Memories of Alura Collins Hollister on Pioneer Days



Note from D. E. Wright, author of A Chronicle of Mukwonago History, where he reprinted Alura Collins Hollister's Memories of Mukwonago:

Some fifteen years ago, long before I ever dreamed that I would someday try to chronicle a part of the history of Mukwonago, my wife and I were playing cards with Hill and Helen Kingston. I don't remember the conversation of the evening, but Hill gave me a folder containing some papers that had been in his personal file. I took them home and put them in a drawer. Recently the good wife asked me if I knew about the folder and where it came from.

Among those was a paper written by an Alura Collins Hollister. The name "Collins" hit me like a bolt from the blue. Could she be related to the May Collins who took in babies that the Childrens Home Finding Association had not yet found homes for?

Hoping for information, I called Mrs. Don Hollister in Waukesha. She told me that May and Alura were sisters and that she remembered them well, although they were much older than she. She graciously invited me to come and talk with her.

As young girls, May and Alura lived on a small farm on the old Rochester road (highway 83) bordering the village of Mukwonago. It was a picturesque old white farm house perched on the crest of a gentle slope. Just below the hill was the creek and the mill pond. It had been known as the "Collins place" since 1862.

Alura was born in 1850 and came west from Providence, R.I. in 1855. As a young lady, she taught school. When she married Alfred Hollister, they moved to the Hollister homestead on Hy NN in the town of Vernon. She loved to write and wrote many articles for the "Chief" and the "Freeman". She was christened Anna Alura but dropped the Anna early in life. To the family, she was known as Aunt Lou. In her older years, she moved back to the home of her youth and spent the last 15 to 20 years of her life there.

When May married a Mr. Edwards, she moved to a bungalow across the read (Hy 83). She lived there for the rest of her life. That house is still standing.

The Collins Property was acquired by Don Hollister in 1934. The farm buildings, which were in a sad state of disrepair, and the house were torn down. He built the present house farther back on the property in 1937-38. It is now the residence of Mrs. Fred Peter. (The house was moved in 1990 by Robert Mitchel to the south west corner of the intersection of highway 83 and county highway L which was formerly county highway 24).

MEMORIES OF PIONEER DAYS

by Alura Collins Hollister

I have spent more than seventy years in Wisconsin, for the most part in Waukesha County. My parents came here with their three babies in 1855 and at that time there were few miles of railroads in the state. We came around the lakes. The only thing that I, a five year old member of that boat journey, remember is a terrible storm at night, which was so noisy that I woke several times and always found my timid young mother sitting beside us. In later years she told me that they were in constant fear that the boat would go down, but we reached Milwaukee in safety.

We lived in Waukesha a while. Then my father found a tiny house at Prospect where We lived for nearly two years. These two winters he taught the Mill Valley school. It seems that I remember trees, mostly, those two years. There were great forest trees S.E. of our house and among those trees were a spring and a brook.

In May 1858 we moved to Mukwonago. The few houses on the way, some of loge, made little impression on my mind, but I do remember the almost unbroken forest of great trees all the way to Mukwonago. We lived a few months in the low house later owned by Hurdette Graves. Near neighbors of ours were the Bixby family tin the house later owned by the E. S. Kellogg family); the Payne family, in what was later the Vosberg home; Mrs. Norton, son John and daughter Mary in a low house on the side of what is now Wm. Kellogg's residence.

Father bought twenty acres south of the river on the Rochester road, now Hy 83, of Chas. Stockman and had a house built there. We moved into it in March 1859. Our brother Edgar was born April S.

I know now that mother had a hard time those early years, but she was brave and cheerful and content with her family. In those days most sewing was done by hand. There was no ready made clothing. Stockings and mittens were also hand made.

The first sewing machines were looked upon as taking the bread from sewing girls. The first sewing machines were a crude affair, clamped onto a table. The stitch was a chain stitch and unless carefully fastened, was quite liable to be entirely ripped out. Many stories were told of embarrassments as a result of accidental ripping. I think that mother had no sewing machine until into the 60's. It seems to me now that she was always sewing, mending, or knitting. When she went to the neighbors to visit, she took her work along.

I wonder now how we used to get so much done evenings, with such poor light, tallow candles, mostly. I remember a big boiler full of melted tallow, and then the dipping of the candle molds. There was a central wick for each candle and a dozen were made at a time. It was a long tedious job. There were no screens and when the mosquitoes were thick we made a smudge of burdock and other leaves.

The pioneers were very anxious for schooling privileges and children were sent long distances to attend a school. A Miss Goodrich taught at Jericho and children from -Mukwonago and Eagle attended. Whiting Hudson's sister taught in the Chafin district on the road to East Troy. Mrs. Esther P. Blood taught in the living room of her log house and children attended for miles around.

Casca Hudson, now nearing 90, writes that he thinks the first teacher in Mukwonago was named Cottrill, the next Asa Flint, then Warren Godfrey, then L. B. Raymond, then a Mr. Bannister, then C. J. Wiltzie. All these he thinks taught in a school where F. R. Smith's house now stands. (Note: now the new Mt. Olive Church.) Also there was a select school for girls, north of the Mukwonago House, taught by Mrs. Webster.

When we came here there were two school houses, one so small it could house only 15-20 children. It was situated on the N.E. corner of what was later Dr. Jerry Youmans' property and still later the L. G. Andrews home. This little school was taught, when I first knew it, by Margaret MacVean, grandmother of Mrs. Gillard. Earlier it had been taught by Ana Drake. A school for older pupils, and there were many, was on the site of the F. R. Smith home.

The new schoolhouse was the brick one which had been in use since 1869. It was built of bricks made on the farm now owned by Mrs. Louis Schrank. The first teachers were L. J. Shaw and I think Mary Stockman.

Mr. Shaw was a wonderful teacher who had to work hard to keep ahead of his bright, eager pupils due to insufficient training. No one would have known of his lack of training if he had not told it. He was enthusiastic, fertile in expedients, quick to see and act. In explaining the division of fractions, he inverted a boy who was slow to see and understand inverting the divisor.

It was felt that there should be a bell for the new schoolhouse and so there was a determined effort to earn one. There were several school exhibitions and finally, the bell was bot (bought).

The last exhibition came close to being a tragedy. It was in March 1866 (?), The Exhibition was to be held upstairs and to accomodate the expected crowd, tiers of seats nearly to the ceiling were built in the back of the room. The house was packed.

The program began: music, recitations - then suddenly while Mary Chafin was speaking, to her horror, she saw the mass of people in front of her clear to the first pillars, begin to disappear. Those of us behind the curtains noticed nothing until the lights went out, extinguished by the suction.

There were estimated to have been 300 of us left, with no means of getting down or out. I have always felt great respect for all the older pupils, teachers and guests, because there was no panic. We were told to be quiet and wait patiently.

The young men slid down the big posts and gave their first attention to putting out the fire which had started from the stove in the lower room. Then they helped people to get out. The only casualty was a broken leg. Then we, aided by a very dim lantern, went down a ladder. It was 2 a.m. before the last one was safely down. Well anyway, there were no casualties and we got our bell.

(When the Clarendon Avenue school was built, about 1950, the old school was converted to an apartment building and later razed and a codominium was built on the location).

Dancing and card playing were frowned upon in those days (1840), and children were kept under strict parental discipline. Once, 50 years ago, Danny Guthrie, one of the older Guthrie boys, told me that once every winter they stood the school teacher on his head in a snow bank. When I exclaimed, he said, "Well you see we hardly dare breathe at home, so when we go 'way, we try (to see) what we can do."

There were good times for youngsters, too. Great sugarbushes on the Fox river at the Frazier and Munger homes, the business of early spring was the making of maple syrup and sugar. They were very generous in sharing their sweets. Evening gatherings enjoyed maple wax, syrup boiled to the crack stage and poured over snow. There were societies for church, spelling schools and arithmetic matches, singing school with Bert Wirichell to teach it.

In summer we gathered berries, plums, and nuts of various kinds. A ten quart pailful of berries is a pleasant memory. In winter there were sleigh rides to farm homes. Van Auburgh's menagerie of wild animals came twice to Waukesha and lumber wagons filled with children and adults rolled into town from all over the country.

When we first came here, except for lilacs and snowballs, there were not so many cultivated flowers. But we did not need them then as we do now, because everywhere almost, there was a riot of the loveliest flowers, wild. Mr. Elmore's people had a wonderful garden south of their home (Fox Street) but a high board fence shut it from view and only a knothole now and then allowed us glimpses of tulips and roses so rarely lovely. Perhaps they were afraid of wayside pasturing creatures.

Then our neighbor, Mr. Samuel Winch, where Charles Smith lives now, loved flowers dearly and he had tulips, peonies, and the most beautifully dark red roses, damask roses, he called them.

In those days so long ago, nearly everybody in Mukwonago owned a cow or a hog or both, which were often pastured on the roadside, and often wandered into the neighbors gardens. My father said that this should be stopped so he gave notice that he would take possession of trespassing cattle and charge damage for losses. He had a hard time for a while but finally people stopped pasturing in the streets and began making nice lawns.

Those early days on the farm were very beautiful. There was then an Indian trail several inches deep 'cross our front yard. The field north of the house was smooth and beautiful and when father plowed it, he turned up little piles of ashes left from wigwams. I often climbed the rail fences and many times when I went over I would hear a little cry of alarm and a skurry and would see little quails hurrying to hide while the beautiful mother watched anxiously.

Our woods were all young trees and all around was a fringe of poplar trees. Their tender early green leaves would come a little before a lower fringe of wild apple in all its pink blossoms.

During discussions of road clearing for winters, it has been stated in the papers that soon it would be possible to clear roads perfectly in 24 hours after snow stopped falling and I laughed to myself as I thought of the winter of '80 and '81, the "winter of the deep snows." I'd like to see them with all their new fangled machinery, clear such roads as we had then, in 24 hours.

During the first storm that time of the deep snows, Feb. 12, '81, Charles H. Stockman died. We had no undertaker then. Mr. Weiffenbach had made coffins but possibly his later blindness was already coming upon him. At any rate, it was decided to go to Waterford for a coffin, so six men with shovels, a strong team, and a big sleigh, went to Waterford and it took all day.

The Sons of Temperance had come from a convention in Waterford the day before, 19 were in the sleigh load expecting to return to their homes the second night. It snowed almost continuously for six weeks and during the last storm of that never to be forgotten winter, John Stockman and his wife died. The family did not dare to send to Waterford for the coffins, for fear there would be no coffins there, so twelve men with shovels and two strong teams and sleighs went to Waukesha and again it took all day.

In those long ago days, our mail was taken to and brought from Milwaukee and the "winter of the deep snows" there was at least once when we had no mail 'til two weeks had gone by.

In those days, with almost everyone owning a cow and some hens, butter and eggs were cheap. I remember my uncle coming from Providence, R.I. in August, 1859. When he found eggs plentiful and so little market for them that they were worth only six cents a dozen, he said, "Well, for once I'll eat all the eggs I want."

When I was a little girl, Mother said once that she did hate to sell butter for less than fifteen cents a pound. It was such hard work to make it. The first pineapple and the first banana I ever saw were those left of my uncle's lunch when he came here in 1859.

I well remember hearing of Lincoln's death on the Saturday evening after he was killed. My father and I were on our way to Good Templar lodge at Uncle Jesse Smith's near Caldwell. We were driving along the ravine this side of the Blood farm and met someone coming from Milwaukee, who stopped and told us. That was a night of sorrow.

The first Germans to come here, that I remember, were Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Schultz and their small son Carl. Mrs. Schultz was a beautiful woman with pink and white complexion and lovely red hair. Soon after this a distinguished looking lady came to school and entered the primary dept. She had been a teacher in Germany and wished to learn English. She progressed very rapidly.

We had some very able teachers who were willing and anxious to help older boys -and girls after hours. Notable and chief among these was T.. W. Haight. Not many young people were able to go away to school, so we were all anxious to learn what we could at home.

The first winter I taught I received $20 a month and paid $1.50 a week for my board. I wore aprons to save my dresses. Hoods in winter and sunbonnets in summer comprised the head wear in those days. These were all home made.

In the 70s I taught in Milwaukee and one night we went to the Academy of Music where a man gave a demonstration of the new invention, the telephone. We were awed when we heard an orchestra in Chicago play at a prearranged time. We couldn't believe all he told us about it, but in two or three years Andrews and Wood had a telephone installed in their store for the use of the public.

Sewall Andrews was reputed to be hard, stern and grasping. I wish to do justice to his memory. Money disappeared from the till in his store: by watching, Mr. Andrews caught the boy who was a bright, happy young fellow and the son of a widow, who had tried hard to raise her son in the right way. After a good reprimand, Mr. Andrews let the lad go, providing he leave town.

In later years it was learned that the boy had developed into a good man who was m credit t4 his community. His life might not have turned out that way except for the leniency of Mr. Andrews.

Shortly before my mother left this life she said, "What a pity that we cannot be as charitable and sympathetic toward mental and moral illness as we are toward physical sickness."

Hits and pieces gleaned from boxes of old letters and working papers for a family history have revealed these tidbits. The parents of Alura Collins Hollister were Dr. William Penn Collins and Mary (Cassey) Collins of Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Wm. Penn Collins was a charter member of the U & U Church.

Alura was the second wife of Alfred Hollister. They were married October 6, 1886. Four children, William Penn, Esther, Clark Hollis, and Mary blessed the union.

Just outside the village of Mukwonago on the old Rochester road (Highway 83) was a house that had been known as the Collins place since 1862. It was a picturesque old white farm house perched on the crest of a gentle slope. Just below the hill was the creek and the mill pond.

The parents of Alfred Hollister were Hollis Hollister and Esther M. (Clark) Hollister. Hollis was born in Bafford, Canada and Esther was born in Cabot, Vt.

The Collins House was occupied by Mrs. Mary Collins in 1912. She cared for babies that the Childrens Home Finding Association had not yet found homes for. She would have from one to ten babies all the time. The porch in the back of the house was made into a dormitory for day time use. A tent was used at night. At the end of summer, the babies would live outside as long as comfort would allow.

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