Four Things That Make Me Want To Go To “Da Cape And Da Eye-lants”

What comes to mind when you think of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket?

Hand-woven Nantucket lightship baskets? ScriBlack Dog Tavern mshaw pie crimping wheels carved from whale teeth?  Or sailors’ Valentines, the octagonal boxes with intricate patterns of seashells that 19th-century sailors would make during their voyages to give to their loved ones?

Maybe it’s the saltbox houses and cozy Cape Cod-style cottages designed to withstand the stormy weather of the Massachusetts coast. Perhaps it’s the fried clams, chowder, lobster, cranberries and other regional specialties that foodies indulge in there. It just might be one of those sought-after tee shirts from the Black Dog Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard. Or it could be the way the “Year-ROUN-dahs” of “Da Cape,” “Da Vin-yahd” and “Da Eye-lants” talk.

Thanks to some vicarious traveling I did recently, I added four new vocabulary words to my lexicon about this iconic region.

First are the Carpenter Gothic campground cottages at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association in Oak Bluffs. FormerlCampground cottage, Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Associationy known as Wesleyan Grove, this was one of many Methodist camp-meeting grounds resulting from the religious “camp meeting” movement of the 19th century. At first, those who attended the week-long revivals slept in straw-floored tents, but the camp meetings’ growing popularity called for a new form of housing.

In the 1840s, the tents evolved into wood-sided, canvas-topped cottages with a wide double door reminiscent of the rolled-back flaps of tent openings, a small narrow window on each side of the door, and a second-floor double door that opened onto a balcony over the entrance. The tent-inspired cottages usually had two or three rooms on the ground floor with sleeping rooms above.

During the late 1850s and early 1860s, the “Martha’s Vineyard” cottage became more ornate, with distinctive filigrees that carpenters created with the recently invented bandsaw, attention-getting color combinations, and front porches that served as outdoor living rooms. In their heyday, there were over 500 Martha’s Vineyard cottages; today, about 300 remain.

Second is Sandwich glass, produced in Sandwich, the town that was founded in 1637, making it the oldest town on Cape Cod. In 1825, Boston glass merchant Deming Jarves decided to open a glassmaking factory in Sandwich. Sandwich glassWith its abundance of sand and sea salt needed to create the glass, salt-marsh hay used to package the fragile goods, and pine trees to run the furnaces, Sandwich was an ideal place for glassmaking. For the next 63 years, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company made blown glassware, lacy glassware, threaded and striped glass, paperweights, and pressed glassware like cup plates, coasters used for the saucers from which it was customary to drink tea at the time.

Third are the shimmering sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore, a 40-mile stretch of beaches, marshes, ponds and wild cranberry bogs. Today, you can take a unique look at the National Park Service-protected seashore by driving through its sand dunes in specially authorized four-wheel-drive Jeeps. In earlier days, however, solitary seashore sojourns inspired two authors to produce two classics of American nature writing.

Henry David Thoreau first went to Cape Cod in Cape Cod National SeashoreOctober 1849 to get a better look at the ocean, and returned several times. His powers of observation led him to write unforgettable descriptions of the landscape and its features in his classic Cape Cod, first published in 1865. Talking about soil, he writes in the book, “The plowed fields of the Cape look white and yellow, like a mixture of salt and Indian meal.” Windmills, those “gray-looking, octagonal towers, with long timbers slanting to the ground in the rear,” looked to him “like huge wounded birds, trailing a wing or a leg.” The area north of Provincetown, the spot all the way at the tip of the Cape where the Pilgrims first landed before settling in Plymouth, “was like the richest rug imaginable spread over an uneven surface…There was the incredibly bright red of the huckleberry, and the reddish brown of the bayberry, mingled with the bright and living green of small pitch pines, and also the duller green of the bayberry, boxberry and plum, the yellowish green of the shrub oaks, and the various golden and yellow and fawn-colored tints of birch and maple and aspen, each making its own figure, and, in the midst, the few yellow sand-slides on the sides of the hills looked like the white floor seen through rents in the rug.”

In September 1926, 38-year-old Henry Beston turned a two-week vacation at the Fo’castle, a small frame cottage he had built on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, into a year-long sojourn that transformed him from a thwarted author into a best-selling nature writer. Laboring in longhand at the kitchen table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the sand dunes, Beston painstakingly produced a chronicle of nature’s seasons, revising his work so carefully that sometimes he took an entire morning to finish one sentence.

I’ll show you what I mean.Cape Cod National Seashore

On these lovely, cool September nights the level and quiescent dust of light which fills the sky is as autumnal in its colouring as the earth below,” Beston wrote. “There is autumn on the earth and autumn overhead. The great isles of tawny orange smouldering into darkness, the paths of the channels stilled to twilight bronze, the scarlet meadows deepening to levels of purple and advancing night – all these mount, in exhalation of colour, to the heavens.”

Before Beston arrived on Cape Cod, he had proposed marriage to Elizabeth Coatsworth, an accomplished poet and children’s author, but she had replied, “No book, no marriage.” Beston’s Cape Cod chronicle was published as The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod in the fall of 1928, and Beston and Coatsworth were married in June 1929.

Beston’s book became a classic of American nature writing, one of the motivators behind the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1960. Coatsworth was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1931 for her book, The Cat Who Went to Heaven. And the Fo’castle was a National Literary Landmark until it was swept away by high tides during a February 1978 blizzard.

Maria MitchellAnd fourth is Maria Mitchell, the first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, who discovered a comet through a telescope from the roof of Nantucket’s Pacific National Bank on October 1, 1847. Most nineteenth-century Nantucketers owned a telescope to spot sails in the distant ocean and read names of ships coming into the harbor, but Maria enjoyed spending an evening “of subdued quiet and grateful seriousness” looking the stars from her housetop, as she wrote in her diaries.

Maria’s fame led her to resign from the Atheneum in 1856 to travel extensively. In 1865, she became professor of astronomy at the newly founded Vassar College, teaching there until her retirement in 1888. She died in 1889, and is buried next to her parents in Nantucket’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.

You can take in the view of the Nantucket harbor from the rooftop observation deck of the Nantucket Whaling Museum, housed in a restored 1847 candle factory. The museum honors the accomplishments of sailors like Rowland Hussey Macy, who worked on a Nantucket whaling ship, the Emily Morgan, as a teenager and later founded Macy’s, the department store with the red star logo that comes from a tattoo that Macy got during his sailing days.

For more on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, see An Explorer’s Guide: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket, by Kim Grant; The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod, by Cynthia Huntington; The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, by Paul Schneider; The House on Nauset Marsh, by Wyman Richardson, a classic collection of essays about Cape Cod that was first published in 1947; Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket, by Frank Conroy; and Cape Cod Pilot, written by Jeremiah Digges as part of the American Guides Series for the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, for the State of Massachusetts in 1937.

The Lighthouse Santa, by Sara Hoagland Hunter, is based on the real Christmas flights of Edward Rowe Snow, who dropped presents from his airplane for children of the keepers of lighthouses like Nantucket’s Great Point Lighthouse for almost 50 years. Fans of cozy mysteries might like to check out Death in the Off-Season and the other books in the Nantucket Island mystery series by Francine Mathews.

The painted stairsteps of Edgartown Books, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard

The painted stairsteps of Edgartown Books, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard

Read The Outermost House, then track down other Henry Beston books like Northern Farm, about life in Maine; The Saint Lawrence, a geographical and historical look at the great river; The Best of Beston, an anthology of his writing; Especially Maine: The Natural World of Henry Beston from Cape Cod to the St. Lawrence, selected and with introductions by Elizabeth Coatsworth; and Herbs and the Earth (I recommend the 2001 edition with an introduction written by Roger Swain, the red-suspendered, bearded man who hosted The Victory Garden on PBS from the mid-1980s until 2001). You might also like an edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod that is illustrated with photographs by Scot Miller.

If you’d like to know more about Maria Mitchell, read Sweeper in the Sky: The Life of Maria Mitchell, by Helen Wright; Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics, by Renée Bergland; and Maria’s Comet, by Deborah Hopkinson.

The Martha’s Vineyard Table, by Jessica B. Harris, includes recipes for standard island fare like codfish fritters and stuffed Quahogs. Berries in the Scoop: A Cape Cod Cranberry Story is Lois Lenski’s tale of a family who earns their living in the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod. Thornton Burgess, a naturalist and conservationist from Sandwich, wrote more than 170 books as well as 15,000 articles for “Bedtime Stories,” a syndicated newspaper column that ran from 1912 to 1960.

In November 1820, a mad whale wrecked the whaleship Essex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, stranding 20 Nantucket sailors in three small boats, 1,200 miles from the nearest land. Three months later, passing ships picked up five survivors. Three others were stranded on an island, while 12 more were dead – seven of them eaten by their starving shipmates. In the Heart of the Sea, a movie recounting the story of the Essex and its crew, is scheduled to be released this December.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Nature/Outdoors, Travel | Leave a comment

“Who’s Lois Lenski?”

Lois LenskiOne of my most treasured childhood keepsakes measures just over five inches square, with a photo my mother took in 1965 of a lady wearing a grey dress, white hat and a corsage pasted inside. Another cost $1.45.

Debbie and Her Grandma, a 1973 birthday gift from my parents, and the Crowell Crocodile paperback edition of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy and Tib that my grandpa bought for me as an after-school treat a few years later are special not just because of their givers. I vividly remember these stories because of Lois Lenski’s illustrations.

How could I forget the pretty string of red beads that Debbie brings her grandma as a present for staying overnight at her house? Or the triangle-shaped dips of ice cream that Betsy, Tacy and Tib eat in the window of Heinz’s Restaurant?

That’s what I thought recently, when more than a few people who asked what I did last Saturday responded, “Who’s Lois Lenski?” Allow me to introduce you to the acclaimed writer and artist from Ohio who published more than 90 books for children.

Lois LenskiLois Lenski was born on October 14, 1893 in Springfield. She was the fourth of five children born to Richard Lenski, a Lutheran minister, and his wife, Marietta, a former schoolteacher. A Little Girl of 1900, a book which Lenski wrote in 1928, is a fictionalized account of the six years she spent in Springfield.

In October 1899, the Lenskis moved to the small, rural community of Anna. For the next 12 years, Lenski flourished here, living in the parsonage for the St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church.

What a wonderful house it was, and what a perfect place for children!,” Lenski wrote in her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood. “It had steep gables and peaks and small porches, long narrow windows and a winding stairway. The porches and gables were ornamented with gingerbread trim, jigsaw scrolls, fancy pilasters and balustrades…. It was wonderful, a perfect house made just for us. It was full of mystery and magic, inside and out, and we never ran out of ideas. There were places to climb, places to hide, and all kinds of places to play.”

Lois Lenski's original drawing for the Skipping Village map Lenski’s first book, Skipping Village, published in 1927, is based on her childhood in Anna. The Lenskis’ home, the church, the town hall and several other buildings mentioned in Skipping Village are still standing. I used the book’s endpaper map to find them when I finally made the pilgrimage to Anna.

As a third-grader, Lenski started tracing pictures of flowers in seed catalogs and painting them with watercolors. Soon, she was winning prizes for her paintings in the Shelby County Fair. Her interest in art was off and running.

In 1911, the Lenskis left Anna for Columbus, after her father had been invited to join the faculty of Capital University. Lenski enrolled in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She also took classes in art, design and lettering, which came in handy later as she hand-lettered all her own book jackets and title pages. She drew illustrations for several campus publications, served as the art editor for the 1915 Makio yearbook, and taught sewing and crafts for the Columbus Department of Recreation.

Columbus always epitomized Ohio for me,” Lenski wrote in her autobiography. “There is something about the looks of the streets and the stores, the landscape and the freshness of the air, the look on the faces, the flatness of the voices, the intonation of the words, and above all, in the taste of the food – fried chicken, cole slaw, and apple pie – that is unlike any other part of the country and definitely spells OHIO.”

After graduating from Ohio State in 1915, Lenski moved to New York City to study art. She worked composing verses and painting watercolors for greeting cards, and she took an illustration class at the School of Industrial Art from Arthur Covey, whom she would marry in 1921.

During the 1920s, Lenski developed her talents for drawing people and landscapes by illustrating children’s books written by other authors, such as Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days. Finding it hard to be sympathetic to a story written by another person, she determined to try her hand at writing her own stories to accompany her drawings.

After the success of Skipping Village and A Little Girl of 1900, Lenski started producing a prolific amount of books for children. She was driven by not only the strong work ethic that her parents instilled in her, but also because she wanted to create books that children would love, enjoy, and help shape their lives. Keeping the text simple, she relied on illustrations to tell the rest of the story.

Original Mr. Small drawing by Lois LenskiLenski’s young son, Stephen, inspired her Mr. Small books, in which young readers lived vicariously through the cheerful character who finds himself as an engineer, a pilot, a farmer, a fireman and a cowboy, among other vocations. The “Davy” series of books were inspired by David Chisholm, Lenski’s step-grandson, who stayed with her during the summers of 1943, 1944 and 1945. The 1940s were also when Lenski started researching and writing her series of regional books, for which she earned a reputation as a pioneering writer who immersed herself in people’s lives to write her stories.

Since 1922, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, presents the Newbery Medal to an author for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Two of Lenski’s meticulously researched historical novels were named as Newbery Honor Books: Phebe Fairchild: Her Book in 1937…Original Lois Lenski drawing for Phebe Fairchild: Her Book

and Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison in 1942.

Original Lois Lenski drawing for Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison

In 1946, Lenski received the John Newbery Medal for Strawberry Girl, a regional novel she was inspired to write after seeing children and adults picking strawberries in a Plant City, Florida field. For weeks, Lenski went to roadside stands and talked to farmers and their families, sketching them as they worked.

Lenski died September 11, 1974 and is buried in Clearwater, Florida, where her gravestone reads, “Lois Lenski Covey, Friend of Children.”

The Anna Community Branch of the Shelby County Libraries has a sizeable collection of Lenski memorabilia, including original drawings and early manuscripts which Lenski gave to the Amos Library in Sidney when it was dedicated in 1958. The library is located at 304 N. Second St. in Anna; a historical marker recognizing Lenski’s accomplishments was placed outside in 2003.

Lois LenskiFor more on Lois Lenski, see her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood, and “My Ohioana Beginnings,” an article she wrote for the Spring 1970 issue of the Ohioana Quarterly

The Lois Lenski Collection at Capital University’s Blackmore Library includes many first editions of Lenski’s books, as well as 75 boxes of manuscript and autobiographical material, including original illustrations and book dummies, notebooks, sketchbooks, and diaries. An appointment is necessary to look at items in this non-circulating collection.

Posted in Art, Books, Libraries, Ohio | 3 Comments

Oh, To Have Spun Silk, Made Wool Carpets And Pressed Cider With Abigail and John James

John James' cider pressThis circa-1850 cider press on display at the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum in Urbana isn’t just any old cider press. It’s what a friend of mine named John James used to process apples from trees that Johnny Appleseed planted around James’s Urbana home.

John Hough James (1800-1881) was a real Renaissance man. Before he graduated from Cincinnati College in 1821, he began to write for newspapers and literary magazines published in the Queen City. He worked on his father’s steamboat after college, traveling down the Mississippi River from Louisville, Kentucky to New Orleans, Louisiana. When he returned to his native Urbana in 1826, he became a lawyer and created the Urbana Banking Company. Later, he became an Ohio State Senator and was involved in the development of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in the country. He also was a gentleman farmer and stockbreeder. Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison were among his friends.

In 1821, when he was a senior in college, James began to keep a diary, which he continued until his death in 1881. He also was a prolific letter-writer. In 1863, he classified his own correspondence, as well as the letters that his family wrote, dating back to 1814. He arranged the letters in chronological order and bound them in 114 volumes with cardboard covers. Although many of these diaries and letters were scorched in a fire a year before James’s death, they are now safely housed at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University Libraries. And that’s how I met Mr. James.

As I transcribed and cataloged some of these diaries and letters, I discovered much about the lives of James, his wife Abigail and their four children.  I was especially interested in reading about their home at 300 S. High St. in Urbana.

John Hough James, as pictured on the cover of A Buckeye Titan

John Hough James, as pictured on the cover of A Buckeye Titan

In 1836, James hired Sampson Hubbell to plan a Greek Revival home situated on what his contemporaries would have called a “tasty” tract of land. Its sturdy brick walls had quoined corners made of beveled poplar boards that were painted white to resemble stone. The walls were studded with hand-split hickory laths, plastered on the inside and stuccoed on the outside, a new and popular building practice of the day.

The 22-room house had paneled doors, wide baseboards and ash floors, wainscoting in the parlor, and white-painted woodwork. An unsupported spiral stairway with ash steps and a tiger maple balustrade wound up three floors, past landings made from wide maple boards. A captain’s walk with a balustrade topped the roof, while a vine-covered portico sheltered the front door, whose sidelights were framed by hand-carved egg-and-dart moldings. An L-shaped wing behind the main block of the home contained guest rooms, servants’ quarters, a room for smoking meat, a second kitchen, rooms for wood storage, and two rooms where Abigail and her sisters kept busy spinning wool for the home’s carpets and manufacturing silk. The James family was one of several Champaign County families who cultivated, made and sold sewing silk at least through 1842. Their home was surrounded by over 100 mulberry trees, whose leaves are the only ones that silkworms will eat.300 S. High St., Urbana, Ohio

While James was known for his collection of manuscripts, books, pamphlets, periodicals and newspapers — his library was considered one of the finest private libraries in the West — Abigail was admired for her garden, which included formal beds of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips; asparagus plants; walnut trees; rare ornamental trees and shrubs; and bushes of raspberries and currants, the fruits of which she made into wine, vinegar and jelly.

James experimented with seedling fruit trees on his property, producing the fine “Abby Bailey” apple which he named for his wife. There was also a row of apple trees near the house which John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, planted for James.

Chapman and James became good friends. In fact, Chapman encouraged James to donate the land on which to build the first college that would be based on the ideals that Emanuel Swedenborg promoted through his writings. The site of Urbana University was chosen in October 1849, the institution was incorporated by the Ohio legislature on March 7, 1850, and the cornerstone was laid in 1851. Abigail supervised the planting of ornamental trees on the campus, planting many of them herself. Besides giving the land for the campus and founding the college, James served as one of its trustees for the rest of his life.

300 S. High St., Urbana, OhioTo learn more about John Hough James, read A Buckeye Titan, by William E. and Ophia D. Smith. Click here to access the finding aids for the John Hough James Collection at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University Libraries. 

While there’s another lovely house at 300 S. High St. now, you can still get an idea of how grand the grounds were. You can also see what the original James home looked like here, in several historic photographs from the Champaign County Historical Museum.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Gardens, History, Special Collections | Leave a comment

The Time Is Ripe For Visiting Urbana’s Johnny Appleseed Museum

For days now, “The Lord Is Good To Me,” the well-known song sung by tenor Dennis Day in the 1948 animated Walt Disney film, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, has been on Johnny Appleseed Museuman automatic repeat in my head. It might happen to you, too, if you visit the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum on Urbana University’s campus.

I entered the red door to two former classrooms in Barclay & Bailey Halls and was instantly absorbed in the bumper crop of text panels, artifacts and educational materials about John Chapman, the American frontiersman better known as Johnny Appleseed. I left realizing that his achievements were based on much more than “the sun and rain and an apple seed.”

The museum has the largest known collection of memorabilia and printed information about the life of John Chapman, who left his native New England as an 18-year-old in 1792 and traveled west through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and finally Indiana, planting apple trees, stocking up on apple seeds, starting nurseries, and selling seedlings to settlers until his death in 1845.

From “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero,” W.D. Haley’s 1871 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

From “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero,” W.D. Haley’s 1871 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

Chapman arrived in Ohio around 1801, traveling down the Ohio River to Marietta and then up the Muskingum River and its tributaries. He spent about 20 years in north central Ohio, then began moving westward across the state, starting a nursery in Logan County and planting apple trees in Urbana and Champaign County.

Chapman saved the day for Revolutionary War veterans who had been given free land in Ohio, but were only allowed to keep it by planting 50 fruit trees within three years. Apple trees were the best to for settlers to plant because the fruit was important to a healthy diet, stored well through the winter, could be pressed into cider and could be made into vinegar to preserve vegetables. By purchasing and planting Chapman’s seedlings, settlers could harvest crops of apples much sooner than if they had planted seeds.

The itinerant entrepreneur traded the benefits of having a permanent home for sleeping outdoors or in barns, earning his keep by helping frontier families clear land and plant and harvest crops. Chapman’s fairness, generosity, honesty and extraordinary storytelling ability outshone the fact that he wore tattered clothing, went barefoot and occasionally wore his cooking pot as a hat.

Chapman was devoted to his faiJohnny Appleseed Museumth. He always carried a Bible, like this one that was in his possession when he died. He also shared the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish theologian who believed that heaven could be experienced on earth through a life of useful service.

Chapman also taught settlers about the healing powers of herbs. He used catnip, dandelion, dog fennel, horehound, mullein, pennyroyal, rattleroot and wintergreen to relieve headaches and bronchitis, help with insomnia and digestion, and treat skin disorders and fever.

The museum displays historical artifacts like wood and bark from original trees that Chapman planted in Ohio and Indiana; an examJohnny Appleseed Museumple of his handwriting, seen in a reproduction of an order for trees that he wrote in 1818; and the 1966 Johnny Appleseed commemorative postage stamp. It also illustrates the place Chapman holds in American folklore, with a recording of Bing Crosby singing “An Axe, An Apple and a Buckskin Jacket” and the “Johnny Appleseed” mascot for the Tin Caps, Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team.Johnny Appleseed Museum

A small gift shop sells a Johnny Appleseed nutcracker; a limited-edition gavel made from the wood of an apple tree that Chapman planted in Apple Creek (Wayne County), Ohio; apple-themed merchandise; and several Johnny Appleseed biographies, such as Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth, by Robert Price, Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story, by Howard Means, and Johnny Appleseed, by Reeve Lindbergh, the youngest child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Johnny Appleseed MuseumIn 1837, Chapman planted a “Rambo” apple tree on John Harvey’s farm near Savannah, Ohio. Today, it is thought to be the last-known surviving apple tree that Chapman planted. Richard Harvey Algeo, the fifth generation of the Harvey family, is the current owner of the farm. In 1994, American Forests Historic Tree Nursery took softwood cuttings from the tree and propagated thousands of seedlings from it. Seven seedlings from the tree were planted in the courtyard around the museum in 1999.

Posted in Food, History, Ohio | 1 Comment

Barn Quilts Celebrate Four Seasons of Farming in Historic Champaign County

Remember the “Ohio’s Bicentennial 1803 2003” emblem that was painted on the side of 88 historic Ohio barns — one in every county of the state — to commemorate Ohio’s bicentennial in 2003?

Barn quilt, UrbanaA similarly creative campaign was established in 2006 to celebrate Champaign County’s agricultural heritage, its history, and the art of quilting. Over 80 different large patchwork quilt block designs were designed, painted and hung on the sides of barns and other buildings in the county. The barn quilts used to be featured in an annual tour hosted by the Champaign County Chamber & Visitors Bureau, but now visitors can see the quilts year-round on a self-guided driving tour.

Some of the locations for the barn quilts are a 200-year-old family farm where maple syrup and sugar are made from 20 acres of maple trees; a 100-year-old Holstein dairy farm; the state’s largest indoor fish hatchery; Piatt Castles, the two historic limestone mansions known as Mac-A-Cheek and Mac-O-Chee; and the Robert Rothschild Farm, the 170-acre working raspberry farm and production facility on U.S. Route 36 where award-winningBarn Quilt, Robert Rothschild Farm gourmet preserves, mustards, dips, sauces and sweet toppings are produced.

The quilt designs aren’t just limited to barns. You can also find them on the sides of the Rosewood Grocery and Deli on S.R. 29, the Champaign Family YMCA and the Champaign County Fairgrounds. “Flying Geese” marks the corporate office of Champaign Residential Services, an organization helping people with challenges to develop their independence.

Some of the featured quilt patterns include “Corn & Beans,” “Hens & Chicks,” “Windmill,” “Carpenter’s Wheel,” “Liberty Star,” “Ohio Star,” “Martha Washington,” “Gentleman’s Fancy,” “Maple Leaf,” “Lone Star,” “Mariner’s Compass,” “Williamsburg Circle,” “Log Cabin” and “Ohio Rose Star,” at the High Street Manor Bed & Breakfast in Urbana.

There’s alsBarn quilt, Urbana Universityo a “Chapman’s Apple” barn quilt at Urbana University, but that’s a story for another blog post.

Information and maps for locations of the barn quilts are available at the Champaign County Chamber & Visitors Bureau’s office at 107 N. Main St. in Urbana. Contact the office at 937-653-5764 or by e-mail at to obtain a map of the quilts and a list of other things to do in Champaign County while you’re visiting.  

Or, you can click here for the 2013 tour map, and here to see a list of the barns’ addresses.

If you have children, or if you’re an adult following the trend of coloring for relaxation, coloring pages of four barn quilt designs are also available on the photos section of the Barn Quilt Tour Facebook page.

Posted in Art, Crafts, Ohio | Leave a comment

Warm Up Worthington!

A flaxen-haired waif was sitting at a booth at the Christmas market in Munich, Germany, trying to keep warm in a cotton sack dress. She looked at us so pleadingly that we took her home.

Now our little German friend wears handmade ensembles that she accessorizes with a string of pearls and a 1940s handbag. Last night, she cuddled up and read her German-language books under a just-her-size blanket that will help keep someone else warm this winter.Warm Up Worthington

Warm Up Worthington is the Worthington Libraries’ annual community service program where people of all ages join in to create blankets for needy families. The blankets are made of 49 different 7” by 9” blocks that are either knit or crocheted with acrylic yarn.

Whether you’re a novice knitter, a whiz at crochet or a generous non-crafter, you can help. Those who’d like to make a block can drop by any of the three Worthington Libraries branches to pick up a starter kit, which includes a template, supplies and instructions to create blocks from garter, stockinette, seed or double seed stitches, cables, squares, lines or shadow triangles. Then drop off your finished blocks to the branches anytime until 6:00 p.m. on December 12. You can make as many or as few blocks as you like. Non-crafters can join in by donating acrylic yarn or knitting needles to the project.

Attend an upcoming Blanket Bee to work on the blankets with other crafters. Help with layout, create finishing kits and weave blocks together into completed blankets that will be donated to area organizations that assist those in need. Blanket Bees will be held at 3:30 p.m. on three Saturdays: October 17 at the Worthington Park Library, November 21 at the Northwest Library, and December 12 at the Old Worthington Library.

Handmade hats, mittens and gloves are also welcome.

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See How Phoenix Makes Bats That Whack Zombies, Hit Vintage Baseballs and Bring Major-League Home Runs

As every gym period approached, the sweaty palms and fluttering stomach butterflies would start. Would I fall from the balance beam? Would I smack the water after my dive? Would I get tangled up in the dreaded climbing net? I won’t even mention the horrors of softball.

But if I would have swung a Black Betsy, I’d have been a celebrity on the athletic field at Columbus School for Girls.  

Black Betsy was what made Shoeless Joe Jackson, a Major League outfielder during the early 20th century, a legendary hitter. The circa-1910 baseball bat was huge (36”), hulking (2 ½” barrel diameter) and heavy (48 oz.), made of hickory and stained by juice from chewing tobacco.Phoenix Bats

A handsome replica of the Black Betsy is one of the dozens of wooden baseball bats that Phoenix Bats of Plain City crafts for professional players, weekend warriors and creative collectors. If you didn’t know that big-league bats are made right in our own backyard, it’s time to take a tour of this unique business that produces more than 15,000 bats a year.

Phoenix BatsPhoenix has been around since the early 1990s, when Charles Trudeau combined his love of history, baseball and woodworking and started making this unique product. Some of his first customers were his fellow players with the Ohio Village Muffins, the Ohio History Connection’s vintage base ball team that plays with the rules, equipment and uniforms of the 1860s, but without gloves, in keeping with tradition. To supply the Muffins with the wooden bats they needed to play a historically accurate game, Trudeau researched 19th-century woodworking equipment. Then, he started hand-turning his bats to make them resemble the ones depicted in historic photographs that he had studied. He also crafted vintage baseballs like those from the 1860s, which were made with one piece of banana peel-shaped leather and are slightly larger than modern-day baseballs.

In 1996, Trudeau decided to go full-time with making bats, christening his company Phoenix to reflect the fact that he was bringing back 100-year-old bats from the ashes of history. His wooden bats were approved for use in the Big Leagues in 2000.

The unmistakable crisp, loud “pop” when a wooden bat strikes the ball is music to the ears of ball-players who choose a Phoenix bat. But all wooden bats are not created equal. Each hitter has a different requirement for the weight and dimensions of his or her bat, different swing mechanics, and has different needs for their bat. That’s where Seth Cramer, Phoenix’s general manager, and his fellow bat-crafters can help.

If a baseball-player mishits at the end of the bat, a northern white ash bat is better because it is more flexible and forgiving. If mishits occur further down the bat, rock maple is preferable because it’s the all-around strongest, most dense wood. If a player hits all over the place, the combined flexibility and strength of yellow birch is a good choice, especially for those new to playing with wooden bats.  

All three types of wood come from the dense forests of New York, Pennsylvania and the upper East coast, creating create fast, durable bats.

Phoenix bats begin life as billets, miniature telephone poles of wood that are sorted and stacked on bright red shelves according to their weight, which is usually around six pounds. Ash billets are stored in a temperature-controlled room, where their higher moisture content is pampered and coddled like cigars are treated in humidors. All billets should have a straight grain, since wavy-grained bats have a tendency break faster.

Phoenix BatsThe bat-cutting process takes place on a high-tech, big-ticket machine made by Locatelli of Italy, the most advanced in the industry. Design work is done on a desktop PC, loaded into the Locatelli’s hard drive, and then the computer tells three blades and a sander how fast to go, finding the perfect balance between speed and quality.

Phoenix Bats

The billet is placed inside a windowed metal box, where a lathe turns it about 40 times a second. It takes one minute to form the bat’s knob, handle and barrel, and one minute to automatically sand it.Phoenix Bats

The six-pound billet is transformed into about a two-pound bat, resulting in about four pounds of waste. But our thrifty friends at Phoenix have found a use for what’s left. Excess pieces at the end of the bat are cut off and given to a Plain City business with a woodburning furnace to burn. Leftover sawdust is given to a farmer in Bucyrus to use for livestock bedding.Phoenix BatsThe bats are finished with a tedious process that involves dipping the bat in PVC tubes filled with finishes. When they’re dry, some bats go into another machine made by Epilog Laser, where they are engraved.  The engraving descends only 1/8” into the bat, so it doesn’t affect the bat’s structural stability.  Trophy bats and vintage bats can be engraved with personalized text and a logo can be added for a nominal fee.  Engraving is important in play, because a player should hold the bat so that the logo faces the sky. That way, when you strike the ball, you’re making contact with the ball on the strongest side of the bat.

Phoenix Bats

The Phoenix showroom contains plenty of models from which to choose. There are bats for softball, bats for use by high school baseball teams, bats swung by Major League players, and bats used by a team of Dublin eight-year-olds. After all, if you learn how to hit with a wooden bat, you can see improvement in your game, even if you end up playing with a metal bat.

And then there are the vintage bats, which are larger, heavier and thicker than modern bats. They don’t have a definite taper, they hit the ball differently, and the sound that results from hitting the ball is unique. Phoenix’s vintage bats include those patterned after circa-1920s Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig models, a “Wonderboy” like Roy Hobb’s circa-1930s bat in The Natural, and those favored by Mickey Mantle in Roger Maris in the 1950s. A “Throw Back” bottle bat from the 1950s, with a huge barrel and a long handle, is popular with the Cleveland Scrappers, a team of visually impaired players of a neat sport called beep baseball. The Lajoie, a 1909 model popularized by Napoleon Lajoie, has a double knob to force the hitter to choke up and improve his control.

There are bats with nifty handles wrapped by hand by a gentleman in Michigan,Phoenix Bats

bats with specialty “skins,” like this one, to get in the Halloween spirit,Phoenix Bats

novelty keepsake bats like the Zombie Whacker,Phoenix Bats

and even a replica night stick, an old-style wood policeman’s baton that is a perfect commemorative piece for special occasions.

Expect to spend anywhere from $55 to $115 for a Phoenix bat. If that’s out of your league, you can bring home clothing, hats, vertical bat displays, glove conditioners, baseball mallets, wax grip sticks and and clever logo items.

Phoenix BatsFor more on Phoenix Bats, check out “Plain City Company Makes Bats For World’s Best Players,” Steve Brown’s story that aired on WOSU on August 7, and “History Hits Home: Woodworker Draws on History to Create Vintage Baseball Bats,” an article I wrote for the April 9, 2004 issue of Business First.

Phoenix Bats offers one-hour tours on Mondays and Fridays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. The $10 admission fee includes an 18” engraved mini bat to take home as a souvenir.

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