, (CRICK we called it, ) and is surrounded by high hills, and unapproachable from the outside world except by climbing one of them so far as I know. The Village contained about five hundred inhabitants and was surrounded by a rich farming community; the village being built around the aforesaid - SQUARE or Park of common, which was a parallelogram, six or eight hundred feet in length and two thirds as wide, with a street running across it from North to South at about one third of its length from the north end.

At the north end of this square, or park. fronting south, stood FRANKLIN ACADEMY, the pride and boast of the villagers and immediately east of that edifice was the Presbyterian Church, with its tall & graceful steeple, pointing out the way to all true believers, on the north side of the street I have mentioned as crossing the Square, immediately in front of and a couple of hundred feet south of the church and so in the heart of the square, stood a large store building, called THE KREMLIN, and some smaller offices & etc. the property of my father, all surrounded and enclosed by a high board fence, and lumber sheds, which in turn were surrounded by the public square.

On the corner formed by the north & south street which formed the west line of the square, and the street running across the square, on which the Kremlin faced, and diagonally across from the store stood our house, in which all of my mother's twelve children were born, and In which three of them died in their infancy.

The house was located on the south side of the lot, which may have been one hundred feet in width, and fronted east on the square, and North along the street what seemed to me to be an interminable distance, and may have been three or four hundred feet.

The front stoop of the house, which extended to the side walk, was perhaps 12 feet wide, was reached by half a dozen or more of steps, and had a wooden bench running along each side from the side of the house to the street side, with a strong wooden railing for a back to the seat. North of this stoop, and in the space between the picket fence and the gate opening into the yard, in a space of perhaps twelve by twenty feet, stood a very tall and slender tamarack tree, and half a dozen immense Lilac bushes, which completely filled that space, and formed an almost impenetrable screen before the Parlor windows, of which there were two large ones opening out upon the square.



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THE VILLAGE OF PRATTSBURGH. NEW YORK CIRCA 1850


The front door, was painted white, & had narrow windows on either side of it, and a fan shaped window, like the one in the peak of the roof, immediately over it and in the middle of the door was an iron knocker, about six inches in length, by four in width, with a very heavy and solid iron plate back of it, which was used by visitors for the purpose of calling some one to open the door, and sometimes by moon struck youths in the night time, to call down the prayers of the sleeping inmates for their annihilation???

Entering this door and turning to the right you found the Parlor, a good sized room square and generally pretty closely shut up, with a "store carpet" on the floor, a white wooden mantle over the fire place in the center of the west wall on which stood a clock, a pair of brass candle sticks, brass shuffers and snuffer tray, & c. & c. With a closet door on either side, with white doors, and brass knob. A center table with books, and generally a vase of flowers upon it, stood between the front windows in the south side of the room, and a hair cloth sofa, with half a dozen mahogany chairs occupied the rest of the floor room, until a piano came to disposess some of them. Upon the walls hung oil portraits of Father, Mother: Robert David; Catherine in her glasses: and Gertrude and Mary; in dark wood frames. I believe I have hung too many of these portraits in the parlor; Some of them were, and some in the other rooms; They were painted by BULLARD, who afterwards painted a panorama of New York, which I saw in Norwalk and in Milwaukee, and then was burned in the fire which destroyed Young's Hall in Milwaukee after I came to this city. The Artist was a good one, he purchased some real estate of father, and paid for it in portraits of the family & some others with whom father had dealings. The portraits were good likenesses, and something of which we youngsters were very proud, and which we used on occasion to call our fellows in surreptitiously to admire.

Going back to the hall, which was probably eight feet wide, and proceeding northward, we came to a place where an enclosed stairway jutted out into the hall and in the corner formed by that enclosure, stood the Book Case and writing desk a mahogany desk, with a lid that fell as the one at 350 Juneau Avenue with which you are familiar, does; The desk part was surmounted with a book case of half a dozen well filled shelves, the doors of which were glazed with small panes of glass, cut in fanciful shapes and set in lead. The lid which fell to make a writing desk was supported on a couple of narrow strips of wood, which had each a little brass knob, and drew out like miniature drawers, and in the back end of each of which was a little pocket, with a lid to it, large enough to hold half a dozen lead pencils or pens, in which "secret & secure safes?" It was one of the beliefs of our childhood that some sums of money were secreted, and we often pulled them out, hoping to find treasures in them.

Passing the Book Case we found a door, opening into the enclosed stair way, which wound from the bottom to the top, and under which were the cellar stairs; Opposite the stair door was another door, which was seldom opened, through which one might enter "Mother's Room, " a room sacred to MOTHER, Babies, and the sick ones of the flock; a room, which although long since destroyed, is still sacred in memory to the faithful, long suffering and affectionate MOTHER, and her LOVING KINDNESS, Directly at the end of the hall, perhaps 25 feet from, and opposite to the Front Door, stood the door to the living and dining room which was a step lower than the hall; This was a comparatively large room with windows looking out both to the North and the South. In the east end of this room, beside and north of the hall door, was the common entrance to Mother's Room; On the South side the window opened onto Bishop Smith's House, and was only about five feet therefrom, while the two windows and the door on the north opened into a porch, the front or north side of which was covered with green lattice work which was covered in the summer time with a beautiful creeping vine, and sweet smelling roses.

Along the south side of this dining room was a long wooden seat, known to all as "THE SETTEE," it was immediately under the window, and plenty long enough to accomodate as it frequently did, half a dozen persons, if closely packed, with wooden ends (the settee) and back, formed with upright spindles. At the left end of this settee, which was on rockers, was a portion perhaps four or five feet long, say half the length of the settee, which was supplied with a front in all respects similar to the back, which could be removed to furnish seating room, and which when in place made of that end of the settee a box cradle, so that a pair of twins might be safely placed therein, while a couple of older persons sat in the other end and rocked the cradle and themselves at the same time.

In the middle of this room stood the dining table, long enough to accomodate fourteen people at once, and surrounded by wooden chairs, some of which were made with three slats running crossways, the top one flat with a round top, and the others flat, the seats made of rushes, so braided as to have a sort of seam running from the center of the seat to each corner thereof, the seats were painted yellow, while the frames were black, with yellow figures stencilled on each slat; Those figures were a constant source of amusement to the young ones, and were diligently and carefully studied during prayers, when we all knelt in front of them? I have seen caravans innumerable, and containing all the animals that went into the Ark, and as many more that no human eyes but mine ever saw, march and countermarch across those slats, and perform the most unheard of feats, while my eyes should have been shut and my thoughts occupied with other and less pleasing things!

At the north side of the room was the outside door which we children almost always used for entering or leaving the room and house, located between two windows, and leading out into the PORCH, I have described in part. This porch was about twenty feet long I think. It was the full length of the dining room and extended some distance in front of the kitchen, probably it was thirty feet long, and ten feet wide, and a step higher than the yard upon which it opened, the east end of it was framed by the wall of the Mothers ROOM and the west end by the Buttery wall, both of which rooms extended so far beyond the dining room, and was divided at the west end of the dining room, by a latticed partition, similar to the one in front. It had a couple of green settees in the portion in front of the dining room, while a wooden pump stood in the other part, and furnished the water for drinking and cooking, and was associated there with an iron pump connected with the cistern, and from that water was obtained for bathing and washing. Near it stood a wooden sink over which hung a tin dipper and wash bowl, the first of which was in constant requisition by the thirsty, while the latter was the terror of all dirty faced boys!

The west side of the room was occupied by a large old fashioned fire place, capable on occasion of consuming loads of wood, with a door on each side, one of which led into the Pantry, and by a slide into the kitchen, while the other opened into a narrow hall leading into the kitchen. One side of this hall contained a small window opening onto the porch, and the other was the side of the brick oven, which stood some six feet high, had a rounding top, and a door opening into the kitchen, and on top of it, to which a boy could get with the aid of a chair, was the warmest and snuggest and most secluded spot in the house; to which I used often to climb of a winter's day, to read or sleep, when I ought to have been otherwise employed, but it was soon learned that if I were missing that was a good place to look for me, and then the charm was lost and my fun spoiled.

Out of the kitchen opened the room occupied by the servants, or HELP as we called them, and on the other side the Buttery, wherein stood the pans of milk, and the much more dreadful "churn, " Many a book was read and many a lesson learned as one or the other of us churned, with a book fastened up on the wall or in the window before us, and sometimes with the tears running down our cheeks.

Back of the buttery and servants room and opening into the kitchen was a large wood-shed, with immense folding doors opening into the back yard, wherein was always stored a goodly supply of wood and kindlings, which also represented to our young minds lots of tears, and possibly a few Dams!! Beyond the woodshed was the carpenter's shop, always supplied with a full set of tools, which we were at liberty to use on rainy days, after the kindlings and wood had been brought in and piled in the wood boxes, which stood near each stove, and the "butter had come. " and beyond this was the garden.

Mother's room, the living center of all the household affections and troubles, the nerve center of the family life, was a good sized room, with windows opening north upon the yard, and always screened with red and white rose bushes, and in summer full of their fragrance and beauty, there stood a Franklin Stove, which was very like an open grate, from which the fire shone into and throughout the room in the winter time, making it a very cheerful and happy place at eventide; In this room as I remember it from the first, were two cradles, and several rocking chairs, and in an alcove just long enough to contain it, behind damask curtains, stood a large high bed with a trundle bed beneath ready to be drawn out at "early candlelight, " and occupied by one of the pairs of twins, of whom there were the two pair under three years of age, the other pair still holding to the cradle. The first I remember of life was being confined in chat room with the other three youngsters, all of us having the measles, and seeing old Doctor Doubleday portion out some of his old school doses of medicine, which we with one accord squalled over, and declined to swallow. He dealt mostly in quinine and castor oil, and I think I would rebel if required to take his doses to day!!

Up stairs only the front portion of the house was finished. There were the Front, or SPARE room a hall bedroom over the front hall: The Girl's Rooms, and the hall occupying the front or two story part of the house: all pleasant comfortable and well furnished rooms, but the SPARE Room was more than that, We seldom saw the inside of it, for it was sacred to company, and apparently always had on its "company manners," But the Ministers occupied it when there, and that was very often, and I recollect one occasion upon which a young visitor who was not of the cloth occupied it for a night, and "gave himself away" as you say. In the morning, when at the breakfast table he announced the fact that he was younger than one of my sisters, and that fact being doubted, exclaimed, "Well I know, for I found your age in the Family Bible last night". It is perhaps needless to remark that henceforth the Family Bible found another resting place!

Just at the top of the stairs a door opened into "Our room, " or "The Boys room as it was always called. Upon opening that door you bowed with such grace as you commanded, or took the consequences of your failure in that respect by way of a bump on your head, and having bowed and stepped down a couple of steps, you were in the room in which four or five hearty lively boys slept for several years; it had a slanting ceiling, which following the roof lines slanted down to within about four feet of the floor, leaving just room for a bed to stand close to the wall on either side of the room, and a passage way between them; There were two small windows on one side of the room only, and a full sized bed on each side, and on occasion another bed was made up on the floor at the foot of one of these; passing beyond the two beds, there was a closet, built of planed boards in one corner, and in the other a door into the store room. and between them came up from the dining room a stove pipe, which served to ameliorate the cold to some slight extent, in the winter, and always served as a drum on which father used to beat the devil's tattoo at most unseasonable hours in the night, as we thought, but when it was time for the boys to get up, in his opinion. Sometimes, when we sought "a little more sleep and a little more slumber, " despite his call, he would wet a tuft of grass, and gently sprinkle our noble brows therewith; If you doubt the efficacy of that treatment for awakening a sleeping boy, just try it. We used to have great fun in that room if my memory serves me, Jake and Dave slept on the right hand side of the room, and Gar and Frank on the other, while the babies slept below, with mother.

We used to lie on the bed with our feet on the sloping ceiling, on which we could walk them until we stood on our head and make faces at each other, I remember one occasion on which we were so interested in our performances that we failed to hear fathers request for silence, and coming upon us in that attitude, he could not or at least he did not resist the temptation to tickle the exposed portions of our anatomies with his slipper; He thought it very funny! I and while we did not fully agree to that, my impression is that we did stop the noise.

The door at the rear end of our room opened into a large unfinished room over the wood shed, filled with all the odds and ends of the household furnishings, and there we used to play on rainy days, Back of that room, and over the carpenter's shop was the granary, sometimes filled with wheat or corn, but oftener with most delicious apples, the overflow from the cellar, which always contained barrels upon barrels of the pick of the orchard, We used almost to live on them in the Fall, and if too lazy to go the granary for them, the outside cellar door was always open, and was directly on the way to our school.

This house was built by father, by "piece meal" Beginning with the front part he added on from time to time as the necessity for more room arose, and they arose pretty often as you have seen, "Six inside of six years" according to the record I!! It was very homey in every nook and corner and every portion was occupied, The front porch was almost always full of young people on summer evenings, and when that was too cool for occupancy the attractions inside the house were sufficient to call many in. The yard beside the house was probably sixty feet wide, and ran back a hundred and fifty feet, to the garden; Immediately beside the house, and opening into the square from the yard, was the front gate, and from that to, and around the corner, clear to the garden fence, stood a row of fine Black Cherry Trees, the finest I ever saw; There must have been twelve or fifteen of them immense round topped ones extending entirely across the sidewalk, & just far enough back from the fence so a boy or girl could get from the fence Into them; They were always very beautiful in leaf, and more so when

white with blossom, and later in the season, when the cherries began to ripen, and from that time until they were all gone, they were generally full of boys and girls, I believe I have seen a hundred boys and girls, young men and maidens in them at a time, picking and eating and chattering like a flock of cherry birds, and making the passing along on the sidewalk beneath them almost impassible to any one who objected to passing through a shower of cherry pits.

The sidewalk under these trees was the only stone walk in the village, and it was only paved with stones so long as the cherries eaten in the trees furnished the pavement. Within this row of trees the yard was possessed of several tamaracks, and pines, and some very large lilac bushes, one of which was twenty feet high, and almost as large around, and under this was a large stump used as a block for cutting, or for a seat sometimes; beside these there were many ornamental shrubs and bushes in the yard, and it was a famous place for playing blind mans bluff, or pussy in a corner; Behind, or north of this yard was the garden; the street side of it lined with a row of plum trees, half as large and sometimes quite as popular as the cherry trees, and almost as free to the neighbors; in the middle of the garden fence a gate opened into the yard, and upon a path bordered on one side by the asparagus bed and by flower beds on the other, which reached about half way to the other end of the garden, and from there on, the path was covered with a trellis which was in its season covered with fine grape vines and and famous grapes, the especial pride of our father; The garden was always well and carefully kept and trimmed, and although there were many pear and plum trees scattered all over it, it furnished an abundance of all the seasonable vegetables and posies, not to mention the weeds and tears which fell to the portion of us boys.

In the middle of the high board fence at the further end of the garden and path was a gate leading into the barn yard; The barn fronted north, on the east and west street I have mentioned, and was a large country barn with a granary in one corner; and stalls for horses and cows along one side and the hay mow on the other; double doors opened into the street and also into the barn yard, so that loads of hay were driven on to the floor for unloading, and then the empty wagon taken through into the barn yard, and out at the great gate at the end of the barn, into the street; A hay mow occupied fully one half of the building, and was filled to the roof with hay in the Fall, and on this we used to play a great deal during the Fall and winter; We would go to the top most beams, and jump, often turning summersaults, alighting on the fragrant hay, sometimes before the hay was all in, or after most of It had been fed out, the jump was twenty or thirty feet, and rather exciting, but no one would "take a dare, " and 80 as long as any one would lead, we all jumped at even at the risk of our necks. Here too was a favorite place for playing hide and seek, and I well remember one fateful day when my father and I played a game of "Hide and howl" on the barn floor, He did the HIDING with a "black snake, " and I did the howling? with a vengance?? I wonder what it was all for? and know no more of the special occasion than you do, well as I remember the essential facts. A "black snake" is a whip, long and slender, and If my memory serves me, "Werry searching and entertaining. " I have no doubt NOW that my punishment was well deserved, whatever my impressions may have been at the time. It was my first and only dancing lesson.

Behind the barn was the PIG PEN:: A two storey building, with a basement divided Into several pens, and always tenanted by a motley and valuable lot of swine; On the first floor, carefully set in bricks hung an immense cauldron in which the food for the dainty pigs was carefully prepared, and over the styes was a room with bins kept full of corn, potatoes, pumpkins and other edibles affected by pigs. Back of these buildings was the orchard, occupying a lot which was perhaps three hundred feet long, and as wide as the house lot, except that the street front was occupied by a row of tenant houses, owned by father. The orchard was a famous one, and in it we enjoyed many an hour; Were it still there I could now shut my eyes and point you to the Pound Sweeting, and the Northern Spy, The Gilliflower and the Russet trees which we used to visit at our pleasure, and from which I have picked and eaten many BUSHELS of apples?


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