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What you need to know for 07/27/2017

Northville homemaker’s life anything but ordinary

Northville homemaker’s life anything but ordinary

Rhoda Barker Duncan was 65 in January 1897 when she began keeping a log of her life as a homemaker o

Rhoda Barker Duncan was 65 in January 1897 when she began keeping a log of her life as a homemaker on West Prospect Street in Northville.

Rhoda entered brief comments in a green ledger about births, deaths, and details large and small through Aug. 10, 1915, with the last entry being that Methodist and Baptist picnics were held in her area that day.

Rhoda’s husband was Fayette “Fay” Duncan, who worked until late in life as a carpenter and at a variety of other jobs. He died June 1, 1916, at age 91. Rhoda and Fay had four children and were active in the Presbyterian Church. After Fay’s death, Rhoda and Fay’s son Charles, his wife, Nora, and their four children moved in with Rhoda, who died Feb. 11, 1921, at 90 years old.

One of Rhoda’s grandchildren, Charlotte Duncan Russell, gave the rights to the content of the diary to Northville village historian Gail M. Cramer. Russell died in 2006.

Cramer, whose family members were good friends of the Duncans and Russells, edited and annotated the entries and published “Diary of Rhoda Barker Duncan” this year. Cramer added copies of newspaper stories and photographs that relate to subjects in the journal. The book is available at For more information, email Cramer at

Births and deaths of people and animals are frequently noted. On Feb. 19, 1897, Rhoda’s daughter-in-law Nora gave birth to Humphrey Lynn Duncan. That month, Rhoda and Fay observed their 48th wedding anniversary. Rhoda made Humphrey a dress that December. Cramer wrote that boys wore dresses until they were about 5 in those days.

Humphrey was sick in August 1898 on the day Rhoda noted a lightning strike at Sacandaga Park, then an elaborate amusement venue operated by the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad in Northville. Humphrey was sick again in December 1899.

In January 1900, Humphrey’s father, Charlie, took the little boy to Child’s Hospital in Albany. Cramer noted Humphrey had Pott’s disease, tuberculosis of the spine that today could be treated with antibiotics. Charlie and Nora went to see Humphrey in Albany on Jan. 21. Humphrey was reported very low on Jan. 24 and died the next day.

Rhoda’s youngest daughter, Angeline “Angie” Duncan, married Dr. Elias Boyce of Averill Park on Sept. 5, 1900. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Methodist minister the Rev. George May of Esperance, who was married to Angie’s sister Jennie.

A newspaper account noted the festivities took place on the lawn of the Duncan home in Northville.

“An arch had been formed by intertwining the branches of two trees standing near together,” the account said. The arch was decorated with flowers, and the bride and groom stood on a fur rug.

“The day was perfect and all went ‘merry as a marriage bell,’ ” according to the newspaper story, which reported that Angie was one of Northville’s “most estimable young ladies.”

Rhoda wrote on July 2, 1901, that she was leaving for Averill Park, apparently by horse and buggy, to be with her pregnant daughter. Angie gave birth to her son Elias on Aug. 1. He weighed over nine pounds. Cramer noted it was two weeks before Angie sat up, a big difference from maternity practice today. Rhoda left for home at the end of August, after a stay of almost two months.

Cramer wrote that Rhoda’s diary doesn’t contain complaints about hard work or life’s disappointments or tragedies.

“I believe that she had a strong faith that also sustained her each day and when tough life incidents came along.”

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