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My Grandpa - James Griswold

As some thought, I should write some things I remember about Grandpa & some things my mother (Eva Griswold Maxfield) told me … so I’ll try.  They may not be just as they happened, so…here it is. 

He (James Griswold) was born in Lock Berlin, New York, October 21, 1844.  He came to Lee County with his family when he was four years old.  They settled on an 80-acre farm his father had purchased from his brother, Aaron, who was in real estate.  They came mostly by boat and landed in Keokuk.  The farm was about 25 miles north.  Here his parents lived for the rest of their lives.

My mother was told that her father liked to play tricks on his brothers & tease his sisters.  One time a brother was taking his girl friend for a buggy ride.  They had gone some distance when Jimmy popped up behind the seat!  It frightened the girl;  she screamed, and that scared the horse.  So, they had to turn around and take Jimmy back home.  Wonder what happened to him?

When the Civil War broke out, he was too young to go from Iowa, so he went to Illinois.  He enlisted at Kankakee, Illinois, the fifth of December, 1861.  He was 17 years old at the time.  He was discharged June 30, 1862, because of chronic bronchitis as the result of a severe case of measles and of his extreme youth.  When he returned, he was hospitalized at a place in Keokuk called the Estes House where ill & wounded soldiers were kept.

Grandpa & Grandma (Magnolia Skyles) were married October 24, 1866.  Shortly after they were married, Grandpa was hired as a turnkey of the jail next to the court house in Fort Madison.  It was Grandma’s duty to take the meals to the prisoners.  One time on the way back to the house they had a race.  Grandpa climbed over the fence!  The men in the court house saw him & thought he was a prisoner escaping and took out after him yelling, _”Prisoner escaping”!!   They were not very pleased with this escapade but my Mother said he used to tell about it and laugh.

They settled on the farm where his parents lived, and he took over the farming.  They lived here all their married lives and raised their eleven children—six boys and five girls.  As my mother was next to the oldest, a boy, she had a lot to do with helping to care for the youngest ones. 

One time when they had the potatoes, apples, keg of molasses, among other things stored in the cellar, and had  just been to Keokuk and bought the boys some winter clothes, their house burned.  They lost everything.  The family had to stay with relatives and neighbors all winter.  When my Mother got quite old, she used to talk about this so much, so I guess they had a very hard time.  They built a new house close to where the old one was.  It was a two-story with a summer kitchen to the south.  There was a covered porch between the house and the kitchen.  I guess you would call it a breezeway now.  On the east side were two rooms and a built-in porch with a door into the dining room where Grandpa’s parents lived.  His father died in 1884 & his mother in 1899.

I remember the barn was quite large with an alleyway clear through.  To the north was a place where Grandpa kept his tools, a cider press, and various things he bought at sales, and the corn crib.  On the south was the stall for the horses and another one for the cows, then the higher loft. 

My mother said Grandpa planted a large pickle patch, and it was the job of the ones old enough to pick them.  Pickles had to be picked every day, so they got pretty tired of it, and the pickle season lasted several weeks.  How she hated that pickle patch!  When they got a load they were hauled to Keokuk where there was a cannery.  Grandpa got a Civil War pension, and he must have got it before he was very old as my Mother was still going to school close by.  The kids at school would make remarks abut her Father getting a pension, and she was ashamed of it.  I guess he was the only one in the neighborhood getting one. 

Not any of the boys took to farming and left as soon as they were old enough to get jobs.  Three worked for the Santa Fe Railroad.  (Edgar, Simeon, & Victor Griswold).  The others went to Texas, St. Louis & Detroit.  The girls all married but one, and lived within driving distance.

We lived the closest by, within walking distance, so I grew up spending quite a bit of time at their place.  The youngest boy, Uncle Kenneth, and Aunt Bessie were the only ones home then. 

Grandpa was rather short, gray-haired, a mustache and twinkling blue eyes.  He had a ready laugh, but could be stern at times.

Behind the barn there was a creek that was a real playground for the grandchildren in the summer times.  Grandpa made a swing for us by putting a cable over a high limb of a tall cottonwood tree close to the bank, tying a rope in a loop on the end of the cable for us to sit in.  Someone would pull us up on a higher bank and let us swing out over the creek.  When it would stop, we would drop down in the creek, and it was more fun if there was some water there!  It was also good to play in the sand & to wade.  My father was afraid some of us would drown in that creek, but we all escaped.

It was great fun to go over there to make cider.  Grandpa was very generous with his cider press.  We took our apples over and most of the neighbors did, too.  It had to be turned by hand, but there were always plenty there to take turns.  A good place for folks to visit, and Grandpa liked to visit. Another thing I liked to watch them do was to put up hay.  There was a big fork tied to a rope and pulley, hitched to a team of horses.  The horses would start, pull on the rope;  the fork would go up to the mow where there was a track into the mow, stop and someone would pull on the rope, and the hay would drop.  I remember what nice potatoes Grandpa raised, so smooth and large.  I guess I thought they were so nice as we couldn’t raise them so nice on our sandy place.

Grandpa’s first car was more like a horseless carriage.  It had two seats, rather high wheels with solid rubber tires and no top.  It was an ABC.  I don’t know where he got it, and there was only one more around;  Dr. Davis in Charleston had one.  It kept Uncle Kenneth and my older brother busy trying to keep it in running order, so it didn’t last very long.  Uncle Kenneth was more interested in mechanics, so he went to Detroit to work. Uncle Hurd came from St. Louis to help on the farm.  He and his family lived close by with Aunt Beulah’s (Cale) mother who needed care.

Grandpa belonged to the Episcopal Church in Montrose.  His father hauled stone to help build that church, and it still stands.  One time we had a family reunion in Montrose at my Aunt Gladys Wardlow’s home, and Grandpa took me, my sister Edith & cousins Hazel & Helen Vermazen in to church in the p.m.  The minister had services in Keokuk in the a.m.  Later the members got so few it was disbanded.  Grandpa was a Democrat and a strong one.  At one time he was Justice of the Peace.  Don’t know if he was elected or appointed.  Mother said folks would bring their problems to him, and the older children would like to stand around and listen, but were never allowed to.  Even Grandma had to leave the room! 

As Uncle Hurd did most of the farm work now, Grandpa had more time to do other things he liked, and one thing was to ride his horse.  He called it a pony, but it was a large pony, and he frequently rode it over to our house,  One time he was there and told me to get on to ride down to the end of our lane to get the mail. I got on, and as we got to the end of the lane, the pony thought she was going home and took off on a very fast lope. I couldn’t stop her and hung on as best I could, very scared.  We met a neighbor who saw my plight, stopped her, turned us around, picked up my sunbonnet and headed us back, but I didn’t get the mail!  Grandpa thought it was funny, but I didn’t.

Grandpa liked to read.  I remember the tall bookcase with glass doors in the northwest corner of the dining room.  He had a set of six history books and many others and always took a daily newspaper.  Close by was his leather covered Morris Chair where he liked to sit and read.

He didn’t think much of Grandma’s reading material—called it frivolous!  I remember Grandma going for her afternoon nap with the “Ladies Home Journal” and  “Cosmopolitan” magazine tucked under her arm.

There was a lawn swing under a shade tree close to the house, and in the summer he liked to sit out there and read the newspaper, and often, a neighbor, Mr. Judy, would come to visit.  They had some heated arguments as Mr. Judy was a strong Republican.  One time he said he was never coming back, but he did.

Grandpa bought another car, a Chevrolet.  He didn’t drive it too much himself, and when Grandma or Aunt Bessie wanted to go to town, he got someone else to drive.  He often got my brother Bob (Maxfield) to drive when he wanted to go not too far in the country.  Bob was only 16, but you didn’t have to have a driver’s license then.

He belonged to a Civil War veteran’s organization called “The Grand Old Army”.  When they had their meetings in Fort Madison, he could go by train.  He most always went and enjoyed it very much. 

When I started to high school, I didn’t see my grandparents so much.  We went to Fort Madison,and it was too far to drive, so we stayed all week.  On Saturday there was plenty to do to go back on Monday.

As Grandpa’s bronchial trouble began to bother him so much, he began to spend the winter months in the Soldier’s Home in Quincy.  They had no furnace in their home, so was warmer there.  One time he went to Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I remember one time my brother and mother went on the train to Quincy to see him.  He liked to get letters from the family and was pretty good about writing.  One time he sent money to each of his five daughters to buy a new hat for Easter.  He was always glad to get home again in the spring to see what Uncle Hurd had been doing on the farm.  He seemed to be doing quite well but passed away in his sleep July 24, 1922.  That was the year I was married.

We kept on having the family reunions at Thanksgiving when all the aunts, uncles, and cousins that could, came.  Grandma & Aunt Bessie stayed on the home place until Grandma died in November, 1939.  so the cousins’ children got to play on the same farm their parents did.

Uncle Hurd retired and the farm was sold.  The house is still standing and looks very forlorn with the windows out and corn growing up to the very foundation.  I think children are cheated that don’t have grandparents to love and know.


James Griswold ca 1863 Magnolia Skyles c 1866 James Griswold homestead
on Charleston 0Road

Click photo to enlarge   

By Hilda Maxfield Krehbiel
From the family records of Carol Griswold Salli

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