Repurposing My Ancestors’ Boot Box

I found the wooden box in the barn of my great grandparents home where I grew up. It was covered with faded and frayed upholstery fabric. I stored it for seven years. When I moved into my home, I began to work on it. I tore the fabric off and removed the stuffing of straw and old coats of children from under the top.

Underneath the once pretty upholstery material, I found brown burlap with a unique embroidered pattern in red.

I had red burlap in mind for a cover.

I realized I should have been documenting the process. The embroidery pattern was a part of family history. My ancestors were making use of whatever they could lay their hands on, more than once. They needed storage and another place to sit. I did too.

I began to take photos of the old burlap, decided to hang it in my shed for contemplation. Then I discovered the box was originally used to ship boots from Boston to CW Vose and Sons in Machias, Maine. I expect my ancestors bought their boots there, then put the box to use in their home, more than once.

Now the boot box sits in my living room next to a child’s rocker of my great grandparents and a lamp as old as I am. The box contains material for sewing projects that I want handy for use. And, it’s another seat on metal wheels that are in remarkably good condition. You won’t find metal wheels like that anymore.

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Beautiful Historic Machias

The W B Holway storefront in the village of Machias, Maine. Circa late 1800s, early 1900s. In the 1881 Atlas of Washington Co by George N Colby and Co., the Holway and Sullivan business was located on the river side of Main Street three buildings up (toward the horse trough) from the GW Longfellow business. If it is the same business as in the photo, it was not far from the Machias Hardware store that exists today.

In the Machias Register, State Yearbook and Legislative Manual (1913), W B Holway was listed under Lumbermen of Machias. The Holway Sullivan Co Steam and Saw Mills were just up Main street close to the Machias bridge. The ES Means store was across the street during the same time period, owned by Eliphalet Means, my great grandfather’s elder brother. He sold a wide variety of local products including eggs, cranberries, meats (partridge, smoked beef), as well as merchandise and tropical fruits ordered from Boston. Sample pages from his cash book document the sales of the ES Means store in 1875.

In the later years of the 1800s and early 20th century, Machias was a booming village. Lumber and shipping commerce was at its height, oranges and exotic goods could be bought at the East India Tea Company. Shipbuilding was prominent in the village economy and the surrounding seaside towns.

As the years went by, the new century was not kind. The ports of Machias and near-by Bangor gave way those in the south that did not freeze in winter, Portland and Boston, or Saint John, Canada. Timber harvested, milled and sold to the shipbuilding industry faded as steam powered ships replaced the great ships and schooners built in downeast Maine. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the economic downturn that ravaged the entire country forced coastal Maine villages to reinvent their livelihoods. Yet residents of downeast Maine, including my ancestors, survived. They had descended from sturdy, determined immigrants and possessed the skills to be resilient, hardy, frugal, and endure hard work to provide for themselves together as a community.

This mind set exists today, handed down from generation to generation. We are joined by like-minded people who settle here from all over the country, to live a life tied to the land, our families and our neighbors. We live in a time when those skills will serve us well.

 

My Great Great Grandmother’s Things

are in my little home. They possess the warmth and love of her life, her daughter Nellie, my grandmother Harriet, my mother Louise. They stayed safe under the care of these women and the house at 24 Broadway. I found it tucked away in the attic. A cotton chair back cover (I think), embroidered with a G for Getchell, became a cafe curtain in my bathroom.

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This old blanket embroidered with M J G 12 (Martha Jane Getchell) was on a bed in the house I grew up in and used for more years than I count, likely since 1912. It’s a bit thin and tattered along one short edge but it’s still a warm, usable, wool blanket I treasure. I will tuck it around my grandchildren when they visit. Since Martha Jane Getchell died in 1913, I expect this was a gift to keep her warm during the last year of her life or it was her gift to future generations.dscn1913

The bathroom contains another story or two. The hooked rug on the wall was a kit purchased by my mother but never used. I found it when I began to sort out the things in the attic. When I went to live with and care for my mother in 2003, I brought the kit downstairs. Mom liked to watch one TV show in the evening so I sat with her and started the rug. It wasn’t long before Mom lost interest in TV. I set the rug aside, about 2/3 remained unfinished. Last winter, I picked it up again and enjoyed finishing it, remembering sitting with my mother.

I don’t know who possessed the early 1900s standard bathtub or the fixture set into a marble shelf. But, I am sure it came from an old downeast Maine home. I found the tub and faucet at a local used furniture store with my life-long friend David, in answer to my vision of an old tub in my home. “It will be hard to find a old tub in good shape Sherry,” he said. We walked into the store and there it sat, as if waiting for us.

In a future post, I will write about the furniture of my great grandparents, William and Nellie Means, found in the sprawling barn at their home, now sitting in my home.