Thursday, February 23, 2012

Isaac's Childhood Church

Isaac's childhood church is older than this nation. The first steps taken toward the erection of a church were in 1730 on land donated by George Hain. It was customary in those times to call the church by the name of the man donating the land, so Hain's Church it became, although the proper name was St. John's Reformed Church. The site of Hain's Church was a high hill, said to be the highest point in Lebanon Valley.

About thirty years after the first church was erected, a second church built of stone was erected in 1766. The American colonies were still ruled by Great Britain, and a stone plaque over the doorway read (translated from the German to English): "All who here go out and in / Should obey God and the King." The patriotic members of the church obliterated the word "King" when America fought to gain its independence.

In 1844, the year of Isaac and his twin brother Henry's births, the church was remodeled and the stone was plastered, the exterior painted to resemble brick, and in 1851 a belfry was added. In 1878, the year Isaac homesteaded in Kansas, the third church building was erected as a southern extension to the 1766 building. Today's beautiful red brick church with its towering steeple and its history told on the weathered gravestones of the surrounding cemetery still sits proudly on the hill donated by George Hain.

When we timidly entered the church we were welcomed by the staff, willing to help me with my research despite my interrupting their work and my failure to arrange our visit in advance. The 1816 History of St. John's (Hain's) Church they shared with me was a researcher's dream, with an entire chapter on the Werner Family. It also contained the baptismal records of Isaac and his siblings, records of Revolutionary War & Civil War Soldiers Buried at Hain's Church, the death record of Isaac's father William, and many other valuable chapters. As I continued my research, I found something even more amazing. I asked if there were any Werner members of the present church, and they introduced me to James Werner, Isaac's first cousin four times removed.

James came to the church and shared with me family pictures and letters, including several from Isaac's nephew Charles sent to his father Henry B. Werner, Isaac's twin brother. Included among these family treasures was the drawing of William & Rebecca's stone house, which I previously posted on November 4, 2011 in the post "Isaac's Birth & Childhood." Unbelievably, James even had a picture of Isaac's twin brother, Henry. I do not know if they were identical or fraternal twins, but that picture may be as close as I can come to knowing what Isaac looked like! James' generosity in sharing family documents was incredible, as was the kindness of the Hain's Church staff.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Visit to Wernersville

Our spontaneous road trip to the Willa Cather Seminar at Smith College that led to the unplanned side trips to Rossville and Hoopeston (See my January 20 & 27, 2012 posts) resulted in other impromptu visits to authors' homes and historical sites, and when we wandered off the planned route as far as Gettysburg, I just had to go to Wernersville. Having made none of the research preparations I should have, I convinced my husband that it was nevertheless an opportunity we should not miss. As it turned out, we crowded more into our brief visit to Wernersville than I could have imagined if I had planned the visit for weeks.

Initially, I just wanted to see the land, to experience the mountain ranges that embrace the Lebanon Valley--the Blue Mountains to the north, the South Mountains to the South, and Mount Penn and Neversink in the distance to the east. I wanted to see the hillside farms of Isaac's youth, so different from the flat, sandy loam prairie where he did his farming. As I stepped out of the car to take a photograph of one of those Berks County, Pennsylvania farms, I experienced a moment when I almost felt that Isaac was arranging the experience, for the air was filled with more bird songs than I ever remember hearing at once. It was a twirping, twilling, whistling cacophony. Isaac loved birds, noting in his journal when favorite birds arrived back after winter, scattering grain for what he called his "pet flock of quail," posting his farm to protect the prairie chickens and quail from hunters before there were protective laws, pausing to watch the seasonal passage of geese over head. I stood there, listening to the chorus of bird songs and understood how quiet the prairie must have seemed to Isaac in comparison.

We had arrived in Reading, east of Wernersville, in late afternoon, and after checking into the hotel we had driven the few miles to Wernersville. About all we had time to do that evening was make sure we knew the way to Wernersville and how to find the cemetery at Hain's Church. That evening, as the sun went down, we found Isaac's twin brother's family gravesite in the "new" cemetery across the road from the church, with Henry, his wife, Eva, and their son, Charles, buried there, and Eva's parents buried nearby.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Red Plate Diner and met Reading Principal Joe Torchia, who was having breakfast with his daughter in the booth next to ours. When he overheard us discussing whether to order scrapple, he introduced himself and praised the local pork specialty so enthusiastically that we had to try it. I fear scrapple may be an acquired taste, but meeting him and his daughter in the pleasant surroundings of the diner was a great start to our day.

Despite a light rainfall, we wandered the old cemetery, located at St. John's (Hain's) Church, finding William Werner's grave and many other Werner aunts, uncles, and cousins buried there. The history of this church is too rich and wonderful for me to share in this post, but next week I will tell you about our unexpected discoveries when we stepped inside the church.

Part of my eagerness to visit Wernersville was to see the town William Werner had founded, although I realized that little would remain from that long ago. The Heidelburg Historical Society is housed in one of the oldest buildings remaining in Wernersville, originally a tavern, but the Society building was closed. We drove the streets that William had named with family names--William, Rebecca, Werner, Beckley and Reber. The old depot is in the process of being restored, but it was built after the original depot upon which the name "Wernersville" first appeared, negotiated by William as part of his consideration for allowing the railroad tracks to cross his farm. (To see pictures of the 1855 survey map and William Werner's grave, click on the 2011 blog archives for my November 4, 2011 post, "Isaac's Birth & Childhood.")

Having seen the popularity of the local Twisty Freeze, crowded with people of all ages enjoying the summer evening as we drove through town the previous night, we were tempted into taking a late afternoon break to sample their ice cream before ending our visit to Wernersville. We sat at one of their outdoor tables and reflected on how much we had learned during the past few hours. As former Michigan governor John Engler said when he entered the 2008 presidential race: "Sometimes it is better to begin the journey, to get underway, than it is to sit back and wait until such time that you're convinced that all conditions are perfect and that there'll be no surprises along the route." Our decision to visit Wernersville seems to have worked out better for me than his presidential race did, but I like his encouragement of daring the impromptu. In next week's post I will tell you just how wonderful the surprises that we found at St. John's (Hain's) Church turned out to be.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Young Man's Fancy...

Ferreting out something about Isaac B. Werner's private thoughts on love & romance isn't easy. There are, however, clues to his feelings, and with the approach of Valentine's Day it seems like the right time to peek into Isaac's heart.

Isaac's father William did not marry until he was forty years old, and that may have influenced Isaac's view that marriage should not be rushed. As a young druggist in Rossville, he was very ambitious. He wrote: "As each man is the architect of his own fortune, there is a great deal also in what materials we make use of, and what plans we follow out." When his twin brother Henry sent a letter sharing news that several of Isaac's mischief-maker friends had married, Isaac wrote in his Journal: "...the Home boys still continue pretty fast tampering with the cup of Sorrow--till ending in wedlock. Then simmer down--like a final anchor and enjoy the ups and downs of married life and the animated fruits of their toiling; while I a thousand miles away, like a Hermit delighting mostly in my ever so dear and trustful best companions, Books, and intend continuing so at least for coming 5 or 10 years--no telling though how circumstances unexpected might interfere..."

The young ladies of Rossville certainly were among the distracting circumstances that threatened Isaac's literary plans, particularly when fellow merchants hired a new employee. "To-day Miss Wilky commencing as Book-Keeper for Henderson Lee & Co., a little novelty for Rossvillions--Female clerks--not agreeing very best with some of those vulgar minds, resorting to such places to give vent to their vulgar thoughts and general conversations..." Despite Isaac's prediction that customers who gathered to cuss and discuss in that store might resent the presence of a young lady, forcing some moderation in their language, there were at least some customers who found Miss Wilky a new reason to frequent the store. He wrote: "...J.R. Lee called in and we indulged in a leisure conversation concerning their late feminine clerk, he telling me how of late some of the young country Romeos tried to coax his Bookkeeper into their society attending country dances, but he kindly advising the said clerk concerning her best course of associating to retain creditably said clerkship, which she is filling at present." Isaac was not among those young Romeos inviting her to country dances, but he was one of her admirers, writing: "For first time fairly seen--as she called in for trifle--the late arrived feminine Book-keeper of Henderson Lee, appearing in quite fashionable 'Harness' partly approaching the Grecian Trend, eyes pure and bright as crystals, not quite so bad."

Isaac was not one to indulge in insincere flirtations. "Valentine's Day, Birds pairing out. Few calls for Valentine's by city youths but city merchants neglected to supply themselves, consequently not much libeling." Isaac might have been awkward at expressing his feelings, but if he sent a message of love, he believed it should speak the truth.

The young lady who could win Isaac's heart needed to appreciate books, although he was willing to lead her in that direction if she had not acquired the habit of reading by herself. Proof of this is found in a conversation he recorded in his Journal: "In morning dark-eyed 'Belle A' called in and returned loaned book 'Cave on Coloring.' I inquired, 'Why, have you read it through already?'" "Yes." "Well, could you understand it?" "No, not at all." "How do you like it?" "Oh, I don't like such reading." At this point, unwilling to give up on the young lady, Isaac said, "Ah, you must not expect to learn all at once. Here, I have another small book..." The young lady took the book, but that was the last mention of her in the Journal--probably a romance it was better for both of them to have avoided.

No one could assume that Isaac was immune to the charms of a pretty young woman after reading this passage in his Journal: "The figure of a tall woman, black furs and veiled Highness...I glancing and thinking to myself, 'What looking incarnation of the East may you be?' She halted before showcase, throwed back her veil, behold! If it wasn't 'Juliet' in all her beauty and plumpness. She bought her wanted goods, and soon exit[ed] again, the first time she been in store for couple of months, she looking fair and bright enough to tempt one to lean over counter [and] osculate those pretty pouting scarlet lips, and fresh cheeks." Whoever the young lady was to inspire this uncharacteristically flowery passage must have been exactly the sort of "circumstances unexpected" Isaac was thinking of when he confessed that his plan to defer marriage for 5 or 10 years might meet with interference!

So, scattered among the serious passages about his determination to acquire a fine library and study the wisdom of learned men of past and present generations and the responsible descriptions of his commitment to maintaining a reputable business is the voice of a man in his mid-twenties, charmed by pretty women and occasionally making a fool of himself as a result. As Jules Renard, a Frenchman born only a few years after Isaac, wrote, "Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties."

By the time Isaac left Rossville to homestead in Kansas he was thirty-three, and still a bachelor. In a later post I will share some more clues about Isaac's encounters with cupid on the plains of Kansas. I hope Valentine's Day is happy for everyone, and I'll add this quote by Scottish Evangelist, Henry Drummond (1851-1897): "You will find when you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love."

Osculate means kiss.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New way to leave comments

So many of you were having trouble leaving comments that I have changed the format for doing that, which should make it easier. At the bottom of each week's post is the word "comments" with a number in front of it. Click on that and a window will open showing the comments others have made. Beside those comments is a space for you to type your comment. You may use your name or you may click "anonymous" if you prefer. Please expect a slight delay before your comment appears, because I am asked to approve comments to avoid vulgar or inappropriate comments being posted. Now that it is easier to post a comment, I look forward to hearing from more of you and seeing conversations develop among those of you following the blog. Many of you have wonderful things to share. Thanks for your support!

The postmark on the "Here's Luck" antique postcard pictured above is August 4, 1908.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Isaac's Library

I immediately formed a kinship with Isaac because of our common love for books. When Isaac's Journal begins in December of 1870, he is a druggist in Rossville, Illinois, in his mid-twenties. He is prospering, with every bit of money he can set aside spent on books, views for his stereoscope, and portrait cards of famous people that he kept in albums. He had a curious mind that he wanted to fill with the writings of great authors, pictures of the world, and images of important people, and he was determined to build his collections, despite being criticized by some of his less literary friends. About the money he spent, he wrote in his Journal: "Some get rid of a good deal [of money] in horses and buggies, great many in whisky, and how many on women? Ike [Isaac] fools good deal away in Books and Views and Pictures." That is not to suggest that Isaac wasn't keeping his eyes open for a well-educated young lady. He tried charming one young miss by loaning her some of his art books, and he paid particular attention to a bright young bookkeeper at Henderson & Lee's store, the first female employed in that position in town. He was also quite interested in a young woman who played chess and appreciated music, but unfortunately for Isaac, none of these relationships matured into a romance.

From his successful business he had assets he could have invested or loaned at profitable rates of interest, but instead he continued to buy books, explaining in his Journal: "How interesting and delightful such reading is and the daily increase in familiarity with such noble literary monuments. When I think back over all my best investments yet made, what I done [sic] in good Books I must consider the Master stroke of all. What a permanent and ever increasing value does such an investment bring..."

These words were written when he was young, but even during the hard times as a homesteader on the Kansas prairie, he treasured his books and added to his library occasionally. Most of the later additions were of a practical nature and often pamphlets rather than beautifully bound volumes, but he never doubted the value of books. Isaac would have agreed completely with Barbara Tuchman, who wrote, "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."

Many of the books in Isaac's library are still read today--Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, Gibbon's History of the Roman Empire, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, Cervantes's Don Quixote, monthly issues of "Scientific American" which he had bound. He also collected books of art, philosophy, engineering, law, economics, political theory, logic, travel, and languages. He had reference books about Shakespeare, the Bible, and Dictionaries of words, authors, and artists. Among them all, he seemed to love Shakespeare best. I can picture Isaac sitting in his early dugout, before he had built his house and still lacking a horse to ride to the nearest town, reading Shakespeare by lamplight.

I was so curious about the books Isaac read that I went to some of my favorite used book websites and ordered the oldest editions I could find of titles he had mentioned. I guess you might say that Isaac and I formed a book club! Pictured are the following: Progress & Poverty by Henry George, Twain's Innocents Abroad, A Comprehensive Dictionary of Organ Stops, Classical Antiquities, Cuba with Pen & Pencil, Theory of Spencerian Penmanship, Bain's Logic: Deductive & Inductive, Cooper's Justinian, and The Culture Demanded by Modern Life. The books on art and travel that I would have particularly enjoyed could not be found, but the sampling I read impressed me with Isaac's thirst for knowledge. Surely you can understand why I must tell the story of this remarkable man!

[The stereoscope and views in the photograph belonged to my ancestors. I do know from Isaac's Journal, however, that he visited my great grandparents, Aaron & Susan Beck, and shared his stereoscope views with them.