Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jacob With the Blue, Blue Eyes

I had only those few years to know our grandfather, from the time our family moved back to Kentucky after the war in 1946 until we migrated on to northern Ohio in 1950 looking for steady work for our father. Jacob had clear blue eyes, a gentle manner, and a way of gathering the grandchildren at his feet to listen to the Appalachian stories. I can hear him as though it were yesterday. With six children who made it to adulthood, married, and all had children, it was a good sized clan that got together at the old homestead on Sundays.

The clan had been settled in Lewis County, Kentucky, for fifty years before our mother joined and married our father in Connecticut where he was building planes during World War II. They were all teachers, farmers, and factory workers - the salt of the Midwestern earth. The Civil War had left Kentucky poor. Previously a highly agricultural state, the size of farms dwindled, and the Great Depression took out many of the manufacturing jobs. By 1940 the per capita income had dropped to 54% of the national level.

The patriarch of our clan was Jacob Dillow. He was born in 1875 in Greenup County, just east of Lewis County, the sixth of ten children of Abraham Dillow and Sarah Hall. Abraham's Scottish-Irish family had settled in frontier western Virginia in the 1700's, gradually making their way up to northeastern Kentucky over the next hundred years. Sarah's family was Pennsylvania Germans who followed the migration route of many Germans down the Ohio River Valley. Both families settled in East Little Sandy in Kentucky. Abraham and his three brothers went off to the Civil War, all on the Union side against their Virginia cousins on the Confederate side. More on Abraham and Sarah later.

Jacob spent his first six years in Greenup, Daniel Boone country once inhabited by the Shawnee and the first white settlement in Kentucky. It would have been part of the bustling traffic on the Ohio River in the 1800s. His father, Abraham, was a farmer in Greenup; with his family of seven children, all under the age of 15, he pulled up stakes and moved the lot of them to Champaign, Illnois, in about 1881.

Jacob grew up on the farm in Illinois, no doubt working the farm with his father, raising cattle and poultry in Illinois until he was 15 years old. Abraham again uprooted the family, by now with three more children, and moved all 10 children to Lewis County in about 1890. Along the way, Jacob had been able to get some education, for by the time he was grown he was able to attend "normal school" in Lewis County to get a teaching credential in the 1890s. A five years older brother, Willard, died about this time at age 25, and three years later his next younger sister, Dolly, died at age 20. This must have been a difficult time for this family and for Jacob.


Jacob taught school as an itinerant teacher through those years, going to live in a community that needed a teacher, often in a one room school house. One of his teaching assignments was at Clarksburg and one of his students there was Grace Martin, 8 years his junior. A Portsmouth Times article on December 8, 1902, announced "The Eloping Couple".


Jacob Dillon, age 26, and Miss Grace Martin, age, 19, of near Vanceburg, Ky., were married at the probate office this afternoon by Rev. Henry W. Hargett. The bride was a handsome little woman. They ran away because her parents objected to the match. She left home ostensibly to go to Cincinnati, but instead joined her lover and came to this city. There will be some surprised parents at Vanceburg, tomorrow.


Why did they have to run away? Grace was 19 by now, not too young to marry in those days. She wasn't pregnant - they didn't have their first child until 4 years later. He would have been on a social par with her family, respectable as a teacher. About this our mother says, "Mary Jane (Grace's mother) didn't want any man to have her".

In any event, the eloped couple remained in Portsmouth for the next two years. He gave up teaching to work for two years in a steel mill and she worked in a shoe factory, saving their money until they could return to Lewis County and buy a thirty acre farm with a brick farmhouse on Dry Run. "We had the only brick house around," says our mother.


Jacob went back to teaching and farming, mostly tobacco. Over the sixteen years from 1906 to 1922 they had seven children, all born at home with a midwife. One of the children, George, died in the home in 1925 at age 17 from diabetes and pneumonia, both treatable these days. I know this was tragic for the family; our mother, now 96, still talks of him.

Five of the seven children, in 1918:


About life at the farm, the oldest brother, Elwood, wrote to our mother, Ramona:

I can remember my dad dismanteling an old barn between our garden and Dry Run. I also recall grandfather Martin with a slip scraper and team removing a bank in our front yard. I am almost certain that the barn was built after Pa bought the farm. During the 1913 flood, waters were in this barn and Pa had placed planking to reach the barn. He removed some second floor boards from the barn loft, built a Jon boat in which we boated across the backwater to grandparents’ home. Do you remember the foot log Pa built across Dry Run Creek? It was from this crude foot log that I fell with my bicycle on top of me. It was at the confluence of Gander Branch and Dry Run Creek that Pa lost his “9” Ford Coupe. This car was washed about two hundred yards down stream. Later, I bought the damaged Ford, put another body on it and had a serviceable auto.

Was this that "9" Ford Couple lost in the creek?

Jacob died in 1953, and Grace followed 15 years later. Together they raised seven children who had 14 grandchildren. Jacob educated many of the children of Lewis County, Kentucky. All of his children but Ramona remained in the Lewis County area, though many of the grandchildren have scattered. The old homestead was torn down to put a freeway through, but I can still remember the grandfather with the blue, blue eyes, and the nights catching fireflies down the front lawn of the homestead with all the cousins.

4 comments:

Pat said...

Did she tell you that George used to go to Portsmouth by himself for his doctor appointments? Grace couldn't go with him because she had to stay home with the other kids. Sad, huh?

Nice post, Kath.

Katharine said...

Yes, I did know that but kids were safer and more independent in those days.

Kappa no He said...

This is lovely. I know so little about my own history. I must get my parents to tell me all they know.

"She was a handsome little woman." <==cute

Katharine said...

Do not wait. I am trying to glean any tidbits I can from our 96 yr old mother. By that time, the memories have faded.