Author: Leslie Korenko

1865 - A look at Christmas 27 years ago

by Emeline (Kelley) Huntington

The year was coming to a close and for the first time in three years, whole families celebrated the holidays. By now, all the soldiers had returned home. One tradition, the Kelley family Christmas dinner, was held at Addison and Ann Kelley’s home this year. 

“Christmas to most people old and young is associated with many things that are good for the body and soul. Roast turkeys, ducks, chickens, chicken pie, candy for the stomach’s sake, presents exchanged such as books, portfolios, albums, pictures &c., food for the soul’s benefit, the whole are more valuable as a talisman of good feeling between the giver and receiver than for their real value.

Yesterday was the 27th invitation I have accepted to take a sumptuous dinner on Christmas at brother Addison’s and I assure you it has been food for reflection as well as for the inner man.

The table looked as it has for 27 years on Christmas, but the faces around it change. This year I missed two loved ones. One [Sara Kelley] has gone to her own happy home where pain and sickness are no more; the other [Datus Kelley], her mate for 53 years is too unwell to be with us. Pain and sickness have done their work with him, to wean him from the pleasures and friends of earth, and he is now waiting as a passenger for a railroad car to come to time, for the great messenger to come and take him across the dark valley which lies between us and the shining shore. This valley to a well person always looks dark and dreadful, but as we approach it, light begins to dawn on its shore, and our path is more light, and people, when they fairly come to pass over it, are seldom willing to come back and stay with their friends here.

Some other changes were visible. Some faces and some of the regulars at these Christmas dinners looked older. Some looked as young as ever, mine hostess and the fat man hold their own well. If it was not for a few grey hairs sprinkled about their heads, I could hardly realize that time had been to see them and left any of his marks…Old Age has not dealt so kindly with us, and has left lines across our faces, blurred our eyes and changed our brown hair to a steel mixed.

It is very natural at these festive annual gatherings to ask yourself, ‘what will be the change in the company next year? Who will be missing and who will be added to the number? Will we any of us be there next year? These questions will be answered next Christmas and not before, and I for one would not look into the future. Hope is largely developed in my soul and consequently the future is brighter than the reality.

27 years ago the representatives of the tribe of Kelley’s were not so numerous but that three generations would be present at the Christmas dinner and there was room for all to come to the first table and strangers that might be with us were always invited. 20 years ago the third generation took up more room. They were larger. There was more of them. A larger table was spread.

15 years ago we noticed some of the ones had to wait for the second table or Grandma would give them some dinner first. Yesterday with one exception there was only two generations present and two only not belonging to the Kelley tribe. Yet the table was long and as well filled as it was 27 years ago.

Christmas dinner of 1838 there was one grandma and one grandpa, yesterday there were two grandmas and two grandpas present, just about the same age of the ones of 1837 or a little older. Will any one of the first generation present at dinner yesterday live to see as many years of usefulness or as numerous of progeny as did the patriarchs of 1837? As I looked around the table to answer this question, I answered it mentally; not more than two would be able to eat Christmas dinner in 1892.

27 years ago [in 1837] our Christmas dinner table was spread in the house now owned by Adam Shardt [Schardt]. There were great trees growing and great logs lying about the ground where now our vineyards are and near the spot where the elegant mansion stands where we sat at meal yesterday [Addison Kelley’s stone house] there stood an old log house with only a small clearing around it used for a garden spot. The land valued at $8 an acre and if you judge from the percentage that was obtained from it at the time, it was dearer at that price than it is today for the same land is valued at $2,000.

The first frame house on the island was built by Addison Kelley. It was later sold to Adam Schardt.

27 years ago there were two frame houses on the Island; our Christmas dinner table was spread in the best one.

This year there are 50, the poorest of them better than the best was then, and our dinner table (be it said to the enterprising host’s credit) was set in the best house in 1865.

A great change for the better also noticeable; our transportation to and from the Island. Then we were at the mercy of the winds or some stray boat going by. Now we have at our service almost as good a boat as any that were on the Lake in 1837.

Our roads on the Island were then mere paths winding about in the woods, so muddy and rough that horses and wagons were of no account as they could not stand such rough usage. Ox carts were the only vehicles that would stand a trip to the north side and back and no one would think of making the trip except from necessity. Now what a change; it is nothing but fun to ride over the Island.

The exports of the island 27 years ago would not exceed $3,000, now it will be $400,000. Will the exports increase in the same ratio? Will our means of transportation be improved as much the next 27 years as it has the last 27, and if it is, what will it be in 1892? I previously said the future looked very bright to me and the island has a bright future. The world is progressing. New places seem to progress the fastest. This is owing to the more enterprising of the people of old countries pulling up and moving to the new, and partly because there is more room for improvement in new countries.

What a change there has been in our whole country the last 27 years. In 1838 there was not a foot of railroad in the state of Ohio and only 1,843 in the United States. Now there is over 3,000 miles of railroad in Ohio and over 31,000 miles in the United States. Progress is going on everywhere and the next 27 years, if our country progresses as it has done, will be to say the least, very much improved. M”

Emeline’s musings were timely as islanders were embarking on a new era of expansion and increasing wealth, prosperity and independence.
From the book: Kelleys Island 1862-1865 – The Civil War, the Island Soldiers, & the Island Queen by Leslie Korenko