From Ben Gross

"From Ben Gross." Logan County Historical Society Newsletter, March 2003.

My brother John reminded me that another year has passed and “News Letter Time” is here again so I will try to write a brief description or history of my parent’s house on the farm.

Although I am writing about my parents (John and Magdalena Gross), farm house, and most people in Logan County and surrounding area, especially those born before about 1949 can relate to what I am writing and had the same or very similar experience in and with their farm house.

My parents were married in 1922 and the original house that my parents lived in was also built in 1922. It was just a two room house with an attic (upstairs) and a small dirt cellar. It is located just 18 miles southwest of Napoleon. (In the southwest corner of Logan County near the Emmons and McIntosh County lines). Although the house was later enlarged, it was just a hole in the ground underneath the house. From a hole in the kitchen floor, which was covered with a small flat door, we could crawl down into the dirt cellar. The cellar was used to store jars of canned food as well as potatoes, onions, and other food.

The two rooms in the original house were the kitchen and living room and there were no closets. The living room also served as a bedroom. Work clothes were hung on nails on the wall and Sunday clothes (what little there was) were kept in a kind of home made wardrobe (Kleiderschrank). In our German we called it “the shonk.”

Also, we had shelves on the wall near the entry in the kitchen to hold hats, caps and mittens. Usually because all the nails and shelves were full, some clothes were on the floor. Winter sheepskin coats were usually against the wall, on the floor, or under the shelves. Even though we tried to sweep our overshoes clean, they usually still had cow manure on them and were lined up in the kitchen against the wall or on a pile like the coats.

The living room in the original house was 15’ 3” x 15’ 5” and the kitchen was 15’ 3” x 13’ 2”. The stair steps from the kitchen to the attic (upstairs) went almost straight up. (You could say they are almost vertical). Under the stair steps was a very small pantry. That is why the kitchen was a little smaller than the living room. The upstairs was not heated. Only in the center area of the upstairs (attic) was the ceiling high enough for a grown person to stand up because the north and south walls were the inside of the slanted roof. As the number of the children increased, some of the older ones started to sleep upstairs. My parents and all others slept in the living room. The east end of the upstairs was petitioned off to be used as a bedroom. It was just large enough to hold three beds. My dad cut a 12 x 12 inch hole in the ceiling of the living room and installed a metal grill or grid so some heat could seep to the upstairs room from the pot belly stove in the living room. The upstairs room also had no closets and the rickety beds were so close together we could not walk between them, which meant we crawled over each other to our bed. At first, only the older boys slept upstairs, but each year as more children came along, more of us had to sleep upstairs. I was born in 1930, and was the sixth living child from the top. For a few years, seven of us slept upstairs (five boys and two girls). Fourteen of sixteen children were born in that house. Only the two youngest (Isadore and Leo), who were born in the 1940’s were not born in that house. They were born in the Linton Hospital.

In the 1940’s after the crops started producing grain, my dad (with help from neighbors) added three small bedrooms to the north side of the house. To this day, those bedrooms also have no closets. Those three bedrooms were not heated for about two years until central heat was installed after the full basement was added. The first central heating system consisted of a coal burning furnace. Before central heat was installed, the house had just one coal burning space heater in the living room and one coal cooking stove in the kitchen. Both of these stoves also burned dried manure. (Maybe next year I can write how we dried manure so it could be used as fuel). Manure was also placed around the outside base of the house to help keep the house warm in the winter. Later in the 1940’s, another small addition was added to the kitchen to cover a new water well that was drilled by Joe Gross so that running water could be added to the house. About the year 1947, a few years before REA (Rural Electrification Administration-Rural Electricity) came, my dad bought an electric generator which was powered with a small gas engine and so we became modern and had electric lights and running water.

As mentioned in the beginning of this writing, most all families were large and had similar experiences. It is good to keep these memories alive and pass them on to the younger generations who someday will have their own stories to tell.

Reprinted with permission of the Logan County Historical Society.

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