Friday, December 6, 2013

Cast-Iron And Kinfolk


From what I’ve been told, the dust from the Uncivil War had barely settled when one of my ancestors, Charles Dixon, left from somewhere around the beautiful but battle-scarred area of Staunton, Virginia and settled in the equally beautiful area of Upshur and Lewis Counties in the new state of West Virginia. His name was spelled “Dixson” before that horrible war, but he spelled it “Dixon” afterwards. That was part of his effort to sever all ties with his family, since his eleven siblings had fought for or supported the Confederacy in some way during that great “war between brothers.” Feelings were strong on the subject so, since Charles had worn the blue uniform of a Yankee during the conflict, his surviving brothers and sisters probably considered it good riddance.

It was in some sort of covered wagon that Charles made the journey westward, though not in one of the Conestoga’s seen so often in westerns. No-one knows for sure what that wagon held, except for three things—his wife, Elizabeth Stalnaker Dixon, a camel-back trunk, and a large, three-legged skillet known as a “spider” that had a flat, rimmed lid and a tapered handle. It wasn’t designed to sit in a fire as some folks think, but to sit over a few coals that had been pulled to one side. It could be used as a skillet, but it was also just barely deep enough to be used as a stewpot. Plus, the flat, rimmed lid allowed coals to be put on top, which made it useable as a Dutch oven for baking. The handle could be used as it came, but it was tapered so that it could be inserted into a hole in the end of a stick to put the cook a little farther from the fire. If you had to travel “light,” a spider was probably the one thing to pack in the wagon for cooking.

For some now-unknown reason, the Dixons, and some of their friends and relatives, eventually left the beauty of Lewis and Upshur Counties and moved to the also beautiful (but generally more rugged) area of Roane County. The spider and trunk went with them. Charles and Elizabeth were buried in Roane County when the time came. The trunk and the spider eventually ended up in Wood County with some of their descendants. Sadly, the trunk was eventually sold at a “moving sale” by a relative who had a higher regard for cash than of passing on heirlooms. I know nothing of the spider’s use during the ensuing years, but it eventually ended up in a jumble of things in the horse stall of my maternal grandfather’s barn. Just when it made the trip two counties north, I never thought to ask. Having an interest in family history and antiques, my grandfather and his sister eventually decided that I was the grandchild who should get the old piece of cast-iron cookware. I was delighted with their decision.

It sat on my hearth for a several years, though it never got used as I’d planned. Part of the drip ring inside the lid is missing from sitting and rusting under a leak in granddad’s barn. Also, the lid had been dropped at some point, and a three inch chunk of rim is missing. Still, it would serve the intended purpose. The spider measures 2-1/2 inches deep and 11 inches across the bottom. It’s 12-1/2 inches across the top, and the lid is 14 inches across the top. The three legs on the bottom are about an inch-and-a-half long. It weighs just a bit over 13 pounds. On the lid, it says “Star Foundry, 4, Wheeling, Virginia,” but it means the current city of Wheeling, WEST Virginia, since it was always an iron and steel town until recently. I guess that would prove the age of the spider. There IS a current Wheeling, Virginia, but it appears to be only a wide spot in the road in the middle of nowhere by comparison. The “4” is the size or style, I would assume. Incidentally, I looked up Star Foundry in Wheeling, Va. online, and three or four links came up, all in Wheeling, WEST Virginia.

I’d mentioned a year or two ago that I’d discovered a third cousin where I was working at the time who has heirs, unlike me, so I’ll probably see if she’d like to have it. It should really go to a branch on the family tree that isn’t dying out (like mine is). © 2012


Michael Silvius said...

You know, that looks like a perfect candidate for some electrolytic de-rusting.
After you clean it up you could use it to cook your greens outside without having mother's feathers get all ruffled.

Gorges Smythe said...

I'll check the link, Michael. Incidentally, YOUR memory is too accurate for MY own good! lol

Chickenmom said...

What a great story! I don't have too many things from my ancestors, but I do treasure what I do have. They would mean absolutely nothing to anyone else, though.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I grew up south of Staunton and we only had Dixons so they must have changed their name as well. Both go back to Dickerson and Dickinson or so one site said when I was looking them up in my genealogy. I like that spider, it is a neat thing that you might put back into use if the power goes out.

Gorges Smythe said...

I have some things like that, too, Cm.

It will be for my cousin to use, SF; I've already contacted her about it. I'm going to surprise her with the dagguereotype of her great-grandfather, though. He's an uncle to me, rather than a grandfather, so she should have it.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

We have some handed down cast iron too but nothing that old. I'm glad you found some relations! It's important that these things are handed down to someone who can appreciate them.

Pumice said...

I wonder if we will ever see the return of items that last and are made by craftsman instead of the disposable items we use today. Initial cost can be overcome by length of use but I guess in a time when "new" means "better" it may not happen.

Grace and peace.

Gorges Smythe said...

That's how I felt, too, Kathy. Treasure what you have; you can't go wrong with cast iron!

Not until we are knocked down to bare susistence living will we ever again appreciate quality, Pumice. At least that's THIS curmudgeon's opinion.