By: Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, Biology, Bloomington
When the Wylie House was built in 1835, the property surrounding the house extended for five acres, and the Wylie family lived on a working farm. According to Theophilus A. Wylie III’s memory map of the farm circa 1875, the property had many outbuildings surrounding it.
This included an icehouse, a smoke house, a double-pen barn, an elaborate log chicken house, a carriage house, and a large two-story utility building .
The map below represents the time period when Theophilus A. Wylie lived in the house, and not Andrew Wylie, but several of Andrew Wylie’s bills show evidence that these buildings were built when the original Wylie family resided there.
It can be assumed these outbuildings were used frequently to do work like laundry, butchering meat, and other food-related preparation tasks. Based on the store records that Andrew Wylie kept, beef and venison, and ham was frequently purchased by the family . Based on this, it can be assumed the family may have only butchered relatively smaller animals on their farm, and bought the larger ones from the store.
Based on the sketch map, the Wyllie’s had many different kinds of trees on their property including pear, peach, apple, and cherry.
The vegetables and fruits grown in the garden and on the trees provided the family with the necessary sustenance to live on even through the winter . Home canning did not become practical until the late 19th century, so the family relied mainly on drying and pickling .
The Wylie’s were huge proponents of pickling as many of the original pickle jars still exist today at the Wylie House Museum. The Wylie’s also most likely smoked a lot of food for preservation as well due to the existence of the smoke house on their property.
Based on the store records, Andrew Wylie frequently bought cheese and butter . This suggests one of two things: the Wylie’s did not have dairy cows, or that the amount of dairy produced by the cows was not enough to provide for the large family. There really is not any evidence indicating whether or not the Wylie’s had dairy cattle.
Because they bought beef almost every day from the store, it can be assumed the Wylie’s did not keep any beef cattle on their farm. Therefore, it is quite possible the Wylie’s kept no cattle or other large farm animals besides horses.
One interesting thing I noticed is that about once a week, the Wylie’s bought eggs, sometimes as many as six dozen, even though the sketch map indicates that one of the outbuildings was a chicken house. It could be possible that the chickens the Wylie’s did have were not producing enough eggs.
In a letter Elizabeth Wylie wrote to John H. Wylie on February 6th, 1852, Elizabeth writes,
“This has been an unusually cold winter here, as everywhere else, some our apple trees were split asunder, almost all the peach trees are killed, throughout the county; chickens froze on the roost, & the oldest inhabitant says it is the coldest winter in the memory of man” .
Elizabeth confirms the presence of peach and apple trees on the property, but does not necessarily confirm that the Wylie’s themselves had chickens. She merely states chickens throughout the county froze on the roost.
Not only do the store records bring to light what the Wylie’s diet was like, but it illustrates their status. The Wylie’s bought many spices including nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon. They also bought coffee, tea, and candy on a regular basis .
These amenities were not something the everyday person would be able to buy regularly in the 19th century because they were imported from the Ohio River. Regular food was relatively inexpensive. For example, beef was around two to four cents per pound, turkeys were twenty-five cents, and chickens were seventy-five cents a dozen.
The store records also indicate the Wylie’s bought beets, parsley, and May peas seeds; however, this would not have been a regular purchase. The Wylie’s practiced seed saving in order to have seeds for upcoming planting seasons . The Wylie’s were very resourceful and efficient when it came to food. If you happen to visit the Wylie House today, you can learn all about seed saving, see the heirloom seeds the Wylie’s used to plant, and attend one of Sherry Wise’s seed-saving workshops and buy seeds during the annual seed sale!
- [Manual], [Wylie House Museum Docent Manual], Reference Files, Indiana University Archives, Indiana University, Bloomington.
- [Bills, Receipts], Wylie Bills, Receipts, and Financial Documents, Collection C203, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
- [Letters], Wylie Family Correspondences, Collection C203, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.