Anyone with an interest in the history of Curtin Village and the Curtin family knows the name of Andrew Gregg Curtin, founder Roland Curtin's son and Governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War. Governor Curtin was not the only Curtin to make a name for himself, however. My favorite Curtin descendant is Roland Curtin's great-great grandson, Hoyt Curtin (1922-2000).
Hoyt Curtin was a descendant of founder Roland Curtin (1764-1850) via his son Roland G. Curtin (1808-1875), the Governor's half brother. (Roland G's mother was Margery Gregg Curtin; Andrew's mother was Margery's cousin, Jane Gregg Curtin.) Roland G. Curtin's grandson, Frank Montgomery Curtin (1880-1958) was born in Bellefonte, but migrated to California. Frank's son, Hoyt, was born there in 1922.
Hoyt grew up in San Bernadino, CA and was interested in music from an early age. After serving in the Navy during WWII, he studied music at USC and landed a job composing music for radio and TV ads. His big break came when he worked with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera on a Schlitz beer ad.
Hanna and Barbera were in the process of creating the Ruff & Ready cartoon show, and they asked Curtin to write a theme song. The legend is that Curtin presented them with a tune five minutes after being asked. Apparently it was exactly what they had in mind. Hanna and Barbera went on to become cartoon gurus, and Curtin became their music composer, arranger, conductor, and producer for more than 20 years.
Without knowing it, those of us of 1950's vintage grew up listening to Hoyt Curtin's music. He created moods with the theme songs and background music for classics such as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, and Scooby Doo. Even the teenagers of today are familiar with the Jetsons and the biggest of all in my mind -- The Flintstones theme song. Most of us can play that theme in our mind and see Fred Flintsone peddling his car through Bedrock at the front end of the show and pounding on the front door of his house at the closing. But to appreciate Hoyt Curtin's genius, go back and listen to the brilliant brassy jazz in a lot of those pieces.
It's interesting that the connection of this music to the Curtin legacy is a well-kept secret. My father was born in Curtin in 1905 and watched those shows with me when I was a little guy. I'm quite confident that he was unaware of the Curtin connection; otherwise, it is a near-certainty that he would have proudly pointed it out.
Terms that have been used to describe just the ordinary people of Curtin are dogged, fiercely independent, rugged, tough as nails. I search for an apt way to refer to Nancy Agnes (Tate) Barger.
Thanks to Roland Curtin Foundation Board Member Phil Ruth for calling attention to an 1895 newspaper article (Ref 1) about Grandma Barger. Born in Cumberland County on Sep 14, 1791 according to this article – several other accounts and her obituary cite Sep 17, 1792 as her date of birth -- she was the fourth of 10 children of William and Rebecca Tate. She fell for George Barger, and in spite of disapproving parents, ran off and married him when George returned from serving in the War of 1812.
George was a forgeman, and he was recruited by the Valentines of Chester County to move to Centre County to work in their new iron business soon after the conflict ended. George, Nancy, and their infant son Samuel made a three-week wagon journey to Centre County and settled first in or near Bellefonte. [The date of the journey indicated in the article was 1812, but their oldest son wasn’t born until 1816, give or take a year. Either the date of the trip or the son’s age given in the article is wrong; otherwise, Baby Samuel was not along for the ride.] In 1820, Roland Curtin hired George. Apparently, after working for Mr Curtin for a time, George moved his family to Mill Hall in order to labor at another forge. The Bargers settled permanently back at Curtin, then known as Roland, in or around 1832. George died in 1852, survived by Nancy and seven grown children.
At the time of the 1895 article, Nancy would have already been a mature 103, give or take a year. She is described as having her faculties and being remarkably functional. She was seated by a crackling fire and eagerly posed for a photo. She regaled the interviewer with stories drawn from her long life.
She recounted that she was away the day that convicted murderer James Monks was hanged in Bellefonte [at a public execution on January 23, 1819]. When she returned home, however, she heard from her husband about all the excitement the event engendered.
She indicated that four sons fought in the Civil War. John was killed, but three returned home. Her oldest son, Samuel, never was called into duty. He remained at home to look after his mother and sisters. Samuel never married, and in fact remained his mother’s provider and care giver in her last years. His picture is reproduced in the same article, appearing to be a sprightly 79, hauling firewood, perhaps, with the help of his mule.
An article later the same year cites Nancy’s memories of Judge Charles Huston (1771-1849), PA Supreme Court Judge appointed in 1826 (Ref 2). Judge Huston had lived nearby and had told her about the excitement of joining the militia as troops marched through Carlisle on the way to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The day the newspaperman interviewed Nancy for this article, she got on her knees to pray with a visiting parson and was able to get back to her feet with surprising agility.
Nancy “Grandma” Barger’s life ended in 1898 at 106 years, 1 month, 14 days, but she was a determined tough old bird and had survived an astonishing two months after breaking her hip in a fall (Ref 3) The article amusingly relates, “She was a free user of tobacco so far as smoking was concerned.”
On a personal note, it is fascinating to me that my grandparents, Curtinites Jeremiah (1874-1936) and Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963); my great-grandparents Andrew Curtin Glenn (1834-1902) and Rachel Aikey Glenn (1849-1927); and, for that matter, my great-great grandparents Jeremiah Glenn (1791-1876) and Margaret Curtin Glenn (ca 1808- ca 1875), who immigrated from Ireland and settled in Roland (Curtin) in 1831, would certainly all have known Nancy Barger and her family. In fact, the Bargers returned to Roland from their stint in Mill Hall shortly after my great-great grandparents arrived. I wonder if they were friends.
1 – Meek, GR: A remarkable old woman who lives with her 79-year-old son at Curtin’s Works. “Democratic Watchman”, 7 Jun 1895.
2 – Remarkably old woman. Mrs Nancy Barger of Roland, Centre County, over 104. Altoona Tribune, 30 Dec, 1895.
3 – Centre centenarian dead. The Times (State College), 3 Nov 1898
It's difficult to fathom that there were many bloody conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers in Central Pennsylvania less than 20 years before Roland Curtin arrived in the Bald Eagle Valley in 1797.
In fact, tales of brutal attacks involve Woapalanee (meaning Bald Eagle), a Delaware Chief in the Muncee tribe, for whom Bald Eagle Mountain, Creek, and Valley are named. An important east-west trail ran along the West Branch of the Susquehanna, up what is now known as Bald Eagle Creek, and from there to Snow Shoe, Clearfield, Punxsutawney, and Kittaning. Woapalanee traveled along the length of this trail and settled for a brief time at the confluence of Logan Branch and Bald Eagle Creek, near present day Milesburg. (Logan Branch may be named for Chief Logan, born Tah-gah-jute ca. 1723 near current day Sunbury. He was son of the Iroquois Chief Shikellemus, or Shikellamy.)
On August 8th, 1778, militiamen were guarding harvesters at Smith's Farm, on Turkey Run, near Wiliamsport. Protection was necessary, because Peter Smith's wife and four children had been killed by Natives about a month earlier. Allegedly, on that August morning, Woapalanee was among attackers who killed a number of the farm workers and their guards. One militiaman of note, James Brady, was shot, struck with a tomahawk, and scalped (he had long red hair). Amazingly, he regained consciousness and staggered to a nearby cabin belonging to Jerome Vaness. Vaness bandaged his wounds and got word of the attack to Frot Muncy. A party of men fetched Brady and took him to Sunbury, where his mother was residing. James survived for five days*, long enough to relate the harrowing events and identify Woapalanee, known to him previously, as one of the attackers. Brady's brother Samuel vowed revenge,
Revenge may have been satisfied less than a year later. By one account, Woapalanee was killed in June, 1779 on the Allegheny River, near the mouth of Red Bank Creek, fifteen miles north of Kittaning. (a large bend on the Allegheny near the spot is now known as Brady Bend.) Captain Samuel Brady commanded a party of about 20 men searching for Natives thought responsible for tomahawking a Mrs Frederick Henry, bashing the head of her baby against a maple tree, and taking serval other children hostage. (An older child escaped to hide in a cornfield and as able to describe events). The militiamen came upon a band of Natives and killed them. Among the dead was Woapalanee.**
If the hills around Curtin could talk ...
* Truly amazing, since scalp wounds bleed profusely. I saw many people with far less grievous wounds require aggressive infusion of fluids or blood to get them out of shock. That he survived being shot, bashed with a tomahawk, and scalped taxes credulity.
** A less believable legend is that Woapalanee was killed by three hunters and floated down the Monongahela propped in a canoe with a cigar in his mouth (or stuffed with journey-cake).. Only after floating downstream for a distance was the canoe run aground and discovered by a Mrs. Province.
Deeply etched memories of the sights and sounds of iron-making and fond recollections of personages in the the insular village of her childhood pour forth from Elsie in a poem entitled simply, "Curtin". I don't know the writer's full name, but a typed version was presented by Bernice Dukeman Aikey (1896-1993) to Margaret E. Turner in 1979. It had been printed in the "Centre Democrat" *, July 12, 1945 and also reproduced in Jane Curtin Baum's book, The Roland Curtin Family of Centre County, Pennsylvania, 2002.
I searched early 1900s Boggs Township census records for an Elsie who might have been the poet, but wasn't able to identify a candidate. Anyone know?
The old furnace bell is down from fire,
And the casting pigs are gone;
The old forge trip-hammer's wheel is stilled,
But the old canal flows on.
The old blacksmith anvil doesn't ring
The mule shapes anymore,
When, as children, we heard it sing
And watched the sparks on the floor.
The old stone mill still stands by the race
Defying old Bald Eagle's crest ---
A relic of a former pace,
But the buddies have gone to rest.
The old iron ore banks of Nigh and Red
Are naught but holes of clay;
Tho they furnished the weal of liquid steel
In the pig iron blooms of their day.
The old charcoal wagons don't creak and moan
At the tug of a foursome of mules,
Drags them down the trail, at the speed of a snail,
And on to the road toward home.
Just across the bridge the old school stood,
Where Jennie and Laura taught;
It wasn't of brick -- just of common wood -
But our lives were moulded and wrought.
The 9:15 don't come any more
As a curfew to those who knew
She blew the signal for Shuteye Town,
And the kiddies guessed what to do.
I can stand at the top of old Furnace Hill,
Where the charcoal beds used to be;
I can see old Robert in the old stone mill
Waiving to hoist his fee.
I can see old Miles at the blacksmith door
Where he stood with smithy to wait
Till the mules were shod behind and before,
Then across to the mule barn gate.
I can see them run to the bellows house
And then to the wee furnace hole
To watch the brew of the white-hot stew
Of limestone and iron and charcoal.
I can see them arranging the furnace floor
And hear the ring of the bell,
As they came from their home when they stabbed the door
And the metal flowed to the well
I wandered then by the old office door,
Met Harry bent over the sales,
Then off to the station to wait for the train,
Met John and his egg crates and mails.
And just at the rear of the old store stood
An errand of mercy -- of fate --
To make someone happy -- to do someone good,
Jennie and old sorrel Kate.
I wonder if when we've answered the call
We'll all get together again;
That same dear old crew,
That family of Curtin men.
There were no Croesus of wealth to brag --
No scientist to crow;
There were no dullards either to snag --
Nor a flock of gas bags to blow.
Just a family of men that God endowed
With a generous hand and heart;
An assemblage that mingled with the crowd
And never shirked their part.
I wonder if St. Peter will call us
As Andy did in '61
To find as Grant in the army camp,
Finer men never carried a gun.
I wonder if we will all get together again
By the old Bald Eagle's flow,
Then upon the crest of old Sand Hill
Where the spruce and the pine murmur low.
I wonder if we'll know for a moment
Those dear ones of Curtin's crew,
Then pass to the ages of yesterday's men
And sleep for an aeon or two.
* The "Centre Democrat" newspaper itself has an interesting history. Founded in 1827 by Philip Benner to support the candidacy of Andrew Jackson, it was edited at that time by John and William Bigler. The brothers later were to be become governors -- John in California and William in Pennsylvania. Over the years, the paper came and went under several names, succeeded by "The Keystone Gazette" in 1989. Source -- Penn State University Libraries: LCCN Permalink. https://lccm.loc.gov/sn84009409
Notes: A number of people are mentioned in the poem. Miles Dukeman was the longtime Curtin blacksmith. Bernice Dukeman Aikey was his granddaughter. It is likely "Harry" Roland Curtin referred to in going over the sales, as he joined the company as bookkeeper and then became iron master. Jennie Curtin taught Sunday school, but I don't know if school teacher Miss Jennie was the same Jennie Curtin. Robert Jacobs was the village miller for a time before Will Allen took over in the 1880s. (Robert Gingher lived for a time in the house known as the Mill House, but it might have been called that simply because it was close to the mill, not because it was the miller's home.)
Roland Curtin Foundation Board Member Philip Ruth recently visited the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg and made a startling discovery in the Industrial Heritage Section.
There before his amazed eyes was a model of the Eagle Iron Works. The whole complex was elaborately detailed: furnace, bridge house, casting house, water race, charge house with water wheel, and tuyere shed.
The exhibit also recounts the archeological effort undertaken in 1971 prior to restoration of the site.
Thanks to Phil for bringing this to our attention. Looks like this exhibit alone is enough to warrant a trip to Harrisburg.
OR ... A BUNCH OF STUMPJUMPERS IN NEW YORK CITY
The danger in telling family stories is that they might not be interesting at all to others. Yet tales involving my dad's generation of Curtin Villagers offer insights into what life there was like in the early 1900s and how the children were raised.
My father, Walter Furst Glenn (1905-1980), Hon or Uncle Hon as he was called in the family, was the son of Curtin Village storekeeper and postmaster Jeremiah Glenn (1874-1936) and his wife, Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963). Jeremiah was an Irish Catholic and there was more than one nun in the family, but my dad attended the Methodist Church in the Village and became a minister of that denomination. That's a little off-topic, but I wanted to point out my dad's religious calling before indicating how he advised dealing with growling dogs and bullies.
One imagines that there were many stray dogs running around the countryside when little Hon was growing up in Curtin. He always told me that you should show no fear to a dog. I'm quite sure it's not true in all instances with all dogs, but he counseled something to the effect that if you showed the dog who the boss was, you'd be OK.
That theory was put to the test one day when I was a little boy. My dad had taken me along to visit parishioners who owned a cherry orchard. It was off-season at the orchard and a big, snarling mongrel was freely roaming the grounds. As my dad got out of the car, the frothing-at-the-mouth beast charged him at full speed and leaped directly toward his face, obviously intent on doing damage. Instead of panicking, my dad just calmly juked his head a little and slammed the cur's snout with an iron fist, and to make sure the dog got the message, gave him a swift kick in the rump as he landed. The cowering canine took off as fast as he could go, his tail between his legs. My dad then told me it was OK to get out of the car, and we casually went about our business without any problem. When we came out of the house to return to the car, the submissive animal eyed us warily and sidled away, keeping well out of range. The next week in the local paper, there was an item about the dog viciously biting a visitor to the orchard, apparently not a Curtinite.
Don’t get the idea my father was mean to animals. He loved dogs, but he also understood when a show of force was needed for self-preservation. Same thing when it came to bullies. When I was about eight, a kid that was a couple years older and much bigger than I was, started to give me a rough time every day while I was walking home from school. I was afraid of the kid and told my parents about it, maybe hoping to receive some kind of sympathy, assistance, or protection. That wasn’t exactly what I got. Pretty much word-for-word, what I heard was, "Well I don't want you to start something, but you can take your own part if you need to."
To understand what happened next requires a little background. For several years I had been allowed to stay up late to watch the Gillette Friday Night Fights with my dad and much-older brother. I even got a punching bag for Christmas when I was about five, in order to be able to stand in front of the TV set and imitate my preferred boxer as he threw punches. It’s amusing now, but life at the preacher’s house in those days was different than you might imagine.
Back to the story. The next day, the big bully was behind me again as usual, pushing me around and slapping the back of my head. I told him to stop, but of course he kept on with it -- once too many times. Inside my brain, I heard "take your own part" being replayed and something snapped. I wheeled around and delivered a well-placed upper-cut to the jaw, and there was a lot of adrenaline behind it. The kid didn't drop, but he might have staggered a little. I never saw him again.
There might be wiser ways to handle these situations. Things might not work out so well, but biting dogs and bullies are universal and have always existed. The Curtin kids learned how to survive without the assistance of others.
Those self-sufficient youngsters were given a lot of freedom to make their own choices, too. It carried on down to the way I and my siblings were treated. My brother and I literally had no set rules. We were also not bailed out if things went bad. My sister was burdened to some extent with the double standard of those days. She wasn't allowed to date until she was 16, and she had a curfew of 11 or 12, but there was nothing much beyond that.
My late sister liked to tell the story of the time in high school when a friend's parents went away for the weekend, and the teenager decided to have a slumber party (sleepover). In truth, the set-up was to include surreptitious boy-girl visitation that would not have been approved by any of the parents had they known. Of course, my sister didn't share that part of plan, but she did ask my dad for permission to go to the slumber party at her friend's house. He looked at her a bit quizzically, and didn't say yes or no. What he said was, "Well the fact that you asked me makes me think that you think there's something not quite right about this." My sister didn't attend.
Giving kids responsibility at a young age was another characteristic of upbringing in Curtin. In a previous blog post, I told the story of my Aunt Martha living in New York City and that two of her sisters -- Rachel and Frances (Pedge) -- roomed with her there for a time and met their husbands. My Aunt Rachel and Uncle George set up housekeeping in Hong Kong. Aunt Pedge and her husband settled in Kansas and had their family there. Sometime around 1957, the Hong Kong couple and their daughter, as well as Aunt Pedge and her family were visiting my grandmother in Mount Eagle. The aunts and uncles decided that it would be fun to visit Aunt Martha in New York, and they invited my sister to go along. Four cousins, ranging in age from about seven to about 14, accompanied the four adults.
Off they go to New York City. One day the entourage were in Manhattan sightseeing with Aunt Martha. Sometime late in the afternoon, the adults decide they'd like to go out for dinner and dancing in the city. What to do with the kids? Easy solution if you grew up in Curtin. You give the kids the key to Aunt Martha's place in Rockville Center, and you send them on their way with enough money for the train and taxi to get there. When my sister told the story, the pitch and volume of her voice kept rising as she went along, "I was the oldest and couldn’t have been more than 14. And Jeff was a little boy. I might have been to the city once before. None of us knew what we were doing. There we were, a bunch of stumpjumpers in the middle of New York, and they just sent us off by ourselves and said they'd be late."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note -- I'm not sure a kid from Hong Kong or from Wichita, Kansas, for that matter, classifies as a stumpjumper, but my sister was a small-town kid from central Pennsylvania, and that's the way she told the story.
On October 26, 2019, Crocker Farm auctioned a JB Leathers batter pail for $10,300. Who knew that a single piece of stoneware produced about 1875 in the tiny Howard Township hamlet of Mt Eagle, adjacent to Curtin Village, would be so valued and valuable?
As explained in a YouTube video posted by Crocker Farm, JB Leathers' work is an excellent representation of Central Pennsylvania stoneware, and the batter pail is one of the most prized types in the genre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq3a6ZWSha0.
Other examples of JB Leathers' work sold by Crocker Farm are pictured below. All photos above and below are used with permission obtained from Tony Zipp of Crocker Farm.
Why the sudden interest in pottery produced in Mt Eagle? It all started as a search to define the provenance of my grandparents' home and property there. I wondered how my grandfather, the long-time storekeeper and postmaster in Curtin Village and the wage earner of the family with a wife and nine children, could afford such a beautiful house and lot. That question remains to be fully explained, but the investigation unearthed a connection to Roland Curtin and, although I knew snippets about a Mt Eagle guy named JB Leathers who made pottery, I didn't realize the full extent of his connection to the Glenn home or the extent of his notoriety.
Part of public record is the history of the property's ownership dating back to 1813, when a land patent was issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Frederick Leathers. Inevitably, it would seem, the name of Roland Curtin appears in the lineage of owners, from 1816 to 1842. The property then came back into the Leathers family, and John Leathers, Jr, also known as John Bitner Leathers or JB Leathers, obtained the property from his father in 1862. He developed his business producing pottery and built a large house about 1875. In fact, that house became home to the Glenns for about 80 years.
My grandfather bought the JB Leathers Homestead from the JB Leathers Estate and his widow, Anna, in 1923 for $1500. In the deed (below) an axe handle factory lot is mentioned as the west border of the property. I don't know if axe handles were produced in a repurposed pottery factory after JB's death, or if it was an unassociated business on an adjacent property -- more likely the latter, but I'm uncertain.
As an aside, comical inaccuracies are present in the deed. The names of wives of three consecutive Leathers men in the list of owners are all given as Barbara. In truth, JB's mother was Barbara, but Frederick Leathers had two wives, Nancy and later Rebecca. Joseph Leathers was married to Mary Magdalena Leathers. It seems as if the deed scribe filled in the blank if details were unknown.
How my grandfather could afford $1500 remains a mystery. A second question remains. The current owners are locals Kenneth (Larry) Bitner and his wife Gayle. Both grew up in Mt Eagle. Whether or not Larry Bitner is a descendant of a relative of John Bitner Leathers' mother, namely one of her brothers, is unknown to me. I traced generations of multiple family lines on internet sources, but was unable to answer the question. In any event, the house remains striking and is well looked after.
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Appendix -- History of Land Ownership of the Mt Eagle Property
My Aunt Martha Glenn had pizzazz. I'm sure those big, dark eyes gained plenty of notice. My 10th grade English teacher at Bellefonte High School (1965-66) was Betty Jane Lockington, BHS alumna and Penn State grad, Class of 1922. She approached me after class one day and asked if I happened to be related to the Glenn girls from Curtin. Delighted to learn that one of her good high school friends was my aunt, Miss Lockington sighed and said, "Oh, that Martha, she was really something."
Something, indeed. After high school, Aunt Martha attended Jefferson Nursing School in Philadelphia, about fifty years before I entered Jefferson Medical College. Can you imagine a young girl from Curtin getting on the train and ending up in Center City Philadelphia? Even as a guy going to Philadelphia after studying at Penn State, when I first arrived there I was completely out of my element and downright fearful of street crime.
In 1918, Jefferson Nursing School was ranked number one in the first official listing of approved nursing schools in Pennsylvania. It was a tough curriculum, and including classes, laboratories, and clinical practicum, 14-hour days were the norm. Hard work would certainly not have bothered Martha, and she must have had a good record there. She was accepted into nurse-anesthetist training in Cleveland. From there, she headed to the Big Apple, where she spent her entire career and the remainder of her life, the last few months excepted.
At least two of her younger sisters and a niece lived with her in New York for a time while attending Katharine Gibbs Secretarial College. According to Wikipedia, female empowerment was the philosophical underpinning of the school, and in that era, the founder felt that acquiring advanced secretarial skills created a pathway to a career for a young woman. It was quite the place to go.
Family legend has it that New York City has never been the same since the arrival of the girls from Curtin. They all quite enjoyed the social life in the big city -- perhaps most of all Martha, who never married, but enjoyed the attention of more than a few gentlemen. Both visiting sisters found husbands. One went with her man across the Pacific to live in Hong Kong. The other, following a bumpy start, realized the right one for her was a musician. After traveling with a band for a time, he and she settled in Kansas.
Sadly, Martha developed advanced breast cancer in the late 50s. As the end of life approached, she put her affairs in order and returned to her mother's care in Mount Eagle. She died there in June, 1959, one month after another sister had died of melanoma. Rebecca, Jeremiah, Baby Mary Alice, Martha, and Jack are all buried in Eagle Cemetery at Curtin. Helen is buried in Schenck's Cemetery, Howard.
A visit to my Grandma Glenn’s Mt. Eagle home when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s was a glimpse of the past. It was as if things were frozen in time forty or fifty years earlier.
Those of you who have read the previous blog posts already know that my grandparents, Jeremiah (1874-1936) and Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963), were storekeepers in Curtin Village from the 1890s until the 1930s. Jerry and Becky lived near the Curtin Mansion for many years, until around 1913, when then moved roughly one mile to a house just to the east of McCartneyville. In about 1923, they moved another mile up the road to the handsome 5-bedroom house in Mt Eagle pictured here.
The former Glenn house in Mount Eagle as it appeared on Christmas Day, 2014. It is now owned by Gayle Taylor Bitner, who grew up across the street, and her husband Kenneth (Larry) Bitner, another local. She and her family have skillfully and lovingly made necessary repairs and upgrades, while preserving the house's character. Period furnishings have been collected from estate sales and yard sales. All the grown-up Taylors have their own homes, but gather in this house almost every day and for holiday meals. Ironically, they call it "The Mansion." The Taylors & Bitners generously make the house available to the Glenn descendants for family gatherings. Additional interior photos are below, with consent of Gayle Bitner.
Even as conveniences became available through the decades following my grandfather's death at age 62 in 1936, my grandmother pretty much continued her life as it was. When I was taken there as a kid, the heating system consisted of stoves in two downstairs rooms – the parlor and the informal living room. I think they were kerosene stoves -- coal oil stoves as they were referred to. There were circular holes in the ceiling of the two heated rooms to conduct warm air to the two bedrooms above, although three other bedrooms were not heated at all. The house had electricity, but in the old, old days you had to go to the neighbors’ house to use the telephone. The kitchen was equipped with a wood-burning cook stove, refired each morning. I can remember my grandmother blowing on smoldering coals to get a little bit of a flame going. Then she would ignite the unburned end of a used match -- wouldn't want to use another match needlessly -- and use that to light paper or other kindling. Before the fire heated up the place, it was cold enough to see your breath. The house had no running water, but a pipe from the well had been jigged into a back corner of the kitchen and fitted with a hand pump with its spout over the sink. Water for doing the dishes or bathing was pumped into a large kettle and heated on the cook stove. Laundry tubs and a cast iron bathtub were in a separate bath house, adjoining the back porch. Of course the toilet was an outhouse; chamber pots were used at night. I remember trudging through snow to the outhouse one very cold night for an emergency unsuitable for the chamber pot.
Not much was bought at a grocery store. Gone before my appearance on the scene were the chickens, the cow, and the apiary, but there was always a huge garden. There were rows and rows of corn and potatoes. Beets and turnips were big items, as were cauliflower, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, and peas. Pretty much anything that could grow in the Pennsylvania climate was grown. There was also a good-sized vineyard, with grape vines and bushes of red and black raspberries. There was a quince tree and a crab apple tree. I vaguely remember husking walnuts, but they might have been gathered somewhere away from the house.
In season, huge quantities of fruits and vegetables were eaten fresh, thrown into a frying pan or boiling water, or baked into pies. It was common to have little or no meat at summertime meals. Sometimes strawberry shortcake was dinner.
Nothing went to waste. My grandma and the older aunts would eat the whole apple, core included. Major canning operations were at full-tilt during harvest time. The pantry and cellar were stocked to the ceiling with glass jars, full of just about anything that could be canned, jammed, or dried. Quince, crab apple, grape, red and black raspberry jams were mass produced. Red raspberry was my favorite. I remember my 80'ish-year-old grandmother negotiating treacherously steep and narrow cellar steps to retrieve a new jar for me. Corn dried at harvest time was a delicacy at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, in particular. The stockpile easily lasted until the next harvest season.
What meat there was, came to a large extent from the outdoors. I don’t remember my grandmother going hunting or fishing herself, but it would be consistent with her character. My uncles and dad were fishermen and hunters. Whenever they went out, fish was usually on the menu for dinner. Small game such as rabbits and squirrels were cooked up on occasion. Venison was commonly eaten during season, and wild turkey invariably appeared on the holiday table. Pheasant, quail, duck, or goose meat was seen a few times. I remember eating bear meat once or twice.
It was a lively place around holidays. There was an old Victrola in the downstairs hallway. Every once in a while, someone would play an old record from the 20s, plus or minus. The records were about 1/3 inch thick; the record player's needle was about as thick as a magic marker's felt. An old piano was in the informal living room, and there were many plunkers who played by ear and one or two good pianists. Throughout the day, there were long-lasting card games such as rummy, canasta, and pinochle. Parlor games -- Parcheesi; Sorry; Anagrams or Scrabble, checkers, and chess -- were commonly going on somewhere. When lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins came for overnight stays, one of my uncles used to post a 'No Vacancy' sign.
In warm months, there was a lot of front-porch-sitting. Sometimes, there might be a game of horseshoes or softball in the large side yard. My father liked to demonstrate his skill in riding a bicycle while facing backwards. He did this well into his sixties, and although there were many imitators, I can't remember anyone else succeeding. When cousins were visiting, the neighborhood kids would enter the mix. It could get pretty crowded and go on late into the evening. Several teenage girls from Harrisburg, nieces of my aunt by marriage, visited for stretches in the summer. I overheard one of them say she'd rather stay in Mount Eagle all year. "Harrisburg's dead", she said.
In portraying community life in Curtin, Mary Frances Ward several times describes the people as fiercely independent (Ref 1). She could have been talking specifically about my grandmother, Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963), and she might have added other adjectives, as well.
Rebecca was born in Jersey Shore, PA, but came to Curtin as a child when her father, John Parker (1851-1901), accepted the job as storekeeper and postmaster in the village. My grandfather Jerry Glenn (1874-1936) worked at the store and 'took up with' her. They were married and had their first child when she was 19. Jerry went on to take over as storekeeper and postmaster after John Parker's death.
Jerry and Rebecca lived close to the Curtin Mansion for some years. Exactly when they moved into the house shown in the diagram is unclear to me. Neither is it certain when they moved from the house. Jerry and his brother Charles (who lived in Cleveland) had bought the old Glenn Homestead in Howard Township in 1913, but the 1920 census still shows Jerry and Rebecca in Boggs Township (location of Curtin Village). These are details unimportant to the story. What is clear is that they lived for a long period of time in Curtin and that in 1923, they bought a big house in Mount Eagle and the family moved there.
Life was hard. Grandma was stoic. She had eleven babies the old-fashioned way. Two died in their first year of life and are buried in Eagle Cemetery. Widowed at age 59, Becky lived alone the bulk of the time until she died at age 86. She was buried alongside the babies and her husband. While a widow, she outlived three adult daughters. Two of them died in the span of one month. I was old enough to remember the funerals. I don't remember her shedding a tear.
She never even thought of seeing a doctor or a dentist – evidenced in later years by the absence of both teeth and dentures. Her hearing was impaired to some extent for most of her life due to measles. While I knew her, she could barely hear anything -- you had to yell right in her ear -- but she never used a hearing aid. She just got on with it.
She also never had a driver’s license and didn’t go many places. One evening when she was in her mid-to-late 70s, she rode with my Uncle Jack to visit relatives in Howard. After a couple hours, she indicated to him several times that she wished to go home, but he wasn’t ready to leave. Grandma went missing. My uncle found her about two-thirds of the way home, walking along the dark, sparsely traveled road between Howard and Mount Eagle, a distance of about 3 ½ miles before the dam was built. My uncle got an earful.
There weren't many rules for visiting kids in grandma's house. There was one, though. You weren't to slide down the beautiful, long wooden bannister. I'm not sure if it originated in order to preserve the structure or if someone had been hurt while playing on it, but my parents made sure I knew the rule and admonished me not to be in violation. I never saw anyone get into trouble. I never saw anyone challenge grandma's authority.
Grandma could also be wickedly funny in her own way. There was no running water or water heater in her house. Water for washing dishes was heated on the cook stove in a huge kettle. Every so often, someone would screech and jump a mile in the air after failing to take heed of how hot the water was in the dishpan. Grandma’s response was predictable. She would calmly submerge her whole hand in the steaming water, and without saying a word, look around with a wry smile.
Fiercely independent and tough as nails was she.
1 -- Ward, MF: The Durable People. The Community Life of Curtin Village Workers, 1810-1922. The Roland Curtin Foundation, Howard, PA, 1987
2 -- Layton, CG: Curtin Village and Eagle Iron Works: What Was and What Is. Thesis, Penn State University Scholars Program, University Park, PA., 1993.
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.