Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Education in the Archives

Green River Female College diploma

Green River Female College diploma

For October’s Kentucky Archives Month and its theme of “education,” the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections can boast of many collections documenting the work of teachers and schools in Kentucky.  We hold materials relating to WKU faculty such as Marjorie Clagett, Nelle Travelstead and Arndt Stickles, as well as distinguished educational administrators (and WKU alumni) like Chester Travelstead.  The classroom labors of many other teachers such as Erleen Joiner Rogers, Mary Woodrow Smith, Frances Hart and Dudley Whitmer are also represented in our collection.

We have previously blogged about several early schools in our area:  Cedar Bluff College, Franklin Female College, Smiths Grove College and St. Columba Academy.  A recent acquisition is an 1866 diploma from the Green River Female College of Bowling Green.  The diploma certifies Julia Woodburn Adams as a “Regular Graduate of the College,” having completed its course of study and “maintained during her connection with it a high moral character.”

Green River Female College, Bowling Green

Green River Female College, Bowling Green

Green River Female College was the child of Baptist minister Thomas H. Storts.  He initially held classes in a church basement, but after the Civil War he moved the school to a large house at 1253 State Street, where he and his small staff of teachers accepted both day and boarding students.  Unfortunately, Storts struggled financially and lost the school in 1877, only a year after receiving a formal charter of incorporation.  Then as now, education could be a costly endeavor for all involved.  Storts’s struggle to collect tuition (and the creativity of methods used to pay) was evident in the forbearance he gave the family of Lida, Mary, and Maggie Calvert, sisters who attended early in the 1870s.  Two years after they first enrolled, Storts had credited against his $308 account only $10 in cash and $28 worth of goods consisting of two counterpanes, two blankets and a set of silver spoons.  Before marrying and embarking on a career as a successful author, Lida Calvert went to work for Storts as a teacher in order to retire her younger sisters’ indebtedness.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on schools, teachers and teaching, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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From Juice to Jug: Cider Making in Western Kentucky

Students at cider press

Students at cider press

In the summer of 1970, Western Kentucky University folk studies student Karen Stewart set out to explore the cider making process at a small home in the even smaller river town of Woodbury, Kentucky. The cider press owners, Randall and Daisy Lytle, were certainly no strangers to the nuances of traditional cider making and shared with Stewart their history of owning a press and working the apples from juice to jug.

Snaking its way through thick forests and sprawling pastures, the Green River skirts the edges of small towns throughout south-central Kentucky. It was on these muddy banks where Lytle, at the time a young boy, received his first cider press from a ninety-year-old riverboat captain. Lytle restored the barely-functioning press to its former glory and began selling homemade cider for fifty-cents a gallon. Several years later, after returning home from serving in World War II, Lytle discovered his press had been sold as scrap iron for twenty cents. It would be another quarter of a century before Lytle found his second press, but the cider was worth the wait.

Enlisting the help of an orchard owner in Logansport, Kentucky, Lytle, along with his wife Daisy, began the intensive process of cider making. Adhering to the motto of “no apple left behind,” the Lytles gathered as many apples as possible, including those with worms, which, according to Daisy, were “just protein, anyway.” After sorting and washing, Lytle placed the apples into a large hopper on the top of the press. With a large crank to one side, the hopper served as a makeshift food processor reducing the apples to a thick pulp, which was collected in a barrel made of wooden slats. Lytle transferred the product to another barrel where a large wooden disc was lowered onto the pulp, squeezing out the juice between the slats. Afterwards, the juice was strained through a cloth into a glass jug, and any remaining pulp was fed to farm animals. Standing in the bottle for several days, the juice would begin the fermentation process, eventually resulting in the crisp, tangy flavor of a well-made cider.

With interest in southern foodways, self-sustainability, and cultivating intentional community at an all-time high, there is comfort in knowing that the Lytles served a vital role in carrying on the legacy of traditional craft brewing.

To access Stewart’s paper online, click here for a digital copy of the finding aid.

For more information relating to Kentucky folk studies, projects, and collections, visit WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives!

Blog post composed by WKU Folk Studies student Delainey Bowers

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A Niche Market

The Scioto (Courtney Ellis Collection)

The Scioto (Courtney Ellis Collection)

Thanks to lock and dam construction by the Rough River Navigation Company, incorporated in 1856, the citizens of Hartford and Ohio County, Kentucky once enjoyed regular steamboat traffic along that tributary of the Green River.  Late in the 19th century the Scioto, a 94-foot-long craft owned by the Hartford and Evansville Packet Company, transported both freight and passengers between Hartford and Evansville, Indiana.

The daily demands of operating the Scioto are documented in a collection of bills and receipts held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Dated 1899, they show the expenses necessary to maintain this floating conveyance of people and goods.  We see purchases of foodstuffs such as flour, peas, corn, butter, coffee, ketchup, sugar and potatoes; provisions such as oil, matches and deck brooms; services rendered for laundering sheets, towels and tablecloths; and repairs to stoves, pipes and flanges.  The Scioto‘s crew did business at both ends of its route, so Hartford and Evansville merchants are well represented.  Some of these firms catered specifically to the steamboat trade, promising to serve their customers’ needs “at all hours.”  Many of the Evansville businesses were appropriately located on Upper Water Street, now Riverside Drive.

Receipt from bakery serving steamboatsClick here to access a finding aid for the Scioto steamboat collection of receipts, and here to learn about our premier collection of Ohio River Valley steamboat photographs.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Falling Leaves

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

I now promise to be less attentive to my military duties, which will enable me to pursue my other schemes more successfully.  This is the first feature of my new ‘leaf.’  So wrote Captain Richard Vance in his diary on January 1, 1887.  An Army career of more than 20 years had taken him to postings in the South, the western frontier, and now Texas, but Vance, who had never been particularly fond of the military, was yearning to retire.

By his own account, Vance resembled the stereotypical soldier:  a devoted hunter and scrapper (he was once acquitted of murder), he chided himself over his chronic weakness for women (more about that at a later date).  But he was also widely read and self-taught, and his resolution for 1887 was to focus on the things that truly interested him and that he believed he could master.  “For the present,” he wrote, “I shall confine myself to French, German, Botany & Ornithology.”

Sample from Richard Vance's Ringgold, Texas herbarium

Sample from Richard Vance’s Ringgold, Texas herbarium

While stationed in Texas at Fort Clark, Vance had begun work on an herbarium, but now, garrisoned at Ringgold, he began collecting, analyzing and preserving samples of local flora.  Though he made no claims to being an amateur, let alone professional botanist, Vance carefully researched, organized and classified his finds.  The result was a thick volume of specimens “collected and arranged entirely for my own amusement,” which enabled him to “pass a very pleasant summer at this place.”  While traveling, Vance also preserved leaves from the Antietam battlefield in Maryland and horse nettle from Warren County, Kentucky, where he was born.

Richard Vance’s herbaria are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a collection finding aid.  For more relating to botany and botanists, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“I can’t describe this storm”

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Hugo.  Andrew.  Katrina.  Ike.  Harvey.  Irma.   These names no longer bring people to mind, but rather destructive hurricanes that have visited the United States.  The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections offers many firsthand experiences of these terrifying weather events.  We have already mentioned Andrew in a previous blog, but here are a few more accounts of hurricanes, both named and unnamed:

It was a vicious storm, seemed as tho the world had come to an end. . . .  I wanted to make a dash for the mainland but by that time our car was flooded and it’s a good thing we didn’t start as the storm returned with such greater fury that we would have no doubt been blown in the bay. — Lena Standrod, Miami, Florida, 1926

Miamians know what these hurricanes mean, therefore they know how to make thorough preparations. . . .  The big leaves on the palm trees fluttered on the trees like feathers in a breeze.  Few coconuts fell; they have a good supple stem I suppose.Dee Perguson, Miami, Florida, 1944

Hugo’s aftermath is far more powerful than his presence. . . .  Outside the scene was shocking.  It looked like a war zone.  The German lady up the street said it reminded her of Berlin after the war, except there weren’t any bullet holes.John Lee Disher, Summerville, South Carolina, 1989

After the murderous hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in September 1900, a traumatized Ellen (Temple) Parker wrote a heartbreaking letter to her sister. “At 2 o’clock Saturday Sept. 8, I looked out and saw the gulf water backing up 32nd Street,” she recalled.  She summoned her husband home from work just as the waves and wind intensified, but he was stranded, unable to secure a carriage or horse at any price.  “I was entirely alone with the children until the worst of the blow was over,” she wrote, “and did not know what second our house would go” and her “babies would be at the mercy of the water and flying timbers.” Praying and reading to her children to stay calm, she fought the urge to “scream with fear” over the fate of her husband.  The family home lost several windows and much of its roof, but stood.  Ellen’s husband finally made it home the next day and they evacuated to Fort Worth.  “Mary,” Ellen declared to her sister, “I can’t describe this storm.  What you see in the papers is not over drawn; if anything it was even worse than the papers put it.”  Thankful that the family had escaped with their lives and at least some of their belongings, Ellen faced her next challenge: to recover her nerves and “get to be myself again.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more of our firsthand accounts of hurricanes, tornadoes and storms, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Eclipse Stories

After the solar eclipse on August 21, the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections received many photos and impressions of this rare event for our “Tell Us About Your Eclipse Day” project. Here are a few samples:

Everything just began to look slightly faded, like an old Polaroid photo.  It got noticeably cooler as the moon crept across the sun.  Crescents appeared in tree-leaved shadows.  Streetlights winked on along the streets.  — Roxanne Spencer

From Andrea Ford - crescent shaped lighting though trees

From Andrea Ford

“The Sun is setting Early!” exclaimed our six year old son; as he watched with wonder, on the solar telescope he helped build.  “Dad, will I be around to see the next one?” — Quentin Hughes

From Deana Groves (5th graders, W.R. McNeill Elementary)

From Deana Groves (5th graders, W.R. McNeill Elementary)

I could feel the mist coming off the trees.  I’ve noticed this before, the leaves’ expiration–the misting feeling that you get when you walk under trees at dusk. — Sue Ferrell

Around noon, I noticed people clamoring to look out windows in the Hancock Tower in downtown Chicago.  I ran outside to meet some friends and scarf down my lunch, all while staring upward at the eclipse. . . . There were a ton of people gathered around on the streets and sidewalks, but amazingly life went on throughout Michigan Avenue. — Aaron Straka

Eclip?  Eclip?  Dark. . . dark. . . dark. . . sky!  Moon a bye bye!  Sun. . . color black! — Penny Nimmo, age 2-1/2

Young child looking through solar viewer

From Rebecca Nimmo

I love[d] the sound of cheering by the kids in Smith Stadium and those who were on South Lawn.  That was simply awesome. — Andrea Ford

Moments before totality the street lamps came on, dragonflies swarmed the grassy parks of Reservoir Hill, the crickets began to chirp and the sound of the cicadas grew deafening.  The air became cooler and the winds picked up.  The quality of the light was unreal–like the strange, luminous glow that falls upon the treetops just after a thunderstorm. — Marla Zubel

From William Sledge - totality

From William Sledge

As quickly as night fell, morning came.  We witnessed a new day twice on August 21st.  I was in awe of the flocks of birds flying from the trees to welcome the “morning.”  My internal clock had me feeling strange, yet peaceful in those moments. — Mary Johnson

Anticipation can sometimes overshadow the actual occurrence.  Not this time. — Lorraine Baushke

pinhole projected image on map of Kentucky

From Larry Isenberg

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Mrs. Hoffman

Mary Hoffman's Confederate service

Mary Hoffman’s Confederate service

If it wasn’t for her five children, perhaps she would have tried to enlist, disguised as a man.  Although Mary Elizabeth Hoffman never joined the unique ranks of such warriors, she didn’t allow her sex to defeat her personal crusade on behalf of the Confederacy.

Born in Boyle County, Kentucky in 1825, Mary saw her husband William, a son, and three brothers enter Confederate service during the Civil War.  At home in Cynthiana, Mary jumped into the fray, delivering food, messages, aid and comfort to local rebels.  Though auburn-haired and fair-skinned, she often managed to pass through Union lines posing as an African American.  When some Confederate soldiers at a nearby hotel were cut off from their command and in danger of capture, Mary secured their horses, removed the incriminating weapons and uniforms from their saddle bags, and with the help of another Southern sympathizer later reunited the gear with its owners.

In April 1862, Mary resolved to head south to check on the welfare of her soldier menfolk, an undertaking that involved passing through numerous blockades and towns under martial law.  With a stash of letters concealed in her clothing, she was denied a pass at Chattanooga, but wagered the commandant in charge that she would get through anyway.  She did, by way of a midnight boat trip and a mule ride over mountainous terrain.  When she arrived at her husband’s camp, she spent several months ministering to his wounded comrades.  On the way back, she earned a pass from the commandant she had outwitted on the trip down.

In February 1863, however, Mary was arrested in Lexington and detained by the federals.  Once again, she donned a disguise, climbed out a second-story window, and escaped.  The Yankees caught up with her again and sent Mary and her husband, now discharged from service, north of the Ohio River where they would presumably make less trouble.  They were eventually paroled and returned to Cynthiana, where Mary’s husband met an early death after an altercation with a Union soldier and Mary, who died in 1888, would be remembered as a determined soldier of the South.

Click here to link to a collection describing the exploits of Mary Hoffman, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“A Memorable Day for Oakland”

Prof. Langley and the Shakers report on the eclipse, 1869

Prof. Langley and the Shakers report on the eclipse, 1869

As we all know, a total eclipse of the sun will pass over southcentral Kentucky in the early afternoon of August 21, 2017.  The last time such an event occurred in this area was August 7, 1869, and the tiny Warren County community of Oakland was expected to provide a prime viewing spot.

Four days before the eclipse, Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, an eminent astronomer and later Secretary of the Smithsonian, arrived by train with a colleague to set up his observation post at Oakland.  Finding only a few houses in the vicinity of the station, he moved two small sheds to a field near the tracks and procured a telegraph connection.  He set up his telescope and other instruments, conducted some practice sessions, and prepared for the big event.

But Langley’s splendid scholarly isolation was not to last.  “On the afternoon of the 7th,” he reported, his station was overwhelmed by “all the inhabitants of the adjoining country, white and black, who crowded around the sheds, interrupted the view, and proved a great annoyance.”  As if that wasn’t enough, just as the eclipse neared its total phase, a special train pulled in carrying onlookers from Bowling Green and–of course!–a brass band.

Langley soldiered on with his work.  He calculated the duration of totality, when the moon completely obscured the sun, as lasting only a second or two, far less than the 30 seconds he expected.  Nevertheless, he was able to see the sun’s corona “visible through the darkening glass as a halo close to the sun, whence radiated a number of brushes of pale light.”  He felt particularly fortunate to get a 15-second view of “Baily’s Beads,” the effect produced when the disappearing sun backlighted the moon’s uneven surface–“like sparks,” he reported, “upon the edge of a piece of rough paper.”

In Bowling Green, druggist John E. Younglove noted the eclipse in his meteorological journal.  Though brief, the totality was sufficient to “observe the Corona with its variegated Colors.”  The eclipse also merited an entry in the daily journal of the Shaker colony at South Union–“nearly total here.”  Writing a history of Oakland in 1941, Jennie Bryant Cole conceded that the astronomers’ better position “should have been about one mile farther up the railroad”; nevertheless, when the “country people came in” and the crowd and brass band arrived, and when the stars suddenly came out in the afternoon and the chickens went home to roost, it was a “memorable day for Oakland.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections relating to the eclipse of 1869.  For more firsthand accounts of eclipses, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Desirous Not to Die Intestate”

Kentuckians make their wills

Kentuckians make their wills

During this National Make-A-Will-Month (yes, it’s a thing), we note the many historic examples of these solemn documents in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Our collections of family papers often include wills and associated estate documents from Warren County and elsewhere.  Our large collection of Warren County Equity Court cases includes lawsuits involving estates and a copy of the will that started all the trouble.

We also hold a collection of miscellaneous wills made primarily in Warren County but also in Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.  The oldest, made by local man Daniel Shipman in 1798, is one of several noncupative, or verbal wills: too sick to write out or sign the document himself, Shipman made his wishes known to two witnesses, who presented their memorandum to the County Court and attested to its truthfulness.

Like many antebellum wills, Shipman’s includes a bequest of slaves, but African Americans who had escaped bondage also made wills.  The collection includes the 1853 will of Archy Barclay, a “free man of color” in Bowling Green, who gave “my body to the dust and my spirit to God,” then the rest of his possessions to his wife and children.  Of note is his designation of Samuel A. Barclay, possibly his former master, as his executor.  Henry Bibb, another free man of color, made a will in 1855 leaving his property “to Harriett Gray, a woman of color formerly owned by Joseph Gray of Russellville.”

Women’s wills in the collection are usually those of widows desirous of leaving property to children, grandchildren or to those who cared for them in old age.  As we have seen, prior to 1894 the will of a woman with a living husband was of no effect, since her property became his upon marriage.  A wife, however, could make a will devising property held in a trust or otherwise given to her on condition that it was free of her husband’s control; in the case of Martha Blewett’s 1868 will, she bequeathed it to her husband anyway, since he had “been kind and affectionate to me through all my afflictions.”

Many of the wills attest to the modest wealth and possessions of ordinary Kentuckians, but the 1870 will of Robert Ogden–made by a wealthy Warren County farmer, businessman and horse breeder “conscious of my mortality and desirous not to die intestate”–listed numerous generous bequests.  Of great local significance was item 15, which gave $50,000 for the establishment in Bowling Green of a school for young men or young women.  His trustees decided on the former, and Ogden College opened in 1877.  In 1927, the college merged with WKU and the name is still familiar to every science student on the Hill.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR  and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life (Part 2)

George Messer's letter

George Messer’s letter

When we last saw Civil War soldier George Messer in May 1863, the Illinois volunteer was at Camp Hobson (formerly Camp Joe Kelly) near Glasgow, Kentucky.  He was grumbling about “dog tents,” two-man canvas shelters no better suited for canines than humans.  Man’s best friend also gets a mention in another of Messer’s letters, recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Writing two months earlier to his wife Lottie, Messer had been somewhat more content.  Despite the cold temperatures of early spring, he was feeling well, had put on weight, and was hopeful that the war would end soon.  He described the dramatic changes made to the local countryside by Union troops seeking to protect their position from surprise attack.  “Timber around our camp it is to be cut off clean for five hundred yards all around,” he explained, “and five hundred more to be cut down and left lay.”  So thick was the coverage of trees and brush “that when it is cut down you could not shove a dog through it backwards.”

His comrades on picket duty reminded Messer of “cows on a stormy wet day,” when they would “put their backs to the storm and turn up one side of their heads to try and shun as much of it as possible.”  Nevertheless, the sentries had some fun with a lieutenant who had returned from town without his military pass, resulting in his brief incarceration in the guard house.  Messer noted with satisfaction that such “Shoulder Strap gentlemen” were granted no easier passage than a private when they ventured outside of camp.  In his “dog tent” letter, he had also expressed little affection for these epaulette-bedecked officers and their habit of grabbing credit for “great exploits” that were in fact the work of the common soldier.

Click on the links to access finding aids and typescripts of George Messer’s letters.  Click here to browse our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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