Reminiscenses of Mary Ann White (1855-1942) of Mansfield Center

Historical Article Series April 12, 2020 > Reminiscenses of Mary Ann White (1855-1942) of Mansfield Center

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 39, No. 2, April 2003 

The author of this memoir was the daughter of Rand White and his second wife, Annie Thompson Clark. She grew up in the stone house on Brown’s Road on the hill just behind the Mansfield Center Church (25 Browns Road). Her father was a master stonemason and is credited with a major part of the beautiful stonewall along Browns Road. He served as foreman for this massive project commissioned by Leonard Dewing, working on it until his death in 1881.

Jewell Friedman, in her article about the Browns Road stonewall “A Passion for Stones” (Yankee, November 1973) states that “…the wall is a marvel of craftsmanship not likely to be repeated, even with the aid of 20th century machinery for cutting, lifting and hauling stone. The wall contains an estimated 6000 tons of rock. Averaging 40 inches in width and height, the wall has layers of gigantic boulders and cut slabs of gneiss, some shaped and all leveled, without the aid of mortar, to form a relatively even surface on the front and top of its entire length. It is so smooth and wide and walkable that for years the wall has been called “the mile walk.”

Surprisingly, Mary Ann Clark makes no mention of this stonewall – her father’s crowning achievement – but her memoir is filled with love and admiration for her hard-working parents. It was recently given to the Society by the author’s granddaughter, Christine Schmied. 

Rand B. White [was] born in Dixfield, Dixfield County, Maine in the year of 1809, January 4th.

He and his brother, America, came to Mansfield Center to get work, they found two nice girls by the name of Fenton. (Father was Elisha Fenton).

Rand married Sarah Fenton [m. March 6, 1837] and America married Phebe Fenton [m. Dec. 12, 1830], they went back to Maine, three children were born to Rand. They came back to Mansfield Center. Rand got work for Zalmon Storrs, bought an old shack and a piece of land of Mr. Storrs and moved it [the shack] on to the land above the church, there two more girls were born – Julia P. White and Sarah Elizabeth White. Their mother was taken sick which developed in [to] the old fashioned Consumption which caused her death, leaving five children to the care of a housekeeper.

Mr. White built a barn and bought a yoke of oxen and a cow. He made a cart himself and a drag, planted all kinds of vegetables, had to buy more land and set out all kinds of Apple trees but no one to look out for them or anything.

In the mean time a lady [June Thompson, known as Annie] came to Mansfield Center to look after an old couple by the name of Isaiah Ramsdell. Mrs. Ramsdell hired Mr. White to do some work and of course as I suppose they fell in love and their marriage was announced in the pulpit for three Sundays.

Consequence was she went up to live in the old shack on the hill. She had the three older children put out until they were so old, and she brought up the two smaller ones, Julia and Sarah. Julia was 4 years old and Sarah was two years old.

That was not enough, they had one more girl born in 1855, they named her Mary Ann after Mrs. Ramsdell’s two granddaughters – Mary and Ann.

Mrs. White soon had the place cleaned with paint and paper, though small it was the very essence of neatness. She took in work and helped. Mr. White bought more cows. She made butter and sold it, took apples and other things to Willimantic and sold them.  

The White Family Homestead
The White Family Homestead (25 Browns Road)

After working all day for Mr. Storrs, Mr. White would take his crow bar and go up in the lot and get out stone, then take his oxen and drag, he made of two boards, and haul down the stone and began to build the stone part [of his house], for they needed more room. He done the stone work himself, hired a carpenter to do the plastering, and soon they moved their beds out of the kitchen – and no more trundle beds, and sleeping in the attic was a thing of the past. 

We three girls helped a lot, Julia done the upstairs work, Sarah the sweeping and dusting and myself had the dishes and turning away the cows, every morning, besides going to school. Then after school, in to the lot to pick berries – and gather Hazel nuts and butternuts, and chestnuts to sell. Then in the fall pick cranberries – to buy us some shoes. We wore copper toed shoes – had one pair a year, picked barberries, sold them for four dollars a bushel. Father would go up with us some mornings and pound the tree with a large stone after the frost came, to open the burrs and several mornings we got half a bushel of chestnuts (another thing of the past) to sell and walnuts. We kept busy all right. Then there were the cows to get so Mother could do the milking before supper, and get the milk strained and put away – and every year she made three Cheeses, one sage cheese, and once a week I had to change the cloth around them. The other girls had to put the wicks in the candle mould and pour in the tallow… 

Mother dried apples, huckleberries, corn for the winter on the woodshed roof, with mosquito netting over them, took a long time and lots of work. She wore the kitchen floor with her busy feet. 

When we were old enough we all went over to Atwoodville to work in the silk mill. Julia went first, then Sarah and when I was 12 yrs. old – I went. They spooled the silk, I pasted and cut out, and put the labels on both ends of the spools. 

That all helped to buy some things for ourselves and for the new house. We all would go over, after we got out of the mill, about a dozen girls and have a candy pull. Mother would cook it and the girls pull it. (I can taste it now) so good – and we would take back a lot to eat in the mill, go home over the roads a singing, once in a while a couple of fellows would go along to keep the ghosts away. Charles and Julia bringing up the rear but we all had to be in the boarding house at the same time. Charles lived down in the meadow and worked in McFarlin’s [Mcfarlane’s] silk mill. 

Father worked for all the towns people killing hogs and cutting them up and salting them and worked out his taxes on the road with his oxen, laid all the stone walls around here, way down to Conantville. 

Father bought several acres on the road to Atwoodville, where he cut hay enough to feed his oxen and 3 cows, raised 100 bushels of potatoes, 3 different kinds, Turnips two kind, early and late ones – bushels of beans, corn, beets so large and winter squashes, and peanuts. How we would tease him to pull them, so Mother could roast them in the oven. 

Had two gardens at the house and Bees so we had plenty of honey and Mother made beeswax and sold some. Father had the nicest apples that ever grew and all kinds, early and winter ones, and three kinds of sweet apples. 

They both worked together and Father lived there over 50 years and Mother 40 years. In some way my Father got a sore on his under lip – which turned into a cancer and all the time he still laid wall – up to within 2 weeks of his death. 

Mother went to Michigan to see her son and died there. Then my sister, Julia, and her family moved in to the house. After [wards] it was sold and the things auctioned off. Now it is sold and strange people live there but the house still stands the same as ever. 

Mother always kept open house. Had many a quilting party. Old ladies in the afternoon, young ones in the evening, they love to come to get some good things to eat, for Mother was a wonderful cook. She used to cook on the boat from New York to New Orleans and there was a lot of young people in the Center those days and they would make the old house ring with their songs – ( do-da-day).* 

Then when my sister lived there it was just the same. Open house, everyone had a good time, plenty good things to eat, nuts and popcorn. 

Julia was the first to get married then Sarah, then myself and our first child were born there. Since then there has been births and deaths in the house of loved ones, gone on before us – we too will soon be gone – but the house and walls and other things still stay – and memories of bright and sad days are still in our minds as though it were yesterday. 

* Some other interesting information about Annie White from a letter written by her daughter Mary Ann White Allen Clark (author of the above memoir) to Etta Franklin, Althea Stadler’s grandmother: “I am of the old pioneer stock. My mother, when she was 18 years old, drove 4 white horses [and] stage coach over the Alleygania [sic] Mountains in Penn. My uncles owned the stage route and the hotels at each end, and they all 4 got yellow fever and 2 uncles and Aunt Mary died, but Mother had a spanish fly [a type of poultice] over her bowels – and it saved her life, she said she walked the floor all night with it on. Then she landed in Texas with friends, got married. War broke out… Her husband went, got wounded, and died… Got a job as Cook on board the boat from New Orleans to New York. Met a man by the name of Ramsdell who admired her cooking, asked her to come to Mansfield Center to look after his father and mother….” 

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