Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pingree's Potato Patches

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Doesn't that post title have such an alliterative and chipper feel to it? :)

For several years in my writing career I often ducked my head when people would ask what I write. Either that, or I would gloss over it and use a general term like "historical fiction" instead of mentioning the word "romance" anywhere. But that had more to do with the stigma associated with romance novels than anything else.

The same can be said of the setting of my novels in places like Delaware and Michigan, when my heart is more into ranches, horses, cowpokes, spurs, and the like. However, taking a closer look at the books I've written helps me see the unique facets revealed between the pages of my stories, things most historical fiction readers would never have known had it not been for reading one of my books. And that's where the FUN lies!

For one of my series, it was a 3-book series set in historical Detroit during the Industrial Revolution. The effects of this boom in industry took a little longer to reach the ranches and undeveloped wide, open land of the West, but they weren't without their needs that the industry offered. The general stores of those western towns relied on the railroad industry as well as the major cities and the production of items the trains brought to them so they could sell the treasures to folks living nearby.

As I researched details for book 2 in this series (entitled Hearts and Harvest, August 2009), I came across newsworthy events such as the Pullman Strike in Chicago in the summer of 1894 which about shut down all transportation west of that city. You can bet the western towns felt the effects when they couldn't get their standard shipments of goods and materials because the trains weren't running.

Another major component of this recent book is spotlighting the Pingree Potato Patches which were established following the economic recession that occurred in 1893. Over-investment in railroad development led to widespread bank failures and the eventual closing up shop of several prominent business or industries. Places such as cookstove companies, railcar industries and shoe factories all had to close their doors when they could no longer afford to stay open.

The major cities were hit the hardest, but once the effects trickled outward toward the western territories or states, the folks living in those towns suffered as well. Mayor Pingree of Detroit was the first man to settle on public works as a means of recovering from the financial crisis. Instead of allowing those who suffered to be left to their own devices, the mayor sought out donations of land from investors who had purchased the plots, hoping for a rise in value. The land was then converted into vegetable farms, with potatoes being the prime crop grown. Those who worked the plots would be able to feed their families and provide the surplus to the city to replenish the stores and help rebuild the economy.

The idea held widespread appeal, and soon other cities both in the US and Europe adopted similar plans to help dig themselves out of the financial pits. The recession and potato farming lasted until 1896, but as early as 1894, produce again could be shipped all around the country and folks were ready to face the dawning a new century.

Oh, if only communities today would live by that creed. Giving a hand up instead of a hand-out. Working together for the betterment of the community rather than the betterment of ourselves. The down-and-outs working side by side with the more genteel lot. Said so much about Detroit during that era, and even those who lived in nearby communities.

More recently, I returned to that general area of Michigan for my first contemporary novel. Of course, I shifted to the west of the state and then to the far north with Grand Rapids, Mackinac Island, and the Grand Hotel between the upper and lower Michigan peninsulas being my focus. With the lack of automobiles and transportation being limited to horses, carriages, bicycles or on foot), the island represents a hearkening back to a simpler time....much the same way historical novels take us back to the age of westward expansion and the pioneering souls who helped pave the way to the world in which we live today.

Please leave any comments about this post, but I'd also love to hear your answers to these questions: What is YOUR favorite part of reading (or writing) historical fiction? What unique tidbits have you discovered in a historical novel that you likely never would have learned any other way?

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning authorspeaker, and brand partner with Nerium International, who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold fourteen books so far and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Agency. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. My favorite part of reading historical fiction is learning all sorts of neat facts about different areas. Sometimes I think so much of our history is watered down and not told correctly for fear of offending someone. However, when writing a book, you can add information that most people haven't heard before. I love learning about the settling of the west and the small towns that are no longer here.

  2. One of the things I enjoy most about reading historical fiction is learning bits of history that I might not have known or have forgotten.

  3. Wouldn't it be nice if we all adopted that way of helping others in today's society? Detroit could use that again today.
    I love reading and getting any romance stories regarding my home state of Michigan. I love learning new tidbits in historical fiction - and have that fun story to go with the events. :)

  4. Interesting blog. I would love to visit Mackinac Island and step back in time. How fun! sharon, ca

  5. Great article, Tiffany, thanks. I chuckled when I read how you avoided identifying yourself as a romance writer. Thanks for your honesty; my first romance, City Sidewalks, is being released December 1st. As a child, I read every biography I could find, and historical fiction is how I placed those people and events on a timeline. As a Christian writer, this comprehension of history according to God's timeline helps me share a Biblical worldview with my readers.

  6. Great post Tiffany! My favorite thing about historical fiction is learning how people lived and survived in the past, also the way that people treated others and the general sense of community there was before all the gangs, violence, & hatred there is now. I like learning about the simpler times. I've learned that the waltz was just making its way to the US from Europe when Monroe (the 5th president) was in office and that it was considered to be almost scandalous and so much more!