20 April 2012

Lottie's Memoirs: Church

... This is part six in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.

The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska

Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston


Soon after the town was settled, a small Episcopalian Church was organized, and the Lees attended. However, their Congregational background soon caused them to consider organizing a church of that denomination. Many other settlers were interested, and a congregation was organized which at first met in the school house. The group developed a fine spirit of cooperation and fellowship, and applied for Congregational membership under the American Board of Commissioners. This was granted, and it became a thriving home mission church, receiving some help from the Board for a number of years.
Silver Creek First Methodist Church
Photo Courtesy of NEGenWeb Project,
Merrick County
Sometime about 1878 or ’79 I remember our mother being gone on a trip to Chicago, to raise money for a church building. Our father was well acquainted with a Chicago wholesale dealer who was a Congregationalist, and whose name, I believe, was Bennett. He was interested in the little prairie town which needed a church, and had invited Mother to come to Chicago by train, to speak in Churches there, seeking the financial aid of Chicago church people for the building project. Mother was an attractive young woman, 28 or 29 years of age, keenly interested in religion and in missions. (She told us later in life that while at Oberlin College she had been intending to go into missionary work.) She was a forceful speaker and was very cordially received by the church people of Chicago. The Bennetts entertained her as a house guest and introduced her to many of their friends. She returned to Silver Creek with the church building guaranteed, and soon the architect’s plans and the lumber were shipped from Chicago.

The church was built by a carpenter, with the help of donated labor. The men turned out with enthusiasm to help with the masonry, to lay floors, to shingle the roof, to paint, etc. Dad Lee, Uncle Tom, and all our family helped. The church was all ready for occupancy when a violent windstorm put the whole structure flat on the

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ground in one night. It was very disheartening to the Silver Creek people to see the work of many weeks destroyed in a few hours, and discouraging too, to the friends in Chicago. However, the people rallied to raise more money and labor, more help was sent from Chicago and from the Board, and a second building was soon erected. Material salvaged from the damaged building was used as much as possible. The first church had had a high steeple, but the second was built low, to avoid further chance of wind damage. I remember the church dedication and the pride and pleasure we all felt in the building. It was set on a large lot, the front portion of which was kept mowed as a lawn, the back portion equipped with hitching posts for rows of horses and buggies. The church was painted white, a bell was installed and trees were set out. There was an organ with foot pedals, a simple but dignified pulpit desk, open pews and a center aisle. It served the community for many years. Lucile and Florence were both married in this church, and many of our funerals were held there. Our father was the superintendent of the Sunday School and a trustee of the church for many years. He was a friend to countless ministers and home missionaries. He used to say jokingly that he “kept a preacher’s hotel”, because most visiting church officials were guests at the Lee home, sometimes for long periods, when special meetings were to be held, or when trips were to be made to outlying church off the railroad lines.

I don’t see now how we ever did it – providing beds and meals for so many visitors. Sometimes there were large groups such as the Doane College Glee Club, and many homes were opened to visitors. Our parents were always exceptionally hospitable and wanted to bring good things to the community and to the family. We children herad stimulating conversation concerning important issues of the times in areas of religion, politics, education and economics, and we listened eagerly. Our town was far from being isolated or backward at that time. It was a thriving, growing community, populated with young families arriving from the east. Four passenger trains of daily passes through, connecting Chicago and San Francisco. Two of these were “fliers” and our town was a flag stop. One could take a train easily to Omaha for shopping, and return that evening, or the next day.

Although these new towns were pioneer towns they were not the uncouth, ignorant sort of places often portrayed on western movies of the present. There were rough elements, to be sure, and sometimes violence, but in general they were law abiding communities. There were many settlers who had good educations, were well read, and brought cultural interests from their homes in the east, or from overseas. I do not remember exactly when the “Lyceum Courses” started, but I know that these planned programs brought speakers and music at regular intervals during the winters of the 80’s and 90’s.

Uncle Lemuel Squier, Grandmother Lee’s brother, and his wife, Aunt Caroline, lived on the edge of town in Silver Creek. We children took milk to them daily and usually stopped in to see them on our way home from school. They were dear old people,

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always so kind and gentle and so good to everyone. Their house was so neat and clean, and always so well kept. They themselves were neat, also, and very well groomed. Their clothes were not expensive or many, but were of good quality, and they wore them with distinction. Aunt Caroline always wore a bonnet to church, tied with silk ribbons, and trimmed in summer with flowers, in winter with beads or velvet. I can remember them so well going to church or prayer meeting. Uncle Lemuel often rose to speak at prayer meeting, as they did then, and what he said was always to the point, never “long winded” as some were.

Aunt Caroline was a Schmerhorn and was often visited by her brother Charles, a well to do man from the east. Their youngest son, Lemuel (Cousin Lem) also came to visit them from Michigan. They lived just north of us, across a little ditch or creek, bridged by a foot log. Lem stayed a long time and came over in the evenings to play games or read to us. He was 15 to 18 years older than I, as I remember. He would read “Harpers Young People” aloud to Lawrence and me, or play “Authors”. Later he came to live permanently in Silver Creek and had a dry goods store there until about the time of World War I. His oldest sister, Ellen Squier Hicks later lived in Seattle, and my own children were privileged to know her.  The Squiers were not only relatives but great and good friends to all of us. Lem had two daughters, Dulcie and Myrtle, who were little girls when I was a young lady. His first wife, Rika, died when they were small. His second wife, Jessie, was also a fine woman and Lem and Jessie made us welcome in their home many times when we visited Silver Creek from Benedict, after I was married. I happened to be on a trip to see my parents in 1924, when Jessie died in Lincoln, of pernicious anemia, shortly before the newer treatment for the disease was developed. I had a lovely visit with her and Lem just the evening before her death, and I think it was a comfort to Lem that I was there at that sad time. I was always very fond of Dulcie and Myrtle and I took my baby, Ruth, and went to Silver Creek for her wedding, about 1915. Lem lived until the early 30’s, a very fine man in every way. The Squires have a plot in the Silver Creek Cemetery.

Silver Creek Cemetery.
Photo courtesy of www.findagrave.com

Sunday School

Our father and mother were active in Sunday School throughout life. In all, Dad finished a total of forty years as a Sunday School superintendent, in Nebraska and later in Florida. He taught classes of every age and could manage the rowdiest youngsters with force.  He knew David C. Cook, the great publisher in Evanston, Ill., who did so much to make S.S. material available to young churches, and he kept abreast of new publications. He had a good singing voice and usually led the singing in Sunday School. He also lighted the fire at the church, early on Sunday mornings. We lived a scant half mile from the church and it was regular routine for Dad to walk in early, get the building warm and the supplies ready before time for the service. I usually walked with him, as a little girl, and sometimes by brother Lawrence too. We helped distribute

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song books, air the building, etc. Mother arrived later with the younger children, riding in with the horse and buggy.

Mother taught the “infant class”, all those below school age, and she often held a baby on her lap while telling the Bible story. The class was held in a corner of the sanctuary. All the children loved her and called her “Auntie Lee”. As long as she lived, whenever she returned to Silver Creek she would meet me and women who had been her pupils and who would make a special effort to come to see “Auntie Lee”.

After Sunday School came the preaching service, and our whole family sat together in a pew. It was usually a service about an hour and a half long. Sometimes we had excellent ministers, sometimes not, but our parents were always loyal, no matter what. I remember a saying of mothers at times when some especially unpromising young candidate for the pulpit would appear, “Well, it’s wonderful what the Lord can do, considering what little he has to work with.”

In the evening we had Christian Endeavor, as soon as we were old enough to go, and after that the evening church service. Dad and the older children went to evening service. Mother went after the younger children were old enough to go, or when there was a relative or reliable girl living with us to stay with the children. Evening service was less formal than morning, had a great deal of good congregational singing, and was much enjoyed.

The people were friendly and we had frequent church suppers, basket socials, strawberry festivals, etc. I remember especially one Sunday School picnic held at our home, in the maple grove. I wish you could have seen it! The trees were small – perhaps fifteen or twenty feet high at that time, for Dad had set them out when he built the house, and had watered them faithfully during the dry summers, to keep them alive. They gave a lovely shade, and we mowed the grass to prepare for the picnic. People came in buckboards, buggies or wagons, unhitched their horses for the day and tied them in the barnyard and along the fence. There was much laughing and talking, the children tumbling about.
The mothers brought huge baskets of food, ice cream in wooden freezers packed with ice, milk in covered tin milk cans. Long tablecloths were laid on the grass under the trees. There was fried chicken, baked ham, potato salad, sandwiches, pickles, jesslies, cabbage slaw, sliced tomatoes, cookies, cakes, pies and so on. Oour mother made a huge kettle of coffee on the kitchen stove, and our father made a while barrel of lemonade. He brought a clean wooden barrel from the store and plenty of lemons and sugar. We had an ice house, where we stored ice cut during winter time from the river. (No doubt this was not always sanitary, but the theory then was that “running water purified itself every 100 yards”.)
We children all helped with the lemonade, rolling lemons until they were soft. Dad cut them and squeezed them with a long handled

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wooden lemon squeezer with a perforated center. It was very efficient, and we soon had dozens of lemons ready. He added sliced lemons, sugar, ice and very cold well water. A large dipper was used to ladle the lemonade from the barrel to big pitchers which were carried around to fill cups and classes. Dad Lee took great pleasure in having the lemonade good and having plenty to last through the afternoon. Everyone agreed that it was the best lemonade anyone could imagine.

In the afternoon there were contests and races for both children and adults, three legged races, sack races, foot races, peanut contests, etc. The men and older boys had a baseball game in our field, with lots of excitement. The women sat under the trees or on the porch, looking after the babies and talking. In the evening we had another supper on the lawn before everyone went home to do chores. There were many such picnics, but I remember this one especially.

...to be continued...

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