Continued from last week, this is a portion of a biography, written by William Merkle. The book is about his parents and is titled Frank and Leona. It is a portion from the chapter he wrote about their family’s ownership of an 80-acre parcel in Schaumburg Township. That parcel is now part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary.
“We planted a large vegetable garden and worked hard at it. We eventually learned that a smaller garden was more likely to be cared for. We just couldn’t keep up with the weeds and thinning out. We’d make the rows long enough to use all the seeds in a seed envelope (nothing wasted). We had some marvelous vegetables and an abundance to be shared with the neighbors. But it was hard, hot work and we didn’t stand in line eager to do it.
The peonies required cultivating, so Dad bought an inexpensive hand directed machine for us to walk behind. Peter and I wound up doing the repairs and keeping it going. The worst part of the farm was debudding the peonies. In the full heat of summer, with no shade for relief, we kids had to pick off the extra buds from each stem so that only the central flower remained to grow large and full. Aside from the sun, the real problem was the large brown-black ants. They crawled all over the buds to eat the sugary sap, and didn’t take kindly to our intrusion. By the end of our day, our hands were red and swollen from their bites. When the flowers were nearing maturity, Mom or Dad would arrange with a wholesale florist to come out and harvest the crop. Then we could forget them until Fall when they needed to be mowed and the fields cleared and cultivated again.
Other than the garden, the peonies, and the grass trimming along the fir trees and in the orchard and the yard, the farm work was done by neighbors who rented the land.
The artesian well flowed constantly and was full of iron and sulphur. It smelled and tasted strongly, and there was always a rust colored scum developing in the bucket. The well was made from a six inch pipe Dad estimated was probably one hundred feet deep and which rose six feet above the surface. It had a horizontal half inch pipe connected about two feet up from the ground and that is where the ice cold water poured constantly. Dad placed a large wooden bucket under the spout and kept bottles of beer ice cold in there, along with jars of butter and things for the kitchen. The runoff came down the side of the bucket and into a little rivulet which ran into the pond immediately to the west. At the age of eight I was faced with the choice between that water and a beer and it wasn’t an easy decision: stinky versus bitter. I was ambivalent, taking beer about half the time. This well and the artesian springs supplying the lakes functioned beautifully for years, and then suddenly stopped flowing. Dad felt it was the result of a huge gravel pit that was dug a mile or so south of the property, and which somehow ruined the dynamics of the aquifer. It was a great loss, not only because of the absence of fresh water for drinking, cooking and washing, but because then the ponds pretty well dried up.
The ponds had been vital–full of snapping turtles (one was a full fourteen inches across), crabs, fish, and in the Spring and Fall, the migrating ducks and geese would use the ponds adjoining fields as a stopover resting and feeding spot. Sometimes the birds were so numerous that they virtually covered the large pond. Watching them swoop in during the Fall and Spring, and then sensing the explosion when they took flight all at once was a moving experience for us. We used the ponds for our first little boats with jury rigged sails. The bottom was mucky and that, combined with the slithery green/gold algae, kept us from walking or swimming in the lake.
Leona had been keenly interested in dredging the larger pond deep enough to swim in (6 to 8 feet), and to minimize the drop in water level during the dry summers. In March of 1940 she contacted the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois, and then in April sent them soil samples from the lake bottom. They advised her on the dredging, but other priorities came along, and with the failure of the aquifer, the project was shelved.”
To be continued next week…
From Frank and Leona by William Merkle. 2012. Used with his gracious permission.
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library