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Minnie's Diary #18: Getting Ready for the Wedding Day

Sunday, April 24 - Entertained Del & Em. Went to Mr. Marchaterre house

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Marriage by Chocolate

“Here’s a new way to find a husband,” said Minnie, showing Del and Em an article from the Sturgeon Bay newspaper.

“This says Miss Daisy Armpriester worked in a candy factory in York, Pennsylvania. One day before Christmas, she slipped a note into a box of “Sweetheart Kisses” with her name and address, saying ‘if the finder be a gentleman to make himself known to her by letter.’”

Door County Democrat, Sturgeon Bay, WI, Apr 23, 1904

“I know where this is going,” said Emily.

“The box ended up in British Columbia, where a prosperous 28-year-old bachelor named Aaron Sweezy found it.”

“Prosperous, eh?” Emily said.

“Yes, they’ve been exchanging letters ever since. And now, Mr. Sweezy has proposed marriage, and plans to visit York to meet his 18-year-old sweetheart and share with her some real kisses — not just chocolate ones.”

“Getting engaged without ever seeing each other. I wonder what her parents think about that,” Em said.

“Well, you girls don’t have to try a trick like that,” Del said. “Not when you have so many men to choose from here in Hermansville.”

Minnie and Emily looked at each other, raising their eyebrows. But neither said a word.

House with a Dance Floor

After playing cards, they went to check the progress of Joe Marchaterre’s house up the road. Joe and his three sons had been working hard since just after Easter. They’d installed a foundation, frame and roof, and were busy framing up and plastering the inside.

Del admired Mr. Marchaterre’s woodworking skills.

“You can tell the difference with a master carpenter,” he said, fondling the bannister and gazing at the perfectly crafted steps to the second floor.

Mr. Marchaterre showed off a large room on the first floor, laid with beautiful IXL maple floors from the Hermansville sawmill.

“You’ll have the best dance room of anyone around,” Minnie said.

“That’s the idea,” said Mr. Marchaterre.

No Feathers in Hats This Year

Monday, April 25 - Went to Hville to get a hat. Perm came down with me.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Minnie invited Permelia Paquin, the 14-year-old sister of the groom, to join her shopping at the general store in Hermansville. They both wanted to look their best for Ed and Maud’s wedding.

“I wish we could go to Green Bay or Marquette, but we’ll have to make do with what we can find here,” Minnie told her. “Let’s find you a nice hat for the wedding.”

“I don’t want a big hat with a bunch of feathers,” Perm said. "They're cruel."

“Feathers are not in fashion this spring anyway,” Minnie said.

“ ‘There will be no birds and very few feathers worn this season. Even the quills with their brisk freshness will be worn noticeably less.’ The fact that no birds and comparatively few feathers will be worn will strike a popular chord with the members of the humane societies, who have in previous years made a vigorous protest against the wearing of the feathered tribe.”

—"No Birds In Their Hats," Appleton Post, Appleton, Wis., March 24, 1904.

After trying on a dozen or more hats in the millinery section, Minnie settled on a turban-style straw hat trimmed with ribbons and a spray of dried flowers for $2. She also found a form-fitting, sapphire blue jacket that would be perfect with her sky blue spring skirt. It needed some alterations, so she left it at the store with plans to pick it up later in the week.

Perm felt she’d found the perfect young lady’s straw hat trimmed with ribbon, on sale for 98 cents.

Green Bay Press-Gazette, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Apr. 29, 1904.

Washing Away Her Cares

Tuesday, April 26 - Washed. Went to the dance with Del. Had a fine time at Mr. Desjardin’s bee

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Between Pa’s barn clothes and Edmond and William’s work clothes from the mill, Minnie needed to haul more water than usual this week. She hauled water from the windmill and put it on the stove to heat up. As the water warmed, she grated soap cakes into fine shavings and added them to the basin. Working too quickly, she cut a knuckle on the grater.

Aie! This would be easier if I didn’t have to grate my own soap,” she thought.

After scrubbing, rinsing and wringing, she hung the clothing to dry in the cool spring breeze. Tomorrow, she would do the ironing.

Her feet and back ached, but not so much that she would miss the dance at Mr. Desjardin’s barn-raising bee. When Del called, she hopped to her feet and sauntered out the door on his arm.

A Horse from the Company

Wednesday, April 27 - Went to Hville and got my jacket. Went and got a horse from the company.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

“We need more horsepower,” Pa said. “William says the company is offering horses to farmers for spring farm work at a good price. We just need to feed them.”

“Are these horses that worked in the lumber camps during the winter?” asked Minnie.

Oui,” Pa said. “They want to keep them busy and there’s not enough work at the mill. The plowing will go faster with a three-horse hitch instead of two.”

Minnie rode along with Pa as he drove their two-horse wagon to Hermansville. They stopped at the general store to pick up her jacket, which she carefully stowed under her seat in the wagon

Two men were shoveling straw and manure out of stalls in the wood frame barn when Pa and Minnie arrived. They could see a few horses in the stalls, some French-bred Percherons and some Belgians.

The barn boss, William John McIlroy, was writing in a record book when Pa and Minnie entered the barn.

“Good morning. What can I do for you?” he asked, looking at Peter Gamache and ignoring Minnie.

“We’d like to rent a horse for spring plowing,” Minnie said.

Pa didn’t speak much English, so Minnie served as his translator.

McIlroy sized up this 20-year-old young lady standing in front of him. She was tall, sharp and confident for a girl, he thought.

“We have a few to spare,” he said. “What kind of work will the horse be doing?”

Minnie helped Pa convey the plowing, cultivating and hauling he had planned, where the horse would be sheltered at night, their source of drinking water, and what kind of feed it would get.

“This time of year, we rotate the horses at the sawmills,” McIlroy said. “We have more horsepower than we need. I’d like to keep them in better shape so they’re ready for the winter work in the camps.”

“We can keep one busy plowing and cultivating for the next month,” Minnie said.

“Laurie, bring Jake and Ben out of their stalls,” McIlroy said.

Laurie Watts, a dark-haired barn hand about Minnie’s age, ambled over to the stalls and soon returned with two geldings, a dappled gray Percheron and a chestnut-colored Belgian with flaxen mane and tail. Both horses stood about six feet tall at the shoulders, with strong necks and wide, muscled chests.

Pa walked around both horses, looking for flaws. Ben, the Belgian, perked his ears forward and gently sniffed Minnie’s hand, looking for a treat. Jake, the Percheron, held his ears back and stomped his large front hooves, looking nervous and wary.

Le Percheron,” Pa said, pointing his finger at the wary beast.

Minnie wasn’t so sure, but she knew better than to argue. Her father was partial to the French-bred Percherons. They made arrangements with Mr. McIlroy, tied Jake’s halter to their wagon, put his harness in the wagon, and rode home with Jake trotting behind them.

Que c'est beau!

Thursday, April 28 - Em was over after school. Went home for supper.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

"How's the horse working out, Papa?"

"I'm letting them get to know each other before they're in harness together. Jacques has his own stall, but they spent some time in the pasture together today."

Minnie noticed that "Jack" had become "Jacques" in her father's tongue. She hoped that wouldn't make much difference.

Just then, Emily arrived. She and Minnie retreated upstairs to Minnie's room.

“How are you feeling about the wedding, Min?” Emily asked.

“I’ll smile my way through it,” Minnie said. “But I’ll be looking good.”

Minnie modeled her new hat and jacket for Emily, who gave her approval.

Que c’est beau! How beautiful! But be careful that you don't make the bride jealous.”

The Wedding Day Approaches

Friday, April 29 - Getting ready for the wedding day.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Minnie ironed and mended her skirt and shirtwaist for the wedding and polished her best shoes.

She washed her long, dark, curly hair and brushed it out, applying oil to the scalp and massaging it in. After her hair had dried, she experimented with different ways to pin it up under her new hat. She put her hair in a top bun, leaving some wisps falling about her neck and ears. She tried a French braid and then a pompadour. Her curls didn’t want to cooperate.

Advertisement, The Journal Times, Racine, Wisconsin, April 23, 1904.

Her brother Freddie popped his head in her room, smiling broadly.

“What’s on your head? A rat’s nest?”

“Leave me alone, Freddie.”

“Don’t worry, Minnie. I’m pretty sure some man will ask you to marry him... someday,” Freddie teased, knowing he was annoying his big sister.

“I said, leave me alone,” said Minnie, and she shut the door in his smiling face.

“A real nice man inquired earnestly the other day why he sees so many women with loose, ‘frowzly’ hair. ‘Frowzly' is just what he said. ‘Those things didn’t use to be so,’ he deplored. ‘At least, I can remember a time when women combed their hair up all nice and snug, and put pins and things in it to keep it up.’ Now, he thinks, they don’t even bother to put pins in, but just tie it up in some kind of a fancy knot on the back of their heads. And by and bye it works down over the lady’s collar, and little wisps stick out where little wisps should not be, and the whole bunch of hair becomes a sight to vex the soul of a neat and beauty loving man.”

— “Mere Man Protests,” Montreal River Miner and Iron County Republican

(Hurley, WI) 29 July 1904

A Letter from Anna

Saturday, April 30 - Went to Hville with Emily. Walked home with me. Had a letter from Anna. Entertained Del in evening.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

After spending a day in Hermansville visiting friends, Minnie and Emily walked to the Gamache farm, where Anna Hayes' letter was waiting. Minnie's eyebrows raised and then she smiled as she showed Emily the letter.

“She says she’s found four other women in town who would buy Larkin soap,” Minnie said.

Fantastique,” Emily said, giving Minnie a hug. “When will you start taking orders?”

“I’m still waiting to hear from the company. I sent them a letter last week.”

“Well, you’d better hurry before someone else gets the idea. I think you’ll have a lot of customers, especially in town, where the women don’t make their own soap.”

Del Isn't So Sure

"Soap? You want to sell soap?"

Del looked at Minnie as though she was an exotic foreigner he'd never met before.

"Oui. Women will save time by not making their own soap. And I will get furniture and goods to furnish a home some day. Look at this."

Minnie showed her boyfriend the Larkin ad she'd been carrying, advertising the chance to earn a chiffonier by selling $10 worth of soap from the Larkin Soap Co.

"Well, I'm not so sure about that," Del said. "Girls shouldn't be selling door to door. That's a man's job."

"I'll just be selling to our friends and neighbors ... and friends of friends in town. Besides, isn't cleanliness on everyone's mind? You've heard the news from Escanaba."

"Soap isn't going to solve Escanaba's problem," Del said. "They need a whole new city water system."

-- The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., April 30, 1904

Notes and Further Reading

Disclaimer: Minnie's Diary is part history, part fiction. It's based on my own research into the history of the time and the people who lived in Hermansville in 1904, as well as a bit of imagination. It's a first draft, so I apologize for any errors. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

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New Characters: New characters in Minnie's Diary this week include long-time Hermansville barn boss William John McIlroy and stable hand Laurie Watts.

According to Charles M. Case’s “Hermansville from the Beginning,” William John McIlroy arrived in Hermansville on October 25, 1882, when “only one pine tree was left standing in sight of the village.” The pine stood on a small island of land between two logging jobs, and each jobber thought the other man would cut it. When it was finally cut, McIlroy left the stump standing “as a souvenir of the last pine tree in sight of Hermansville.”

A native of New Brunswick, Canada, McIlroy was 31 when he married 16-year-old Mary L. Gilligan on June 20, 1887, in Hermansville. They had one son, Glen, born in 1897. Mary died of cardiac failure in 1907, leaving John a widower.

According to Case, “Mr. McIlroy’s only trouble in Hermansville was with the school children who insisted upon invading his domain and playing on the hay. In their minds, apparently, hay was made to play upon. John had a different idea. In his mind, hay was for horses and was not improved by the children playing upon it.”

John settled this “difference of opinion” by building a tall fence between the barn and the school grounds, thus fencing the children in.

"He has under his care about a hundred horses," said the Memorial Record of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan, published in 1895 by the Lewis Publishing Company in Chicago. "By his close and careful attention to business, he has long ago earned the confidence and good will of the company and is regarded as one of their most trusted employees."

McIlroy retired in 1920 to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and donated a collection of photographs to the Oshkosh Public Museum. Here's a link to an 1898 barn photo showing McIlroy wearing a black suit and mustache, standing in the barn yard with his son Glen and several men and boys with teams of horses. The photo shows how large the stable operation was in those days.

Sanborn insurance map, 1900. Source: Library of Congress, public domain.

“Laurie” Watts, born July 1879 in Nova Scotia, was listed as a barn hand in the 1900 Hermansville census. I couldn't find him in the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. payroll in May 1904, so he’d likely moved on to another job in another town by the time Minnie wrote her diary. Watts immigrated to the United States in 1899. In 1900, he was a single man living in a company boarding house. After the 1900 census, "Laurie" disappears. He may actually have been Charles Lowry Watt, who married Lettie M. Brisbin in 1912 in Escanaba. They then lived in Niagara, Wisconsin, which is not far from Hermansville.

What to Wear: In those days, weddings weren't the huge affairs they are now, but Minnie clearly wanted to look her best, buying a new hat and jacket and spending several days getting ready for the May 3 wedding of Ed Paquin Jr. and Maud Raiche. Pasted below is some fashion advice Minnie might have read in the May 1904 Ladies Home Journal.

In the late 1800s, many birds in North America were endangered or on the brink of extinction due to the fashion industry's hunger for feathers. The victims included egrets, swans, eagles and hummingbirds. The movement to protect migratory birds began in the 1890s, when two Boston socialites learned about the crisis and urged a boycott of feathered hats. Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Minna Hall, launched a series of tea parties in 1896 that led to the organization of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. By 1918, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect those birds. Learn more from the Smithsonian Magazine here.

Ladies Home Journal, May 1904, accessed at Public Domain.

Horse for Rent: Renting a horse from a livery was pretty common in the days of horse-drawn transportation, kind of like getting a rental car today. After a long journey, you would step off the train and find a livery that could provide a team of horses with a cart, or perhaps a single riding horse. It appears farmers may have been leasing horses from the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company barn to help with spring planting. The Gamaches picked up their company horse on April 27 and returned it on June 1. A 1919 U.S. Department of Agriculture study of “The Horse Power Problem on the Farm” indicates that most farm jobs needed two horses, but in the spring and sometimes the fall, they used three- and four-horse teams. To read more about this, visit Oscar A. Juve’s article on page 485 in the USDA 1919 Yearbook.

I'm assuming my great-great-grandfather had a two-horse team, and supplemented with a third horse to help with spring fieldwork. It's possible he only had one horse on the farm and needed the rented horse to have a two-horse team.

Hermansville at the Turn of the Century: If you’re curious about the layout of the factory, barns and town in Hermansville at various times, check out the Sanborn-Perris Fire Insurance map collection at the Library of Congress. You can view on-line maps from 1884, 1893, 1900 and 1913. The map below shows the town layout in 1900. The horse stable sat in the heart of the commercial district, next to the Chicago and Northwestern train depot. At the north end were company-owned homes that were rented out to workers.

Aaron and Daisy: While reading 1904 newspapers, I came across the story of Aaron and Daisy, who met through a note slipped into a box of chocolates. They don’t have a connection to Hermansville; I just thought it an interesting story. Further research indicates that it wasn't until 1906 that Daisy Armpriester married Aaron Sweezey in York, Pennsylvania. It may have taken Daisy's parents a couple of years to approve of Aaron.

The Gazette, York, Pennsylvania, Apr. 14, 1906,

Aaron and Daisy had four children by 1920, when they were living in Philadelphia and Aaron was working as a welder in a steel mill. By 1930, Daisy was listed as a 40-year-old widow living in Whiting, Indiana, where her son Benjamin worked in a tin mill. It's possible, however, that Aaron was still alive. I found an Aaron Sweezey in trouble with the law in British Columbia in 1934 for illegally hunting moose. Of course, he could be a different man with the same name.


Coal vs. Wood: Last week, I wrote that the Hermansville sawmill burned coal, but the Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1900 says the fuel for the factories was “refuse and shavings.” With all that wood moving through, they didn’t need to buy coal for the factory. They also had kilns that made charcoal from scrap wood. By blowing all the refuse and shavings into the boiler, they were preventing fires, as well.

Electricity in Hermansville: In 1900, a Sanborn map says the town of Hermansville didn’t have electric lighting, although the lumber plant did. Buildings in town used kerosene lamps for lighting and wood stoves for heat. By 1913, the churches, school and other businesses had electric lighting, and presumably dwellings in town did, too. That means that sometime between 1900 and 1913, the town got electric lights. In past blogs, I've indicated that Hermansville homes had electricity in 1904, but perhaps they didn’t. More research needed on that question.

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May 06, 2021

Thank you for the stories and info. The names are so familiar and I'm sure I knew most of their next generations. Rita

May 06, 2021
Replying to

Thanks for reading, Rita!

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