Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Santa Claus arrives at Spring Hill School

I wrote the other day about Christmas tree celebrations staged in Chariton churches during Lucas County's early days, but in rural areas --- where church buildings were few and far between --- school houses doubled as community centers and the sites for community celebrations as the holiday drew near.

Here's a brief report published in The Chariton Patriot of Jan. 1, 1879, about the gathering at Spring Hill School, southwest of Lucas, on Christmas Eve 1878. The correspondent who submitted the piece is identified only as "Frank." A circle on the 1905 map above locates the school.

"Mr. Editor --- We are going to try and tell you of the good time the citizens of Spring Hill had on Christmas Eve. It had been circulated that there was to be a Christmas tree at the Spring Hill school-house. So I went over; and such a  sight! There was a tree loaded with presents ready to be distributed as soon as Santa Claus should make his appearance. After a few good and appropriate remarks made by Mr. Kent, Santa Claus made his appearance in his traveling suit, and after a merry Christmas to all proceeded, with the help of Miss Ella Hewitt and Mrs. Lucy Riggle, to give to old and young their presents. The tree was soon relieved of its burden and the hearts of all made glad. After thanking the good Santa for his services, we went home feeling like the rest --- glad that Christmas had come, bringing such good times."


Curious, I decided to find out what I could about Santa's associates, Ella Hewitt and Lucy Riggle. Lucy, I discovered, was a newlywed and lived nearby with her husband, Borton F. Riggle. Not too long after this celebration they moved to Custer County, Nebraska, to farm and raised a family of three children there. Lucy died in Custer County on Feb. 23, 1924, at the age of 64.

Ella, then 18, and her younger brother, Robert, 8, also lived nearby --- the only survivors of what had been a large family devastated I'm guessing by tuberculosis. By the time this celebration occurred, both of her parents, Robert (died 1870) and Elizabeth (died 1874) Hewitt, had been buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, some distance north of Spring Hill School, as had four siblings, all of whom died between 1860 and 1877, Oliver, George, Frank and Charles.

During 1880, Ella married Lucas druggist George W. John and they had two children Claudia, who died at age 6 months on Jan. 12, 1882, and was buried at Rose Hill, too; and Stella, born during January of 1883, who lived a long life, surviving until 1972 when she died at age 89 in Denver, Colorado.

Ella, however, became increasingly ill with tuberculosis after Stella's birth. It was thought at the time that a change in climate might offer relief, so the young family moved during the fall of 1883 to San Jose, California, where she died on Dec. 31, 1883. Her remains were returned to Lucas County for burial at Rose Hill.

George never remarried and raised Stella on his own with assistance from his mother, Mary. He continued to operate drug stores in Lucas, then in Des Moines, until his death during 1925. He was buried beside Ella at Rose Hill, but no stone marks his grave. 

1 comment:

Brenda said...

I love your detective work. You're a master. I need lessons.