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Deep Roots

My favorite part of writing articles is digging into the details— rummaging through old books, particularly those published in the 18th and 19th Centuries (one of the great benefits of digitizing) and talking with authors and museum experts.

Sometimes we uncover tidbits that lead us to new stories. In this issue, the topic of rye straw baskets sent me on the hunt. Simple baskets made from long coils of straw leftover from the grain farmers grew for bread flour could be found in German settlements throughout America. But only there, apparently, because despite a tradition of straw baskets in many cultures, only the Germans used rye for baskets in America. And they kept using it, from the 1700s through the 1920s (believing “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”).

You can still find rye straw baskets at auctions and farm sales, the smaller ubiquitous bread-raising baskets selling for a pittance, while unusual shapes and sizes can cost thousands. Collecting them can be fun and affordable while adding a decorative and even useful touch to a period interior.

The detail that didn’t make it into the story for lack of verification (so far) was the purported use of oval rye straw baskets up to six feet long as gurneys to carry wounded Revolutionary War soldiers off the battlefield. But that’s a story for another time.

This issue also explores the deep roots of family and place in the two homes we feature, one in North Carolina, the other in Ohio.

On the eve of their wedding in 1993, Sam Dixon and Gray Thorpe discovered both of their families had long histories at Beverly Hall, the home where they would raise their family and build their future. Sam’s ancestors had bought the Federal manse in the mid-1800s and filled it with layers of family history. But tracing the building’s origins revealed that Gray’s ancestors built it as part house, part bank in 1810.

Imbued with a deep sense of stewardship, the Dixons embarked on a longneglected house restoration and the wider task of helping to revitalize their small community of Edenton. They share this work by continuously opening their home to visitors and in the process instilled in their children a sense of duty to preserve the past.

Nancy Peterson felt a similar pull of history when she bought her log home in North Canton in 1998. A lifelong resident of the Akron area, she devoted her time to helping children as a school psychologist, traveling the world, and remodeling her house.

Nancy enlisted the help of David Hursh, a neighbor and off-hours carpenter, and together they took the house back to its 19th-Century roots. They exposed sections of original log walls, designed a period-compatible kitchen and baths, and transformed the landscape into a tranquil expanse of gardens and water features. Nancy chose her antiques carefully to create a comfortable, welcoming home—with her own touches of whimsy.

If you enjoy digging, literally, you might want to cast a critical eye across your landscape. Exchanging seeds and plants dates back centuries, with European and American travelers introducing exotic species to America’s shores. Some adapted well to their new homes, adding beauty to gardens and greenhouses. Others adapted too well, crowding out native plants and altering natural ecosystems. Garden guru Tovah Martin helps identify several of the worst offenders and offers tips for eradicating them.

We invite you to dig into the pages of this issue and tell us what stories have you yearning to learn more.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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