Editor’s note: Charles Wycoff was an early pioneer of Jackson County. This firsthand account of his Christmas from the 1800s was first printed in the Sabula Gazette, then reprinted in the 1910 Ellis History of Jackson County.
As the season of the year notifies me of the near approach of Christmas, and not being busy, I thought I would write a few lines either for the Gazette or the waste basket, which I will leave to the editor to decide, and my mind runs back to Christmas time in the old neighborhood, sixty years ago, the busy times at the old Wycoff home, a part of which was built for merry making on Christmas and other holidays.
My revered father, Colonel R. B. Wycoff, in building a kitchen which he needed, concluded to make one that would answer two purposes, so he built it sixteen by thirty-six, and put in a swing partition so when he wished to make it into a dance hall, he could. The partition was swung up to a wall, and it made a hall sixteen feet wide by thirty-six feet long, which at that time was the most elaborate hall in the country.
As I look back to my boyhood days, I can see that kind old mother with sleeves rolled up, mixing the material for those famous mince pies which only mothers can make, besides the gingerbread and fried cakes that tasted so good to me, and as I write it seems to me that, although she's been dead fifty years, I can hear her say, “Now Charley, don't touch those pies or that gingerbread or those fried cakes, they are for Christmas. Well, now, if you will be a good boy and split those dry rails so when father comes he can build a fire in the oven, I have twenty-five more pies ready to bake, and I will give you a cake and a piece of gingerbread."
The oven spoken of was built of brick, arched over on top with an iron door. It was heated by filling with wood and when the wood had been burned down, the ashes and coals were taken out clean and what was to be baked was put in. Mother could bake twenty-five fine pies at one heating. I have counted two hundred mince pies on the pantry shelves at one time. Perhaps, should this miss the waste basket and get to the reader's of the Gazette, there will be some who read it with pleasure.
At the time of which I am writing, the company did not wait until 8 or 9 o'clock to come, but commenced coming in the afternoon, often as early as 3 o'clock. At 4 o'clock supper commenced and tables had to be set in the dance hall. As fast as people came they were served, as it was expected that all would be through with supper and the hall cleared and ready to commence dancing by 6 o'clock. Should anyone come belatedly, they had to eat supper in a small place.
After the hall was cleared the music was generally furnished by Robert Westbrook and John Scarborough, well known in the home of the Gazette, which furnished such guests as the Canfields, Schramlings, Bards, McElroys, Whites, Vials, and others. Hauntown furnished the Hauns and Griswolds. Bellevue furnished Hoods, Davises and others. Andrew furnished the Butterworths, Palmers, and Snyders. Deep Creek furnished the Farleys and Dickeys, besides our home Baldwins, Osburns, Swaneys, Prussias and Hatheways.
There was the old tin candlesticks that used to hang beside the wall to hold the candle made from deer's tallow and hog lard.
There was no Standard Oil in those days, and none of your whirlaround stand up and squeeze 'em dances. It was quadrilles, money musk or Virginia reels. It will be remembered by early settlers that my father was quite a singer and would often entertain the company with a song. John Scarborough would tell a very amusing story.
The mince pies, the gingerbread, and the cake was set on the pantry shelves and everyone helped themselves through the night. Those from Sabula and other distant points often stayed until after breakfast. If snow was on the ground they came in sleds; if not, they came in wagons, with a board across the box for seats, or sat down in the bottom, and often came with ox teams.
I don't remember any trouble at any of those dances, nor anyone having too much to drink, although on a little stand was a decanter filled with Billy G. Haun's best, free to all who wished it, but right here permit me to say at that time there was no such place as a saloon.
I every trading post, either in the backroom or cellar, there was a keg on tap free to all, and further, most of the young people belonged to some kind of a temperance society, but promoters of temperance decided to quit trying to persuade people to do right and concluded to compel them by law, and I am forced to believe that the temperance people made a great mistake in trying to make the people be temperate.
But just one more thought, as I am an old man whose sand is almost run out, and go back with me sixty years ago to the old swinging bed and help me raise those warm bed clothes made from wool, spun by those busy hands of mother, and help me raise my head on cold Christmas morning and behold a row of stockings knit by those same fingers, hanging around the mantle shelf of the old fireplace, and see those happy faces as we pile out of bed and eagerly take down the little tokens left us by the man who came down the chimney, and together let us thank God that our lot has been cast in a Christian land, and that when he calls we shall meet that good old mother in the happy land.