This is the story of Melvin A. Halsted's early life in the East and his pioneer years in the West Creek area.
His grandparents were Joseph and Katie (Agan) Halsted, and Enoch and Lydia (Ackly) Haskin. Melvin was born on March 29, 1821, the son of William and Patty (Haskin) Halsted, in Rensselaer County, New York. His parents were natives of that County.
During the Revolutionary War the family was divided politically, especially Joseph Halsted. He was a major and active officer in the colonial cause, while his wife's family were strong Tories, having two brothers on the English side. Enoch Haskin was a soldier for American Independence, and Melvin's father, William was a musician in the War of 1812.
Melvin lived with his parents on the New York farm along the Hudson River, He went to school until 13 years of age, including a high school in Bennington, Vermont.
n 1835 he moved to Montgomery County, Ohio, where he engaged in farming. In 1842 Melvin A. Halsted was married to Martha C. Foster, daughter of Elijah D. and Ruth C. (Nichols) Foster of Troy, Pennsylvania.
In 1845, Melvin and Martha moved to Lake County, Indiana, and settled on an eighty-acre farm about five miles west of Lowell on Belshaw Road. No one can tell the story of their early life in the West Creek settlement better than Melvin Halsted himself, and the following is part of a story written by him August 31, 1905: (quote):
"In the early fall of 1844, I, M.A. Halsted, came, with my young family to Lake County, Indiana, on a visit, and was so pleased with the new country that I lost no time after I had gone back to Dayton, Ohio, in selling my farm and stock and getting ready to move. I was compelled to move by team as that was the only transportation in those days; the railroad not even coming to Chicago until eight years after that time. At this time there was not even one-tenth of the land bought of the government, so I purchased an eighty-acre deeded farm all fenced and plowed for $500.00.
"There was also a cabin on this farm constructed without any sawed lumber, glass windows, iron hinges, door knobs or iron latch, no spikes or nails of any kind, no brick for foundation or chimney, and no boards for the floor. If our pockets were filled with silver or gold, for silver was at three percent premium, we would plan our house, which, if twenty feet square we would think very large. We must first cut our logs 20 feet long so as to have room to notch the corners. After the logs were on the ground we would call in all the neighbors for miles in every direction and they would all come for they were good fellows. Then we would have a jolly time in carrying up the corners and the man that made the most noise was the best fellow.
"After the body of the house was up we would proceed to lay the timebers to receive the roof. Our shingles were called shakes or clapboards and were from three to four feet long. When one tier was laid on double to shed water, then the weight pole was so laid on that it would give proper lap and keep the next tier in place. This pole was held in place by pins at the ends and the roof was very satisfactory. The floor was made of logs split and hewn and was called puncheon. We generally had two doors constructed by pinning split boards to the cleats of the door. These cleats were used as hinges and the door was held in place by a wooden latch, which was raised by a leather string.
"The large fireplace was then constructed of logs and stone in such a manner that it was quite fireproof. Sometimes it seemed to be impossible to get smooth stone with which to line the large cavity and then a generous amount of mud was needed to patch the rough stone. But for all their roughness of construction we old people are bound to declare that there is more comfort to be obtained around one of these old fireplaces than near any stove ever made.
"We had no glass with which to construct windows, thus we were conpelled to use greased cotton cloths for lights. A small opening would be left between the logs, and after cotton cloth has been dipped in a kettle of warm grease it would be fastened over this space. When more light was needed the doors were opened. The chimney itself was very low and wide, thus the cook had plenty of light. The chief cooking utensils were pots and kettles, skillets and dutch baking kettles with covers so made that they would hold coals of fires on the top. The frying pan had a handle three feet long, so that the cook could not burn her hands.
"We cannot help from being serious when we think of what a struggle our dear wives and mothers must have had in looking after the large families which they had to raise under such difficulties.
"When our house was done, we would construct our bedsteads in a very curious manner. They only had one post and this was connected with the wall that when corded with ropes and covered with straw-filled ticks, it made a very comfortable bed. The other corners of the room were furnished with these same kinds of beds, thus all of the family was treated alike.
"We obtained boxes or sawed-off blocks for chairs and made a table in the same manner. I do not think that we paid out one dollar for the entire furniture or house. We exchanged work as we had no money to hire help, thus our pioneer days were very happy for we had no time to quarrel, no saloons to make men crazy, no money to pay a lawyer to start divorce suits, no labor unions, no strikes, no high schools to learn our boys how to get their living by their wits and make the other fellow dig the potatoes and live on the farm."
Halsted finished his article with these words: "In conclusion I would say, the most of my old neighbors, who would confirm my story, have gone across the river, where the Great Jehovah has a house built of the very best material, and where our loved ones are waiting with open arms to receive us." (End quote)
In 1848, Halsted and his partner, O.E. Haskin, built a water-powered saw mill in the area to become the Town of Lowell, and in 1849 moved his family from the West Creek farm to a cabin near the present railroad depot in Lowell.
That same year he began to build what is now known as the "Halsted House" at the northeast corner of Halsted and Main Streets in Lowell. The house was finished in the spring of 1850. Halsted burned 400,000 bricks to build the home, which was a mansion in its day and quite different from the home of logs described in his article of 1905.
Melvin Halsted had a long and adventurous career.
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