More Home Place Pics

In my last post, I lamented that my Pop took pics of us kids posing by the house we grew up in, but not OF the house. But I did think it would be fun to share the pics that show a smidge of the house and yard where I set my novel Home Place. And a reader asked me recently if the novel offers a window into how I grew up in this special place. It certainly does. As do these photos. Enjoy!

Most of the pictures I have were taken before I was born. I’m the youngest of four so there are hundreds of photos of my sisters and only slightly fewer of my brother. Photos of me number in the dozens. I try not to take it personally.

But here’s proof that the Home Place was my home too. Here’s the front porch – for company and for show – referred to in the novel. One door leads to the ‘no man’s land’ room that separated the sides of the house used by Kat and her father as it did when my grandmother lived on one side and my parents, sibs, and I lived on the other. The other door leads to ‘our’ living room – the room where Kat strips wallpaper and tears down filmy Priscilla curtains – like the kind my mother favored.

The block of stone where I’m standing was always a bit of a mystery as was the reason for the numbers 1819 carved into the stone. Nobody I asked when I was a kid had a good explanation, though it’s likely that it was a stone from an early bridge across the Pecumsagen Creek. Built in 1819 when Illinois only became a state the year before? Seems unlikely. The stone was a great place to pose and served as one of the many stages on which I rehearsed for a future acting career. My friend Phyllis, whom I’ve known since I was two, remembers belting out tunes like ‘Hooray for Hazel’ atop the stone when we were about the age I am in this picture. We were so cool.

On warm Easter Sundays, Pop took photos in the front yard.

When it wasn’t Easter, the back yard was good enough. Below you can see my mom, siblings and me (the baby) standing in front of one of twin back porches on the west side of the house. Between the back porches were cellar steps that I’d later ride my bike down. I was winning a race with my brother – and as the youngest, I never won anything! So I wasn’t looking where I was going and I hadn’t yet learned how to stop! I screamed all the way down but ended up with only a small cut on my foot – a scar that only shows on my psyche or when I’ve got a tan.

Grandma’s porch to the north was the only of the house’s five porches where anyone ever sat, despite how boiling the house could get in summer. Was it that we were too busy? Or was it about the flies on our working farm?

Inside photos don’t show much of the house.

My mom’s in the living room with dining room and kitchen behind her.
No closets (only two in the whole house)
meant coats hung on the back of doors.

By the time I was born, our farm no longer had horses or chickens, but we did raise sheep, hogs, and a few cows for milk and beef plus the grain and hay to feed the animals and a large garden to feed us.

As farm kids we spent a lot of time outside and with various animals – but in Sunday clothes? This must have been Easter! My sister Kathy tells me that the sheep ‘mowed’ the front lawn, but that – and this photo – was before I was born.

The Hills, creek (always and forever pronounced ‘crick;), and the Timber – about half of the three hundred acres when we lived there – were no good for farming, but terrific for kids! In the Home Place novel, Kat notes how much of her family history – like ours – took place there. The Timber, bluffs and woods on either side of Pecumsagan Creek is a big part of why my heart is so rooted in my Home Place’s soil.

In summer, the Hills were pasture. In winter, they were sledders’ paradise! But
long runs could end up in the creek if you weren’t careful!

The creek was the reason my great-great grandfather homesteaded that particular forty acres. Among other pursuits, Simon Crosiar was a miller. We believe he and his brother fought in the War of 1812 as a way to be released from indenture to a miller in the Pittsburgh area. The factual basis of the photo and story below seems somewhat suspicious. Simon died in 1846. Were photos common in the Illinois countryside then? But yes, Simon did build a mill on the Pecumsagan in a spot where bullrushes grew.

Below the Falls. Simon’s mill was another couple hundred yards or so further downstream where my father stumbled (literally) on the old stagecoach road between Chicago (100 miles north and east) to Peoria (50 miles south and west.)
In 1908, my grandfather Eli built a concrete dam just above a natural waterfall. It didn’t last long, breaking in a flood sometime before 1920. When whole, Eli’s dam was used to generate electricity and created a lake deep enough for boats! It’s hard to imagine being able to canoe in spots where we could cross the creek without getting our feet wet most times of the year.

The mill house was long gone by the time I was born, but the mill race remained. The warning of snakes meant that we crossed the race balancing on a board spanning its width to get to the clearing above the Falls where many picnics took place.

This was the dam we knew – a big block in the creek that was a good spot to sun,
a narrow ledge we’d perch on, and a picturesque spot for Pop’s amateur photography.
The creek was the best playground. Not deep enough to swim except in the icy waters of spring, but great for cooling off in summer and skating in winter. Finding a ledge in the falls and letting water splash over your shoulders – pretty sweet.
The clearing above the falls on the west side of the creek was a favorite spot for picnics. This one took place in 1937, and though it’s identified as a school picnic, that’s my maternal grandmother and uncle in the foreground. Mom taught at the Crosiar school then, and apparently her whole family was invited for the school picnic too!

I have few other photos that show a lot of my old Home Place – not the house, not the hills, not the timber or the creek. There is a shot of my father’s machine shed, built in the early 1960s and about as ugly as a metal building of its time can be. And a few more shots Pop took – snow in cornfields and drifting near the creek. Not nearly enough to capture the essence of the place.

Not enough to guide me – and more importantly my cover artist Nancy Lane – to recreate my old home as a cover for my novel. Fortunately, Nancy is brilliant, a superb listener, and incredibly patient! The cover of Home Place, the novel was conjured from memories, and it’s become my all-time favorite depiction of the place as it looked when I lived there. It really is MY Home Place where my roots remain deeply planted.

By the way, the house does still stand, and from the Google Earth perspective, it appears to have had renovations but still houses two families. The land has been bulldozed, reshaped and groomed into what Kat feared most – a golf course. I hear it’s a good golf course. I haven’t been back since one lightning visit in the mid-nineties (I think.) It took weeks, maybe years to lift my jaw up from the ground from the shock of barely recognizing the place that lives in my memory. No doubt that shock, along with my love of the place and its history was the impetus that led me to set a novel there. That and my fervent hope that in fiction, I might be able to re-write history so maybe Kat could save her ancestral home when that option was not available for my family. Maybe. Or maybe not. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Find Home Place, the novel at:

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