Today I leave with my wife and kids for ten days of sun and fun with my extended family–a Christmas vacation–which makes me wonder what types of vacations my ancestors took.
A cursory glance through my family research uncovered only a few examples of vacations. I know my immediate family went on trips when I was growing up. I’ve heard that my parents took vacations with their parents when they were young. But beyond that, the stories are few.
I made a note to do a little research, to try to figure out what normal people did to get away in the 19th century and before. I found a book, Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States by Cindy Aron, that might tell me more.
The earliest vacation that I know of by an ancestor of mine is from the early 1900s. In the Centennial History of Grant County, Indiana written in 1914, the author reports the following:
Mr. [Evan H.] Ferree on August 20, 1880 married Flora A. Cammack, daughter of Willis and Sarah (Jay) Cammack. Their children are: Edna S., wife of Edward H. Harris, and Evan Mark Ferree. The two little granddaughters in the family are Virginia and Janet Harris. The Harrises live in Richmond, but each summer Mrs. Ferree and her children and grandchildren spend some time in the Ferree cottage at Winona Lake. Mr. Ferree has always been a useful man in the community, fulfilling an old saying in Quaker circles, “He is frequently used in the meeting.”
Winona Lake in northern Indiana was known as a vacation spot as early as the 1890s. The Beyer brothers had purchased much of the land around the lake in the 1880s. Seeing the natural beauty of the area, they developed it as a resort area.
Religious leaders in the Presbyterian church envisioned the area as a place for retreats and conferences. By 1905, infrastructure was in place and the number of seasonal visitors had risen to over 10,000 each year. Between 1905 and 1914, up to 250,000 visitors came during the summers to hear religious speakers and musicians.
Billy Sunday, a former baseball player who became one of the most famous evangelists of the early twentieth century, called Winona Lake his home. His revivals made headline news all over the country. He traveled around and preached to millions, but he also drew many to Winona Lake.
I don’t know what caused my great-great grandmother to want to spend her summers in Winona Lake. I don’t know when she started going there or what she did when she was there.
But according to the history quoted above, my great-great grandmother took her children and grandchildren to the cottage on the lake during the summertimes. Certainly fond memories were formed. Pictures were probably taken (I may have even seen a few buried in the family files).
What’s interesting is the contrast between Mrs. Ferree and Mr. Ferree. While Mrs. Ferree is frolicking with the children and grandchildren, Mr. Ferree is “a useful man in the community.”
Earlier in the paragraph quoted above, my great-great grandfather’s achievements are detailed: “Evan H. Ferree was a teacher for fourteen years, having had experience in both country and town schools and in a political way he has been favored by the voters of Grant county…He has served as postmaster at Marion, and is at present connected with the Marion Light and Heating Company.”
Perhaps it was Mr. Ferree’s hard work and achievements that made the vacations possible. I don’t know whether he ever got to tag along or not. More likely, a man of his generation and his station in the community kept his hand at the plow, his nose to the grindstone, and worked hard to provide opportunities for his children and grandchildren.
I’m thankful that because of his hard work and the advancement of our society through the efforts of many people like him, I can vacation with my family today.