The Story Behind
the Story - Real
About the Play
The Story Behind the Story - Real People, Places, and Events Behind the Script
This article outlines the historical background to a play I wrote for Ohio's 200th birthday. It hasn't been produced yet, I'm afraid to say, and after 2003, I stopped promoting it directly. However, I'm keeping the site up because I've gotten a lot of good feedback on its contents, and it still might happen.
I especially thought it worthwhile to retain the historical information I researched while I was establishing a timeline for the events of the play. The earliest history came from several sources, including hundred-year-old county histories that were largely based on oral traditions, and often contradicted each other. As a former history text author and sometime fact-checker, I attempted to iron out the discrepancies the best I could. Hopefully this will give anyone else interested in the history of western Clark County, Ohio, a good place to start.
The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starts with the disclaimer: "Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.Ē In case you wondered, most of the events alluded to in the play If the Creek Don't Rise happened either to people in my family, or to people who lived along the National Road in western Ohio, or both. That said, the events didn't all happen to people within my family and they didn't all happen to people who lived along the National Road.
The other disclaimer is that, not only does the "history" of my own ancestors get a little spotty and contradictory here and there, so do the earliest historical records of our region. And some bits of both smell of omission and exaggeration that may have put the storyteller in a better light. If I had only consulted one source or one person, I could probably be quite certain of my facts, but, unfortunately, in this kind of research, you stumble across facts you weren't looking for and they often contradict things you already "know." So in the following accounts, I have attempted to sort out the known from the probable and both from the unlikely but still claimed. Still, the major historical and cultural events did happen, in ways very similar to the way they are presented in the play.
Historical Overview of Western Clark County, OhioThe following section is basically a review of the recorded history of this area as it affects the fictitious family represented in the play If the Creek Don't Rise. This family lives along the National Road between 1828 and World War II. The county isn't named (neither is the state for that matter), but the events and chronology are based on the history of Bethel Township, in Clark County, Ohio.
The earliest historical references are based largely on a series of county histories published by the Beers company in the mid-to-late 1800s. Those "histories" are fragmentary and often self-contradictory; they seem to depend largely on reviews of documents that are no longer available, on (very) elderly people who had survived the early days, or on people who remembered stories their parents or grandparents told them. You'll notice that, though there are contradictions, there is enough verifyable information to support the overall historical trends represented. By the way, the Clark County public library has a reference copy of the Beers' Clark County history. But I have since found many relevant chapters posted on the Internet, especially at http://heritagepursuit.com/Clark/ClarkIndex.htm.
The Pekuwe (Piqua) Settlement and Clark's RaidWhen explorers of European descent came to what is now Clark County, Ohio, they discovered a relatively permanent settlement of Pekuwe Shawnee (whom the French had called Piqua) on the banks of the Mad River. That settlement was a few miles west of what is now Springfield, Ohio, so named because the water table is so high that, during wet months, the line between digging holes for fence posts and digging a row of shallow wells quite blurs.
In 1780, frontiersman, soldier, leader, and Indian-hater George Rogers Clark made a raid through this part of Ohio, disrupting English outposts and raiding Shawnee settlements because he assumed that all Shawnee were fighting for the British (some of them were, to be sure).
To his credit, Clark was an intrepid fighter and brilliant leader who was largely responsible for the British failure to maintain a permanent presence west of the Alleghenies during (and after) the Revolution. On the other hand, it's probable, based on Clark's expressed attitudes, that some of his "clashes" with the Shawnee had as much to do with his personal feelings about Native Americans as they did with the Revolutionary cause.
Apparently, the Battle of Peckuwe (which was not close to Piqua, Ohio, as one state education site claims) occurred when Clark besieged that Shawnee settlement on the Mad River. According to Clark, he lost about 14 of his men. He estimated that his forces had inflicted about three times that many casualties on the Shawnee before they withdrew. Clark had fought stronger forces and taken British strongholds by stealth and arms. But when Ohio historians claim that the "Battle of Piqua" was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War west of the Alleghenies, they are probably right, in terms of casualties, at least.
Today, the George Rogers Clark Park sits on and just uphill of where that battle occurred, near the State Route 369 exit of State Route 4. The monument in the photo at the right claims that the view beyond it shows the probable location of the battle. The plaque on the monument contains an historical analysis of the battle. For a close-up of the plaque, click here.
Tecumseh's YouthFor most of my life, I was under the impression that Clark had permanently disrupted the Shawnee settlement, but at least some Shawnee returned and lived in the area for a few more years. One area Shawnee who was likely a youth during Clark's raid was Tecumseh, the same Tecumseh who later worked hard to unite the native peoples from the Gulf Coast to Canada to withstand continued settlement of Indian lands. I don't know if Clark's raid is responsible for Tecumseh's attitude toward the white incursions on "Indian land." (Some fictionalized versions of Tecumseh's life has him retreating in fear from Clark's attack, and vowing never to retreat from the white men again, but I have yet to find a credible contemporary record that supports this account.) He apparently joined Little Turtle and Blue Jacket in their victory against the army of Arthur St. Clair in 1791. After Anthony Wayne's victories of 1795, and the Treaty of Greenville, which no representative of Tecumseh's tribe signed, Tecumseh seems to have returned for a while to be the chief of the Peckuwe Shawnee who remained near his birthplace. According to the Beers account, after 1795, Tecumseh got along reasonably well with the settlers in the area as long as they were few in number.
White Men Among the PekuweRecords of the first family of European descent in to settle in what is now Clark County have many discrepancies. According to one Beers account, the family of John Paul was living in the area by 1790, although he was forced to move at least once because of an "Indian raid." (If that story is true, it may coincide with the "unrest" between 1791 and 1795.)
According to another Beers account, The History of Clark County, Ohio, published in 1881 by W. H. Beers & Co., the first settlers of European descent in Clark County were David Lowry and Jonathan Donnel. Lowry had been a provisioner for General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's forces in 1795 (the year of Wayne's victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers). Lowry then worked with a surveying team out of Cincinnati. When Lowry and one of the other surveyers, Jonathan Donnel, discovered the rich soil in this area, they decided they wanted to move their families here.
Lowry and Donnel offered to survey the area for Patten Shorts, the fellow who had legal claim to the land. By later 1795 they had each purchased the segments most favorable to them. The name Donnel's was applied to a creek a few miles west of the old Peckuwe settlement, but Donnels didn't settle there. Rather he built a cabin near (or possibly in) what remained of the Peckuwe settlement (near present-day George Rogers Clark Park). Lowry, on the other hand, built a cabin where Donnels Creek flowed into the Mad River, near present-day Enon. To my knowledge, no trace of either house remains. According to the Beers account, Lowry and Donnel lived peacefully among the remaining Shawnee.
When I was growing up, there was a legend in the area `that a pickle factory was once built along the bank of Donnels Creek, possibly by Donnel himself. I haven't been able to verify that, though. According to the Beers publication cited above, several other families had settled within a few miles by 1799, including Kreb and Brown, who built a "station" a few miles southeast, and the families of blacksmith James Galloway, John Humphreys, James Demint, Philip Jarbo, William Ward, John Richards, and William Moore.
Another earlier settler here was Simon Kenton (right), whose adventures and travels made him a legend in his own lifetime. He eventually settled ten or twelve miles north and east of the lands settled by Donnels and Lowry, in what is now Champaigne County.
According to another account, a John Forgy Sr. is also recorded as settling in the area in the late 1700s; his children, including John Forgy Jr. settled near here in 1806. This is significant because the only legible grave marker in the region's earliest cemetery is a replacement marker for John Forgy Sr., giving the date of death as 1800. If this is the same John Forgy Sr., and his children or their descendants erected the replacement marker over a known grave, then his children may not have settled here permanently until after John Sr. died. (Perhaps they realized the land he left them was worth something.) As the older limestone markers have weathered away, the Forgy monument has remained as a sort of sentinel over the now unmarked remains of the region's other pioneers.
The Shawnee RemovalHow and when the Shawnee finally left the area for good is not certain. Starting in 1795, some Shawnee were "relocated" to inadequate "reservations" in places like Wapokonetta. Tecumseh probably took several leaders (and possibly their families) with him when he went to Greeneville, Ohio to stay with his brother Tenskwatawa ("the Prophet") some time after the Treaty of Greeneville was signed. When Tecumseh died in battle in Canada in 1814, the last real hope that the Shawnee would have a permanent home in this territory died with him. The last Shawnee who would not assimilate to European-American customs were probably removed from Ohio between 1831 and 1833 during the "Trail of Tears."
In the play If the Creek Don't Rise, this chronology gives the earliest members of the Johnston clan a chance to get to know at least a few of the Shawnee before they are forced out of the area. (I had incorporated a perfectly logical explanation for why one young Shawnee girl might have stayed in Ohio after most of her family had been driven to the Indiana territory, but the explanation took too much time in the play and didn't really seem to be needed.)
In my youth in Donnelsville, I knew several Native Americans, but as an adult trying to sort out that part of my own past, I learned that they were mostly Cherokee, whose parents or grandparents had come from other states long after the Shawnee were gone. Today, descendants of the Peckuwe Shawnee and many of their friend do celebrate Shawnee traditions at grounds in and around Clark park.
I have been told that some Shawnee also provided some direction to the establishment of the "Interpretive Center" that stands just west-south-west of George Rogers Clark Park. Because of their contribution I have adopted the spelling those people used ("Pekuwe") rather the more common "Piqua" or "Pickaway."
By now, floods, generations of farming, a small reservoir, an overpass for Route 4, and even a housing development overlapping the battlefield site have largely obscured not only the archaeological value of the site, but also the topology of the land itself.
New Boston is not specifically mentioned in the play If the Creek Don't Rise. However the earliest experiences of the fictitious Johnston family reflect those of the New Boston settlers, trying to establish their vision of "civilization" in a wilderness that they still share, at least somewhat, with the Pekawe Shawnee. The remnants of the New Boston cemetery are still visible, and an historic reenactment called "Fair At New Boston" happens just uphill from the cemetery on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Labor Day every year.
The National RoadThe National Road was commissioned in 1806 and started in 1811, but it didn't reach western Clark County until 1829. Where the road crossed the Donnels creek, about seven miles west of Springfield and four miles northwest of New Boston, a toll house was built to charge tolls for fording the creek, and later for crossing the bridge.
In the first few years of its existence, the National Road was actually nothing more than a path carved through the woodland by cutting trees low enough for most wagon or carriage axles to clear the stump. Still, it was relatively straight, and it was soon lined with businesses to serve the needs of travellers. At least one mill was built along Donnels creek in the vicinity (and rumor has it that a pickle factory was built there as well). As likely as not, there were wheelwrights and other trades as well. Eventually a stagecoach house was built. Based on the chronology of the earliest accounts, it is likely that a community sprang up in the area that would come to be called Donnelsville before it was even officially a village.
The Toll House - I have no idea at the moment which of the existing houses in Donnelsville, if any, was the original toll house. In If the Creek Don't Rise, the Johnston family home starts out as a toll house, that is later adapted for other purposes. Today, most people imagine toll houses as something like the little steel-and-glass sheds that tolltakers occupy on turnpikes and toll bridges. But in the early nineteenth century, most tollhouses were family homes, and more than a few were "outposts of civilization," offering postal service, as well as other services and products for sale.
The Stagecoach Stop and Military Hospital - In my youth I was told that the peculiar 2-story brick house just east of ours was a stagecoach stop. It seems old enough to have been the first; it was almost certainly the last. Since then it has been used for many purposes. If I understand correctly, it had once been a home for unwed mothers, and, at another time was a hospital for soldiers, probably those injured in the Spanish-American war. So it's not a stretch that the fictitious home in If the Creek Don't Rise served both as a stagecoach stop and a military hospital, though I moved the hospital part to the Civil War.
I spent part of my childhood next door to that house and was in it more than once. It went through many owners and internal "updates." More recently, a family tried to restore it to its original appearance. It which was a valiant effort, but the house unfortunately caught fire and had to be demolished. There is at least one other early 1800s brick house in Donnelsville, which may have been built on the site of the original toll house.
A Pioneer Village in OhioAccording to one Beers publication, David Lowry first settled about a mile south of present-day Donnelsville, where Donnels Creek emptied into the Mad River. The village itself may have been surveyed about 1832 by Capt. Abram Smith. (According to another Beers publication, Donnelsville was first surveyed in 1936 by Abram Smith and James Donnels, the younger brother of John Donnel). But there was already a toll house there and probably a growing settlement.
The information I have on Abram Smith at this time is conflicting, too. One Abram Smith may have first come through the region with William Henry Harrison's forces during the War of 1812. One Abram Smith of this era pioneered a settlement in what is now Champaign County. One built a sawmill on a river a few miles west, but based on the evidence at hand, I can't say for certain whether one Abram Smith did all of these things, but I'm sure some descendant of Abram will eventually stumble across this page and fill in the details for me.
One Early HomeBefore long, a north-south route paralleling the creek was laid out, and the single intersection that makes up present-day "downtown Donnelsville" was formed. One house at that intersection is of interest to me, not because it dates back to that era (I doubt that it does). But in my youth it belonged to the Donnelsville Chief of Police. He comes into the story as the man who arrested Lee Harvey Oswald for a traffic violation in the early 1960s (the real Chief provided documentation to that effect to a local newspaper a decade or so later). Of course by then, the National Road had become National Route 40, and in those days before the interstate highway system, it was the only good automobile route between New York and anywhere west of St. Louis. Donnelsville is also a natural speed trap - the road drops steeply as you approach the main intersection from either east or west, so it's almost impossible to keep a steady speed. So the Chief arrested a lot of people, including many celebrities. (In other words, the celebrity arrest in the second act of the play is actually quite reasonable, considering that the fellow in question had family in Stubenville, Ohio, at the time.) The chief's wife lined the sidewalks with hundreds of marigolds every spring. On hot summer days she would sit on the side porch surrounded by enormous cats. She was always willing to chat with us or let us come into the yard to play with the cats.
Some folks have asserted that this house was the original stagecoach stop. The floor plan inside was certainly unusual, but I'm not sure it's as good a candidate as the brick shown above.
The Old Stable and the "New" HouseAs I understand it, the stagecoach stop (whichever building it was) originally had two lots, the lot that the main building sat on and a lot that held a stable and a place to water horses and park carriages. In the late 1800s, long after the stagecoaches had stopped running, the second lot was sold off and a farmhouse-type structure was built at the front of the lot. This was the house our family lived in between 1947 and 1964. When I was young, I was told that the unusual yellow barn in our back yard was originally the "livery stable" for the stagecoach line. While we lived there, the barn had a slight bulge on the south wall. I don't have any photos of the barn handy, but I'll keep an eye out for one the next time I go through Dad's photo albums. After we moved away from Donnelsville, the bulge became worse and worse until eventually the barn buckled and sort of rolled over into the back yard. The owners had no choice but to demolish it the rest of the way.
In retrospect I have no proof that the barn we played in had been a stable at all, or if it was, which home or business on the block it actually served. But that's what I was told all of my youth, and it seems reasonable. It also makes a good second verse for one of my songs. Incidentally as long as we lived there, we had no trouble finding arrowheads wherever the ground was disturbed. My sister came across a stone mortar and pestle that looked like it would be suitable for grinding corn. So even though the Shawnee village was a bit east, we were certainly on a centuries-old hunting ground.
The Trading Post and General Store - Many towns in Ohio's pioneer days had a trading post, and just about every town boasted at least one general store. Donnelsville has a building (on the southwest corner of the main intersection) that may well have served as a general store at some point in its history. It certainly served as a grocery store when I was small, and also as a barber shop, and a pool hall. Whether that was Donnelsville's earliest general store, I'm not sure. And even if it was, it may not have been the only one.
In fact, until just a few years ago, just east of Donnelsville there were two family-owned places where you could buy groceries and other needs, across the street from each other. One was a farmhouse-style building where an elderly couple sold milk and other basic food supplies from a converted kitchen. It is gone now.
Until it closed in 2012, the remaining store was closest thing that Donnelsville had to a general store for several decades. It was just uphill of George Rogers Clark Park, on the corner of Route 40 and Tecumseh road. Starting as a gasoline station in the 1920s, the building later had an extension added that mimicked a frontier trading post. Although "Fort Tecumseh" was built and so named well over a century after the death of its namesake, the owner tried to maintain a pioner trading-post feel in her choice of merchandise and of display items. The merchandise included penny candy (something you can't get very many places anymore) and products of Native American manufacture.
The general store in the play - In the play "If the Creek Don't Rise," some of family members remember their great-aunt selling penny candy from what is now part of the kitchen counter - which is actually fairly plausible based on the fact that Donnelsville and its environs have boasted not one, but at least three "general stores" in my lifetime.
Sadly, "Fort Tecumseh" was bulldozed sometime after 2016 when the proprietor retired, and no one who moved into the place was able to keep a business afloat.
The Underground RailroadIn the play, the Johnston family hides an African American neighbor when they learn that slave hunters have come to town looking for her. Most of my ancestors came to this continent a generation or two after the Civil War, so we have no family history of involvement with the Underground Railroad (although one of my dad's ancestors named Wolfe fought for the North during the Civil War and carried a musketball in his hand the rest of his life). Nor was Donnelsville Ohio necessarily on the "route."
Still, there were many "conductors" and "stations" in the area. One of those stations in Springfield, just a few miles east was unusual in that it was in town and even more so because it was operated by a black family. One in Mechanicsburg, a few miles northeast of Springfield became legendary for the conductor's willingness to go to jail if necessary to challenge the Dred Scott ruling. In fact a play has been written about that series of events and is occasionally performed by the Mad River Theater Works, in Bellefountaine, Ohio.
The Rise and Fall of CampgroundsTwo waves of campground building have swept the midwest since 1814; the play If the Creek Don't Rise commemorates both.
Church Camps - In the early 1800s, a series of religious revivals swept across the nation, and with it an interest in "revivalist" style preaching, the kind that wasn't usually available in the churches down the street. The phenomenon of church campgrounds gave people a chance to get away from their homes in midsummer (between the last planting and the first harvest) and focus on spiritual songs and sermons. As fewer and fewer families farmed (and had the luxury of spending "hot August nights" on a campground), the need for that sort of campground reduced. Today a "working" church campground exists on the National Road about three miles east of Donnelsville. Another that has been remains closed down or used for other purposes during most of my lifetime lies a block north of National Road just west of the Upper Valley Road. Several other working or somewhat working church campgrounds still exist in the region.
Automobile Campgrounds - In the 1920s, when the automobile became affordable to many families and the National Road became Route 40, another kind of campground sprang up all along the National Road - the predecessor to the "motel." Then, during World War II, some of these cabins were used for emergency housing for defense workers. Since the arrival of the interstate system, most of the "motel-style" campgrounds have been "repurposed." Some have been torn down and replaced with other facilities, some have converted to a sort of very low-income housing, and some have become trailer courts.
The campground in the play - The campground in the play begins as a 1920's-era automobile campground that is essentially abandoned during the Great Depression, converted to a church camp by a revivalist-style preacher, and later converted to defense housing during WWII. Eventually the camp is closed by an owner who resisted her husband's pressure to convert it to a trailer court. True, none of the campgrounds near here went through all of these metamorphases. Still, all of these kinds of campgrounds existed along the National Road in this area, and many of them changed functions at least once or twice. So our use of this cultural icon falls within the realm of possibility, and it does show a slice of Americana that is now barely remembered.
German ImmigrationIn the play, the Johnston family has contact with German immigrants from 1829 on. German-speaking immigrants did settle in Lancaster Ohio in 1800, and many came further west. In western Clark County today, the existence of street names like Snyder, Sintz, and Funderberg give some indication of how important the German-speaking settlers were to our region's early history.
The FloodDonnels Creek has only overflowed its banks a few times in my lifetime, but that may be because of work that was done to "deepen" the creek and build levies before I was born. Wierd flash floods have also torn across fields in Clark County, carrying people's belongings miles away, but those are rare, too. The "creek don't rise" aspect of the play relates mostly to earlier days before storm drains and levies were installed and floods were more likely to cut off travel on low-lying roads than they are now (although several roads in Clark and adjacent counties can still be closed when we get a lot of rain in a short time).
Of course, the flood that is mentioned in the play was the "Dayton Flood" of 1913, in which the Greater Miami river overflowed its banks and flooded most of downtown Dayton up to the second story. Some of its tributaries rose also, including parts of Mad River. In the play, the family learns about how the flood affected relatives in Dayton and other related areas.
Other Historical Events and TrendsThe play If the Creek Don't Rise also touches on Irish immigration, westward expansion, and the effects of the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam on families in this part of the country. In fact the second act deals primarily with the effects of national events and trends on the American heartland, but hopefully, I don't need to outline those events and trends here.
Family History "Borrowed" for the PlayEuropean immigration to this area may be a good place to start, since I'm descended from German-speaking immigrants on my mother's side and from emigrants of Great Britain on my father's side (mostly Scot, English, and maybe Welsh).
The German Catholic ConnectionMy maternal grandparents were both born in the late 1800s in Ohio to German-speaking Roman Catholic immigrants. "Grandma's" family spoke only German in the home. In fact, it is estimated that when Grandma was born (about 1881), German was spoken in more homes in Ohio than English. When Marie Stang ("Mary" on her birth certificate) started first grade at the public school, her brothers would translate her reading and assignments for her until she learned enough English to get by. Marie never did lose certain "Pennsylvania Deutch" expressions, such as "Outen the light." She married Leo, a World War I veteran who was also a first generation German-American.
Like the "German boy" in the play, Leo returned from World War I with injuries that caused chronic problems. (In Leo's case, the injuries included exposure to mustard gas, but that was too hard to explain in the play.) Leo married Marie Stang, bought a farm, had some kids, sold that farm, bought another farm, sold that farm, bought another farm, and so on. Because of Leo's deteriorating health, Marie and the kids did most of the work on at least three different farms in western Ohio, including farms near Celina and Miamisburg. Leo's health didn't keep him from deciding to buy one decrepit farm after another, staying there and doing what he could until the healthy members of the family fixed it up and made it profitable, then selling that farm and starting over with another one. Needless to say, the play's characters who grow up running the farm and the family business are based on my mother and her siblings. When Marie finally put her foot down and swore she wasn't moving one more time, (near Celina) Leo had no choice, though, but to stay there with the family.
Leo did have one other source of income - he had studied candy-making at a cooking school and opened a candy store that (I think) Mom's older sister Eleanor helped run until it closed. I never saw the store, but I did see one remnant - when the family closed the store, they broke up the enormous marble countertop he used to make candy, and divided the pieces between two of my aunts. Aunt Margaret, mom's youngest sister, put her piece on a huge tree stump in the back yard and used it as a sort of picnic table for decades. So I did have ancestors who sold candy, just not in Donnelsville.
My mother, Henrietta did not grow up speaking German, but she cooked German, ate German when she had a chance, and remained a devout Roman Catholic all of her life.
The Non-Catholic Connection
In the play If the Creek Don't Rise, an English speaking, half-Irish girl marries a German-speaking Catholic boy. In my real family, a Roman Catholic girl of German descent married a young man of mostly Scot and English descent. Donald Lee Race came from a long line of Johnsons, Wolfes, and Races (possibly a derivative of Rhys, an archaic Welsh name). The Race in my family who first came to America was my great, great grandfather, a Methodist minister who came over in the late 1800s. Two of his children were also Methodist ministers (including my great grandfather). In those days, some small Methodist churches still shared pastors, so something akin to the old tradition of "circuit-riding" was still occurring, so there may have been some circuit-riding in the family, a tradition not so far removed from the revivalist preaching of the Protestant minister in the play. (My grandfather, however, was not a minister - he broke the tradition by being a sometime railroad worker, a sometime farmer, and a general no-count, a symptom of what happens when the adult ADD rampant in our family is coupled with alcohol addiction, I think.)
The Donnelsville Connection
By the time my dad and his brother Kenneth came home from serving in the armed forces during World War II, their unmarried sisters and their mother Hazel were virtually homeless, my grandfather having disappeared for good this time. Dad and Ken pooled their resources, bought a house in "downtown" Donnelsville, and moved the rest of the family in with them.
During this time, Hazel and her unmarried daughters came to bond strongly with the Lutheran church, not only because of past upbringing, but because there was a Lutheran church within walking distance, and Hazel didn't drive.
After a while the girls moved out, one by one, all of them getting married eventually. Don and Ken both married and tried to make the tiny house in Donnelsville into a home for two young couples and an elderly widow, without much luck. (Besides the close quarters, it might also be helpful to know that the house had no indoor plumbing until about eight years later.) Don eventually bought out Ken's share of the house, and Ken and his bride Marge moved to Springfield. Hazel didn't always live with Don and Henrietta, but she lived with them often, and for years some of Don's siblings thought of the house in Donnelsville as the "family home," or as "Grandmas' house."
Courtship, Conversion, and Marriage
Dad (Donald Race) first met mom (Henrietta) on a farm during a hay-baling. One of Dad's first cousins, Martha Johnson, had married Henrietta's brother Carl. When Carl asked for Don's help baling hay on the farm, Dad went along. There he met a small, but spunky woman who handled a tractor better than most folks. Knowing my mother from much later, I suspect that underneath the hay dust, she had a deep "farmer's tan" and a head full of black curls (Henrietta had attended hairdresser's school and nearly always had a good "permanent").
Henrietta's father had died when she was nine, so Don had to ask Marie's permission to marry Henrietta. This involved Dad becoming a Roman Catholic. He went through the indoctri, er, training, and never looked back. Dad and mom were active in church from the beginning, and were very supportive of the early growth of Sacred Heart parish in New Carlisle, Ohio. To summarize this thread, the play's character who converts to Roman Catholicism to marry for love did happened in our family, but the roles were reversed.
Where We Are Now
In case you wondered, Dad moved our family from Donnelsville to Miamisburg, Ohio in 1964 so Dad would be closer to his job at the Frigidaire plant in Moraine and we would have more room. In 1976, Dad retired and took mom to a 20-acre farm near Blanchard, Michigan, about 80 miles north of Grand Rapids. They developed many close friendships in the Roman Catholic church at Edmore, Michigan.
In 1986, my wife Shelia and I moved to a 1920s-era home in Clark County, just uphill from George Rogers Clark Park. In the years since, we've witnessed many attempts to improve awareness of our region's history and participated in a few. Writing and scoring the play If the Creek Don't Rise is my biggest attempt. As you can probably tell, that project caused me to dig deeper into regional and family history than I had ever done before.
In late 2004, due in part to failing health, my parents moved to Grosse Isle, Michigan, a nice suburb south of Detroit where their oldest daughter lives. Then, in September, 2006, Mom died after what was not expected to be a life-threatening operation. The tributes that mom's family and friends wrote for her are at this page.
Things later came full circle for Dad recently, when one of Mom and Dad's last living friends from Donnelsville passed away in April, 2007. Dad returned to the funeral, driven by my oldest sister, who still has friends in the area.
Dad passed away in April, 2011. He is buried in Edmore, Michigan, next to Mom.
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In the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got 'till it's gone." No, I have no illusion that the American Midwest is the wonderful place that they showed on, say Little House On the Prarie, but it is more than a place that folks on either coast have to fly over to get to the other coast. And we wanted to document and celebrate the things that have made the Heartland different from any other place, while there are still folks who know the difference.
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