In the 1830s the Elias Neuman family settled on the banks of a wide, but shallow river, called the Tioughniouga, an Onondaga word for hickory, one of many water courses that feed into the Susquehanna River basin.
Over time Newman children were born and Newman children died, their tiny remains buried on the knoll overlooking the homestead. In the 1840s a barn was built, supported by posts as thick as a man’s waist, cut from the virgin forest that covered the hillsides. Trusses, held in place by two inch diameter pegs a foot long, spanned the wide open space of the threshing floor with its opposing doors facing southeast to catch the prevailing winds to winnow the oats or to cool the laborers unloading the hay ricks in the soaring expanse of the mow.
Today the homestead is gone, and the gravestones have sunk deep into the soil, but the barn stands, surrounded by rich fields of corn and alfalfa, a testament to the persistence of the agricultural life. For thirty-five years my husband and I farmed the same soil that the Neumans’ cleared, made hay in the same fields, stacked bales in the same mow, and housed our sheep flock under those same beams. My children grew up in the tall and stately balloon-framed house constructed of hemlock and chestnut grown in their woods.
For years we have walked in their shoes, treading the plank floors in the dark, huddling around the wood stove when the north wind blew, and listening to the mice scrambling through the walls.
And every once in a while, I imagine I can hear the voices of these long ago men and women–the Civil War generation. Let’s listen.