This is about Granny Jennie’s mother Mary Jane, who dominated the Illinois prairie around her in the late 1800s but may have longed for a trip to … Switzerland?

My great-grandmother, Mary Jane Robertson, always wanted to go to Switzerland, or so I imagine. So she painted this fantastic landscape with a crooked chalet and mountains that look like upside-down ice cream cones. Clearly she had never seen real mountains. Granny Jennie, my grandmother, hung it over her sofa. Now it’s in my living room. I really like the folk art flavor.

1915? Samuel and Mary Jane EldredMary Jane was born in 1850. She was living in Jacksonville, Illinois, when she met her husband, my great-grandfather, Samuel Eldred. She came from a well-to-do family and graduated from college in 1872.

He came a-courting, a young farmer who had just homesteaded a large piece of land, himself son of a bank president (in Carrollton, some distance away). She told him no log cabins. He had to build her a very large and wonderful house on that farm before she would agree to come and live on it. So he did. Pretty soon they had three children. The youngest was Jennie. Jennie was small and slight, at 5 feet 2, and her mother was similar.

1893- Jennie Eldred and parents Samuel and Mary Jane on horseback lr

Jennie and her parents on horseback at the farm: 1893? Note that Mary Jane is riding sidesaddle.

Mary Jane crusaded for Prohibition because she was concerned for the welfare of the tenant families on their farm. And she was very interested in health foods made by the W.K. Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. A formidable woman. Mild-mannered Jennie was no match for her, I expect.

Samuel Eldred's farm desk

Samuel Eldred’s farm desk

I don’t know that much about the personality of Samuel Eldred, born in 1848 in a log cabin in Carrollton, Illinois (a time when everyone lived in log cabins there). But I do have the desk where he sat to manage his big farm in that farmhouse in Montgomery County. And I do know that he moved his family back to Carrollton eventually and took up the presidency of the family bank there, leaving a son to run the big farm.

Eldred mantel clock

Eldred mantel clock

We’re talking about heirlooms here, so let me mention my inlaid mantel clock. Granny Jennie and her brother John each had one, a fancy item for the time, made in Germany. This one is dated 1913, the year before Jennie got married. Did Mary Jane order them for wedding gifts for her kids?  Jennie’s has come down to me, and John’s to his grandson.

A bit more on the Eldreds

According to family lore and the local historical society, Samuel’s grandfather William Eldred was an early settler of the county (before there was a Carrollton). He’d come to Greene County as a married adult, alongside his father, mother, and six siblings. The Eldred clan came from New York–having waited to see whether Illinois would enter the union as a free or a slave state. Illinois came in as a free state in 1818, and so the Eldreds proceeded with their plan, arriving in 1821.

It was definitely the frontier. Central Greene County had been first settled just three years earlier in 1818 by Samuel Thomas and his family and two other families. Native Americans were in evidence, at least early on.

Samuel Thomas’s daughter Eliza married young Jeduthan Eldred and had four children including my great-grandfather Samuel Eldred.

The Eldreds originally came from Ipswich, England, in 1625 or so, settling in Massachusetts.

And that’s all I can tell you about them!




Short Story by Phyllis Wheeler

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