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
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.