"Well, when I was about sixteen I came to Emmitsburg
to live. The town didn't look very different then from
what it does now. It was built up about the square but
with an indifferent class of improvements. There were
then many log houses in town. They were warmed with big
open fire-places and wood stoves. We knew nothing about
coal. We lived well and comfortably, however. Locks on
the doors were unknown-we had no thieves. There were no
butchers nor bakers. We eat pork more than any other
kind of meat. Once in a while a farmer would kill a calf
and divide it up amongst the neighbors, each taking his
turn at butchering. We wore homespun clothing. Everybody
had his own patch of flax.
To prepare the flax for spinning the straw was first
passed through the breaker which loosened the woody part
of the stem; then it was scutched in a hand machine to
take out the 'chive' and waste matter. Next it was
buckled by combing to take out the tow. The women spun
the flax by the big fire place in the long winter
evenings and then it was taken to the country weavers to
be made into linen cloth. That made the fine shirts I
have some of the old country-woven linen yet. I can't
say much for the breeches they made out of the tow. They
were mighty uncomfortable but they wore well.
"We raised our own sheep and, of course, had our own
wool. There were lots of little woolen miles around the
country driven by water power. I remember three that
were near Emmitsburg. The cloth was mostly of three
shades, gray, brown and black. The town tailor made our
clothes for us and if they were not stylish they were,
at least, warm and comfortable. As for shoes, the
farmers would buy a side of sole leather at the tannery
and take it home until the traveling. shoemaker, who
went around the country with his bench on his back,
should arrive. When he came he would make shoes for the
farmer and his family. They weren't very comfortable and
they didn't keep the water out but we had to get along
with them the best we could.
"We didn't have many games. I only remember two,
Alleyball and Longball. The former was played with a
soft ball which was knocked against the side of a house
with the bare hand. The fellow who could keep it going
longest without its touching the ground won. The alley
Mr. Motter's house was the favorite place for
playing this game. Longball was played in the street
with an iron ball about the size of a croquet ball. It
was generally played for the drinks - the one who rolled
the shortest distance had to buy. It wasn't much of a
game and was dying out when I came to town to live."
"Oh, yes. We knew what whiskey was in those days,"
replied Mr. Rowe to the reporter's inquiry. "It was good
whiskey, too. There were lots of distilleries around
here. Whiskey only cost 20 cents a gallon and sold in
the taverns a gill for a fip. A fip was a Spanish coin
worth six and a quarter cents, about the size of an old
three cent-piece. Most all of our silver was Spanish.
But about the Whiskey. It was usually bought by the
barrel for household use and everybody could help
himself when he wanted a drink. Ah, those were good old
times. There was much less drunkenness than there is now
in spite of the fact that whiskey then was almost as
cheap as Emmitsburg water is now."
"I was apprenticed to a gunsmith named
John Armstrong. We
used to buy the barrels and make the stocks and other
Parts. The first barrels were made by welding two bars
of iron around a solid core. Later old horseshoe nails
were made into gun barrels. Some of the barrels we
bought in Lancaster, Pa., and some were made around
here. We bored out the barrels ourselves testing the
accuracy of the work by squinting through the bore at a
bright light; any inequality would cast a shadow on the
opposite side of the barrel. When I first apprenticed,
the old flint-lock muskets were quite common but they
were rapidly being replaced by the percussion-cap guns
The choke barrel was unknown in those days. We had lots
of game to shoot. Partridges and pheasants were
plentiful and the wild pigeons came in clouds. There
were deer and wild turkey on the mountains, too."
"I must tell you a story - I used to hear the old
folks tell about a preacher in the
Lutheran church in the days when the services
were held in German. He used to tell his congregation,
that if they were not careful to mend their ways sermons
would someday be preached in English in their church.
That was to scare them into good behavior. We were good
churchgoers. The farmers mostly came to church on
horseback with their wives perched up behind them. The
sermons were longer than they are now but I don't know
that they were any better,"
"Mr. Rowe," said the reporter, you have drawn a most
interesting picture of the old times. Now tell which.
you like best-the old ways or the new?" Mr. Rowe thought
for a moment and then slapping the reporter on the knee
said emphatically: "The, old ways for me - I like them
best. I guess I can't help it. I was raised that way. I
won't say that the world hasn't grown better in some
respects but I liked the simple life we lived. Everybody
was independent. We raised our own flax, our own wool
and our own food. We made nearly everything we used.
There was no stealing and very little drunkenness.
Gossip and slander were almost unknown and children were
more obedient and respectful to their parents than they
are now. But I have no complaints to make of the world
as I know it now. I enjoy good health. I can, with the
aid of my glasses, read all day and when the weather is
fair I go out for a walk every day. I don't feel good
unless I get my exercise in the open air every day. My
hearing is a little heavy and I have to be careful about
what I eat, but for a man eighty-six years old I am
doing pretty well. I am going to pay the
a visit sometime and then maybe I will tell you more
stories of the old days."
Read other stories in this series of first hand
life in Emmitsburg in the 1800's