George A., having moved to Toledo in the mid 1860’s at age 5, spent his childhood attending school, working, and finding ways for he and his siblings to entertain themselves. He describes Toledo as a place with “no clean paved streets, well kept parks, art museums or fine stores. It did however, boast a public school system.” This was apparently a rarity of the time when, in many cities, students were either from families who could afford to send them to private schools or were “charity pupils”. George notes that “education was largely a monopoly enjoyed by the privileged few,” and his family was fortunate that in Toledo they had access to that privilege.
He talks of spending his days learning his father’s trade as a Tanner. This type of learning was common of children at that time. “After school and on Saturdays, and during vacations, boys clerked in their fathers’ stores, read law in their offices, or made themselves generally useful in whatever activity their elders might be employed.” George received his first opportunity to earn a wage from the Toledo Blade and the Democrat, two Toledo newspapers. “I would gladly have gone before, but I was restrained until my eighth birthday,” he wrote. He would arrive at 4 a.m., wait in line for his share of papers, and then head out on his route.
For entertainment the children made music or created playthings, such as kites, and bows and arrows. “The war had popularized the fife and drum. Almost every group of neighborhood youngsters organized fife and drum corps.” They made the drum frames out of round cheese boxes that they had shellacked at a paint shop, and they prepared the drumheads at the tannery. “During the long summer evenings, all the children in our neighborhood congregated on a vacant lot near our home, attracted by the sound of my brother Henry’s fife accompanied by four snare drums. Here, we marched and sang the songs men had so lately made immortal on their country’s battlefields.”
George’s father, John, encouraged this creative and imaginative activity as “He believed that every child was a potential artist and craftsman; all he needed was the opportunity for creative expression,” from Three Men and a Business.
Kids are not so different today despite all the avenues for entertainment they have. We have had countless homemade bows, arrows, and drums in our home.
Hormel Historic Home
208 4th Ave. NW
Austin, MN 55912