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Sarah NorrisJerseyville Republican, January 12, 1922 (reprinted in The Prairie Schooner, Jersey Co. Historical Society, Fall 1982, pp. 14-16)
Mrs. Sarah NORRIS – In the oldest house now standing in Jerseyville lives its oldest woman resident, Mrs. Sarah HANSEL NORRIS. She was born February 16, 1832, in Pennsylvania. Her father, Wm. HANSEL, came west in 1837. His eldest daughter, Mrs. John HUTCHINSON, and his brother-in-law, Samuel SUNDERLAND, were already here.
For $25.00 Mr. Norris purchased a lot and with the help of Mr. SUNDERLAND and some neighbors erected on it the house in which Mrs. NORRIS is living on West Pearl Street.
Mr. Hansel returned for his family, who were then at Trenton, New Jersey. Their immediate departure was prevented by an epidemic of smallpox so the westward journey was not begun until the spring of 1840. Leaving a married daughter in Philadelphia, Mr. and Mrs. HANSEL, with their daughters and two sons, traveled by water to Alton. Mr. Hansel and his eldest son then walked to Jerseyville, and Sunderland drove them to Alton in a wagon to get Mrs. Hansel and their household goods.
They arrived in Jerseyville, June 1, 1840, and the reminiscences of Mrs. Norris, who was then eight years old, are intensely interesting. The wild primitive country frightened her and she cried to be taken back east. Weeds, brush, and thickets were everywhere. The hazel bushes grew from six to seven feet high and to see deer leaping over them was a frequent occurrence, especially in the section now called Woodlawn.
There was never a scarcity of food. Wild game was plentiful; deer, turkey, duck., geese, prairie chicken. And there was an abundance of wild fruit; black-berries, strawberries, plums, cherries, grapes, and crabapples. And, although they did not know how to can fruit as we do, their preserves, jellies, butters, and dried fruits were delicious.
Snakes were also much in evidence, especially in the west woods. And at night the pioneers were often serenaded by howling wolves.
The HANSELS had a fireplace, but they had brought with them a stove on which they cooked. This was a convenience which many of their neighbors lacked, and in its absence, they used “Dutch Ovens,” a covered skillet buried in live coals. Household duties then included molding candles and the use of tinder boxes in which scorched cloth was kept. When a light was desired, our forefathers ignited the cloth by means of flint, and a sulphured match was lighted from the cloth. This because they had no striking matches.
And carpets were such a novelty that when the Hansels cleaned theirs and hung it on the fence, it excited the neighborhood admiration.
Ox teams passed often with women drivers smoking pipes.
The little old court house was surrounded by plum and crabapple trees. The only church here was the old Presbyterian building and it was unfinished. Mrs. Norris says that plans for a Baptist Church were first discussed in her home. The Hansels were Puritans, but in the absence of other friends here, they affiliated with the Baptist Church on what is now the new post office site. Mrs. Norris attended two schools, one where Mrs. PIERCE now lives on South Lafayette where Elijah DODSON was the instructor, and one south of George CASEY’s home on North Washington where a Mr. GUERNSEY taught.
Dave BONNELL was the proprietor of a local grocery store, but it was not well stocked and most of the supplies were purchased in Alton. The mail was brought from Alton by stage and it cost 25 cents to send a letter.
When the wind was propitious, these early settlers ground their grain at SHAFF’s windmill, which was situated in the vicinity of the old shoe factory.
People were very sociable, friendly, and hospitable then, Easterners coming here to locate usually stopped at the Hansel home. Mrs. Norris remembers their entertaining 22 Easterners at one time with trunks stacked as high as the house. And frequently as many as 15 were unexpected guests.
She says there were very few Indians here, but many passed through on their ceaseless migrations. One night an Indian and his squaw stopped at the Hansel home and asked shelter for the night. They were enroute to Washington with some papers. Despite Mrs. Hansel’s trepidation, her husband allowed them to roll up in their blankets and spend the night on the floor. With grunts meant to express gratitude, they took their departure the next morning.
The only colored person here was Sam EVANS brought by an uncle of Mrs. Norris, John SUNDERLAND, and retained as a helper to Dr. D’ARCY.
Among the early settlers who were friends and neighbors to the Hansels were the LOWES, COPES, GRIMES, CORBETTS., WATTS, Deacon COOPER, Squire HILLS, Dr. D’ARCY, DR. SNELL , Colonel KNAPP, and a little later the SNEDEKERS.
Afterwards Mr. Hansel bought 40 acres of land near the old fairground, grubbed it out and built him a home. From that home Sarah was married in 1854 to Johnston NORRIS. Mrs. Norris is the last of a family of seven children and she lives with her daughter, Mrs. Emma WILCOX, the only one of her four children now living. Those were the good old days when a man’s word was as good as his bond, and his helping hand was always ready. They are gone and our only connection with them is through the reminiscences of these kindly representatives of a past generation.
Contributed by Judy Griffin.