In an earlier post, William Jack Curry, Sr. -- Ceramics Pioneer, I recounted some of my Grandfather's early life but focused mainly on his business career. While Jack was a hard-working, teetotaling Presbyterian and one of the very few in town who voted the Prohibitionist ticket, he was also a well-liked, fun-loving member of the East Liverpool, Ohio community. I would know little of this were it not for several surviving records that show his lighter side.
Some twenty years ago, my Uncle, Matthew Andrews Curry of East Liverpool, Ohio (ELO) came upon the logbook that is the subject of this post. It was in a box of yellowed, musty memorabilia that belonged to his father, William "Jack" Curry. Mac passed the book along to his niece, my sister Jane Louise Curry, a noted children's book author. Jane worked at transcribing the logbook to a digital file in her spare time over many years and finally published her record in 2007. The original record book is now in the possession of the East Liverpool Historical Society.
Jack Curry was one of the organizers of the Forest & Stream Hunting & Fishing Club and served as "Camp Boss" and logbook scribe. "Jack", by the way, was his actual middle name, which honored his mother's family name.
The Club held camp for several weeks each summer at various sylvan retreat locations within a half-day's wagon ride from ELO (see map below). In 1882 the camp was staged at Gaston's Mills, the general area now well-preserved as part of Little Beaver State Park. In the years of 1883, '84 and '85, the camp was located on the Loudon farm at Dobson's Mill on the south side of the West Branch of the Little Beaver near the Morgan Surrender Monument. The campsite was moved to Camp St. George at "Madison Square" during the five summers of 1887 through 1891.
All of the encampment adventures took place adjacent to mill sites on the bucolic Little Beaver Creek. The millponds enabled boating in skiffs, plus good fishing and turtle catching opportunities. No mention was made of the rent paid to the property owner but in one instance several members spent an afternoon hauling "hay doodles" for the farmer, perhaps to offset the rent. OK--what on earth is a hay doodle? It's simply a small piled-up stack of loose hay about four feet high and the same in diameter, that would next be hauled to a haystack.
Jack Curry's handwritten logbook of daily activities recounts in great detail the names and dates of the comings and goings of each club member and visitor, the supplies consumed, the fish caught and squirrels shot, the pranks laid and games played. It is a wonderful diary of a simpler, slower life when people made their own active entertainment rather than passively mainlining it from an electronic screen.
At least one day of each camping week, usually Thursday, was designated as "Ladies Day." Camp members would either provide several horse-drawn wagons or they would hire commercial hacks (carriages) to convey a bevy of eligible young women from East Liverpool to the country for a day of picnicking and innocent fun. Without fail, a married couple or two would be present to give social sanction to these exciting comminglings of the sexes.
Quoits, a game much like horseshoes, where metal rings are thrown to encircle a steel post, was very popular on these occasions. Baseball and boating on the millpond rated highly as well but the most anticipated activities were the "play party games."
These were not your mother's party games but an earlier American folk tradition where people sang out and danced to popular ballads. Using the word "game" in this instance was a pious fiction to avoid reference to "dancing," which was considered SINFUL. The dance aspect of party games was very similar to square dancing, though the games were often performed in a circular ring instead of a square.
The main difference between play party games and dancing was that the participants provided their own music by singing without instrumental accompaniment, whereas "dancing" was often done to the tune of a fiddle--an instrument considered in some parts to be the Devil's own!
But, oh what fun they must have had, tromping along and singing round after round of the lyrics to "Happy is the Miller," "Tilda McCrankey" or "Pig in the Parlor." So, close your eyes and let's travel back over a century to that forever summery, shady, oak grove by the millpond and see those happy, perspiring young folks clasping hands in a circle. Yes, I can now hear them singing to lyrics the tune, "He's a Jolly Good Fellow"...
Sundays in camp were strictly observed with members attending Sunday Schools and sermons at nearby churches. Fishing and sporting activities were decidedly frowned upon. Otherwise, general laziness was the order of the day. Also, in keeping with this sober tone, there was no evidence of any alcohol use in camp, ever, other than the night their beloved black cook, Sidney Gwinne, got a supply of liquor somewhere and experienced a hallucinatory episode where he was found with a shotgun in the middle of the night, fending off ghosts and imagined snakes.
There are some cringe-worthy racial references in the log made by a substitute secretary that remind us that this was a more callous time. It was heartening, though, to see the deep bonds of respect and true friendship between Jack Curry and Sidney Gwinne.
It's also interesting to witness in Jack's log that hunting and fishing were carried out year round back then without respect to breeding seasons. It was pretty much open warfare on anything that walked, crawled, flew or swam. Neither chipmunks, skunks, flickers, owls, frogs or groundhogs escaped the onslaught and there were no bag limits.
This wanton destruction of wildlife through sheer ignorance decimated many species in those times and even exterminated the passenger pigeon. The backlash to these practices ultimately led to the creation of the conservation movement in the early 20th century and the science of modern wildlife management.
While we can criticize our forebears for their lack of environmental consciousness, we do this with 20-20 hindsight. They lived in the fading twilight of the Man-versus-Nature American frontier when we learned many hard lessons that our natural resources weren't inexhaustible.
So now come with me, 135 years back in time, to Gaston's Mills where we find our intrepid troop having the times of their life...none of which would ever be remembered but for the faithful efforts of their historian, Jack Curry.
To view the logbook in an expanded window, hover your mouse over the upper right corner of the title page below and click on the arrow link...