Well, I’m finally climbing in the back-back seat with you, Jim…
Everyone who knows me knows that I worship at the feet of one Stephen Sondheim. I have seen and adored all his shows on multiple occasions over the years, but there is one that I have seen only once, back in New York in the 80’s. “Pacific Overtures” was a big musical about the opening of Japan to the West through the treaty signed by Commodore Perry in 1852. It had a brief run on Broadway and is rarely revived, but it has in it a dazzling song called “Someone in a Tree.” In it the reciter of the story is addressing an old man who, as a young boy, witnessed the momentous event from a perch high in a tree. The tree is no longer there, but, in a blending of past and present through memory, the Boy and tree appear, and the Old Man is able to tell the story through his younger self. This is how the song begins:
OLD MAN Pardon me, I was there.
RECITER You were where?
OLD MAN At the treaty house.
RECITER At the treaty house?
OLD MAN There was a tree.
RECITER Which was where?
OLD MAN Very near. maybe over there. But there were trees, then, everywhere.
I was younger then. I was good at climbing trees. I was younger then. I was hidden all the time. It was easier to climb. I was younger then. I saw everything. Where they came and where they went! I was part of the event.
I was someone in tree!
So my brother Jim, in his post that kicked us off on this memory path, alluded our childhood adventures climbing up the “NCR” tree. His memories of that time have always been sharper and more numerous than mine…but I do remember the thrill of climbing to the top of that tree, which anchored a thick copse of trees, beyond our big lawn, bordering Schantz Avenue. I don’t know why our Mom who was, to understate, prone to worry, allowed us to scramble up that noble growth of strong branches. If we had fallen, we would have been hurt badly if not killed. But little monkeys are fearless, and at the ages of 7 or 8, we would scurry up to prove ourselves and to take in the magnificent view. You could see the vast complex that made up the big industry in town, the National Cash Register Company, where our grandmother toiled for decades on the assembly line as a single mother supporting her three children. Within NCR I could see the Victory Theatre , where we went on Saturday mornings for free movies, usually a double feature of cartoons and a Western serial (I loved best the Lone Ranger…the thrill of seeing Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels ride the range in glorious color instead of the drab black -and -white of our television!) AND…they gave you a free candy bar on the way out! Good times.
And, of course, you could look down on our beloved house…the old white jewel with an expansive porch (you can see us posing in our red jackets above).
As Jim said we grew up with the lore that it had been a farmhouse built by a Civil War General named Wood. Our parents must have purchased the home shortly after I was born, in the first year of two of the 1950’s. I remember that the widow of the general was still living there but moved to Florida after the sale. I have a memory that her moving truck broke down on the way and all her precious Civil War memorabilia was looted.
Now I have always been a great Civil War and American History buff…after all, the centennial of the War Between the States happened during my Wonder Years, and it was a big deal. So I don’t know why I was never that curious about General Wood and our childhood homestead.
But Jim’s post spurred me on…and I look back from the top of the tree…I decided to do a little research, like one of those intrepid scholars on PBS’ “History Detectives.”
Is the tree still there? Is the house? Was is General Woods’s house?
Well. it was…but not General Thomas J. Wood’s, famed brigade commander at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. General Wood died in Dayton in 1906 at age 81, the last surviving member of his West Point class. He was survived by his wife of 45 years, one Caroline Greer. Now it occurred to me that his widow could not have still been living there 35 years later.
Then I googled one of his sons, General George H. Wood, veteran of the Spanish-American War and a prominent resident of Oakwood. He was a local hero, who as Adjutant General, supervised the recovery and rebuilding from the distastrous flood of Dayton and Montgomery County in 1913. I found his obituary, stating that he had died the day after Christmas 1945 at his home at 25 West Schantz Avenue. Bingo!
So, of course, I google mapped that address and got this somewhat alarming view:
The trees are gone…where is the house? Now I remember Mom saying that much of the property had been sold off to build newer houses….was our home still there?
I then found a PDF of a Walking tour of the Schantz Avenue Historical Society. It identifies the house at 131 Rubicon Road as having been purchased by one General George H. Wood in 1913 and that it had erected as an outbuilding of the Patterson Homestead in 1875, part of what was known as the Rubicon Farm.
Here’s the google map of 131 Rubicon Avenue:
The old place is still there! But the address is now Rubicon Avenue, rather than Schantz, as new houses now occupy our old lawn and the site of our “NCR” tree.
Turns out our house was part of the farm of Revolutionary War veteran Col. Robert Patterson, who built what is now known as the Patterson Homestead in 1816 less than a quarter of a mile up the road: And he had two sons, John H. Patterson and Frank J. Patterson, who founded the National Cash Register Company in 1884. During the disastrous flood of 1913 he was the most prominent civic leader working on the recovery, where he worked, hand in hand, with the Adjutant General, General George H. Wood.
From the top of the “NCR” tree, we come full circle.