In the spring of 1958 I was in the front 40 on my father’s new Oliver Super 77 plowing the field for corn planting. I was in the 8th grade and 13 years old. Given that I began driving tractors at age 7, I had already traversed all the fields of the farm multiple times pulling plows, discs, harrows, sickle-bar mowers, hay rakes, balers, among other implements. But on that particular spring day, I wish it had occurred to me that exactly 100 years before, G-G-Grandfather Jacob and his son William, who was the same age as I at that time, could have been plowing the very same earth of their newly-acquired farm.
Shortly after moving his family from Cincinnati, OH, to Jasper, IN, Jacob fulfilled his dream of becoming a landowner and farmer by purchasing 250 acres during December, 1857. Actually, he and William may not have been plowing that first spring given that the land was mostly wooded. Instead, they may have been laboriously clearing the land of the native hardwood forest that originally covered the entire county except for the well-worn buffalo traces that bisected it.
Regrettably, very few details of Jacob’s transition from watchmaker to farmer were recorded or passed through the generations as family lore. As a child I remember asking my Grandfather August (William’s son) how he lost part of his index finger from his right hand, but it never occurred to me to ask: “What can you tell me about your father William and his sisters, and your grandfather and grandmother Jacob and Theresa who immigrated from Germany?” “What was it like for them to clear the land of this farm that you inherited?” “Did they plow the fields with oxen or horses?” “How did they thresh the wheat and harvest the corn?” I didn’t ask any of those interesting questions then because a child lives only in the present; the past is irrelevant and the future is unimaginable.
What I do know now, from scanty family history, is that Jacob moved his family from town to a log cabin that existed on the property when he bought it. During the next decade the family farmed, cleared more land, and prepared a place on a small ridge on which Jacob erected a sturdy brick house which Germans were wont to build. I have some sparse historical notes about the house transcribed by my Mother on yellowed, lined, notebook paper; she shared the following:
“The house was built in the following manner: Old man Hochgesang built the house for a total of $100.00 for all his labor. He made a round pit into which he placed soil that came out of the basement cellar. He used a yoke of oxen to circle the pit to mix the soil to make a mortar. When the soil was tough enough to make bricks, it was molded by hand, set up right at the house site and burned hard with wood.”
“The foundation of the house was sandstone rock taken from rock outcrops from the farm. The cellar walls were large sandstones with an earthen floor. Large divided sections 2.5 ft off the floor were used for storage of potatoes, apples and other root crops. Window sashes and doors were made by hand out of red walnut. Wood for the house was cut from the farm and sawn south of the farm along the Patoka River at a neighbor’s water powered mill. The roof was made of clapboards which were white oak, split by hand into 25 inch lengths.”
“There were two big rooms down stairs and two big rooms upstairs divided by a wide hall with an open stairway made of solid walnut. Each room had an open fireplace downstairs which heated the house. There was no heat upstairs. The outside walls had three layers of brick. The floors were made of six inch wide boards of yellow poplar.”
By any measure, this house would have been one of the finest on the rural landscape of Dubois County. Surely proud of his new creation, Jacob moved his family from the log cabin into his beautiful, new brick house. However, the log cabin was not long abandoned. On August 8, 1865, son William, age 21, married Elizabeth Hopf and moved into the old log cabin. Several of their 12 children were born there, including their 3rd, John, who was born in 1870. John’s daughter, Colette, provided the photo of the cabin shown above, reportedly taken in 1976 (still standing and probably being used as a corn crib!).
By the time William and Elizabeth’s 11th child, August (my grandfather), was born in 1885 they had moved into the brick house. On July 29, 1876, Jacob had sold 240 acres, including the house site to son William for $3,500.00. Jacob and Theresa remained in the house at least until 1880. The 1880 U. S. Federal Cencus shows William and “Lizzie” and 7 children and Jacob and “Trece” all in the same house. Jacob lived another 16 years after he sold the farm and brick house to William. Jacob died January 22, 1892.
On April 21, 1910, my Grandfather August inherited the farm and the brick house from his father William. August’s son Emil was also born in the brick house, and Emil’s son James (yours truly) was born there as well. Which brings me back to that day in the spring of 1958, plowing with my Dad’s tractor as it easily pulled through the open, stump-free fields that Jacob and William cleared 100 years before.
I was the 5th generation plowing the same field, and the 3rd generation born in the same bedroom of that fabulous brick house built by German immigrants from the rock, soil, and wood supplied by the land around it. There is so much rich, family history that transpired during those intervening 100 years. I am trying to grasp that history now, but when it was profoundly more available back in 1958, I was mindlessly consumed by the roar of the tractor’s diesel engine and by thoughts of the pretty brown-haired girl in the seat in front of me at school. I wondered if she liked me.
I throttled the tractor down at the edge of the field behind my grandfather’s house. He was retired with not much to do. He was sitting on the back step watching me turn. We waved to each other. I dropped the plow for the next furrow, throttled up the engine and continued my thoughts and deliberation of important matters unrelated to family history; “yes, I think she likes me.”