Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Bloom Quilt #1: The House on the Hill

 There's no image of Janet Rutherford Marshall on the internet.  There isn't even much about her story but she was the impetus for my first Bloom Quilt.

"Blooming Where We're Planted" has a specific meaning to me.  It means using my quilts to relay a particular story, memory, or emotion.  In July of this past summer, I was touched by the story of a lady who lived in a hill.

When I was a child, my family made regular treks "uphome" to the coal regions of Pennsylvania where my maternal grandparents had grown-up.  As we journeyed, we passed through Carbon County--the "slate belt" region at the edge of our valley.

Everytime we made the trip, my brother and mused about a landmark that most people around here call "the house on the hill."  

The mansion was a great but forlorn beacon on the hill.  My brother thought it was haunted and not even my father could tell me who lived there.

Across from the house, past the road we were on, and across the river was even more startling.  We called it the dead mountain. The surrounding area and particularly the dead mountain was devoid of any vegetation.  Not one speck of grass grew there.  

In truth, the mountain was dead!  Run-off from the zinc mines in the area had killed everything.  Scientists in the 1970s found that there was not one single living thing on the dead mountain--not earth worms or even micro-organisms.  The top of the mountain:

The region became one of the early EPA Superfund sites.

In July, the house on the hill came up for sale.  A friend flagged me on it and I could finally see the interior of the house.  Do you want to see it?  Hit here.  Photos #68-69 show the rejuvination of the hill across from the house.
Janet Rutherford was only 23 years old when she met Elisha Marshall in 1873.  She had grown-up in a wealthy and cultured family in Jersey City, NJ.  Elisha Marshall was a 44 year old Civil War veteran who had lost his first wife shortly before they met (you can read about his military career here).  He courted the wealthy heiress and two years later, the couple were married.

It's unclear what Marshall did for a living or what kind of fortune he brought to the union.  When Marshall was only a boy, his father committed suicide after severe business losses.

It is most likely that her family money funded the building of the house on the hill and their lifestyle.  Janet's father was one of the founder's of the "paint industry" in Carbon County (among other businesses).

The house was completed in 1881.  Newspapers reported a year later that once the couple had moved into the house, "Marshall had grown tired of his beautiful wife, who had not blessed them with a token of their union, and he became irritable."  It was reported that he used "the foulest language towards her and struck her repeatedly."  When the abuse escalated, she fled to her father in Philadelphia and the family filed for a divorice in 1882.  The situation was widely reported in newspapers.

Marshall apparently followed her to Philadelphia and took a job as a civil engineer.  The divorce did proceed and eventually Janet returned to the house on the hill where she lived as a recluse.  She became known as "the hermit on the hill."  She finally left in 1911 to make funeral arrangements for her brother.  She was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1911 in New Jersey.

After her death, one newspaper reported about her life after the divorce:

It's a tragic tale.  Even in death, her story continued to make headlines.  She had left an estate estimated at a worth of $24 million in today's market.  The settling of her estate dragged on for years because states like Pennsylvania and New York wanted to claim her as a resident and therefore profit from the inheritance taxes.  For decades and even probably until today, most folk and especially children thought her home was haunted.

But as sad as this tale is, it's not why I made this quilt.  I was just plain annoyed.  In 2016 when the house was up for sale (again), an article on "Marshall's Hill" was published in the newspapers.  It was one of those nice feature stories focused on local history. The article discussed Marshall's gallantry in the war and mentions, "he could have easily been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."  There was no discussion of the trauma that had incurred to Janet.  

I can accept that in 1882 a newspaper would report a sublimal message that the abuse occurred because Marshall was frustrated that they didn't have a child.  It was not uncommon to blame women for infertility.  But in 2016, I would have expected that her trauma be discussed (you can read the article here). 

After she returned to the house on the hill, another local article reported, she had bars put on the windows of the house.  We know she had dogs to protect her.  How much evidence does one need?

I had purchased the fabric for this quilt to complete another quilt, a pattern I had seen in a magazine.  I think it was called Pane by Pane.
The pattern didn't suit my mood.  I wanted something more grim and with only black sashing surrounding the trees.  When it was finished, my machine quilter Terri Trotter asked me how I wanted it quilted.  "Nothing literal," I told her.  "No trees, no snowflakes."  Terri lives in Palmerton where the house on the hill is located.  I wonder if somehow she instinctively knew what to do with it.  She chose a pattern called Spooky.

So this is my first "Bloom" quilt.  It's a long story and a sad story but I sewed my frustration out while making it.  Sometimes that's just what you have to do.

I probably won't be posting tomorrow as my husband has more tests.  If you wish to submit a photo for Flower Friday, please email me at

Have a safe and happy day!


  1. What an incredibly sad story. Your quilt fits the mood quite well, I think. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It's an astounding story, Michele -- it would make a great historical novel! I looked up the house on Zillow. It's beautiful (love the red kitchen sink) but remote.

  3. .....and I wonder if environmental pollution led to her cancer.