Winter 1997

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The Childhood of Sarah Perry


Grace L. Fenno

Grace L. Fenno was Sarah Perry Fenno's second daughter. Grace Fenno never married and lived nearly all of her life in Altay, New York

Matthew Perry and Malvina Lee of Covington, Pennsylvania, were married June 30, 1855, and made their home in Altay, New York.

At first they lived in a little house up the north road, then in the house across the road from the store, later known as the Hans Wagner house. They lived here until their own little house was ready for them. Matthew very likely built the house himself. They moved into this little house on April 6, 1856.

This little house was situated west of Altay a piece, on the south side of the road, a short distance east of the curve in the road and the branch road leading up the hill, north.

There was a lovely view from this place down the valley and to the hills at the south. The place consisted of seven acres of land. The small house had a parlor and a small bedroom and clothes closet from that, and a kitchen with pantry, and there was a bed sink in place of a bedroom off the kitchen. A trundle bed under the one in the bed sink was soon added.

There was a porch in front of the kitchen at the front of the house. There was another small porch at the east door, near the pump. Quite a distance back of the house was the barn, where Matthew had his carpenter shop. There was also a woodshed near the house. East of the house was a garden and a small orchard. Quite a distance southeast of the house he had a pond where he kept bait and minnows and fish.

The board fence across the front had two gates, one in front of the house and a big one in front of the road to the barn. The fence was painted red. The yard was full of flowers before they had been there very long. He planted evergreen trees in the yard and a row of maple trees along the road.

Matthew did carpenter work as well as farming. His steady nerves made him fearless to work in high and dangerous places. He it was who later put the metal part of the roofing on top of the belfry of the Altay Baptist Church, when it was repaired and enlarged in 1861.

In early September when the flowers and all, about this little home, made it at its loveliest, a little daughter was born to them. They named her Sarah Ann Perry. Sarah for her mother's sister and Ann for her Grandma Perry.

A year or so later a baby boy was born to them whom they named Frank Perry. And still later another daughter who was named Emma Perry.

Malvina always had a great love for the out of doors. Her health was none too good and with the three children she was pretty well tied down at home. But when the raspberries got ripe she could not resist the temptation of getting out and going "berrying."

She would get up real early and slip away before the children were awake. She could sometimes return before they missed her. But when they awoke and found her gone the music began. If the cries of "Ma, Ma" didn't bring any response, they would climb to the top of the house, in their nightgowns and yell, "Ma, Ma" until she returned.

Neighbors said it was not an uncommon sight at all to see two or three nightgown-clad figures, mornings, on top of the house yelling "Ma." One time when their little sister Emma was a baby they took her up there, too, "so they could take better care of her."

They were screaming "Ma, Ma" at the top of their lungs, once when Uncle Dick Parker appeared back of the house and yelled to them and ordered them to come down. He startled and scared them so they almost dropped the baby.

Allie and Eli Parker, cousins, lived just up the road a piece and played with them a great deal. There was a swing on an apple tree in front of the house, where they used to swing.

Aunt Mary Lee came visiting at their home once. While there she had a beau come to call on her, one evening. While she was primping up before making her appearance, Sarah was in the parlor to entertain him. She said, "Do you like mince pies?" "I do, too. They made some today. They hid them. Where do you suppose they hid them? Under the bed in the bedroom there, way back on the floor. Do you want to see them?" Little Sarah and the beau were in the bedroom on the floor on their hands and knees, viewing the mince pies when Mary came in.

After a while there was another baby girl born to them. They named her Ella Perry.

The Move up to Perry Farm

Great grandfather, Lewis Perry died September 12, 1862.

In the spring, when Sarah was seven years old and Ella was a baby they moved up to the farm into the east side of the house with Grandma Perry. She remained in the front part of the house. Uncle George had worked the place since his father's death, but had then moved his family away.

Sarah rode on her sled tied behind a load of furniture, through the slushy snow.

Later the little home in Altay was sold and this farm bought. But Grandma lived there for the rest of her life.

Living up here was a life of freedom and happiness with all their pets and horses and cows and calves and sheep and hogs and pigs and chickens, and once they even had a pet fox.

What good times they did have here.

About the time they moved to the farm, Sarah started to school in Altay, taking her pennies in her hand occasionally to pay the teacher, who was paid according to the number of days a child attended.

Abraham Lincoln's Assassination

The following spring about the middle of April, one day Emma came running into the house and said, "Ma, what makes the Church bell ring today? It isn't Sunday. It rings so slow." All stopped their work and listened. It was tolling, sending out its clear, melodious notes throughout the country side. "Someone has died." It kept up for a long time. It would toll fifty-six strokes, then a silence.

Matthew came from the field where he had been plowing, put his team in the barn and said, "Something has happened, I am afraid something has happened to our President Lincoln, I am going right down to find out what it is." When he soon returned he said his fears were correct, and that our President, Abraham Lincoln, had been assassinated.

This caused deep sorrow all about. All felt as though they had lost a dear, loyal, personal friend.

Sarah once said to her mother, "Ma, I wish I was pretty like Emma is. Everybody says how pretty Emma is with her lovely curly hair. Her hair is so soft and curly, but mine is as straight as a stick. I wish it was curly, too, then maybe I would look prettier."

"Well, your hair is nice and soft, too. Maybe we can curl it. I will try putting a little sugar in the water, then maybe we can get it to curl."

The following Sunday Sarah went to church with her curly hair.

Another baby brother was born, June 6, 1867. He was named Charles Lewis Perry.

Their father made all sorts of sleds and wagons and toys for the children, painting their names on the bright painted colors. He was always good natured and jolly, and did everything he could to make his family happy.

When he was working with his carpenter work he would let Sarah use his tools. She loved to work with them. He always let her use them all she liked. She liked it so much she might have decided to become a carpenter herself, but she had one ambition in life even greater, and that was to become a Circus Rider.

Old Fan, the gentle horse of theirs would let her perform on her back and do tricks. Sarah practiced until she became quite an expert performer. One time she rode old Fan down in the field where her father was working, to show off her skill before him. She was up on old Fan's back balancing on one foot, saying, "Pa, look, look." He was just saying, "You better look out there, my girl," when she lost her balance and fell off backwards on to a pile of stones.

A Trip to Covington, Pennsylvania

When Charlie was about 3 years old they planned a trip to Covington to visit Uncle Miles Lee and his family. They had not notified them that they were coming, their visit was to be a surprise. The evening before they were to start, Asa Hedge and his wife and 3-year-old little girl came to look after things during their absence.

Matthew and Asa came in from the barn and they all had supper. Matt said, "Well, I guess you can get along all right with things here. If you strike a snag just ask Mother. She knows about things here. I have the covered wagon, which I borrowed, here by the house. Perhaps we better put everything in tonight, so as to get a very early start in the morning, for it will be a long trip."

"Ma, can't we go, too? The wagon is big enough," said Emma.

"Yes, we want to go, too," said Frank and Ella.

"No, we can't all go this time. This is to be a surprise visit you know. Only Sarah and Charlie can go this time. You know Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary and baby Cora are going, too."

"We want to go, too." said the three.

"You stay home and be good children and we will bring you something nice when we come back. You will get to go another time."

At break of day they hurriedly dressed and got a little breakfast and were ready to start. The three came down in their nightgowns and looked longingly at the departing covered wagon. Mother called from it, "Be good children and mind Grandma. We will bring you something nice. You will go another time, Good-bye."

The three watched the wagon disappear down the hill, then again as it crossed the flats, they could barely see the white top of the wagon in the early dawn. Then they went back to bed.

After getting Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary and their baby, the travelers drove to Monterey and then south, many places over a corduroy road, where they had to pay toll, through covered bridges when they reached Pennsylvania.

They stopped occasionally to rest and eat and feed the horses and let them rest. It was a long, tiresome trip, and they reached Uncle Miles about 9 p.m. They rapped at the door, and as it was opened they said "SURPRISE."

It sure was a surprise to see the seven at that time of night. But there was a surprise in store for them, too, for Uncle Miles's little girl, Nellie, was there sick with scarlet fever. They went in, nevertheless. In the morning the doctor came and all the youngsters stood around and watched him lance Nellie's throat.

The doctor recommended the following to prevent the others from getting the scarlet fever, "Burn the insole of an old shoe, take the ashes and mix with molasses, give each one a teaspoon full of this." They did as directed and it did its duty for not one of them got the scarlet fever.

Nellie felt better after the doctor left. They all had a nice visit.

Uncle Miles as well as uncles Allen and William Lee had been soldiers in the War. It was so good for Malvina to see her folks. Her mother, who had re-married a Mr. Brown, who also had died, was living there, too. It was so good to see the home folks again.

In the afternoon of the next day they went to the glass works in Covington, where window glass was made.

The next day they started again, this time to see Uncle Allen Lee at Arnot where the coal mines are. He was a blacksmith there. (In going they got on the wrong road, went ten miles through a dense woods road so narrow they could not turn around.) They finally reached Uncle Allen's and had another nice visit. In the afternoon, Uncle Allen took them to the coal mines. There they rode the little cars drawn by donkeys and went about a mile inside the mine.

The following day they returned home, arriving at night.

Grandma (Mary Ann) Perry died November 23, 1871. Shortly after Grandma's death, another daughter was born, on November 29, 1871. She was named Florence Fannie Perry. This made six children born to them.

Good Times On Perry Farm

The life on Perry farm was full of happiness and fun, not only for those who lived there but also for their many friends who came there. It was a regular headquarters for good times.

As the children grew older, their father and mother had more time to go away visiting friends and relatives. Whenever they went down into Pennsylvania, they would stay several days. So whenever they went away visiting, there were parties and all sorts of good times for those staying home. These were planned after the others left. Neighbors said they could hear the chickens squawking before their father and mother were hardly out of sight or hearing distance.

It was Ella's business to cut the chicken's heads off. Sarah first set to work cleaning the kitchen and pantry and then mopping the kitchen floor, in preparation for the big baking. Frank sometimes would show his interest and zeal by skating diagonally across the wet, mopped floor. Then there was the baking of pies and cakes, and the chickens had to be dressed and cooked. All helped, some went to Altay to invite guests. It would take volumes to tell of all the good times, and the interesting things which happened when their parents were away.

One time their father and mother went away intending to stay several days, but for some reason returned unexpectedly late the same day after everyone had gone to bed, tired from the big preparations for the party the following day.

The children were awakened by their father's laughter. "Malvina, just come in this pantry here and take a look. Look at all the shelves full of pies, big and little, 1-2-3--14 of them, and that cake looks pretty good, too. Wonder what is in the big kettle? Chicken. Let's have a bite before we go to bed. I have seen lots of cakes whisked through the kitchen that I never saw again, or even got a smell of. Now is a pretty good chance to have a sample. Well, I'll be content this time with the chicken, and not spoil their cakes and pies."

Yes, it would take a volume to tell of all the things they did, such as the time they caught the pig for Stella to kiss, in spite of Uncle Dick Parker's wrath; and the time they dressed up as an old man and an old woman and had one dressed as a baby and went bob-sledding with the two big horses, and drove about the country, dogs barking and nearly nipping them, and then came home through Altay. And the time thieves stole soft soap from the cellar in spite of Ella's playing the melodeon to scare them away. But the drippings from the soft soap led them in daylight to the door of the thieves' house. And the time Eli Parker sneaked up in the night and opened the barn door where they had a rope hitched to a big dinner bell as a burglar alarm, and of course scared them all.

Sarah Goes to Cook Academy, Boarding Herself

After church Sunday they hurried home for an early start for Havana. Sarah had her clothes and sheets and pillow cases in the satchel ready. The quilt was in a bundle, and there were provisions for a week: butter, eggs, 2 quarts of milk, potatoes, a can of plums, nutmeg-cream cake, bread, sugar, flour, etc.

Matt hitched up the team to the democrat which shone like new, as also did the harness with its shining metallic trimmings. The horses were sleek and in good spirits. He had kept his best clothes on as things were loaded in.

"Wait," said Mother, "I'll get a few onions, Sarah may want to make potato soup." They were about ready to be off.

"Where is Charlie? Oh, here he comes with a lot of harvest apples."

Charlie put them in a flour sack and loaded them in, bag open so as to be handy to eat along the way.

As Sarah kissed little Flora good-bye, she said, "Maybe sometime they will bring you with them when they come after me, then you won't have to crawl under the seat and hide, like you did when you went "to the Seminary to see Sarry."

Good-byes were said and they started down the hill and disappeared. Then Frank said, "I'm thankful I am not the one that has to go over there to school. I want something more interesting to do than that. I would rather go fishing. Well, Emma and Ella, come let's get the dishes washed up."

Driving down the hill Matt's heart was full of songs and his eyes gleamed. When they reached Altay and were turning to go for Louise, who was going with them, Willard Fenno with Frank, and Leroy Dean passed them on their way.

Sarah had attended Starkey Seminary after school in Altay and before going to Cook Academy. At different times, hindered by sickness and the need to teach to earn money for her tuition, Sarah interrupted her attendance at Cook Academy. The last time she went was March 3, 1880, and she stayed through the spring and summer, boarding herself as before. This time she roomed with Jane A. Delano, who later became head of the American Red Cross Nursing Service in World War I, and who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Sarah left the Academy to care for her sister Emma, who was very sick at the time.

In 1880-81 Sarah taught at the Altay school with Frank H. Fenno. In the spring her father became sick and died May 15, 1881.

Sarah married Frank Fenno April 30, 1882, and they had three children: Edith, Grace, and Emerson before Frank died in 1892. Sarah had studied at the Shoemaker School of Oratory in Philadelphia and after her husband's death in addition to keeping up her home she took up his work, teaching public speaking and physical culture. She later taught at Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain, Mississippi; Cook Academy, Montour Falls; Burlington Institute, Burlington, Iowa; Greer College, Hoopeston, Illinois; and at her home in Chicago where she instructed classes of young men attending the Moody Bible Institute.

In the winter of 1901 while Sarah was teaching public speaking at Greer College, word came to Sarah that her mother was sick. Before Sarah realized the seriousness of her mother's illness, word came that her mother had died of pneumonia, December 12, 1901. Her mother who had stood by her so loyally and encouraged her and had been so sympathetic and kind to her always, was now gone. Now Sarah could never again unburden her heart to her mother, for sympathy and love. Her mother had been spared though until Sarah's troubles had eased up a bit. Now they would all miss her.

Charlie and Emma and Flora, especially, had been so loyal and good to their mother always, and others, too, had helped her. Sarah was so glad that she had been able to see her for a few days that summer.

Remembering Grace Fenno by Helena Howard


The manuscript and a typescript copy of Grace L. Fenno's Cuttings from Sara on Life's Adventure provided by by Helena Howard of Rock Stream, New York. Slight changes have been made for ease of reading and uniformity (Grace spelled her mother's name both Sarah and Sara). The drawings of the house and the floor plan came from the manuscript.

Mrs. Howard also supplied a newspaper obituary of Mrs. Sarah P. Fenno, a copy of the title page of a book by Mrs. Fenno, a copy of one of Frank Fenno's published books, an account of Altay by Barbara Bell and pictures of the Fenno house in Altay.

Grace Ameigh, who is a Perry descendant, provided pictures of Frank, Sarah and Grace Fenno, an 1874 map of Altay, and a copy of an old photograph of the Altay store building once owned by Frank and Sarah Fenno.

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