About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Thursday, October 31, 2013


What better time of year than Halloween to think about the possibility that some houses are haunted.  Many people will swear to it.  Others scoff at the idea.  Some scoff only because they don't want to admit that they believe it.  What do you believe?

In my travels and associations I have met two people who have told endless stories of strange occurrences in houses in which they had lived.  And some people seem to be more susceptible to encounters than other.  Like most people, I am fascinated by these tales.

Have you ever wondered why very old houses usually seem to be the target of such stories?  The older the house the more rampant the stories.  As a Realtor selling many old houses over the years numerous potential buyers asked if the house was haunted with a smile on their face but perhaps only half joking.

The earliest first person account I had ever heard was about a house that seemed to have a problem.  It was in New England.  The house was built in the second quarter of the nineteenth century which did not make it ancient but still pretty old.  Strangely enough, the spirit that seemed to be lurking around was a woman who was dressed from the period around 1940.   She was not very old at all.

I first heard this story around 1980 from someone who had put the house under contract to buy but had moved in prior to a delayed closing.  After a few months in the house the buyers were so freaked out they walked away from the sale and all but ran from the house.  

Often upon arriving home a vision of the woman would appear in the window.  Other things would be out of place, sometimes harmless, sometimes not.  For instance, there were two upstairs bedrooms in the cape.  Apparently this lady had a flare for decorating because the curtains in the two rooms were swapped.  No harm done by that.  Just strange! 

Another freezing winter day a trip home for lunch found the garden hose that had been stored for the winter attached to a faucet, the yard flooded and reduced to a sheet of ice.  That is a bit more annoying than swapping drapes.

But it got worse.  A trip outside to warm up the car on cold mornings invariably resulted in a locked door preventing re-entrance back into the house. This was getting more mischievous.

Being shoved through the shower curtain and sent crashing into the shower wall was a bit scary.  Picking up a large bag of dog food, having it grabbed out of your hand and hurled across the room was outright hostility!

Finally, being awakened during the night with your Doberman standing over you, staring at the corner of the room and snarling was too much.  These people were ‘outa there.

Throughout this ordeal a constant recurrence was footsteps slowly descending the staircase from the second floor that exited into the living room through a door with a thumb latch.  In this instance the footsteps would  descend the stairs, the thumb latch would jiggle and the door would shake but no one entered the room.
Once when I saw this house a sign on the door said
"The Twilight Zone"!
About fifteen years later I was in that “neck of the wood” and thought maybe I could find this house.  As I drove slowly down the street a man emerged from the house.  He had just moved in and had heard stories but as yet had noticed nothing.

Several years later I passed this house again.  The same man was outside and offered to show us the house.  He attested that he was aware of the situation but could live with it.

As I entered the living room I particularly looked for the door to the staircase.  It was there just as had been described to me  but the thumb latch had been removed.  Hmmmm.

The other instance involved a house built in the late 1860s by a veteran of the Civil War and the Battle of Shiloh.  He built a large Victorian house with a tower.  It is in a neighborhood noted for other “incidents".
Some of the events occurring were harmless enough such as seeing a 19th century man, presumably the Civil War veteran, himself, in a black suit walking up the driveway toward the house but vanishing before reaching the front door.

haunted house

At other times there would be footsteps stomping around on the second floor in one particular room but no one was there.  The  mother initially thought it was the children.  She  tried to catch them in their mischief.  But the children were always discovered playing quietly in another part of the house.  This scenario was repeated numerous times.

Other bizarre events were the times when the lady of the house would awaken from a sound sleep to find a man at the foot of her bed!   I can't even imagine how unnerving that would be. 

Of particular interest was a door next to the fireplace.  The the thumb latch would jiggle and the door would open.  No amount of fixing, even reversing the way the door opened, helped.  The sound of the thumb latch and the opening of the door continued.

A new owner only stayed long enough to have one experience.  Before moving in he arrived in darkness one night to bring things inside.  As he approached the stairs with only a bright moon for light he felt something grab him around the ankles.  He dropped what he was carrying and left for good! 

One day a medium came for tea by invitation not knowing any history of the house.  As she departed from this social visit she volunteered the information that there were three entities in the house.  One was a tall man but that was not all.  There was also a mother and a child.  Research indicated that long ago a mother and child had been struck and killed by lightening in a pasture nearby.  Could this be the mother and the daughter that the medium identified?  

The house has changed owners several times.  Some have coped better than others when it comes to coexisting with spirits.  Its present condition is unknown.  

And  finally, my own spooky experience that, thankfully, has nothing to do with my house!

I was in Nova Scotia with cousins attending a three day family reunion of my mother’s family, early “planters” from Connecticut.  They had emigrated to Nova Scotia at the invitation of the government after the expulsion of the Acadians.  (Remember Longfellow's Evangeline?) 

On Sunday, the final day, a special church service was held for the reunion attendees in the Covenanter Church, a charming 1804 meeting house where our ancestors had worshiped.  It was a simple meeting house with a center entrance and a high pulpit for the minister.  It was pristine and inviting.  A steeple was added in 1818. Being there seemed so special.

As we were sitting in the back near the front door about fifteen minutes or so into the service the thumb latch (another thumb latch story) jiggled and the door shook violently.  Clearly some descendant was running very late and eager to get in but being unnecessarily and quite rudely disruptive.  Someone ran to the door and quickly opened it.  No one was anywhere to be seen.  And there were no bushes in which to hide. 
Old meeting house looks like a NE house with center entrance
I have to admit to being more than a little freaked by that.  In my mind I can still hear that door being shaken today as though only yesterday.   What was it?  
Isn't it strange that the common denominator in each of these three stories was the problem of the jiggling thumb latch?
A steeple  added to the gable end
of the meeting house in 1818
So perhaps part of our mind wants to believe and the other part wants to laugh it off.  Or maybe we just won't admit to what we believe or aren't even sure what to believe.  Perhaps some people have overactive imaginations but what about the times when the reputation of a house persists over many years and many owners?  That is harder to dismiss and harder to explain.

Is your house haunted?

What are your thoughts on haunted houses?  Are you buying it?

So long, Everybody!  Happy Halloween from Pru

Monday, October 28, 2013


Thank you to all the readers who have looked at and responded to my posts.  It is exciting.

As a newcomer to blogging my primary goal was to reach people through an old house blog.  I hoped to advance my mission to save our architectural legacy  from needless destruction.  In general, I particularly wanted to make people more aware of the old houses around them.

One day many years after I had done a series of talks about old houses at a local historical society I was verbally accosted in a store.  As I stood in the checkout line at the market a woman ahead of me pointed her finger at me and blurted out, “ That’s the lady who’s going to cause me to have an accident!  I’ve been driving around looking for big chimneys ever since I heard her speak instead of watching the road!”

Wow!  I don’t want anyone to have an accident but I do want to heighten your awareness of our architectural treasures and inspire you to notice the buildings around you.  I hope you will become more proactive when you see senseless demolition about to take place.
On the other hand, it has been interesting to watch the number of hits and comments to the posts I have submitted so far.   It turns out to be somewhat of a bellwether telling me what you like.

I deviated slightly from facts about old houses to include the two posts of my grandmother’s memories. After all,  her house played prominently into the story.  Well, I should have known.  Myra has stolen the show!  In death as in life, Myra is a hard act to follow! Your response to her story has eclipsed everything else I've written.  One hundred and seventy five years after her birth she has fans all over the country.

It stands to reason that some of her relatives from the past might also have great stories.  They do.  So I have a few more gems to bring to you down the road but if I share them all at once I will soon run out of ancestors who left their stories behind to be told.  Stay tuned for stories of Sally Bramhall of Plymouth and Jerrus Madison Bryant of Paris, Maine whose stories are right up there with Myra’s.  There are probably other interesting ancestors but most remain anonymous because they didn’t save their stories and no one else did it for them.
Researching old houses always involves a certain amount of genealogy so it is fair to talk about genealogy in this blog.  That will be part of the agenda going forward.  Is it just me or have you had extreme coincidences in you genealogical research?  Have you found people, names or photos that are nothing short of miraculous? 

As a result of the blog a relative in Ohio, Myra's great granddaughter, sent me a copy of a letter written in the 1890s involving people in my hometown.  It was a very melodramatic letter and the owner of the letter wondered if I could identify the people in the letter or figure out what was going on.  With the help of Ancestry and NEHGS  I was able to reconstruct the whole scenario although I stayed up almost all night doing it,.  I was able to report back the facts gleaned from a letter that was supposed to have been burned in the 1890s.  All the players are long gone but the letter revealed an episode from the distant past.  More importantly it shed light on the mindset and prejudices of those that lived in that place at that time. 

It’s all fun and I hope that you will be entertained and inspired at the same time

In closing I will leave you with  views of one of my favorite houses in all New England; the Ruggles house in Columbia Falls, Maine.

Way down East in Columbia Falls is the ultimate example of Federal architecture.  Federal period architecture is supposed to be airy, light and graceful.  The 1818 Ruggles house, although almost miniature in size compared the large Federal mansions along the New England seacoast, epitomizes everything that is wonderful  in Federal /Adamesque architecture.

It was miraculously saved from the ruins that it had become.  It is now on the National Register of Historic Places as it should be.  As a museum house it is open to the public.  The drive to Columbia Falls is long from almost anywhere.  It is in the northeastern most corner of the US.  If you appreciate the best the Federal period has to offer seeing this house is a must. The Ruggles house embodies the best of the period.

As always, thank you for visiting my blog and sending your comments.  I will endeavor to make my posts entertaining but always remembering my mission;.  increase awareness;  save houses;  restore them correctly.
The Ruggles House restored
Ruggles House circa 1920
Ruggles House flying staircase.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Homeowners always have the best intentions when they undertake renovation or any changes at all in an antique house.  Most of them would never think to seek advice from someone in the community with expertise in restoration or old houses in general.  Most people have a preconceived notion of what is right based on what they have seen others do or what they have seen on TV on such popular programs as “This Old House”.  This and other programs are based on renovation and are not restorations; thereby setting a bad example and sending the wrong message for their millions of viewers, some of whom probably own a great antique house needing sensitive renovation.  Do not copy This Old House if you have a truly good old house!

I have two basic mottoes that I have applied to antique houses for many years.  They are as follows.

Covering a door or window, making a mistake on the paint color, even laying a floor over the old floor are things that can be reversed as long as NO ORIGINAL FABRIC HAS BEEN REMOVED.

Pulling down ceilings, tearing out walls to make big kitchen/family rooms, putting in non traditional windows of different sizes, making the house asymmetrical or replacing wood doors are projects that involve removing original fabric and should be avoided. It is not easy to find ways to add bathrooms or efficient kitchens and leave the original alone.  If you absolutely can’t live with it the way it is and it has integrity, maybe it is the wrong house for you.

One of the worst scenarios for me is seeing someone with a heavy hand making changes to suit their taste and lifestyle.  Then a couple of years down the road you see the inevitable For Sale sign as these people move on leaving a bastardized old house in their wake.

Here are twelve things you perhaps should not do.  I had planned a “series of ten” of this and that in future posts but I would have needed to eliminate two items here and could not bear to remove any from my list.

1. Stripping pine woodwork to natural   
Early houses were surprisingly colorful. The interiors were not as somber and brown as we have been led to believe. Aggressive removal of paint adversely affects the value and integrity of the house. Paint analysis can aid in determining the original color. A lot of time, work, expense and exposure to lead can be eliminated by leaving the woodwork alone as much as possible. When paint is stripped the "paint history" of the house is erased and a later accurate restoration based on paint analysis is impossible.

2.  Stripping the floors with a sander   
Early floors were without finish or were painted. A painted floor will never harm the quality of the restoration and can enhance the color scheme. A sander is much too abrasive and will remove too much from the old thin boards, damaging the patina and integrity.

3.  Tearing out old plaster
Original plaster should be saved. Ceilings should not be pulled down when they can be restored.  Most of them can be restored.  Sheetrock or blue board and plaster will never look right. Creating a rough surface or swirly ceilings is crude. These old house were refined and the plaster was smooth.  If you look beneath the plaster and you see brown wood that has never been whitewashed, you know the ceiling is original and should not come down.  Horse hair plaster sends some people reeling and they can’t wait to remove it.  It is not a bad thing and almost never too far gone to be repaired.

4.  Exposing the beams 
 After approximately 1725, the end of the first period, bricks and beams were never exposed. These houses were not rough in any way. If the beam has a chamfered (beveled or quarter round) edge it was meant to show; if it does not, the beam should remain covered. The trained eye is offended by the presence of beams not intended for view.

5.  Painting the hardware black
The hardware was always painted the color of the woodwork to disguise it. Accenting the hardware (hinges and latches) is the product of the colonial revival period when antiquarians, early in this century, were struggling to interpret how things were done in the past. Many mistakes were made at that time and have been perpetuated.  I’ve done it myself!

6.  Exposing the bricks around the fireplace or the chimney itself.
Fireplaces were usually parged, especially around the opening as well as inside the firebox. Parging that is removed exposes damaged bricks and detracts from the quality of the fireplace. Parging can also cover up and conceal new repairs or inappropriate work done in the past.  A purist does not want to see brick in an old house.  Yet many think this is the thing to do.

7.  Replacing old window sash with replacement windows
Eliminating the old wavy glass, using window sash with large panes, investing in snap-in grids instead of true divided lights with real muntins, does immeasurable damage. This is a big "turn off" to a serious antique house buyer.  Yet many think this is the thing to do.  There is lots of evidence that you can retain an R value equal to the R value in replacement windows.  Ask an expert before making that expensive decision.   Find out how to make original windows meet today’s standards.

8.  Replacing an original door with a steel insulated door
Our recent fetish with energy efficiency has inflicted major damage on old houses and sent lots of valuable material to the dump. For the sake of a few hundred dollars over a period of years, a homeowner could depreciate their house by thousands of dollars. Steel doors rust out and look as though they need "Bondo" patching in a few years. With care, an original wood door can go on for centuries.  Someone once told me they had a “Forever” door. My response was that a wood door was forever.  Actually, “Forever” is the brand name of a steel door.

9.  Replacing clapboards with vinyl, cedar shingle or other siding material
The New England "look" is narrow clapboards. Any substitute, especially those billed as low maintenance, drastically changes the look and appeal of the old house. Only the use of original materials or something very close to the original product will protect the authenticity.  You don’t want to learn this lesson when you put your house on the market and the old house buyers don’t want the vinyl or else they low-ball their offer because of it.  SIDING DOES NOT ADD VALUE TO YOUR OLD HOUSE .

10. Leveling the floors
A house that has been settling for years should not be brought back to level. There could be a big loss in plaster and most old house buyers will not be put off by floors that slant a little. Any sill or underpinning problems should be corrected and the house stabilized so that it isn't continuing to move; but never try to bring it all the way back to level.

11. Taking up attic floor boards for repair or replacement of downstairs floors
Don't steal from one part of the house in order to correct a problem in another. Try to find the proper replacement materials from a salvage yard or building wrecker. Use old materials where possible. New pine will not have the patina or take a finish to match the old.  This used to be done in years past because people admired the wide boards in the attic.  The widest boards were in the attic because they were used like plywood.  Plywood replacing pine board on an attic floor will not make an old house buyer happy with your house.

12. Removal of chimneys and fireplaces
The chimney is the heart and soul of an old house. Its removal does severe monetary and aesthetic damage and should never be a consideration. Lining chimneys made with soft brick and clay mortar with Portland cement causes needless and immeasurable damage. Restoration masons, using old techniques and materials can perform miracles with old chimneys and fireplaces. Sometimes it even costs less to do it the right way because it is less invasive. I have never heard of a chimney beyond hope.  Modern materials expand and contract at a different rate than the old material.  When mixed will ultimately do significant damage to a chimney…the one thing you do not want to lose in your old house.  The typical brick mason is not the same as a restoration mason even if they think they are. Most will tell you to line the chimney.  Irons Restoration Masons from Limerick, Maine is the only one I know to call for advice or authentic restoration. 

Depending on the quality of your antique house, every effort should be made to save and restore the original features and materials.  Even if a house is in poor condition, it can still have historical and aesthetic value and perhaps a greater degree of integrity than a badly restored house.

I am reminded of a house I once listed when I sold real estate.  The homeowner went to great lengths to get the house ready for the market.  He added replacement windows sending the small panes of  wavy glass in  the old windows frames to the dump.  In order to install the ugly,  inappropriate windows he removed the original sills and worst of all, threw away the pocket shutters that slid back into the wall.  He also cut down into the wainscoting to install larger windows.  Additionally he set the house up as two units with two new heating systems and he separated the electrical for two units.  He was clueless as to what he had done.  He wanted to live in a brand new house that had a new house smell like a new car!  That smell that he wanted, I thought to myself, was the smell of formaldehyde in all the synthetic material used in new buildings!  I guess the house eventually sold but I was long gone.

My advice is to find someone who knows what to do.  Please talk to someone before major damage is done with the best of intentions.  Some of these mistakes were made by me, too, in the past but the more we learn the more conservative we become over time.  It is a predictable evolution.

Sorry but there are no pictures in this post.   Sometimes we deal with fun stories and sometimes we have to get serious about saving houses.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013



In the last quarter of the nineteenth century following the Centennial of 1876 there arose a renewed interest in the past.  Some of this was a reaction to the sometimes "over the top" Victorian taste but also inspired by the one hundredth celebration of our independence.There was a renewed interest in the styles and object from the past.  There was also a new group of historians immersed in this trend.  Not having the sources we have for reference they invented words and promoted the trend toward Colonial Revival. Now, one hundred and thirty plus years later. some of these quaint terms have become part of our vocabulary, right or wrong.  Here are some of the most offending terms to avoid.  There are many more but let's start with ten.

1.  BORNING ROOM   A small room off the kitchen reserved for childbirth.
Plan of 18th century house showing  first floor bedroom.
FACT: A first floor bedroom located off the kitchen for the convenience of anyone in the house needing warmth, supervision, or unable to climb the stairs.

2.  MORTGAGE BUTTON An ivory decoration on the top of the newel post in the front stair hall capping a hollowed out cylinder in which the paid off mortgage or deeds were secreted.
Ivory button in middle of newel post for decoration.
FACT: Just a finishing touch; a decoration or ornament.

The colonial kitchen.
This is a typical kitchen with cooking fireplace, not a keeping room.
FACT:  A word not used in colonial New England. In old documents that room is simply called the "kitchen".

4. TORY CHIMNEY A white chimney with a black band around its top designating the home of a loyalist.

FACT: Tories needed, by necessity, to be inconspicuous. The painted                          chimney is a 20th century decoration.

5.  DUTCH OVEN:  The brick oven built into the fireplace.
A modern Dutch oven or iron pot being used in a modern
fireplace in the traditional manner.
FACT; A dutch oven is a pot used for cooking on the hearth  and has nothing to do with the construction of the fireplace or bake oven.                                

5. WIDOWS' WALKS"  A rooftop perch from which the wife would scan the horizon for a glimpse of her husband's ship returning from a voyage.
This is a widows walk, an open deck on the top of the house.
FACT: These could also be called lanterns or belvaderes. . They were often  found far away from the coast.

6.  KING BOARDS:  Boards intended for the king because of their size and used illegally by housewrights.
People are fascinated by the story of wide boards being
illegal.  Owners of old houses think they have illegal floors!
FACT: The widest boards were used like plywood would be used today to                 cover a large space quickly. They were used for attic floors and                                   sheathing. There is a kernel of truth here.  The king's men did select                              the best trees they could find for masts for the  English Navy.                                        

7.  INDIAN SHUTTERS:  Wooden interior shutters used for protection from Indians.
Folding or sliding shutter were used for privacy,
shade in summer or warmth in winter.
FACT: These folding or sliding shutters were introduced long after the days of Indians. They were used for privacy or protection from the sun and cold.

8.  SHIP CARPENTERS:  Shipbuilders who built houses in the winter or carved woodwork on shipboard  
Shipwrights at work at the shipyard.  They did
not usually become housewrights for the winter.

FACT: Houses were built by housewrights. Slanting floors, doors and  windows               are due to rotted sills. Houses were not deliberately built crooked so that the captain would feel comfortable on land.

9.  HL HINGES In religious New England HL stands for "Holy Lord".

FACT: The HL hinge is simply the usual "H" hinge with an extra leg for supporting heavier doors

10. FEDERALIST:  A three story house or captain's house from about 1800 such as those on Chestnut Street in Salem or n High Street in Newburyport, Portsmouth or elsewhere throughout the region.
A typical New England two story house
from the Federal period, circa 1800
FACT: A house from the Federal period should not be called a Federalist. A Federalist was a person and not an architectural term. Many think of Federal houses as being three stories such as often seen in Salem, Portsmouth or Newburyport.  They can also be of one or two stories.

Friday, October 18, 2013


The story of my grandmother, Myra, continues with her own words.  She reveals many details of 19th century life on the 200 acre farm in Maine.  It was beautiful country overlooking Mount Washington and the rest of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Myra cherished this place. The things she brought with her to Massachusetts are homely, simple and well used but for her they held fond memories of her rural life in the mid nineteenth century.  Maine was Home.

I left my story of the long ago with a description of our Sundays and now I will go on with the work in the home.

 Mother braided rugs and carpets. We children cut and sewed the rags. Even the smallest pieces were used so nothing was lost. Father said it was not safe for a man to go over the hill if he wore a ragged coat for mother would be after it.

The work of drying apples went on all the fall. We cut apples day in and day out. How we hated it! Nothing was wasted. It was save, save, save. The dogs did not get the bones in those days. We leached the ashes for lye to make soft soap. The bones and scraps of fat were put in the kettle and boiled with the lye. It was then strained and it thickened as it cooled. This was carried to the cellar and put in two troughs about ten feet long that had been hollowed out of logs. This was all the soap we had except some long yellow bars which we used as hand soap.

Grandfather, Zebulon Bryant, 1879, age 99
Brooms were made at home out of willow. This was evening work for the men and these brooms were used in the barns. The women made theirs of hemlock. The long handle was whittled to a point and the hemlock branches tied on securely. These were kept wet but in spite of that the little branches would become brittle and soon had to be renewed. These were used on the bare floors. For the carpets corn brooms were made but these were kept for "best".

Warming pans added to our comfort on the cold winter nights when the mercury dropped away below zero. Coals were taken for the fireplace to fill them and mother would go around to all the beds. We had many all wool blankets made for the wool of our own sheep.

Overshot coverlet made by Myra's mother,

Warming pan used to warm the beds
is one of the a keepsakes saved by Myra
when she left her home in Maine. 

On the farm, oxen were used exclusively. Father would have them broken and fat, then trade them off or sell them. Horses were used only for riding.

When calves were slaughtered the hides were tanned. A shoemaker would come to the house and stay two or three weeks making shoes for the family.

The men wore the long legged boots that had to be pulled off with a bootjack, a thing quite unknown now. This shoemaker, named Lathrop Soule, was nicknamed "Creeping Soule" because he had lost the use of his legs. He had a brother, Martin, who had no legs below the knees and was called "Jumping Soule".

Milk pail from Maine; battered, dented and soldered.
In my younger days our amusements, as such, were very few. I remember a bundle of Jackstraws always available for a game when there was time from the endless duties of which even the children had their share. We never went to parties in the village for it was four miles away and considered too far. Usually once during the winter there was a spelling bee in the evening. Two captains were chosen, each then choosing the spellers for his side from those present. The teacher gave out the words, the harder the better, and the spellers could stand in line only so long as no word was misspelled.

Cow bell from the farm
In the fall there were husking bees when hard work was the background of the pleasure which came later. Word of this meeting would previously be sent around to all the farms, no one was slighted and sometimes as many a forty or fifty would come. If word of the coming fun reached the village, a party would sometimes come over from there, but it was usually only those from the neighboring farms. The men, only, met at the barns and husked until the huge pile of yellow and red ears of corn gave promise, not only of grain for the animals but food for the family. About eleven o’clock the work was usually done and the men adjourned to the house. Here the wives, who had come along and been visiting and working, had prepared a supper. There would be baked beans, brown bread, pumpkin pies, puddings, doughnuts and coffee. We had two barns and the husking went on in each barn.

This is the conch shell horn carved with a mouthpiece.  It was
used to call the men from the fields for dinner.  They were used
also to warn of Indian attacks or a warning system for warning

Mother would occasionally have a quilting party when there might be a dozen women from the immediate neighborhood. Then there were sometimes parties that were not combined with any kind of work except for the housewife, for another bountiful supper would be served.

Mother was a pretty woman, very fair with red cheeks. I remember so well a dress she used to wear. It was plum colored alpaca with a satin stripe. When going to a party she would arrange her hair in short curls over her ears while the back was done in a "French twist.

Her mother's old sugar bowl with
old repair
As there were three boys in our own family and father’s younger brother lived with us there was little need of hired help. However, it was occasionally necessary and was paid for with pork or grain at the rate of fifty cents a day. As a young man my father worked out until he was twenty one years old giving his father all he earned. There was no question about that and it seemed not to occur to anyone that any other way was possible. He was a good singer and sang for many years sang in the choir.

I began teaching when I was seventeen years old. The pupils ranged in age from men and women grown to little tots in the primary class, and I taught all subjects from ABC to Latin. The younger ones attended in summer but the extreme cold and snow kept away many in the winter when there would be more of the older ones who had to work in the summer. One summer I had seventy scholars and taught in the same school in the winter when there were only fifty.
Myra's mother's decanters.  Contents not original!

 There were nineteen or twenty in the primary class whom I had no time for so I would have one of the older pupils take them into the adjoining room and hear their lessons. The salary was very low and nothing paid until the end of the term. I was the first woman teacher in this school. The men could not control the pupils but I had no trouble. They were always helpful and seemed to do well.
Myra in mid-life.  notice the stenciled
photography studio backdrop.
As I look back I realize what a busy life it was but it was a happy one for us all. It did not bring wealth but it did bring competence, comfort and good health and an appreciation of the simple things of life.

                                                                             Almira  Bryant Paine   1838 – 1941

Near the close of the nineteenth century a decision was made to leave the farm and move to Massachusetts to be near their only child, my father.  A few things that were of sentimental value to Myra were brought but most was left behind in storage in a barn that later burned.

Here is a table circa 1800 that is one of only two pieces of furniture in my possession.  The other being a pine Federal/empire chest of drawers. The peel used to take things out of the brick oven has been lost. Someone trying to be helpful sold "the old iron shovel to that antiques dealer for $3.00.
Water color of Myra Paine's house in Massachusetts painted by Myra's great
granddaughter, Connie Crosby of Dayton, Ohio, taken from an old photograph.

This old table came into the household  around 1840
in lieu of rent.  Originally in old red paint.
So Myra and George embarked on a new lifestyle in an unfamiliar place.  Their new house circa 1845 is somewhat of a landmark with its Greek Revival columns.

They began  a new career as cucumber growers, raising cucumbers in their greenhouse to be shipped to the Boston market. 
Myra's cucumber greenhouse next door to a gentleman farmer's property.
It was known as the Bryant Farm but not a relation to Myra's family.  Her
 house and barn are in front of the greenhouse.
George died in 1908 but Myra carried on, running the cucumber greenhouse on her own with the help of a hired man.  She was well known and active in the community.

After the death of George Myra did what many respectable widows did in those days: She provided room and board for single school teachers. Actually, all the teacher were single then. Married women weren't allowed to teach school.

My mother was one of the young teachers who came to town needing a safe place to live with room and board. She rented from Myra along with two other young school teachers shown in the photo below.  My mother is the one in the middle.  They are walking home from the school and approaching Myra's house.

In the 1930s she broke her hip and was confined  to a wheelchair for the rest of her life .      ( And what a wheel chair it was!)  That ended the greenhouse business but did not slow her down mentally or socially.  By the time she reached 100 years old her birthday had become a town-wide event and continued for each year until her death.  The whistles blew and the selectmen gave her 100 yellow roses.  There was an open house at her white pillared home.  She already was the holder of the Boston Post Cane given to the oldest resident of each town in the Commonwealth.
Myra at over 100 in  her old fashioned wheel chair
with flowered upholstery!
On August 12 of this year Myra, my grandmother, would have been 175 years old! Our combined lives span many  years but I am so glad that our lives intersected if only for a short time.

Myra fancied herself a poet and loved to say that she was a distant cousin to William Cullen Bryant. Only a few of her poems survive. Perhaps this one written the summer when she was 98 will make you smile.
Grandma Paine is a very old dame.
She sits in a chair because she is lame
and thinks of the years gone by
when she was young and very spry.

She could jump the rope and swing high.
She could knit and she could sew. 
She could spin wool or tow.
She could weave and she could spool
and thought herself nobody's fool.

What of the girls today?
They cannot, they cannot spin.
But they can dance and they can swim.
With bobbed hair, blouse and breeches,
such a complex!
It's hard to determine the sex.

If you would please the men
just don your dress and be a girl again.
As bare legs are so shocking,
put on your garters, also your stocking.

Modesty was once a charm.
 Now the lack of it causes alarm.

 We end the story of Myra with this poignant poem written about her old homestead in Maine when she was 97 years old.  It was probably her best!


Between broad fields of waving corn
In the dear old home where I was born,
The apple trees lean against the wall,
And the grapevine wanders over all.
There’s the shaded doorway still,
but a stranger’s foot has crossed the sill.

And the barn, as in the days of yore,
I can smell the hay from the open door.
And as ye view the high barn eaves
think of the countless harvest sheaves
that have passed within that open door
to gladden eyes that are no more.

The house, the barn, the fields, the birds,
the pastures with their lowing herds,
the maples in the yard, so tall;
my heart still lingers over all.
Ye strangers who daily cross that sill,
step lightly – for I love it still.

                                                                Myra Paine, age 97

I hope you have enjoyed this travel back in time with my grandmother, Myra Paine.  I love sharing it with you.