It astounds me how much you can learn about your past from a book. Once you flip open the cover, the characters cease to be unknown and their personalities come alive as we can see in this beautiful tale of rich family history.– Story Guru
Contributed by Janice Burzlaff
My mom was born and raised in Washington, D.C. but her mom and dad were both from West Virginia. Mom enjoyed many summers staying with her maternal grandparents on their farm near the small town of Buffalo. The farm, known as Lawnvale had been in the Atkeson family since Thomas Atkeson, Mom’s great-grandfather, bought the 400 acres of wooded land on the Kanawha River in 1835.
Previously Thomas farmed, built flatboats and barns, quarried stone, and worked as a woodcarver. In Pioneering in Agriculture, written by Thomas’ son Thomas Clark Atkeson and granddaughter Mary Meek Atkeson, it says “he became so expert with the carpenter’s tools that in 1832 he went to Cincinnati and worked on the fine paneling in houses, and also helped on the inside woodwork of two new Ohio River steamboats. This work required great skill because in those days all the details of the panels were cut by hand, with special shaped planes…”
Preferring farm life, Thomas saved his earnings until he had the money to purchase his farm in 1835 and move there in 1836. Years brought a log house, a wife, and a growing family. They lived in the log house near the river until 1854 when they moved further back from the river into the large brick house he had helped build. “Much of the woodwork he made with his own hands with considerable skill and taste, from the experience he had gained when working on the interior of fine houses in Cincinnati. One of his friends in Cincinnati was Nicholas Longworth, and I have often heard him tell that he assisted in building the old Longworth home on the hill near Cincinnati.”
A chair I inherited from my mother, the “dog chair”, was carved from wood from Lawnvale. I was always told it was carved in the 1830s. I found it interesting to read, “It was my father’s custom to have the wood from a favorite tree made up into furniture, when a wind-storm or something else brought its career to an end…and he always had an affection for these pieces of furniture.” And I wonder if this chair was one of those pieces of furniture from a favorite tree. Whether it was or not it is a beautifully carved piece that I’ve always loved – a treasured family heirloom.
I’m thankful to have the “dog chair” and Pioneering in Agriculture which tells so much of the people I descended from. I loved capturing glimpses of the personalities of these people who otherwise would be just names in a family tree. About Thomas’ wife, Virginia, I read, “Daguerreotypes of my mother, taken at that time, show a young, sweet, intelligent face, with dark hair drawn back severely. She was only eighteen years old, but with a strength of spirit equal to anything. To my father she was always a symbol of the finest and best in life. In his later years, he often spoke of the pure beauty of the white blossoms of the wild sweet-potato which was much too common in our fields. He said they always reminded him of Virginia, his wife. In his old prayer-book and hymnal there are many passages referring to the beauty and comfort of the spiritual life, which he had marked ‘Virginia.’”
How beautiful! These heirlooms are touching reminders of a family history full of love. — Story Guru
Author Bio: Janice Burzlaff is a book lover and keeper of family history.
(Edited by Story Guru editor, Ashlee Symank)