Chestnut Trees A Hundred Years Ago

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, October 5, 1911: Besse was out a little while this afternoon. Brought some chestnuts. Didn’t have any before. Such an extraordinary occurrence. Ruth’s cow had twin calves. Both are white, rather good lookers. Ruth and I carried one down out of the field and out to the barn. Then we put him in the express wagon and he tumbled out.

Chestnuts (Source: Wikimedia)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This entry befuddles me. I’m surprised that Grandma considered chestnuts a treat when her married sister Besse brought them, and that she’d never previously eaten any.

I would have guessed that chestnut trees were very common in central Pennsylvania in 1911—and my research supports that impression. Here’s what I found:

Chestnut trees were once more popular in the US than they are today—but many died due to a chestnut blight.

According t o Wikipedia, the blight was first identified on Long Island, New York  in 1904—and chestnut trees largely died out in the US over the next 40 years.  Wikipedia also says:

In some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains and others, one quarter of hardwoods were chestnuts. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet (15 m), up to 100 feet, averaging up to 5 feet in diameter. For three centuries, most barns and homes east of the Mississippi River were made from it.

Bottom line—I still think that chestnut trees were common in 1911, so I’m still confused by this entry.

Twin Calves

It’s relatively rare for a cow to have twins. When I was growing up on a farm in the 1960’s we had a herd of 40 cows—and about one set of twins was born per year. I’m not sure how many cows the Muffly’s had, but it probably was in the range of 5 to 10 cows—so years probably went by between the birth of twins.

I can almost picture Grandma and her sister Ruth chatting and laughing as they collaboratively worked to bring one of the calves down to the barn.

For a discussion of how the Muffly children owned their own cows see the previous post on this topic.

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