As it were

Missive paints picture of early life here

By ED LENTZ
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More than a century ago, a woman named Marcia Rhodes wrote a letter to her granddaughter, describing her years in early Columbus.

It is a remarkable description of what life was like in a town on the edge of the frontier, and much of it is worth reprinting:

"My father, Orris Parrish, son of Reuben Parrish and Zurilla Bishop, of Cantersburg, Conn., and my mother, Aurelia Butler of Madison County, New York, were married at the residence of her brother-in-law, Richard Douglas, of Circleville, March 5, 1816. My father was 26 years old and mother was 24. They made their bridal trip to Columbus on horseback.

"Their first home was on Broad Street next to the home of David Deshler and their second was west of High Street. We then moved to a new home with ample grounds which lay between State and Broad and Fourth and the alley back of Third Street ...

"The grounds around our home were large and filled with beautiful forest and fruit trees. Here was a grand rendezvous for George, Sarah and Jennie Swan, Maria Wilcox, Sarah and Jim Daugherty, Ann and Irvin McDowell (later General), Mary Noble, Eliza and Lizzie Neil, and Lauretta Broderick, all friends of my elder sisters, Mary and Martha.

"In my earliest years, there was no Episcopal Church building, and only a small congregation. Services were held, when possible, in the old Dutch Church on Third between Town and Rich streets. Then I remember going to new Trinity Church on Broad Street near High. It was a handsome church for those days and the first rector was James Preston, a man deservedly loved."

"Mr. Noble kept the National Hotel, opposite the Statehouse, where the Neil House now stands. He had three lovely daughters, Eliza, Catherine and Mary. The Robinsons had char-ge of the hotel, corner of State and High, called the American.

"When the Ohio and Erie Canal was finished and the joy of the West over a new way of communication with the East found public expression, Gov. DeWitt Clinton visited Columbus and was the guest of my father.

"I remember my mother in her home, tender, firm, above all deeply religious, hospitable when that word meant much more than now, looking well to the ways of her household, full of ingenuity, tasty with her needle and prominent in all church work.

"The influx of strangers, as the result of Columbus being the capital, and members of the Legislature made such demands on the hotels that many families received friends who were remaining in the city for the winter as guests. Our family sometimes numbered 20. Relatives and friends came to make a visit and, as we read in early English life, remained months, even years.

"There were many needs to be supplied and my mother was a busy woman. Candles were made in the home, moulded and dipped, and were the only means of lighting large rooms, except occasionally an Argand or sperm oil lamp.

"Our markets were excellently supplied and all food was very cheap. I remember a quarter of venison selling for 25 cents; eggs 3 and 5 cents a dozen; butter 6 and 8 cents a pound. Beef was put up, spiced or corned; hams were smoked or cured according to Epicurean recipes and the preparation of sausages, tenderloin and sidemeat offered opportunity for the housekeeper to show her skill.

"I remember the old fashioned methods of the kitchen -- an immense fireplace with cranes and pothooks; the skillets with iron covers on which coals were heaped; the reflector in which the direct heat of the fire browned the biscuits and cornbread to a turn; the roaster or spit, where turkeys, ducks and geese were roasted before the fire, basted and turned by the spit until ready for an appreciative table.

"At a respectful distance we watched the heating of the great brick oven near the fireplace. After the light dry wood had burned down the coals were raked out, pumpkin, mince and apple pies and an array of cakes were put in on an immense wooden shovel and the door closed. It must have required great skill to know when the oven was at the right temperature, but cooks were cooks in those days. My mother's maids were from Radnor (in Delaware County) -- nice, intelligent Welch girls. Board could be had for 75 cents a week.

"My father was a circuit judge, his circuit reaching to Sandusky, then called Portland-on-the-Lake. He had a fine library, was brilliant and much esteemed as a lawyer. He was much concerned that his children -- there were eight -- should be well educated. He died when only 48 and my mother, for economical reasons, sold the house and moved to Delaware."

And there the narrative ends. Interestingly, the granddaughter who received this letter was Columbus native Mary Catherine Campbell, the only two-time winner of the Miss America pageant. She later had typescripts made of the letter and gave them to a few area libraries as well as some of her friends and relatives.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.

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