If you are taking Route 79 from Ithaca, after the small town of Richford, you are on what is known locally as the ‘hog’s back’ (the road follows along the crest of the hills). At one point, you can look to the right and follow the hydrolines and in the distance, on another hill, see Adin’s farm! When we saw that as kids, we knew we were almost there.
Come down the hill and into Center Lisle itself. On the left is the Congregational Church, the same church that was so large a part of Kate Baker and Lill B. Howland’s lives. It is the center of social activity and has a part-time minister (he has two or three other churchs). This is the church that for years, Adin said he’d left beer stock to in his will to and if they were smart, they’d keep it (a will was never found for him, but he did give the church beer stock—whether or not they kept it, who knows?)!
Next to the church, to its left, there is an empty lot between the side road and the creek. Here is where Aunt Lil’s store used to stand. A typical countrystore, it was originally a garage in which Uncle Elmer fixed early autos, bikes, dispensed gas and oil, etc. By the 1930’s, the store part had taken over—as well as staples, there were animal medicines, a pop cooler, boots and enamel pails and pots hanging from the ceiling, overalls and shirts, and, most important to us, a big penny candy case! What bliss when Aunt Lil would fix a bag for us, full of whatever she wanted to get rid of!
In a lean-to room was the meat cooler and in another next to it, a ‘privy’ with all kinds of graffiti on its walls. This is where I first read ‘fools names and fools faces, always appear in public places’.
In a little kitchen to the rear, Lil used to always be ‘pickling’ in season. I am sure she gave most of the cans away. Here also, she would fix us breakfast, the likes of which we NEVER had at home! Two fried eggscooked in the fat of all the bacon you wanted, then cold sliced potatoes chopped with onion and browned in the same fat. Unbelievable! With this, she served us a mug of coffee heavily laced with sugar and evaporated milk. Here too, back in the late 1930’s, she outfitted her daughter, Gladys and me with boys overalls and long sleeved shirts, preparatory to our going blackberry picking. Grandma (Kate Baker) was scandalized, for girls did not wear ‘pants’ then!
In 1935, a flood had created mayhem in the area, so Route 79 was moved 100 feet away and a new bridge built. Therefore, the old road goes behind the lot where the store stood. If you crossed this old road, there stands a tiny house with an enclosed front porch. This was where Aunt Nell and Uncle Dell lived. She was Byron Baker’s sister, therefore, my great aunt. We always ran across to visit her because she was such a good listener. It was her husband, Dell, who in his later years, as his ears, then his eyes dimmed, originated the famous phrase as he looked at Dad (Jack Kinsella), ‘Who be ye?’
Walk up the old road to the edge of town and there, nestled against the hill, is Aunt Lil’s house. We were all very close to Lil’s four girls, so we spent a lot of time in this house. They used to have a player piano which we pumped silly!
In the cellar, Gladys and I found dandelion wine which we sampled and in the upstairs of the garage is where we had a cigarette factory! Gladys started smoking very young and she would grab a bag of shredded tobacco and stash it up there along with her cigarette machine which we’d use to roll cigarettes by the hundreds. I never indulged—that came later—but it was fun to make them. We also used to sleep three to four in a bed, crosswise, after we’d skip over to the grange hall to watch the dancing. Uncle Elmer played the fiddle and called some square-dancing.
Back down to Route 79, and cross the bridge, turn right at the first junction up the Caldwell Hill Road. A short ways and you’ll find a left turn dirt road up a hill. There should be a plaque here. It’s where Gladys and I, who were always thicker than thieves, had our only fight! It was a lulu—hair pulling, knock down, drag out—then I proceeded up the road to Grandma’s and Gladys turned around and went home. We’ve never been able to remember what we fought about! Anyways, take that left dirt road and on top of that hill you’ll find the cemetery, a really pretty one.
Kate Youngs Baker—1864-1955
Nancy Borthwick Baker—1838-1916
Tina S. Baker (Byron’s first wife)—1858-1884
Ira Baker—1883-1883-son of Byron and Tina
Baby—First child of Byron and Kate—
Ruth Baker—1891- 1904
Adin L. Baker—1889-1964
Gladys H. Wood—1927-1997
Lil Baker Howland—1892-1984
Francis H. Young (husband of Florence)—1846-1933
Florence Youngs Leet (aunt to Ethel)—1874-1959
Bertha Youngs (daughter of Ed and Lida, first cousin to Ethel)—1898-1930
Rosena Youngs Spencer (daughter of William and Diadamia, sister of Kate)—died at age 26—1856-1883
Delbert Barrows (Uncle Dell)—1871- 1957
Nell Baker Barrows (Aunt Nell)—1863- 1955
Wendell Elliott Henderson—1942-2006