Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for May, 2014

Washboards – Not Relics of the Past

 

Columbus Washboard Factory

Columbus Washboard Factory in Logan, Ohio

Scrub a Dub Dub! That’s the sound of clothes being washed on what most consider an old-fashioned washboard. But that’s not the case at all! People around the world still use washboards and many of those are being made today by the Columbus Washboard Factory in Logan, Ohio.

In 1895, Frederic Martin, Sr. began building washboards called “Bear Easy” in his back yard near Columbus, Ohio on Oxley Avenue in Grandview. The business didn’t really take off until his son, Frederic, Jr. expanded the business in 1925. Their peak year was in 1941 when they sold 1,287,757 washboards. During their lifetime they sold over 23,000,000. But eventually the business was sold and in 1999 moved to Logan, Ohio where the new owners promoted some alternative uses for washboards.

Washboard being made

Washboard being made

Today Columbus Washboard Company is the only company in the United States that makes washboards. They emphasize originality and high quality in over 80 different boards they manufacture.  Signs posted throughout the small factory make it quite easy to do a self-guided tour. Workers eagerly answer any questions you might have. If you have a group of six or more,  a guided tour will be provided.

Production has slowed and there are usually about 200 washoards made per day now. Once the materials are assembled, it takes less than a minute to make a washboard. They have the one-at-a-time assembly down to a science.

A crimper holds a roll of metal, which runs through a device that bends the metal to create various rubbing surfaces. The two most popular washboards are Maid Rite and Dubl Handi, which gets its name from double sides on the washboard. One side is rough for those tough spots, while the other side is fairly smooth for fine garments.

Washboard kit for Armed Service members

Washboard kit for Armed Service members

The fact that the washboards and all parts are Made in the USA creates a special added attraction. A Washboard Kit makes an excellent gift for members of the armed forces stationed away from civilization. Each kit includes a covered tub, washboard, bar of soap, clothesline, clothespins, and, of course, instructions.

Various Washboard sizes

Various Washboard sizes

If you have a member of the armed services who might have need of a washboard kit, Columbus Washboard Factory will send a kit free of charge. Send a name and address of someone in the armed services to Columbus Washboard Factory, 14 Gallagher Avenue, Logan, Ohio  43138. Donations are appreciated, but not required.

Once in a while the washboards get used in unique ways. One such time happened when a soldier received some steaks. How could they cook them? They used the wood on the washboard to start a fire and then used the rough metal surface for the grill. Those military guys think outside the box.

These boards get shipped around the world. Some of the frequent customers outside the United States live in England, France, Japan, Australia, and all of the tropical islands.

Columbus Washboard Factory has discovered other uses for the washboards besides laundry. At the Veterans hospital in Waco, Texas, they decided to cover the walls of the elevator and cafeteria with washboards. Guess they wanted a scrubbed clean look!  Many people today use them for decorative purposes and some have a blackboard in place of the metal so it can be used for a message board.

Their gift shop includes many unique items besides all the various washboards. You can find products that Grandma would have used such as Laundry Powder, Bluing, and Dolly Clothespins.

Washboard Music Festival in Logan, Ohio

Washboard Music Festival in Logan, Ohio

Today one of the most popular uses is as a musical instrument. Every year on Father’s Day weekend, three blocks of downtown Logan are closed off to host the Washboard Music Festival. It is listed as the Most Unique Music Festival in the area. The streets overflow with toe-tapping music, arts and crafts, a quilt show, antique tractors, and even washboard solos. Perhaps you would like to purchase a washboard and join in the fun this year.

There is no easy way to arrive at Logan, Ohio.  State Route 33 runs through the town in south central Ohio. The journey is not one for those who enjoy interstate travel, but perfect for a gypsy.

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Historic Mount Pleasant’s Abolitionist Tradition

Quaker Meeting House

Quaker Meeting House in Mount Pleasant, Ohio

Once in a while, the roads you travel lead on an adventure not expected. Such was the case with a detour through the town of Mount Pleasant, Ohio. Meeting local people, while viewing their historic buildings, led to information unexpected but very exciting.

Back in 1803, Mount Pleasant in Eastern Ohio became home for a large group of Quakers, who were searching for a haven from slavery.  Before long, the Quaker Meeting House was constructed and became the first yearly meeting house for Quakers west of the Alleghenies. The basic design reflects the simplicity of Quaker life, while its two-foot-thick brick walls show their strength.

Benjamin Lundy Home

Benjamin Lundy Home

Much of the history of this small town relates to the settlement of abolitionists and their active anti-slavery movement. The entire community was an early safe haven for runaway slaves, even before the Civil War.

One of those Underground Railroad stops was the home of Benjamin Lundy, who desired to battle the institution of slavery in several ways. Moving to Mount Pleasant in 1821, he began publishing a paper called, Genius of Universal Emancipation, devoted entirely to anti-slavery issues. He traveled all over the country explaining the evils of slavery.

Harris-Bone Cabin through the front window

Harris-Bone Cabin through the front window

One of the early stores was the Harris-Bone Store built of logs in 1804. Today that store still stands on a prominent corner in Mount Pleasant attracting passers-by to stop and take a peek inside. During the summer months, tours are held, but otherwise you can still get a great look through the front windows.

You wouldn’t really think about a small town like this having a famous personality, but it definitely did. Listen up baseball fans! Who was the first African-American Major League baseball player? Jackie Robinson? Not so! At the side of the log cabin store, a sign displays in large letters that this is the birthplace of Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first African-American to play in the American Association back in 1883.

Sign marking birthplace of Moses Fleetwood Walker

Sign marking birthplace of Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses’ father, Dr. Moses W. Walker,  served as a medical doctor in western Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War. Upon moving to Mount Pleasant, Dr. Walker served as a minister at the Baptist Church and became instrumental in helping many slaves through the Underground Railroad. While the slaves were staying with him, they helped build the Walker family home.

“Fleet” possessed a rock arm in his position of catcher for Oberlin College, University of Michigan Law School and then the professional Toledo Blue Stockings. After a season of being scorned and jeered by opposing teams as well as his own teammates, Fleet returned to the minors after an injury. Following his baseball career, Walker attempted several business ventures: owning a hotel, movie theater and even an opera house in Cadiz, Ohio.

Just a short walk from the Harris-Bone Store can be found the “Hidden Gardens” of Pete and Jean Petra. Pete has a greenhouse in a section of his house and raises most of his plants. Every year he tries to have something new and interesting in his Garden, which basically surrounds his house and extends to an open lot nearby. Prepare to be surprised!

Elizabeth House

Elizabeth House Mansion

Another spot filled with memories of the past is the Elizabeth House Mansion, formerly the John Gill home built in 1835. Gill actually planted a mulberry tree here, then imported silkworms from China to perform their magic. In the 1800’s, this tree produced the silk for the first American flag ever made out of silk.

The first weekend in August is a perfect time to visit Mount Pleasant as at that time they give tours of the town and Pete and Jean’s  “Hidden Gardens” are at their peak. Climb aboard the Underground Railroad as you walk the streets of this friendly old town where the anti-salvery movement got an early start.

Mount Pleasant, Ohio is located on Scenic Byway State Route 150 in Southern Jefferson County. It can be reached most easily from I-70 by taking Exit 215 and following the curving, scenic route to the town.

 

Blowin’ in the Wind

"Stick dolls" - aka clothespins

“Stick dolls” – aka clothespins

“Gran, I found some real, stick dolls.” Jenny ran into the room proudly carrying a flowered bag. “Can I play with them?” Five-year-old Jenny was spending the weekend with Gran for the first time ever, so she anxiously explored every nook and cranny of Gran’s house.

“Play with them for a while, but later you can help me use those stick dolls. Actually those are clothespins that I need when I wash clothes. Not many people use them anymore, but I still enjoy hanging my clothes outside to dry. Bring that bag with you and we can hang the clothes I just washed on the line outside.”

When they went outside, Gran first washed off the clothesline with a damp cloth. No sense in putting clean clothes on a dirty line. Then Gran showed Jenny how to put the clothes on the clothesline using the “stick dolls”. Jenny watched with fascination as she handed Gran clothespin after clothespin.

The clothes on the line told the neighbors a lot about the family. You could easily tell when a baby was born, how much the children were growing, and even if someone was sick.

Gran explained how she liked to hang the washing on the clothesline in order : whites, shirts, pants, and towels. Shirts needed to be hung by the bottoms and not the shoulders so they were easier to iron. If you had two lines, you always hung the quilts, sheets and towels on the outside line so the neighbors couldn’t see the underclothes blowing in the wind.

Mom hangs up clothes to dry. (Mural by C.M. Scott)

Mom hangs up clothes to dry. (Mural by C.M. Scott)

Once they pinned all the clothes on the line, Jenny’s questioning eyes looked at Gran,” Now, how do they get dry?”

“Well, Jenny, when we put a pole under the line to push it up higher, the wind will blow on them and make them dry. If we leave them out here for a little while, most of them should dry quickly.”

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

With that Jenny and Gran went back in the house and sat down at the kitchen table. There they enjoyed fresh strawberry shortcake with whipped topping. While they ate, they decorated a recipe holder for Jenny’s mom made with a plastic fork and spoon in a small flower pot filled with sand. It would soon be Mother’s Day, so Jenny felt proud to have something special for her mom.

After a while, Jenny said, “Do you think those clothes are dry yet?”

Since a gentle breeze had blown the clothes dry, Gran took the clothespins off and handed a couple shirts to Jenny so she could see how they dried. Jenny held them close and took a deep breath. “The wind must smell good because these shirts smell better than Snuggle. Drying clothes like this is hard work, Gran. Someone should give you a clothes dryer for Mother’s Day.”

Gran smiled and rolled her eyes, “Next time you’re over, I’ll show you how to use the washboard.”

Coming soon” A story about the history of the washboard and its many uses.

 

Maximum Security at Moundsville Penitentiary

WV Penitentiary Welcome Sign

West Virginia Penitentiary Welcome Sign

Welcome to a living hell! The most violent and vicious prison in the United States describes conditions at the original West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia. Maximum Security became home for the worst of those prisoners.

Hanging Gate where hangings occurred from the ceiling

Hanging Gate where hangings occurred from the ceiling

From 1866-1995, many deaths occurred within those prison walls. 9 prisoners died in the electric chair, 85 hung with a noose around their neck, and 998 documented murders occurred – two guards and the rest prisoners. Now you get a taste of their violence.

The most dangerous criminals were placed in The North Hall, called the Alamo.  The worst prisoners lived here twenty-two hours a day, because of their unpredictable behavior. On a daily basis, they were given one hour in the Bull Pen, where they could exercise in an area enclosed with stainless steel razor wire. They showered with lye soap and often cold water – once a week under supervision.

Being in their cells most of the day gave them time to plan. One Maximum Security prisoner actually used dental floss and toothpaste to cut through the bars on his cell door. Another seemed to have a longing to become a writer, as he wrote stories on the walls of his cell. His being in prison resulted from his murdering his girlfriend.

Comfort was not known in Maximum Security cells, but prisoners wouldn’t have been there if their crimes had not been vicious. These cells were not pleasant temperature-wise either, as the furnace couldn’t possibly heat the prison adequately, and air conditioning didn’t exist. That meant that in the winter, cells were often around forty degrees, while in the summer they could be a hundred and twenty. Walking through the halls today you get a chilling feeling of the cold, hostile people who resided there years ago.

Red Snyder's cell

Red Snyder’s cell

All the prisoners in Maximum Security always ate in their small cells, which measured 5’X7′. There was a small place through which the guard could place their meals on a  paper plate with plastic knife and spoon. Inside the cell was a bed hanging from the wall, a sink, and a toilet. The bed had a thin mattress and a small pillow.

Once in a while, a prisoner would get special privileges for good behavior. Such was the case with a couple Maximum Security trustees, who were allowed to work in the greenhouse. These model prisoners planned their escape carefully.

As they worked in the greenhouse, they dug a four foot high tunnel from the greenhouse under the prison wall, which was six feet at its base. They lined the walls of the tunnel with plywood used in the greenhouse. What did they do with the dirt? They put the dirt in bags marked PEAT MOSS. This was the last escape ever attempted from the orginal West Virginia Penitentiary and the culprits were eventually caught.

If all of this wasn’t bad enough, when a prisoner became uncontrollable, he was placed for thirty days in what they called The Hole.  The only thing in that hole was a bucket for bathroom purposes. These prisoners stayed there twenty-four hours a day on a dirt floor, with bread and water being sent down to them once a day. They obviously didn’t want to even be threatened with The Hole, a personal living hell.

Old Sparky, the electric chair

Old Sparky, the electric chair made by a prisoner.

Of course, the worst punishment was Old Sparky, the electric chair built by a prisoner in 1950. No surprise, that prisoner had to be placed in protective custody. A leather bag dropped over the condemned person’s head as electricity in this chair went through the head first.

As you have read the conditions under which these prisoners lived, is it any wonder that the State of West Virginia decided to close this penitentiary due to abusive treatment of the prisoners? Could you have survived the imprisonment? Maybe you would like to take a tour and experience the tortured souls that remain inside.

West Virginia Penitentiary is located in Moundsville, West Virginia just ten miles south of Wheeling along the east bank of the beautiful Ohio River. From Wheeling, follow Route 2 into Moundsville. Turn left on 8th Street and after two blocks turn right onto Jefferson Ave. The penitentiary is on the left side of the street. You can’t miss it!

 

 

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