Source: Crawfordsville Weekly Journal Friday, 26 October 1900
All the old citizens in the west half of the county know Aunt Polly Roll, who for so many years lived here, and who for seventy two years was a member of the Turkey Run Christian Church at Wingate. Aunt Polly went west several years ago and last Saturday week at Minneapolis celebrated her one hundredth birthday. The Minneapolis Sunday Times gives the following interesting sketch of the old lady:
“The one hundredth birthday anniversary of Mrs. Mary Westfall Roll was celebrated at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. S. C. Hayes, at 3005 Bryant Avenue S, yesterday. The rooms were appropriately decorated with autumn leaves, wheat heads and ripened grain, loads of roses, asters, carnations, and cosmos were brought by the guests, of whom over one hundred and fifty called to greet the venerable hostess.
Thirty four of the 133 descendants of the old lady were present, many of them coming from their homes in distant states. At noon the company was called to order and Mrs. Roll was seated in state in a new oaken chair, upholstered in pale green leather, one of her birthday presents. J. W. Gregory, of St. Joseph, Mo., the eldest son of the old lady’s eldest child, addressed the assembled guests. In part Mr. Gregory said: “Grandma Rolls, kinsfolk and friends, the occasion of our coming together is an unusual one, the celebration of a centenary birthday, and to many of us it has a deep and thrilling interest in that the central figure is our only living ancestor. Born with this wonderful nineteenth century, Mary Westfall Roll has enjoyed the privilege and distinction of extending her span of life through the full 100 years. As far back as I can remember it was quoted in our family that ‘Granny Roll,’ as she called herself, intended to live to be 100 years old. To those of us who remember the vigor and energy she displayed in her middle life, it is not surprising that she has fulfilled the promise. Often I have heard her relate that on her fiftieth birthday she ‘spun her dozen cuts of yarn, set a blue dye and in the evening walked three miles to church.’ That walk was over unimproved country roads in central Indiana, a region at that time heavily timbered.
HER EARLY HARDSHIPS
How much this one day’s history brings up in Grandmother Roll’s career! Born Mary Westfall, in Dayton, Ohio, (the first white child born there) in a log cabin, in a region infested by wandering Indians, she experienced the privations, dangers and inconveniences of pioneer life. Her early experiences occurred at a time and under conditions which required people to do for themselves whether they would or not. They grew their own wool, sheared, scoured and carded, spun and wove it. They raised their own flax and carried it through every stage of manufacture from the field to the homely but serviceable garment of homespun. Even their bread was made by pounding corn into a coarse meal on a ‘hominy block’ until civilization so progressed that by going fifty miles on horseback through the wilderness, they could reach a primitive grist mill with a bag of grain.
Their cattle, hogs, and poultry, and forests filled with game supplied abundant animal food and the woods also furnished them with honey and sugar, fruits and nuts. They lived like lords and peasants in one—independent, rich in the profusion of all the necessaries of life, their log cabins embowered in beauty and filled with love and laughter where they dwelt on puncheon floors or on the bare earth, rocked their babies in ax made sugar troughs, eked out their supply of clothing with the skins of beasts, and had oiled paper for glass, in their single paned windows.
Soon after Mary Westfall married John Roll, in Dark County, Ohio, in 1822, they moved to Montgomery County, Indiana, making the trip on horseback. Here, still on the frontier, among savage beasts and no less savage men, they reared their family, and when the youngest was an infant in arms, the husband and father, at the age of 34 heard the call of Azrael to turn aside into the shadowy land.
The undaunted mother kept her children together and reared them in the manner and respect of the times and people, and at the same time amid all her duties, spared so much time and effort in visiting and caring for the sick and afflicted that the name of ‘Aunt Polly Roll’ is cherished in that region even to the present generation, few of whom have ever seen her. As her children grew up and married, they removed one by one—still westward, still on the frontier—into Illinois, and of course the mother, now became many times grandmother, followed them. Twenty years ago when some of them talked of moving to Dakota, ‘Granny’ laid down the law with the bark on it. She said: “I’ve been on the frontier nearly all my life and I’m not going to endure any more of it. If you young ones want to go to a new community you may, but I’m going to stay here.” She meant it at the time, but when all the children and grandchildren went to Dakota ‘Granny’ perforce, went too.
On the monotonous prairies of what is now South Dakota, near Pierre, she settled and proved up a government claim after she was 85 years old. Now, after so much hardship, she is rounding out her century amid the comforts of this beautiful city, and as she is entitled to 90 years more of life to make up for the hardships of the frontier, we, her descendants, and her multitude of fiends as well, hope to see her journey a long way into her second century amid happy conditions.
Not withstanding her hardships, it has been Grandmother Roll’s privilege to live through a golden century indeed. She says that almost everything on earth that is of much value has been invented, thought out and wrought out since she was born.
And now, on this golden birthday, we, your descendants, scattered throughout nearly one third of the states of the union, together with friends, have gathered together a small testimonial of our esteem. This golden purse contains one hundred and ten dollars in gold coin. One gold dollar for each year of your age and 10 per cent to grow on. It is a gift dear grandmother, which typified the love your children and friends bear you, and the wish that your precious life may be prolonged many years and may grow in beauty and comfort, until you shall have attained unto the golden perfect peace of God toward which every child of his is tending. In this gift and those accompanying it, this chair, this cloak and other articles, every descendant of yours is represented, those who have gone before as well as those still living. Some descendants have contributed more, some less, but all are represented, the total number being 133.”
Resolutions of appreciation were read from the Christian Church at Pleasant Hill, Ind., with which Mrs. Roll has been connected for seventy two years, and a letter of congratulations from the historical society of Dayton, Ohio. An interesting original poem was read by Mrs. E. J. Newcomb.
Robert Harper, who is 101 years old, as guest of honor, due to his 101 years, sat beside the venerable hostess. Mr. Harper rose to the occasion and proposed marriage to Mrs. Roll, who responded: “Widowers have been my greatest trouble for sixty five years, but I have kept them at a distance and I can’t afford to break my record.”
Group pictures were taken of Mrs. Roll and her descendants to the number of thirty four, by Mr. Hayes, her son-in-law.
Other sums of money and gifts innumerable were among the offerings.