It has come to my attention that I am terrible at photographing historical homes. I don't know whether some sort of giddiness comes over me and destroys my sense of composition, but I can't manage to properly frame a photograph. So here are some terrible photos of Hoxie House in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
The house was named for a later owner; originally it was built for one John Smith, his wife Susanna and their thirteen children. This number caused me to do a Fraulein Maria-style double-take. (Do you like children, Maria? Yes, but thirteen?) It is a small house for fifteen humans and probably a fair number of animals as well, and it started even smaller.
The other thing I'm not so great at is remembering anything that I don't write down, and I didn't take notes during this visit. This is out of my period, so I can't say much with authority. So let's just look at the Smiths' kitchen . . .
. . . and compare it to the kitchen at the Genesee Country Village & Museum's Hetchler House:
If you had to guess which was older, you'd probably guess Hetchler House, but not so! It's 134 years newer.
In 1675 on Cape Cod, the Smiths had a brick hearth with a brick chimney and an oven. In 1809 in the Genesee Valley, the Hetchlers had a stone hearth with a very risky wooden chimney, and for an oven they just put their iron cookware in the ashes. The Hetchlers were lucky even to have a wooden floor. As rudimentary as this cabin looks, it would have been their second, and a big step upward. Their first would have had a dirt floor, been considerably smaller, and might not even have had that stone backdrop to the fireplace.
So the people who came to the frontier in the 1790s or even 1810s were stepping back in time well over a hundred years. One of the questions that interested me when I was starting to think about the foundations of Under a Bravery of Stars was, "What kind of people leave their comfortable homes to live a life of difficulty and risk hundreds of miles away?" The farmers are not difficult to account for: couples in New England did not have enough land to leave a farm for each of their sons, forcing their sons to go west. But if any towns were to become established in the west, they would require tradesmen (like Heli's father). And why would those people volunteer for a life like this? Economic reasons, too, of course, but I think those people must also have had appetite for adventure. Otherwise, to downgrade your entire existence so drastically - usually for a decade or more, with no guarantee of ever doing any better - seems like a poor life choice.
Now that I've made this post about historical Cape Cod into a post about the historical Genesee Valley, my work here is done.
Photos taken by me, with permission, at the Hoxie House and at the Genesee Country Village & Museum.