Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fearless Females - Diaries, Journals & Letters

March 8 — Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

I've written before that my paternal grandmother Alta May (Day) Dillman wrote memoirs and left them for us.  Something just over 1000 pages of manuscript, all written from her memories, as aided by the extensive photo albums she also left.  And yes, I do realize what a huge treasure this is...

In addition, grandma was a prolific letter writer.  When I was younger, she used a typewriter.  I remember seeing the machine on visits, but at this distance I couldn't tell you if it was a manual or electric.  Grandma would probably have been an early computer adopter, but she died in 1992, before most people had computers.  I think she would have been fascinated by the communications opened up by computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and the Internet.  Eventually, she switched to hand-written letters.  I'm not sure why, if the typewriter broke or she had trouble using it for some reason. 

I do have a number of letters I received from her.  She usually wrote on stationery, sometimes with a holiday design on it.  Always blue ink.  And her handwriting was learned in the 19-teens and twenties, and was occasionally difficult to decipher.  She had a habit of filling the pages, then squeezing extra into what little margin she had left.  That makes it hard to transcribe in a way that leaves a feel for how the page was laid out.

The first pages of her memoirs consist of a brief history of Sheffield, Beadle County, South Dakota, where she was born and raised.  It runs to just over three pages of text with a small plat map and a half-page hand-drawn map of Sheffield.  I've made a PDF file of it.  Since the blog format doesn't allow a PDF file to be embedded, I'll just include the text here.  It'll make for a long post, but I found it to be an interesting read as it not only describes the town, but several of the inhabitants as well.

History of Sheffield, South Dakota

by Alta May Day

On January 1st, 1909, Clyde Wyman Day and Ida May Thurston of the Shue Creek area northeast of Huron drove to Huron and were united in Holy Matrimony by a minister at his office in Huron, South Dakota.

Their new home was to be their home for the rest of their married lives excepting for 3 or 4 years from 1911 to 1915 when they lived several different places for a year each.

Although I always knew the address as Sheffield those first years of life on this farm, I find Sheffield was not platted, and named as a village until April of 1910.  And I was born at this farm February 12th, 1910. I had always taken it for granted that Sheffield was in existence long before I was born.

My grandfather, Frank Milo Day, bought this half-section of South Dakota farmland as an investment, and after renting it to several other families, my father decided he would like to rent the farm. He had been homesteading land in Lyman County, South Dakota, which turned out to be very poor country to farm in. It was ranch grassland west of the Missouri River and my father was a farmer, not a rancher.

After farming, and growing up on a farm near Weeping Water, Nebraska until he was 21 years old, South Dakota was really a come down after that beautiful southern Nebraska farm country. But he was a determined – what you'd call a very determined – sort of Englishman Make a go of it, or know why!

My mother was born and raised on a farm in Shue Creek area about 16 miles northeast of Huron so when she came to the Sheffield farm she didn't have any delusions of what her married farm life was going to be. Lots of hard work and determination.

At 28 and 25, they weren't exactly what you would call young ones anymore.

My grandfather Day decided to plat a small town and call it Sheffield after the city in England where his ancestors were born.

He decided the best place for it would be on the north side of the farm as there was a township road there and the Great northern Railroad track was just to the north of the road. The railroad owned a plot of property to the north of the road and between the rail line. They had a depot there and a new row of coal sheds, and to the west a quarter of a mile was a grain elevator, and just east of the depot was another grain elevator. The elevator company bought several of the lots in the newly plotted Sheffield and built a house and outbuildings there for the family who operated their elevator.

Then a family built a general grocery store, and the government gave them the right to operate the post office for Sheffield. This family also bought a lot next door west of their store and built a nice two-story home on it. They also dug a really good 100-foot well which yielded very good-tasting soft water. This well served the whole village of Sheffield for all the years I knew the town. There may have been 6 or 7 families in Sheffield at the start, but from the time I was about five and can remember about things there were never more than four families in the town.

There were living quarters in the back end of the grocery store and at times a family lived there and operated the store and post office. This was still horse and buggy days. People were just starting to buy Model T Fords. They were so new-fangled yet at that time.

The first people I remembered as Sheffield residents were the John York family. He ran the store and they had a nice two-story home built next door west of the store. They had two older sons, a daughter and a younger son.

The elevator family were Alec Kyle, his wife and little daughter. Mrs. Kyle was the neighborhood piano teacher.

The fourth resident of Sheffield was an elderly widow who had a nice cottage and small acreage to the west corner of the town. She kept a cow for milk. Her name was Davis.

Yorks also had a barn for their cow, and the pony the kids had to drive to school. They used the vacant lots for pasture. Their barn also had a good-sized ice house where they kept the ice they needed for their big ice box that they kept perishables in at the store.

As soon as there became a demand for gasoline, Yorks installed a gas pump. Some of the neighbor women made butter and sold to the store along with the eggs most of them had to sell to help buy their grocery staple supplies. And about that time they started selling what we called “boughten bread” at the store.

John York was a man who liked to be outdoors a lot and being cooped up in that store didn't suit his liking at all so he sold the store to a young couple. They only stayed with the store about three years as he had a chance to work as a grocery traveling salesman, and she couldn't raise a baby, and small child, and tend store too, so they sold the store to one of our local young couples who did the most for the store of any of the owners.. As so many of our farm families were milking 8 or 9 cows and had cream to sell, they decided to both take the course for testing for butterfat so they could buy cream. My folks had been milking 8 or 9 cows, and that meant we had about 5 gallons of cream to sell twice a week. We had been taking our can or cans of cream to the depot about every 3 days and shipping it by train to Huron. For us who only lived half a mile from Sheffield that wasn't bad, but some of those families lived as much as 6 or 7 miles away. It meant so much to be able to take their cream to Sheffield any time convenient instead of having to be there in the evening when the train came through to go to Huron. You could take your cans home as soon as they were emptied instead of having to wait until they came back from Huron empty.

What was funny when the Rural Free Delivery mail route came through from Huron our farm was right on the road it came by. So we no longer got our mail at Sheffield. There were only about 4 families who got mail from the Sheffield Post Office who were lucky enough to be on the new mail route. It was to be sometime when I was about 20 before the Sheffield Post Office was disbanded and the other patrons put on a Cavour route, or extension of the one we had been on so many years (Route 3).

I do not know the exact date this town was discontinued. Bill and Genevieve Welty were the last store owners. Jake and Grace Kauf also built a store, and ran the post office several years, but the post office was discontinued when the Rural Route was extended north and east of Huron and Cavour so Jake turned his store building into an automobile repair shop. And the Welty's discontinued the store they owned and moved to the old Steinhoff Farm across the road from us. Bill sold the store building in two pieces – one was moved to the Jake Arbiter farm and the other to the Dave Glanger farm. They used them for granaries. Yorks moved to Huron about 1935 and left their house vacant for some years. It was the only place left there when Kauf's moved to Huron in a few years - they sold their buildings to be moved. The No. 2 elevator burned in 1943 and the company sold the house to removed.

So by 1950 the area was just a bunch of dead trees and cement foundations and several basements. My father, Clyde, the farm owner and Wayne McDonald, the farm renter finally cleared the [Sheffield town] land and my father got court orders to return it back to active tax lists as a part of the farm again.

Sheffield goodbye.