Friday, June 19, 2009

Allie's World: Unlimited Whiffletrees

Related to the ongoing serialization of 1874 Ypsilanti teen Allie McCullough's diary.

Kind readers may remember a discussion of how streets in Allie's neighborhood got their names. One was Parsons street, named for "a local businessman." This was Samuel W. Parsons, who in Allie's day co-owned the "Parsons Brothers Sash, Door & Blind Factory & Lumber Yard." The factory was close to Allie's home at 6 W. Michigan Ave. [now Angel Food Catering], and to her dad's foundry at Water Street and Michigan Ave. Allie could probably see the Parsons Brothers factory from her house.

An 1874 business directory listing says the factory's "machinery is all first class and is driven by an engine of 25 horse power. Here are made dressed lumber, sash, doors, blinds, moldings, scroll work, casings...1,500 Monitor [wooden tub-style] washing machines, 500 dozens axe handles, 75 gross of baseball bats, and neck yokes, whiffletrees, stone-cutters, mallets etc. etc. in an almost unlimited number."

A whiffle tree is a pivoted swinging bar between a horse and a wagon. It connects the horse's traces, and pulling power, to the wagon body. To "whiffle" used to mean to waffle, or vacillate in one's opinions--much as the bar swings to accommodate the horse's motion. You may remember that in the last diary excerpt Allie "went up to school with the horses" to deliver some plants--she may have been sitting right above a whiffletree.

And if Ypsi had a city or Normal School baseball team back then, perhaps it was Parsons Bros. who made their bats for them. Oddly enough, there's an abandoned baseball field nearby Parsons Street and the Water Street area, just to the south in a seldom-visited park. Maybe vanished players on this forgotten field once swung some Parsons bats too.

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