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Community in 19th Century Belleview Bottoms
By: Cathy Collopy, Dinsmore Homestead
Oringinally Published: March, 2010 in the Boone County Recorder
As we observe our constantly changing society, the tendency is to look nostalgically back on what must have been a simpler, more rustic past. One would not have to go too far into Boone County's past to remember what it was like in its more bucolic days, but recently I laid my hands on a journal kept by Silas Dinsmoor in the 1840s and thought it would be an interesting source of comparison. When we critique urban society we often bemoan the loss of that sense of community that seems so much a part of rural life and yet is so difficult to recreate in the city or suburb. What was the basis of that community feeling?
Born in New Hampshire in 1766, Silas and Mary Dinsmoor moved to a small farm in Belleview Bottoms, Boone County in 1831, after spending several decades in the Deep South. Their new farm included an orchard “heavily laden with excellent fruit,” pasture for cattle and horses, enough land for plenty of oats, corn, and a “luxuriant garden,” and even a 30-acre island in the Ohio River. The two-room cottage was split between a dining room/bedroom and a parlor/bedroom. As was typical for the time, the kitchen was in a separate building.
Visiting was one of the primary means by which neighbors were able to maintain a sense of togetherness. Although visits between neighbors were most important when someone was ill, visiting one another during healthy times was a way to keep abreast of local news and agricultural successes and failures. It was not unusual for Silas and Mary to entertain five or six neighbors with tea or dinner – even in their two-room cottage. Occasionally, people from outside the local community visited and brought news from beyond the small world most people inhabited, like the Reverend Lynn from Richwood Presbyterian Church, whom Silas found to be “an agreeable intelligent & interesting gentleman.”
“Community” was reinforced by births and deaths, many of which were noted by Dinsmoor. Since death was such a presence in society and could strike a person of any age, people in the nineteenth century seem to have been better at weaving it into their everyday lives. By sitting up with the sick, comforting them, and witnessing their demise, Dinsmoor and others were preparing themselves for their own unavoidable futures. On his 77th birthday, he wondered, “How long shall it be ere my change comes?” Questions such as this were contemplated by neighbors of different faiths as they came together for Church meetings, Sunday schools, and funerals. Dinsmoor’s journal (soon to be available online at the Boone County Public Library), illustrates the importance of community in one small corner of Boone County.