The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry. The nephew typed these up in 1900 and inserted some comments.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
"There were fine butternut trees on the farm and sugar maples enough to supply the family.
The evenings were spent in knitting and sewing. Mother either told us stories or Jane read aloud. Neither interfered with the knitting as it was a poor knitter who could not knit without looking at her work."
"There were few books available. A school library with a limited number of books, a Sunday School Library, and a weekly newspaper constituted our resources for literature. The paper was loaned to neighbors so that one copy served for several families. Children's books were rare - even school books - children being put into advanced Geographies, Grammar, and Mathematics. A spelling book served for first reader. An occasional book found its way among us. Two or three I well remember - such as "Thaddeus of Warsaw" and Children of the Abbey". These were read aloud in the evening. We children found great pleasure in utilizing some huge ledges of rock near home, converting them into Chateaux and Abbeys and living over the stories. Scarcely what would satisfy a modern child, with so many pleasures ready made for them, but, living on a farm, we were somewhat isolated and had to originate.
We had many other pleasures of our own invention - we had our own horseback rides, using broomsticks, putting mother's side saddle on the fence, and even trees. One tree is still a witness of some of my journeys, having a peculiar bend, for which I think I am responsible as I used it when it was a sapling. We had playhouses with bits of broken crockery for dishes and many other ways of diverting ourselves.
There were few idle moments in such a family and finances were taxed so the utmost to feed and clothe them. When the family dog came to an untimely end Father tanned the hide and made himself a pair of gloves. These were so much admired by a neighbor that he was induced to sell them and make himself another pair. From this beginning he established quite a business which gave employment to his family. He made his own patterns and tools and made gloves and mittens of superior quality and fit. He used expensive furs of Seal, Otter, Beaver, Mink, and other cheaper kinds of fur, and sometimes sold them to city fur dealers. They also made caps and tippets. It was quite profitable and furnished many extras. A room on the kitchen was used for a shop. After this business was established the looms and wheels were carried to the barn where there was room specially for them but they were not often used except for preparing yarn for knitting.
In trying to remember something about the loom, I find it was quite a complicated machine. My memory fails me about preparing the materials for weaving. I know the yarn was spun on the big wheel and they used a wheel pin for turning the wheel and they walked back and forth as they drew out the thread and then let it wind on the spindle. It was wound from the spindle onto a reel where it was made into a skein of ten knots, each knot a certain number of threads divided."
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.