I am pleased to excerpt some of her aunt’s memories, recorded in 2001 when Aunt Evelyn was 91 years young. She provides a vivid first-hand account of life in Wilburtha 100 years ago.
Evelyn DeGrave was born in 1910, the youngest of five children born to Gustave and Mary DeGrave. At first, they all lived in a small “bungalow” home facing River Road in Wilburtha.
Mr. DeGrave immigrated to this country from Belgium at age 15, and eventually came to operate the Keeler Quarry located between Wilburtha Road and West Upper Ferry Road. By 1915 however, the family had outgrown their home, and they purchased the 10-room stone farmhouse, now known as Hill’s Hollow, just up Wilburtha Road.
The farmhouse was a place of warmth, joy and fond memories for Evelyn:
The farmhouse had “a large parlor, a fireplace and a small closet beneath the winding stairway. A pot-belly wood and coal-fired stove provided winter heating. There were wide wooden planked floors throughout.
“The dining room adjoined a large kitchen—with a big fireplace—and a wood-burning stove with oven. It was used also for heating, cooking, heating water for laundry and private tub baths.”
“Mother baked six loaves of white bread three times weekly. She did plenty of canning, too, using fruits and vegetables from the garden and farm. Her homemade jelly was made from raspberries and gooseberries picked from the garden.”
“The parlor had wide stone windowsills where Mother grew and proudly displayed her red geraniums, begonias and other plants and vines. When people came in, she’d offer them a slip from her plants. A pot of tea was always ready to serve, too—a real token of love, welcome and friendship.”
“We had plenty of fresh eggs and milk, which was not pasteurized, chicken and fresh pork. There was plenty of smoked ham, too—some done in a handmade smokehouse. We sold milk for 5 cents a pint and eggs for 10 cents a dozen.
“We also made our own butter using cream from cows on the farm, in a small churn that we kids loved to take turns churning. Next to the kitchen was a shed with a hand-operated pump drawing good-tasting well water. A tin cup hung nearby—germs weren’t thought of then.”
“There was no electricity—just oil and mantle lamps to read by. We had to be especially careful not to let the flame from the oil lamp get too high and smoke up the mantle. Our chores included cleaning lamps and trimming wicks. Also, we had no indoor plumbing, but our tub baths kept us nice to be near, I hope! Going down through the grape arbor from the back kitchen door was a stone walk to a four-seater privy (two children and two adults) located several yards from the house.”
“Several feet behind the farmhouse were a barn, a barnyard, a hay barn and stable… and a pig pen with a swill trough, a corncrib and a chicken house. There were dogs and cats, chickens, ducks and geese.”
“On the farm we all enjoyed the sweet corn and especially the watermelons. Lots of tomatoes, too, which I often hauled two at a time in my little red wagon. Once a week or so, we were hucksters selling tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn and eggs on Spring Street in Trenton, in a horse-drawn wagon. We had several apple trees on the land, very good for school bag lunches, applesauce, and to go with the ham and cider we made. We also made homemade root beer.”
Evelyn attended the Fisk School in Trenton Junction, became very active in the 4H program, and eventually married a railroad man. I will excerpt more of her memories next month, and then share those of Grace Starrett, her niece, a few decades younger, but also and forever a true Wilburtha fan!
My deep thanks to Grace for sharing these stories.
Do you have a story to tell, or your own reminiscences about living in Ewing? Contact Helen at email@example.com