COOK STORIES 11
From 1898 until now, 120 acres of land in Coffins Grove Township have belonged to the Edward Cook branch of the Emory Cook family, who came to Iowa in 1869. At different times the farm varied in size and in the location of the parcels of land recorded in the name of Edward Cook and Mary Cook and their descendants. But the 120 acres described as follows: NE SE of 27 – 89 twp 6 39 acres; NW SE of 27 – 89 39 acres; SW SE 89 sec 6 37.73 acres. To be sure there are only 115.73 acres in all. The 120 acres were reduced when roads were widened on the south sides of the first two and both the north and south sides of the last plot. These roads run east and west. This was the portion of the original farm that was purchased by William B. Ellis as a gift for his daughter, Mary J. Cook, as a home for her and her family.
There were hundred 130 acres more in the name of Edward Cook. The original purchase included a 30-acre tract between the Illinois Central railroad and the East and West Road, which leaves old Nr. 20 at the Rocky Ridge Park corner. Another 100 acres was located south of the I. C. Railroad. There were gates we had to open to get to that pasture when my brother Howard and I went over there to pump water for the cattle during the dry season. The pump was an old square wooden one with a wooden oak handle that threw a half pail of water at a stroke from the depths of the stoned up well.
The buildings of the homestead were located on the 40 acres situated NE SE of section 27. That was the way grandfather Ellis wanted. He loaned Edward Cook the money to purchase land, which was recorded in his name. When we moved to the farm in March of 1899, the buildings, so far as I can remember, consisted of a drafty old two-story family farmhouse unpainted located in the yard of weedy undergrowth among trees whose stark, dark branches looked cold and lonely. In front of the house was a large oak which is still there today. There were two oaks east of the house that grew very close to it. A soft maple grew at the southeast corner of the house. West of the house, in addition to the old oak that still stands, was an oak tree just the right distance from the home to provide a focal point for the division of the roads which divided after passing through the gate and forming an oval with the road on the east side coming up to the last porch of the house then around that tree and on the west side of the oval was the road leading back to the gate. Underneath that oak was a boulder and the milk stand where the cans of whole milk were deposited for the milk caller to pick them up. The stone was the right height for a seat under the shade of the tree when the sun was blazing down in midday of one of our Iowa summers. South of the house where the remains of what must have been 10 years before a beautiful lawn. Two huge apple trees still bearing crabs were located in line with one another south of the house and between the bushes which bore white and lavender lilacs grew in a ragged fashion. Around the lawn south were for hard maples, two close together shading a broken down front gate and on the west were three more maples, making a square and so when spring came, the leaves threw a deep shade over what had obviously been a well-planned croquet ground— the ridges at the sides were still very evident.
The only startling note on what had obviously been at one time a beautiful lawn was a small pine tree which set closely under one of the maples on the west as if it were under its protection. That pine tree was a curiosity to me and my brother, so we went out and innocently picked off a few needles. A neighbor’s daughter promptly told our mother and in sanctimonious tones told her we were standing on a grave and ruining the grave marker. And so, we, innocents of six and three, were told of the lady who was buried there on the lawn. For a time, I hated the front yard and shunned it because I was sure I had to behave there as I was expected to behave in the Baker Cemetery where we went every Memorial Day to put flowers on Aunt Ella Cook’s grave. That was always a very solemn occasion and it seemed to me that our yard would be a perpetual Memorial Day and I resented it. So, though my brother and his friends made themselves at home in front yard, come spring, I decided I liked the orchard east of the house better. There are six old crab trees with huge limbs which made wonderful seats for anyone who wanted to read a book. The crab trees, some apple trees—russet’s, delicious and winter, two huge old grapevines which later proved to bear both white and purple grapes plus two willows at the farther east end of the garden made a wonderful hide-away later in the spring when I had freedom to run free without the wraps required for comfort in early March.
How well I recall how Lucy Satterlee, my new friend, and I chose carefully two limbs on each willow, one large and bouncy, and the other a bit higher to which we attached reins. Putting our jackets or coats on the large limb, they became saddles, and we rode our horses far and near up and down. Another advantage was that after the leaves came out, we were well hidden and by putting our hands over our ears and turning our backs if we saw someone come out in the road, we could always say truthfully that we didn’t hear or see anyone especially if they called us to wash or wipe dishes. Add to this a huge clump of barberry bushes at the opposite end of the orchard directly west of the willows, which evidently were a free growth, not planted. Sometimes when I couldn’t run fast enough to get to the willows, I crawled into the barberry bushes which grew either side of the fence and later sought the willows.
The farmhouse was so very unattractive when we first moved there that I hated it. Later we christened it the “to be continued house” because it stretched out like a homely old gray cat with its tail to the north and its body stretched out from North to South. The tale of the cat was a lean-to built of wide boards on two sides, open on the north, and using the house as its south end. It’s a leaky roof had few shingles left. The lean-to held the wood we burned in the three stoves which were kept going night and day to keep us from freezing to death in the and that drafty barracks that first March.
Let’s travel through the house, entering from the lean-to into a kitchen of average size with a window on the north and one on the east. A door on the west opened into a pantry housing shelves and a sink now dry, but with remnants of pipes where water had no doubt been pumped into that sink. This pantry ran across the whole west side of the kitchen with a window on the west. The south wall of the kitchen was made up of a door on the east end opening on the stairway leading to the attics over the dining room and kitchen, a chimney, and a door into the dining room.
As one entered the dining room, one was first conscious of double windows on the west with a long shelf running the full width of windows with space between. Mother soon filled the shelf with plants. At the right of the door from the kitchen into the dining room was a second wall that covered the stairs to the basement (of course, it was under the attic stairs). The door was specially made for it was low, and tall men usually heated the air considerably when they opened and entered that door and stepped in. It was not long that my practical mother left the wall space at the right of the kitchen door blank. She had a cupboard built between the pantry and dining room. With shelves in three tall doors, she shortened the trips to the table. Three Huber drawers under the shelves opening into the dining room housed the silverware and linens which had come to mother and dad as wedding gifts 15 years before.
The reason mother gave for building the cupboards so soon was that she had to have a place to keep her “good dishes.” Her father gave her the starter set of six in 1899. The dishes were Johnstonware, were made in England and were scalloped edged white with pastel blue and gold trim in plates, butter dishes, bone dishes, vegetable dishes, pie plates, platter, sugar, and creamer. I do not know whether my grandfather gave mother the other half dozen of everything or if father bought them for her. Anyhow she ended up a with an even dozen of everything. Only three or four were ever broken, but the plates of six are now checked. I do not know if it was the cold when they were stored in the farmhouse after mother’s death and when I had no place to store dishes and had to leave many things in the farmhouse while I was away teaching. Anyhow as of today, the dishes are stored on special shelves in my dining room.
To return to the dining room. On the east was a door to a bedroom, which I shared with my mother until I was past 10. The room was small just large enough for a double bed and dresser. We hung our nightgowns on nails on the back of the door. There was no closet space. The bedroom had one window on the east. A closed door nailed shut, on the north, had evidently opened into the stairway where the door was now in the kitchen.
That door seemed to bear out the story told us that the dining room and bedroom were the first part of the house to be built and that my great grandfather Walton, a carpenter, built it for the Trumblee’s. The kitchen, according to the tale, was built second when only the elderly grandpa and grandma Trumblee lived there with their sons. Then later, one of the sons married and came home to live and they built the remainder of the house. Later, people told us the grandparents moved up on the hill west, built the house and the son and his wife and grown sons took over the farmhouse. His wife died, didn’t want to be buried in the neglected Baker “buryin’ ground” and thought if she was buried at home, her family of sons would remember her longer.
Somewhere along the way, a room south of the dining room was added. It was a room smaller than the dining room. The dining room wall on the south was wide enough to have a door which opened out onto a lean-to porch. It was the width of the wall extension beyond the sitting room. There was a door between the dining room and sitting room at the extreme west end of the wall common to the two. Two windows on the west wall gave space between the two, wide enough for the wall telephone which was installed soon after we moved there.
The east wall of the sitting room is broken by a door into the bedroom made from what had at one time been a porch. When it was made into a bedroom, no excavation was made underneath it, and so the floor was always ice cold. My father and brother shared this bedroom until my brother was 10 or 11. Then he slept on a folding davenport in the sitting room for number of years. There were stoves in all three rooms. The remainder of the house was called “the icehouse,” and as I remember it, it was appropriately so named.
On the south side of the living room were two single doors. One open into a “parlor” beautifully proportioned 15’ x 15’ 6 inches with long windows one on the east wall and two on the south wall. On the west wall was a door opening into a hall built the length of the parlor. The sitting room door opening from the south wall into the hall, which had an open staircase with a beautiful black walnut railing and a very symmetrical and graceful newel post. At the foot of the stairs on the west wall was a long window the same size as those in the parlor. The hall had two doors to the outside. One on the south opened on to what my grandmother Cook used to call a “stoop.” It was simply a wooden platform, but it faced the gate between the two maple trees, exactly. There were indications of a path out to the croquet ground with flower beds on each side, but lack of care had long since erased with flowering plants. The second outside door of the hall opened to a porch. The door had an upper half made up of two long panes of glass. It was plain to see that someone had once cared deeply for the way the house and ground looked. It was years before I heard of the tragedy that ended the long years the Trumblee’s had enjoyed their home. The only other door in the hall was a closet under the stairs.
What memories I have of that tiny closet which sloped back to nothing at the rear. Our dress-up clothes were stored there. Also, the brushes and carpet sweeper that Grandma Jenny gave us were stored there. Our “good shoes” when we had any were in there too. It was there as I discovered that fascinating closet the day, we moved in that my Aunt Sue introduced me to a serious sweet-faced girl and her doll as she came very shyly through the front hall door after knocking very properly and being admitted by Aunt Sue. It was Lucy Satterlee, a 10-year-old, who had come to meet me, a six-year-old. Her doll’s name was Jesse; mine was Eva. It was friendship at first sight. From that day in March until a day in May 1913, I never had another friend like her. I had high school pals—in fact, my best friend in high school was Lucy’s second Cousin Ethel Trumblee. At times Lucy and I were separated, once when she went to Chicago to live with relatives and to attend high school, once when she went to Washington, DC to spend the winter with her cousin and uncle who was a lawyer and worked in the Department of the Interior. Lucy and I sat on the stair steps and with Aunt Sue’s help, got acquainted. She told me of her baby brother Marion who was six weeks old.
Now to return to the house. If we went out that open stairway, lighted by a window almost at the top of the stairs, we entered a short hall running east and west. The first door in the hall on the north opened into a room over the sitting room. It was 22 inches down into this room, so we called it the step-down room. It had a west window and a very high north window. On this north wall was a door opening into the attics of the one and a half story rooms over the kitchen and dining room. The east side of the step-down room had a door leading into a small bedroom the size of father’s room on the first floor. In the step-down room, there was the usual floor opening for a stovepipe which entered a chimney over a chimney cupboard on the south side of the room. I loved that chimney cupboard and I wanted that room for my own, but not until I was grown, and we no longer had hired men and my brother left home did the room become mine. Then again, I had to give it up when other family members came to live with us.
Returning to the upstairs hall, on the south, a door opened into a pleasant room with a large closet. The room had a large south window. Later after my cousin had moved away, that room became mine. At the rear of the hall were three bedrooms, very small, one already mentioned had a west door into the step-down room. The center room was very tiny with an east window and doors opening into rooms on either side.
Later my mother, desirous of a spare bedroom, persuaded my father to allow Mr. Raymond, a handyman, to move the wall of the center room to the north, thus extending the hall to east and widening the south room. The end of the hall became a lovely big closet. The wall was so planned that the new spare room had windows on the east and south.
At first, Jim Nelson, our hired man who came to us before I was born, was given the step-down room. Later, when grandpa came to live with us, Jim voluntarily gave up his room to grandfather. So I spent hours in that room with him—listening to stories and tales of early days.
This leaves the attics. They were awful when we came there. There were closets back under the eaves in both rooms. The hired men and Aunt Sue and father when he had time took breaks and pulled everything out of the cubbyholes, for mom said she would not live there until that was done. The room over the kitchen was a cheerful room with a north window and was well floored, as were the cubbyholes. Warmed by the heat from the pipe of the range below and the chimney, which was there already, I’d have just as soon have had that room, were it not for the mice. Our cats soon cut down the rat population, but those cubbyholes off the “darkroom” as we called that room over the dining room and bedrooms never entirely lost the rodent population. A waist-high solid wall around the back stairs kept out most of the light from a small window in the east wall at the foot of the stairs. It was floored with boards home sawed and squared nails.
And so, we have it as it was when we moved in. The first year they peeled off paper in the kitchen and dining room. I believe there were 14 layers in the kitchen. Underneath that were just boards running up and down as partitions. Boards had been covered with unbleached muslin. It was pasted on the wall—yards and yards of it. Mother and my aunts removed the layers of paper, then soaked and pulled loose the cloth which was sturdy and strong. It went into the washer. It was bleached. It was made into women’s drawers and petticoats for my cousin Susie who came to live with us one winter. She attended school with us and helped mother care for us. She was Anna’s sister. On those boards, now bare, my father and Tine Raymond nailed furring and then lath and then plastered the rooms— the parlor and the hall were already plastered. The kitchen had wooden wainscoting 3 feet high all around the room.
As time went on and money was available, the old porch was removed and a new one was built, but it went around the corner of the house and covered the front door and one window on the south. The porch was widened to 8 feet. This meant building the flooring and edge of the roof to fit around the oak tree. The only mistake was we forgot that the tree was still growing and in 10 years, it was pushing at the floorboards of the porch.
After a time, my grandfather Cook, and father tore off the back lean-to and built a wood house. The front 7 feet had a board floor; the floor at the rear was dirt. The west door opened out on a cement step; the east door gave some privacy to anyone making for the outside toilet. The wood house had a window on the west and a high one on the north; also, a door on the north allowed wood to be brought in and corded when split. Chunks for the furnace when we finally installed one in 1905 were hauled to a basement window and “chuted” to the bin below the window. Sometimes if a heavy storm was anticipated chunks were piled in the corner and half of the bin was filled with coal hauled from town. We used to hunt for pieces of slate among the coal and get dirty as pigs and then had to scrub hard with the “threshers soap,” which our father used when he was working with his steam engine.
When we came to the farm, the cellar extended under the kitchen, dining room, and sitting room. It was typical of the times. The wall was made of limestone laid with mortar. Cornerstones were hard heads of which any amount could be found in the place. The wall under those rooms never sagged but the part of the house without any basement gradually sagged.
The floor of the original cellar was made of clay hard as any cement until water began running into it. There was a well in the basement with a platform and a wooden wheel with a lift. The clay floor was cut into with channels and there were shelves hanging from the rafters. Evidently, the water was piped to the sink in the pantry and was used to cool milk for butter making.
Father let a lantern down to the well from a heavy cord. The light went out. The well had to be filled—all 25 feet of it shortly after the furnace was installed, mother went to the basement early to replenish the furnace fuel. She went south of the furnace and thus avoided walking into a hole 3 feet deep where the wellhead caved in. After that, we kept long planks over it, once more filled to the top. Twice afterward, the same thing happened, but the planks made safe. Before the furnace, we had stored our potatoes and carrots in a huge box of sand in the basement. Thereto we kept the canned fruit and the pork barrels filled with pork and a heavy brine. How I hated to plunge my arm into that clammy solution and grasp the slippery, elusive piece of pork, but it was good to eat.
With the installation of the furnace, we had to divide the basement with a board partition to make it cool enough for vegetable storage. Also, we built an outside entrance on the east with cement steps and a cover.
First, the house was painted all white with no trim. In the summer, when the leaves were out, it was attractive after the new porch was built. Later it was a cream with white trim. After my mother’s death in 1947, when I was sure I could never live in the house except for vacations, I chose to use a heavy dark red barn paint with a white trim. It was cheaper and the siding needed changing but unless the house was to be used, why use money for the house when the farm buildings needed it worse. In 1935 and 1952? we were hard hit by cyclones and chimneys were blown from the house and windows on the south were blown in.
In front of the porch was a huge piece of limestone, which made a fine porch step. It lasted as long as the house did.
The garden area was east of the house and was fenced as soon spring came.
Other buildings on the farm when we came from the South to the North was a double corncrib with a driveway undercover. There was a two-room workshop with the front room floor. There dad set up his feed grinder. The loft overhead was an antique hunter’s paradise. The wooden cradle, an almost complete wheel for winding yarn—I do not mean a spinning wheel—a laced bedstead, a candle mold and many other things. In the front room of the shop, there was a workbench, vice, and shelves for tools. Below to the west were some straw-covered sheds for young cattle. In the barnyard was a large hay barn, a two-story well-built structure; it stood on heavy boulders off the ground. Hay could be forked down to cattle from overhead. A lousy pigpen was north and east of the barn. A granary also set up on boulders was directly north of the house. It was old, the siding ran up and down. It had a front door closed with a huge iron hook and on either side of the corridor were grain bins. An open space at the back opposite east double doors held the fanning mill and at times, a nut crop was spread out to dry there. At the rear was a huge bin reaching to the ceiling. If you had grain to fill it, it was a good year. Later father added a lean-to on the west to house his separator and he kept his steam engine in the shop. He had to remove the East end and put in double doors.
If there was a chicken house, I don’t recall it, but a new one was soon built. Father raised barred Rocks Pullet bread or something. Because he also raised Chester White hogs, a pig pen was soon built west of the shop. The old buildings were removed.
The need was great for a new barn. I think I was eight when the big barn was built. I recall the collection of rocks and hours of work by a stonemason to build a six-foot wall. The hay barn was moved to the new wall, and the basement became a cow barn. An addition of a horse barn on the south with a plank floor, one box stall, and double stalls and some shingles were soon in use. Stonemasonry steps led to the cow barn in the basement. Later the basement floor was cemented, and drops were built and of litter carrier on a cable took out the manure, but until that happened a wheelbarrow was wheeled on planks to the manure pile in the stable yard.
Years later, a 50-foot shed with 20-foot eves was built north of the barn. It was always filled with hay first and the cattle ran underneath. Feeding was easily managed. It was a total wreck after the cyclone 1935.
Written by Luella Ellis Cook
Transcribed by Eric L. Cook
(The story abruptly ends here. Perhaps I will find the rest of it as I continue to go through Great Great Aunt Luella’s things)