Leisure travel and tourism in America were no longer the exclusive domain of the rich in the closing decades of the 19th century. Many prosperous middle class families took advantage of better transportation networks and greater disposable income to take vacations and see the country. Still, not every family had its own publishing capabilities, and so it is marvelous that my Great-grandfather Raymond H. Barker (1874-1934) was able to only to record his teen-aged impressions of family trips across the country but also to have them printed and reproduced for posterity.
The family printing business began in the 1870s in Cleveland, Ohio. It's founder Samuel Barker Jr. (1849-1903), newly returned from service in the final months of the Civil War with the 37th Wisconsin Vol. Infantry, came to Cleveland with his mother and sister in 1867. He took a job with the Cleveland Leader at $5.00 a week and by 1875 set himself up as "Plain and ornamental - Printer - Binder and Blank Book Manufacturer. By 1891 the business was S. Barker & Son and young Ray and his brother had limited ownership. The company was incorporated for $74,900 in 1911 as The S. Barker's Sons Co., and continued in the family for most of the 20th century.
This successful business changed the Barker family fortunes and there was now time for taking family vacations. Young Ray Barker was 13 years old in 1887 when the family took a trip by train to Niagara Falls, and he recorded his impressions in an 8-page booklet entitled "Sketches of a Trip to Niagara Falls, N.Y. and Toronto, Ont." They traveled on the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio Railroad in a Pullman Palace Sleeping Car named "Bingen." The overnight trip from Cleveland to Niagara Falls took 13 hours, where they crossed over to Canada and took the steamer "Empress of India" to Toronto. A visit to the Zoological Gardens where they saw numerous living animals (all listed dutifully by Ray Barker) and a stuffed whale. Although the trip was meant to be educational and edifying, a runaway horse crashing through a plate glass window added some unexpected excitement to their time in Toronto. The return trip and visit to Niagara Falls clearly enchanted the boy, who wrote:
"From the falls we went over the bridge as we did the night before and went to the Islands over little bridges from island to island. I put a piece of tin pipe in the water while on one of these bridges and it floated on the water, the water was running so swift. Some of the spaces from one island to another are not more than two rods wide and yet no person or thing could every be got out."
The best part came later, as they were below the Falls by elevator to the Whirlpool Rapids.
"The waves rise from 30 to 40 feet high in the rapids and it has been the wonder of the world for anybody to go through them...but we saw a man go through the rapids in a boat, the boat was made for that purpose with an air chamber at each end. The boat started at Suspension Bridge and went both under water and on top. It was perfectly wonderful. It landed all right and if we had waited we would have seen him upon suspension bridge."
The train journey home was in a common car and they had to change three times in the night, but 13 year old Ray pronounced the trip "very pleasant anyway." The next year the family traveled by rail across the country to San Francisco, and then in 1892 went camping in the rockies and returned to the West Coast. Ray Barker wrote and published memoirs of these family excursions, which were are very fortunate to have in our family record. I'll share them with you another time.