Life in Pleasant Valley - During the Month of January 1890-1910
January in Pleasant Valley started with celebrating the New Year and visiting friends was always a typical way to celebrate. For example, in 1895 Amos and Rachel Williamson, with their granddaughter, spent New Year’s Day with seven other families at the home of Theodore Smith. Rachel commented in her column for the Hopewell Herald that, “The day was very pleasantly spent in conversations, card playing and devouring a sumptuous dinner, which no one knew better how to prepare than Mrs. Smith.”
Weather was always an issue and 1893 was especially cold. On January 18 Rachel Williamson reported that, “We are having good winter weather the last two weeks, the thermometer ranging from 2 to 10 degrees above zero in the morning.” The next week was even colder and she noted, “Last week breaks the record of any previous weather for many years. The thermometer ranging anywhere from zero to 14 degrees below.” Keeping a house warm with wood stoves was not just difficult, but could be dangerous. In this cold winter of 1893 Thomas Wambaugh left some wood in his stove and about midnight smelled smoke, but didn’t get up. The next morning he found the floor around the stove burned until it reached the carpet, which smothered the fire.
Such cold weather was good for at least one annual farm harvest – ice. On January 4, 1893 the Herald reported that, “Mr. Hart Lewis nearly filled his ice house the latter part of last week with ice about six inches thick, which he cut on Parkhill’s creek. He lost several loads by the rains on Sunday which he had cut and failed to get hauled on Saturday.” Parkhill’s creek was actually Moore’s Creek that runs through Howell Farm. The Parkhills lived just two farms west of Howell Farm. 1895 also saw an early ice harvest. “Hart Larue began the New Year by commencing Jan. 2d to fill his ice house. When Saturday night arrived he had several loads of ice cut preparatory to hauling, which he was obliged to leave on the creek, and owing to the rain and thaw he came very nearly losing it. He saved most of it before the creek raised on Monday morning.”
January was also a time for butchering hogs. In 1889 the Herald reported that, “Mr. Levi Stout killed some July pigs the other day which were very fine – the heaviest one weighing almost two hundred.” In 1897 the paper noted, “Mr. Danbury killed 22 hogs at Chas. Miller’s last Saturday, making 640 hogs he has killed this season so far, and has more engagements. He butchered 32 on Monday, January 18.” Charles Miller owned what is now Howell Farm. Lewis Danbury was a farmer living in Amwell Township and was well known for many years in Pleasant Valley. His sons carried on the family butcher business after his death and the Danbury name is still remembered by long time Valley residents.
January was also a time for making improvements, repairing equipment, etc. In 1889 the Herald noted that, “Charles Miller is building a very fine poultry house, which he is much in need of, with the poultry he keeps.” We can get a good picture of egg production in Pleasant Valley about 1890 from a story about Amos Williamson. The paper reported, “On Jan. 1st, 1888, he had twenty-seven hens which began to lay about that time. During the spring or early summer he lost five head which reduced the stock to twenty-two; during the year they layed three thousand one hundred and forty eggs, when averaged at twenty-four head making one hundred and thirty eggs to the hen, the income from eggs alone amounting to $50.83, total expense $15.63.”
Amos Williamson did not own a large farm, but raised his chickens as a sidelight to his primary occupation as a brush maker. He moved into his Pleasant Valley shop located on Pleasant Valley Road about half a mile from the Delaware River in 1889. One of his primary products was horse brushes. His son-in-law, Thatcher Heath, lived in Lambertville and was reputed, by his mother-in-law, to be “an expert hand at sewing horse brushes.” In January 1893, Rachel reported that he “came down from Lambertville one day last week on the 7:05 A.M. train and sewed fourteen brushes, which is a big day’s work, and he was somewhat out of practice, too.”
January generally saw the last of the apple crop. In 1897 the Herald reported on January 27 that Mr. Parkhill had finished carting his apple crop to market but that Charles Miller still had several hundred bushels on hand.
Winter time in general, and January in particular, was a time of illness. The Herald was full each week of notices of those who were sick or recovering. In those days it was not uncommon for the doctor to come to those who were sick. In her January 6, 1892 column, Rachel Williamson notes two doctors. She reports that Allen Moore who was suffering from “a very bad attack of the grip and hiccoughs” was getting care from Dr. Frank Larrison of Lambertville. After a list of those who were sick she notes, “Dr. Griffith’s carriage, containing himself and driver, is becoming quite familiar in this vicinity as he has been visiting patients nearly every day for about three weeks.”
School was back in session after the Christmas recess, but with many students ill attendance was usually down. In January 1889, the last year of the original Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse, school was closed a week while the teacher, Miss Hodge, attended her grandmother’s funeral. There was no provision at the time for a substitute teacher. Hopewell Township took control of the rural schools, as townships throughout New Jersey did that year, partly in order to take care of such issues. Once the township took over there was need to visit the schools and monitor them. In January 1896 the Hopewell School board visited each of the township schools. Pleasant Valley was visited on January 6 and the board reported in the Herald that, “Miss Ely, the teacher, received the board. This school and locality seem rightly named, as everything seems pleasant, especially at the school, where a pleasant smile seemed on each scholar’s face. A pleasant picture and easel were carried into the schoolroom, and Mr. Seither, the secretary of the board, was placed, as he remarked, in one of the most pleasant positions he had been in since being a member of the board – that of presenting the picture to Miss Ely, on behalf of her scholars, as a token of the appreciation of her efforts in the welfare of the scholars and their parents. Miss Ely was visibly moved by this token of respect and in a few well-chosen remarks thanked the scholars for their gift. Everything is progress at Pleasant Valley, and “pleasant, very pleasant,” may be said of this school and the teacher’s future prospects.”
January was also a time when teachers and students prepared programs for the community in order to raise money for the school library. In 1897 it was reported that the program prepared by teacher Mai Fleming, “consisted of recitations, readings and singing by the school, also two recitations by Miss Fleming, teacher at Woosamonsa, who is a sister of Miss Mai. Ice cream and cake were contributed by the neighbors and patrons of the school. The schoolroom was completely filled with an appreciative audience,…” Ten years later, in 1907, after another entertainment, it was reported that “Miss Elizabeth McCrea and pupils of Valley school have just added twenty dollars worth of new books in their already large and well selected library.”