The Diary of  Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh

Naperville, Illinois  1848-1873Hannah Ditzler

Excerpts from her diaries, published in "A View of Historic Naperville," from The Sky-Lines, articles by Genevieve Towsley, published in the Naperville Sun Newspaper.   Consent to reprint graciously given by Sun Publications, July 20, 1999.   Thanks beyond words to Sun Publications and Ms. Towsley for this wonderful contribution!  The original ledgers amounted to 500 pages.  All notes in italics are Ms. Towsley's comments.
A Brief Account of Hannah's family history precedes the paragraphs that tell her memories of early childhood.  She uses as her title, 'Early Years and Late Reflections.'   Note by Genevieve Towsley.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 18, 2010:  Family members have requested that I add a few corrections to this published account.  Please see these corrected dates BELOW.

Early Years and Late Reflections
   "Three brothers named Ditzler came from Germany to America and settled in Lancaster county in Pennsylvania.  They were Thomas, Michael, and John.  John was my grandfather.  His wife's name was Schuman, and their oldest son was Johnathan, my father, who was born in 1813.
   "Grandfather had a land grant of the War of 1812 which was given to my father who got land in Blackberry, Ill. Later traded for Iowa land, then traded for a lot in Naperville- northeast corner lot on Washington and Franklin.  there he built a house in 1873 and had tenants.  This was finally sold to Mrs. Barbara Egermann. (The house was razed several years ago.)
   "My mother was Esther Alspach (later spelled Alspaugh), born near Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1814.  My parents were married in Orwigsburg in 1834.  In 1836 they traveled in a little one-horse wagon to Ohio and lived in Greentown until 1844.  Sister Elizabeth (Libbie) and brother Eli were born there.
   "In the fall of 1844 they came by way of the lakes to Chicago, where they landed on the sand of Lake Michigan.  Later my father and uncle John Alspaugh walked to Naperville where father settled, and not long after, built a house on the northeast corner of Eagle and Van Buren (the home which in recent years belonged to the late Eva Haman).
   "Sister Susan was born in a home we rented in 1845, and I was born in our own home on Eagle street February 23, 1848- the house where I lived till 1914, 66 years. (She had remained a spinster until middle life, but in 1890 she married her cousin, John Alspaugh, a widower with three children.)
   "Every evening after supper, father would take Sue and I in his lap and sitting in the old Boston rocker, he would sing Bye-o-Bye baby and put us to sleep.  As the kitchen door was open, we could see the reflection in the mirror of mother doing up the supper dishes.  We used to sleep in a trundle bed in mother's room.  In daytime it was moved under her bed. (The Ditzlers usually had a border or two, and often had relatives visiting, so space was at a premium.)
   "On Christmas we usually got candy, nuts, raisins, and oranges.  One time we got tippets (scarfs) to wear around the neck.  These were the first gifts I remember.  They were hid in mother's bureau drawer.  I told Sue I didn't believe in Santa Claus.  She asked why, and I said, 'Because I saw our tippets in mother's drawer...'
   "Mother said I walked when I was nine months old.  Eli used to hold a stick and I would take hold of it.  He was always my help.  Sue and I used to wear linsy-woolsey dresses of plaid, and quilted bonnets- green or purple with lining of pink silk- that my mother made and were worn by all then...Mother used to buy carded wool and spin it into yarn on her wheel.  We children often worked the treadle to rest her foot, using our hands.  She knit stockings for other people.  Made a lot for the Houser family- blue and white striped ones, and red and white...
   "Mother and I wore our green, quilted mantels- long capes that were thick and warm- when she and father and I rode with Mr. Manbeck to Chicago.  He used to do teaming to Chicago, and we rode with him in the wagon over the Plank road.  At Bulls Head tavern, at the corner of Madison street and Ogden avenue, we saw Indians on a long porch, wrapped in their blankets...
   "North of our house was an open field.  Naper's fields, we called it, where we used to pick wild strawberries and sorrel.  There was lots of sorrel in the Academy (Naper School) yard, too.  We used to gather it and mother made pies of it.  there was a 'froggery' north of Benton where we children used to play and jump from one hill to another...
   "Daniel Lehman taught school down near the brook on Jefferson avenue. (Where would that be?).  She attended there, and I went with her one day.  Lydia Stricker took her little sister, too.  There was an eclipse of the sun, and we were afraid, associating it with Bible records (of the world coming to the end?). I think I can still hear the gurgling of the brook under the wooden floor...
    "In early years my sister Libbie was a nurse girl at Sleights, who lived on the hill on the east side of town.  (It early became a tradition for the daughters of families of limited income to work for households of more affluence.).  She had charge of Ida Sleight, and on Saturdays mother would dress Sue and me clean and we would go and play with Ida.  She was then the only child, and had lots of playthings- dishes and dolls, etc.  Her mother would give us lunch, and we used Ida's toy dishes.  Oh, how we enjoyed those hours!  Ida grew to be a sweet woman like her mother.  She married Will Wright, and I often met them in later days at soldiers' reunions...
    "The Evangelical church was only a few doors from our house (now St. John's United Church of Christ on W. Van Buren).  As the Sunday school way in the afternoon, some folks stayed, and we often had lots of company to dinner.  My parents fed many people, and I wonder how mother could do it all, for she was subject to severe headaches.  Father was treasurer and librarian in Sunday school, and mother a teacher.  In 1858 the church was sold to the Lutheran congregation, which had been meeting in the Academy, and the Evangelicals built a new brick church (on the site of the present Community United Methodist Church).
   "A neighbor, Mrs. Strouse, died in the summer of 1854.  It was customary to give a dinner for the relatives.  It was hot;  the odor was bad; and the flies were plenty.  Mother was there to help with the dinner, and I think it must have been there where she took the (typhoid) fever which nearly cost her life...She got sick, and for three months hung between life and death.  Mrs. Mary Dissinger kept house for us.  (Sister Libbie had married and gone to California).
   "Sue also had the typhoid fever, and lay on the trundle bed in the parlor.  I used to chase the flies from her.  Many died from typhoid fever that summer.  Mother was so low that we expected her to die.  In that case I would go to live with Aunt Hannah in Chicago, and Sue was to got to Aunt Tena Miller.  But, thank God, mother recovered and lived to be nearly 89 years old..."
   Living in the mainstream of Naperville's activities in the middle of the 19th century, Hannah Ditzler was a witness to many events of significant historical value.  Her contemporaries had the same opportunity; but to Hannah we are indebted for recording her impressions of them.  Her memories of school, playmates, and family enable us to appreciate the uncomplicated but often difficult way of life that prevailed in the modest homes of our villagers.
   In 1853, Patrick Tole was murdered north of "Warren station" (Warrenville) while being robbed by Patrick Doyle.  The murderer was arrested and brought to Naperville, then the county seat, for trial.  His guilt was established, and he was sentenced to be hanged.  Not until the next Spring was he actually put to death.  Hannah, a child of six, was among the scores of witnesses to this, our county's only hanging!
   "Our neighbor, Mr. Meyers, had a little wagon and one horse.  He took his children and Sue and me to the scene.  It was out on Chicago avenue at the foot of the hill- now a gravel pit (Ritzert's).  I remember how we rode over the rocky road and say the hillside covered with people, then saw the white robed figure with a white cap jerked up.  Oh, I never saw such a sight and never want to!
   "We had stopped outside the field and stayed in the wagon.  When we came home, we found cousins Mary and Sarah Miller here for Blackberry (?).  Sarah was dressed in white, and wore one of mother's lovely red roses.  She looked so handsome it made me forget the horror of the scene..."
   1854 was the year, too, when Hannah's sister Libbie, only 18, was married, and went in a "prairie schooner" with her young husband to California.  Hannah tells the circumstances, and then pasted into her scrap book her sister Libbie's detailed recollections of the six-month ordeal.   Read  Libbie's Story.

Hannah's lifelong interest was in the Naper Academy, later Naper school.  As a little child she watched it being erected, since the Ditzler home was directly across Eagle street from it.  she attended it as a student, and for many years was a teacher there.  Her journal is filled with memories of her school days, as well as other event.
   The Academy was incorporated in 1851 by Joseph Naper, John Collins, and Lewis Ellsworth.  It was privately operated, and attracted students not only from Naperville but also from the surrounding communities, since the public school system was in its infancy.  Some of the students actually lived at the academy, with Mr.[sic] N. F. Atkins, wife of the first principal, serving as "preceptress."
   Hannah writes, "In 1855 I first began to go to school.  Went in the Academy across the street.  Mrs. Snyder was my teacher, and she used to take me in her lap and teach me letters and words.  She had only girls, and used to allow we little girls to go out and play.  When the teacher would rap on the window it was a signal to come in.  One day Eli came to have me run home to try on the green coat mother was making me...
   "John and Nick Stenger owned the breweries on Franklin street (where the telephone company building is now located).  They made beer which they hauled in long tank-like wagons past our house down to the cellar at the foot of Eagle street (present site of Colonial Motors).  In the winter months, when it was cold, we could hear the creak of the wagon from afar.  It seems I can still hear it!  When it was wet and muddy, how we dreaded to see the poor horses pull, and hear the curses of the driver.  When one of the buildings was destroyed by fire, the malt was stored in the Academy until a malt house was rebuilt...
   "Eli used to build fires and ring the bell for his schooling.  When Sue and I were big enough, we used to sweep the rooms for our tuition, as the Academy was a pay school then.  I always felt ashamed when the other scholars saw me sweep.  Miss Dewey had an art class for the young ladies.  I used to admire the paintings on the easels, and lose all interest in sweeping till Sue would chide me...
   "When the winter days were short, we had no hot meal at noon, but ate a lunch in the front room of cold corned beef and bread with apple butter. Oh my, it tasted good!  Eli used to sit in the woodbox so as not to scatter crumbs...
   "On Sept. 27, 1856, there was a Democratic meeting in Naperville.  The crowd assembled on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Eagle- just a block from our house.  We children stood on the roof of Andrew's shed.  Stephen Douglas was the speaker.  Seats were arranged under the tall elms, and a large crowd of people was there.  But before it was over, a snow storm came and all ran for the academy.  the speech was finished in the basement...(This incident has been portrayed in a painting by Lester Schrader).
   "In Feb. 1857 there was a Big Freshet in Naperville.  The ice broke and came down over the dam and swept away the two bridges and many buildings- Willards shop, Printing office, Hines shop, and others.  I remember as I stood at the window of hearing the crash and the buildings fall...
   "Sometime in 1858 a minister's wife- Mrs. Heilman- died and left three little girls.  they were very poor and she had been sick for a long time.  The father had to find homes for them.  Eshers took the oldest- Mary, Steiningers took Amelia, and my mother took Cascelia- not yet two years old.  she had been neglected and was sick- and her face all scabby.  When I came home from school, the child stood on the cellar door- the very picture of distress.  My good kind mother got medicine and in a short time had her cured.  She was pretty and became very dear to us.  When her father remarried, he took her home...
"I loved to go to school, and learned very fast.  I would not miss, nor be tardy.  Sue and I used to pare potatoes for dinner, and I was always afraid I would be late to school...
   "Every Friday in school we had to speak pieces, but I was so timid I could not face the whole school.  No matter how well I knew my piece, when I stood up to speak I burst into tears.  Eli promised me gifts, but I could not speak.  At length, Mr. Richmond (the principal who followed Mr. Atkins) allowed me to read compositions from my seat, which I could do.
   "I have reason to think I was one of Mr. Richmond's favorite pupils. (He taught the older students while serving as principal.)  He always gave me hard problems and seemed proud of my mastery of them.  At examinations he gave me the longest and hardest tests.  He once told my father he was going to make a teacher of me.  In his walks around the school room he often stopped at my desk and saw my drawings.  After I graduated he offered me a class without my remotest idea- when many others had previously applied for the position...When I was teaching he often looked in my room and saw my work, saying, 'Whatever Hannah does, she does well.'  I shall always revere his memory...(Mr. Richmond was co-author with H. F. Vallette of the first history of DuPage County. Published in 1858, it is now a rare and treasured volume.  He later became County superintendent of schools.)
   "Camp meetings were held every summer, and my parents always went.  They put up a tent, and the Alspaugh cousins of Geneva would bring their brown covered tent next to ours, so as to use our stove.  It was a yearly gathering for us younger cousins.  I can still see the circle of tents, the wooden pulpit, and the three large fireplaces, where at night the fires lit up the enclosure.  I used to watch the sparks fly upward among the trees, and listen to the never-to-be-forgotten hymns...
   "Father and cousin Eli Rickert worked on the brick Evangelical church (the forerunner of the edifice that now serves Community United Methodist Church- on the southeast corner of Franklin and Center.)  It was 1858 and 1859.  Once father was cool-headed enough to save Eli from falling from the top of the steeple...
   "In the fall of 1859 the General Conference of the Evangelical church was held in Naperville in the new church where father and Eli had worked.  The upper story was not plastered- only lathed.  My parents took delegates, and the Alspaugh cousins came over to help mother.  Uncle Henry and Aunt Maria Alspaugh were here from Circleville, Ohio, on a visit, and cousin Charles Wildermuth from Penn. also came.  The mystery is where we all slept.
   "We had beds in father's (carpenter) shop and put carpets up for window shades.  We girls used to sleep there.  Aunt and uncle had the east room upstairs, parents had the west room, and I guess the minister delegates had the lower bedroom.  But where did Charles and Eli sleep?
"In 1860 the celebrated Burch divorce case was held in Naperville in the court house, and father was on the jury.  The trial lasted three weeks and was a very noted case. (The rarity of divorces and the fact that both parties, Chicago residents, were members of nationally-known families brought Naperville publicity throughout the country.  The case became a source of entertainment for DuPage scandal-mongers, and crowds jammed the court house daily...)
    "May 18, 1860, was the date of Abraham Lincoln's nomination for President.  It was held in Chicago in the Wigwam.  Father went, and when he came home he told us when Abraham Lincoln was nominated the crowd went wild.  Men threw their hats and umbrellas and shouted and cheered.  It was an exciting time...
   "In the spring of 1861, the little girl Cascelia came to stay with us while her parents went to Conference.  While with us she took sick with scarlet fever and was very sick for weeks.  I took the fever and was very sick.  The putrid sore throat was also prevalent, so I had both.  Dr. Mussman used to come, wearing his blanket shawl and smoking a cigar.  I dreaded to have my throat swabbed.  I lay on the trundle bed in the corner of the front room, so sick that my life was despaired of.
       "My head was so bad that I would lie on the floor and rub my ears on the floor.  Neighbors would come in to watch nights...Mother used to syringe my ears with warm milk and sage tea, and at length my hearing was restored in my right ear.  What a devoted mother I had, to be so prompt and patient in the daily caring for me.  My left ear remained deaf the rest of my life."
   The Civil War was of very real concern to the Ditzler family, since Hannah's brother Eli enlisted and saw much action.
   Teen-age girls in the 19th century had the same interests as those in the 20th- clothes, school activities, and "beaux" (boy friends).  If the Vietnam war is a concern today, how much greater was the Civil War then!  For Hannah Ditzler it involved her brother, a "beau", cousins, and many neighbor boys.

Scroll Down for Links to More of Hannah's Diary


Submitted by Family Members Debbie Baker and Don McCabe
 Updated November 18, 2010

Hannah's Ditzler relatives - her 3rd great-grandfather John and her 2nd great-grandfather, Antonius came from Germany sometime between 1730 and 1750.  Her Alspaugh relatives came from Germany in 1738 and 1750.  (Still looking for a few more ship names to date the rest of the arrivals.)  They swore allegiance first to the English Crown, and then to America, as they fought in the American Revolution.  Prior to that, they fought in the Indian wars and after, the War of 1812.  Thus, the land grants and their moves west.

The correct date of Hannah's marriage to John Alspaugh is October 5, 1903, not 1890 as Genevieve says.  John Alspaugh's first wife, Jenny Glick was alive until Dec 2, 1898.  The 1900 census lists Hannah as 52, single and her mother, Esther as widowed age 86, living in their house on Eagle and Van Buren.  I can't find a Census record with John Alspaugh in 1900 just yet but he was clearly not her husband at that time.

Two years ago, I transcribed one of Hannah's fabric diaries for Naper Settlement.  They made me sign a non-disclosure statement promising not to publish it, but I suppose I can paraphrase, especially since our cousin, Don McCabe was shown the transcript last year.  On page 31 of her fabric diary, she has a swatch labeled her wedding dress.  She says when and where she bought the fabrics, who made the dress, what it looked like, how much it cost for the fabric and construction.  She says, "Wore Oct 5 -- 1903 to be married"

Hannah remained single until after her mother died on January 25, 1903.  Although custom decreed she should be in "half mourning" nine months after her mother's death, Hannah wore a sand colored wedding dress.  Esther was 88, Hannah 55.

Hannah was unconventional.  Marrying her first cousin was illegal in the state of Illinois at that time, although these days, after age 50, it's legal.  As I recall, she married in New Jersey (not in her fabric diary, I'll have to dig around and see where I got that tidbit.)

But, for the record, Hannah came from a long line of Americans, albeit Pennsylvania Americans, and she married in 1903.

Thank you for all of the wonderful records that you post!

Debbie Baker

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