NB Pioneer Days Series III: A First-Person Account
By Tom Boltz and the North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of Henry Township and the founding of North Baltimore, Ohio. He published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”
The following article was written by John Bookman Zarbaugh (born 1837-died 1919). It describes life in Henry Township in the 1850s. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of September 27, 1901.
A SHORT SKETCH
Of the Early Days of the Fifties by a Former Resident
Walked 600 Miles in Two Weeks – Walnuts and Hickory Nuts Store for Winter Use—
Hired Out at $3.50 per Month—A Fortune of Fifty Cent at the Time of Marriage
Ithaca, Michigan September 1901
Editor Beacon: I will try and tell the young people what the pioneers had to undergo. Fifty-one years ago, my father with a family of four boys and three girls, started from York County, PA., with a one-horse wagon and two horses for Ohio, where the fences were made of sausages, house were covered with pan cakes, and the roasted doves would fly into your mouth. We boys, feeling happy, thinking of such a bountiful land, went on foot. We walked the distance of 600 miles in three weeks’ time. We stopped at the Ensminger house one week and during that week father made a trade with Harrison Ensminger exchanging one horse and the wagon for a house and lot. We moved into the house with a few bed clothes, cooked on a fireplace, ate off a chest, and had pumpkins for chairs. We soon found work husking corn. This was in November and fairly cold. Father got work in a cabinet shop and by constant labor we kept the wolf from the door. The proceeds of the labor were traded for flour, meat, potatoes, and corn and we saw the time when we only had white bread once in two years—that was one 4th of July. The balance of the time we had Johney cake.
In the fall of the year we boys used to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, each one with a grain bag, after hickory nuts or walnuts. We would store them away like the squirrels for winter use. The first year my father hired me out to a farmer one mile east of Vanburen for three and one-half dollars per month. The next year he hired me out again for seven dollars per month. After that I was at home and worked around by day and helped father in the shop.
During the winter when the weather was bad we would go to school. But nice days we were at work getting up wood and such work as we could get to do, to get money or the value of it. But I did not receive much for myself—my father collected it and I continued to work for him until 21 years old. Then I hired to him for 50 cents per day and worked until September when I united my fortune with a young lady by the name of Mary A. Nos my present wife. I continued to work for my father and my uncle at one dollar a day and boarded myself until the war. I enlisted in the 21st Regiment for three years and served my full time.
The country was new when we first came. I well remember the time was where North Baltimore now is. On the corner of Main and Broadway “Squire Racely” had a tan yard. B. L. Peters had a placed cleared, as had also L. A. Tarr. The B&O farm was one of the first. A man by the name of Boyer owned the George Franks farm. Mathew Dawson’s farm is now the Dirk Addition and the Hough Farm. The Taylor farm was owned by Dr. Weily. These with the Carroll farm were about all that was improved at that time.
The Pioneers kept on improving until the B&O was run through. Then it improved much faster. North Baltimore was partly in the woods yet. After the town was plotted William Shauffler bought a lot and built a house; I did the work and it was the first dwelling house finished. The house afterwards burned down but David Fulton now owns the lot. I have now given you a sort sketch of the early days of the fifties. I am now nearly 65 years sold.