Doug Pahlow of Pahlow Masonry provided the equipment to move the 10 ton stone to the village municipal building. – Photo by Linda Titel
Left, John Lammers, who initiated the new placement of the memorial. Tom Dawes, village board member was also present. – Photo by Linda Titel
John Lammers retired Shiocton history and math teacher, started the removal of the Eben Eugene Rexford memorial stone that was in front of the First Congregational Church since 1930.
Since the Church is moving to the old bowling alley, he thought the memorial should be moved to village property since the old Church is soon to be renovated into a home.
On Wednesday, Nov. 29 the stone was erected onto the village municipal building and Police station.
Below is a short biography of Eben E. Rexford and his contributions to Shiocton.
Eben E. Rexford was born on July 16, 1848, to Rebecca (Wilcox) and Jabez Rexford. They lived in Johnsburg, Warren County, New York. Eben had two older brothers, Jacob and Sanford.
Jacob left New York in 1854, and moved to Bovina Township, Wis. In 1855, Jabez sold his property in New York, and the family followed Jacob to Wisconsin. The family purchased a ninety-five acre homestead located in the Township of Ellington. Jabez spent the remaining years of his life clearing, improving, and developing this land. The living conditions were extremely harsh on the pioneer farm, and the family had to endure many hardships. Jabez outlived Rebecca with his death coming in 1888. They are buried in the Ellington Township Cemetery.
Records indicate that Jacob worked in or operated a hotel in 1857. The hotel was located on the site of the present Congregational Church in the Village of Shiocton. Later Jacob moved to Washington State.
Sanford also purchased property shortly after his arrival in Wis. This property was located near Shiocton. He married and had a family, but passed away at an early age.
Eben’s boyhood was spent on his father’s farm. Coming here at the age of seven, he later recalled that the nearest market at that time was Appleton, and journeys to and from there were made with oxen. He remembered with great excitement when the first team of horses was brought into this section. Another occasion which generated much interest was when the first steam railway train went through later. He attended the local school, and later even taught in an area country school for a short time. He showed an interest in soils, plants, and experimenting with them. He always helped his mother take care of the flowers in the yard and worked in the garden, rather than in the fields with the men. No doubt this contributed to his gentle nature.
From the time Eben was in his teens, he had written and sold poems and short stories and was becoming a well known writer. Some of his writing were published.
Eben entered Lawrence University at the age of 24. A school mate said that he was “well-advanced” for having only a rural education. Young Eben did not remain at Lawrence very long. Only flower growing, writing, and playing the piano and organ appealed to him. While at Lawrence, he received a request for a poem originally entitled, “Growing old,” which he had contributed to Frank Leslie’s “Chimney Corner” when he was 18 years old. The revised words became the world-renown classic “Silver Threads Among the Gold.” He did not know of its success until a group of visiting musicians from the Oneida Indian Reservation sang it at a program he was attending. He received three dollars for this work, but seemed upset only in that he felt that the musician, Hart P. Danks, did not receive his rightful dues in regarding the song. The Gordon Music House in New York City who owned and controlled the rights to the song received a little more than $550 from its sale. Other songs written by Rexford include: “only a Pansy Blossom,” Oh Morning Land,” “Some Day,” and “Reapers Are Wanted.”
Some of Eben’s early writings appeared in the Ladies Home Journal. The publisher was delighted with Eben’s whimsical little essays dealing with practical gardening coupled with poetic thoughts and a fine philosophy. No Sooner was one of his books on gardening published, when the publishers would receive an outpouring from its readers asking advice on peculiar problems. These would be forwarded to the author who never seemed to tire of answering, sympathizing, and helping. His books met with very good reviews and were solidly praised. He was heralded as, “perhaps the foremost amateur gardener in the United States.” He also started contributing short stories and poems to other leading periodicals like the New York Independent, Outlook, Youth’s Companion, Lippincott, and Harper.
Rexford felt that his ability to write was a “gift” and was quite humble in accepting praise. When under “the spell,” he would jot down his works in just a few moments.
By this time, poet Rexford had become acquainted through correspondence with President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland. In the early days of their married life, the Clevelands had read Rexford’s long poem novel, “Brother and Lover,” a fictional story set in Civil War days. So much did the Clevelands enjoy this verse-story that they named their first child “Ruth” after the heroine of Rexford’s poem.
In 1888, Eben moved to the village of Shiocton where he built a home. He had a small greenhouse which was very interesting to the many friends who were privileged to walk into it.
Many of the townspeople wondered why Eben did not marry, and they suggested that he needed a woman companion. The truth was that the poet and flower lover was living in an atmosphere of romance and resignation. From a distance he worshiped the wife of the village doctor without her having any suspicion of it. She was also the sister of his best friend, Dick Bauman. Until she married Rexford after the death of her husband, Harriet (Bauman) Harsh had no idea that for years she had been the center of most of the poet’s thoughts.
Harriet and Eben planned on getting married in December 1890. As the wedding day approached, the house was in readiness; the Christmas cactus was a great fountain of rosy pendants, poinsettias were rich red, and geraniums bloomed. Everything awaited the new wife of the home. But just prior to the day set for the wedding, fire leveled the Rexford home destroying all of the poet’s works.
The wedding still took place in the parsonage of the Congregational Church where Rexford had been an organist for years. Undaunted by the fire’s damage, Rexford immediately “let” contracts for a new house and through notices printed in publications carrying his columns, he received clippings of almost everything he had written. They came from all over the world, and provided Rexford with his first realization of how widely read his works were.
The new house was completed in 1891. The study had diamond-paned windows. The flooring was left off a corner of the big living room. There was a giant hibiscus tree grew and made the room beautiful with its crimson blossoms. Throughout their lives together, flowers were generously provided for many occasions, and neighbors were always welcome to drop by for a “slip” of Rexford’s flowers or advice on their own garden difficulties.
He always took an interest in and enjoyed the doings of the village folk. Although Rexford liked to walk, he seldom walked alone. The humble and the well-known always found him a delightful comrade.
He attempted to learn to ride a bicycle in the early 1890’s, but found it impossible. Much later he purchased an automobile and was determined to learn to drive, but without success.
Eben Rexford recognized that service to others was life’s highest calling and once wrote:
“Comrade mine, let us help each other, by words that strengthen and cheer and bless the good that’s done to a needy brother. God makes the measure of man’s success.”
Memories of Rexford still live on. Some, through his works, others through memorials like the stone which was erected on the grounds of the Congregational Church on July 30, 1930. A memorial room which had a representation of his old second-floor study was added to the Clintonville Public Library by Walter A. Olen who was a great admirer of the gentle, Wisconsin poet.
Rexford’s memorabilia has since been moved to another building in Clintonville, where it is open to public viewing during the summer months.
The plaque embedded in the rock at the Village Municipal Building and Police Station. – Photo by Linda Titel