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Stephens City’s most distinguished citizen lived a life worthy of all imitation

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It is my humble opinion that too little attention has been given by local historians to the distinguished career of Dr. John Bell Tilden. Tilden spent the last 45 years of his life as a resident of Frederick County, leaving a lasting impression on the local church and civil government professions.

Dr. John Bell Tilden, son of Captain Richard and Anna (Meyer) Tilden, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 9, 1761 (gravestone reads 1762) and baptized in the Episcopal Church. He died July 31, 1838, in Stephensburg, now Stephen City, Virginia. He was a student at Princeton College studying medicine at the time of the Revolutionary war. He left college to join the Continental army, receiving a commission as ensign, May 28, 1779, in the Second Regiment Pennsylvania line, commanded by Colonel Walter Stewart. He was subsequently promoted to second lieutenant, his commission to date from July 25, 1780. His regiment left York, Pennsylvania, for the southern campaign in the spring of 1781 and he was present at the siege of Yorktown and surrender of General Cornwallis (was an officer appointed to receive the surrendered arms). At the close of the war he was honorably discharged and became a member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. During his entire service he kept a diary, which is now in the possession of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. John Bell Tilden by Frederick Kemmelmeyer, painted in Winchester in 1814. (Eleanor G. Shutter Collection, Stewart Bell Jr Archives, Handley Regional Library, Winchester VA)

Dr. John Bell Tilden married Jane Chambers on August 9, 1784. Jane was daughter of Joseph and Martha Chambers of York, Pennsylvania. Sometime after leaving the army in 1783, Tilden settled in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). During that time, Tilden was converted to Christ in 1787 and united with the Methodist Episcopal Church there and soon became a layman and an active worker in evangelistic efforts.

He later relocated to Stephensburg, Frederick County about 1793, where he apparently studied medicine and secured a large and lucrative practice until the close of his life. Being a man of culture and extensive influence, Tilden was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church on January 31, 1803 with George Reed and James Chipley as Bondsmen. Tilden was elected a Justice of the Peace and also High Sheriff of Frederick County (1795-1813). He occupied prominent positions in the state as well as the church; and by the exercise of justice and integrity in the discharge of his important duties, reflected credit and honor, both upon his ministerial and magisterial professions. Tilden bought a large two story log home in Stephens City sometime between 1801 and 1815. The house which Tilden named Bell Air, was built by the Lewis Stephens family in 1788 and still stands today.

John Bell Tilden purchased this large two story log home in Stephens City, (built in 1788) and named it Bell Air. Photos courtesy of Mark Gunderman

During the agitation of the question of lay representation, Tilden advocated the equal rights of the laity with the clergy in the legislative department of the church. For exercising these Scriptural and American rights, he and other prominent brethren were expelled from the M. E. Church in Stephensburg, in 1828.  At his trial he was refused the privilege of reading his defense, so he informed the large assembly, that he would read it from the door steps after leaving the church. Nearly the entire congregation went with him leaving only his accusers behind. Tilden united with his expelled brethren and in the next year, 1829, assisted in organizing the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church. In 1872 the M. E. church admitted its error by adopting lay representation into its polity.

The most complete account of Rev. John Tilden’s preaching ability was published in 1880. That year Sketches of the Founders of the Methodist Protestant Church, and its Bibliography by Thomas H. Colhouer, included this description regarding Tilden:

“As a reformer, Tilden was like Paul and Luther, bold, earnest, and outspoken, laboring with both tongue and pen to defend and advance the cause of the New Testament equality in the ministry. He promoted the indisputable rights of the laity to representation in the free Gospel Church of Christ. Tilden was a contributor and industrious circulator of the Mutual Rights Magazine, the organ of the Reform party in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Rev John B. Tilden was a fine preacher of noble and dignified bearing, chaste in style, pure in diction, graceful in manner, and a profound and earnest profounder of the Word of God. In his holy life, fervent zeal and spotless character, he set an example that was worthy of all imitation.”

Early Days and Methodism in Stephens City, Virginia, by Inez Virginia Steele, first published in 1906 includes an account of a Methodist Dinner Party. The dinner party was held in Rev. Elisha Phelps house in August 1802 at Stephensburg. There Rev. James Quinn described John Tilden as, “an interesting figure, somewhat robust but not corpulent, a fine, manly face, and smiling countenance.”

As a committed early Methodist he acknowledged the equity of all people before God. These democratic views of social order extended across the racial divide. Long before the abolitionist movement was an organized effort to end the practice of slavery in the United States, Dr. Tilden freed his slaves Lucy and her small child James in April 1806 and sent them to Liberia with one year’s provision.

Dr. Tilden will always be remembered as a veteran of the Revolutionary war, doctor and Methodist Minister. His spouse, Jane Chambers was born in York County, Pennsylvania, December 18, 1766 and died May 26 1827. In 1802, at the age of 35, Jane was described as an interesting lady with white hair as pure wool and eyes beaming with intelligence. They had ten children. Dr. Tilden and Jane are buried in the Tilden family plot at Stephens City UMC Cemetery.

Dr. John Bell Tilden gravestone at Stephens City United Methodist Church cemetery.

Buried in the Tilden family plot are:

  • Anna Belle Tilden: Died 1819
  • Jane Tilden: Died 1827
  • Dr. John B. Tilden: Died 1838
  • Lorenzo R. McLeod: Died Unknown
  • Lorenzo T. McLeod: Died 1888
  • Anna Bell Tilden McLeod: Died 1890
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Ice fishing: tips for a successful day

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Ice fishing is a great way to relieve stress, reconnect with nature, and enjoy your own company or that of your fishing buddies. Whether you’re ready to go or still waiting for the ice to thicken, here are a few tips that will help guarantee you have a good experience.

Check the regulations
Before you head out, make sure you have the necessary permits and that you’re allowed to fish in the intended area. You also need to be familiar with the catch and possession limits for various species. Having this information will allow you to avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that your activities are legal.

Check the conditions

Take into consideration the weather and ice conditions before you decide if you’ll be fishing in a shack or simply out on the ice. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and without the right gear, you may have to turn back before you make your first catch.

Check your equipment
Many parks and lodges offer all-inclusive ice fishing packages. In this case, all you need to bring are your warm clothes and plenty of enthusiasm. However, if you have your own equipment, you’ll want to assess its condition before you head out. Visit hunting and fishing shops in your area if any of your gear is damaged or needs to be replaced.

Following these tips will ensure that once you drill your holes, you’ll be able to relax, unwind, and fully enjoy the ice fishing experience.

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How to safely watch wildlife in winter

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If you spend time exploring the outdoors this winter, you might cross paths with hares, foxes, deer, and other wildlife. Here’s how you can observe these creatures safely (and comfortably) without disturbing them.

Act appropriately
It’s important to always treat wildlife with caution and respect. If an animal reacts to your presence, you’re too close. Since these creatures need to conserve energy to stay warm in winter, startling them causes undue stress. In fact, keeping your distance is as much for their safety as it is for yours.

Dress appropriately

It’s best to wear layers and opt for breathable fabrics when you engage in outdoor winter activities. Keep in mind that you won’t produce as much body heat when you’re standing still to watch wildlife. You’ll also want to have binoculars or a camera to make the most of your sigh-ting. However, keep in mind that drones shouldn’t be used around wild animals.

If you want to reconnect with nature this season, look for places where you can hike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski in your area.

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Time to learn a second language? Bienvenido! Language apps await

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Let’s be honest. Despite what online language apps tell you, a year of online learning won’t qualify you as fluent in a language.

But here is the good news: You could manage enough useful language for travel, business or visiting with people in different countries. But chances are that you won’t successfully converse about the philosophy of Kant.

Still, there are good choices out there for learning a second language.

One of the senior language resources is Rosetta Stone and it is well worth a first look. It offers a free three-day course with no credit card needed. Of all the online apps, Rosetta Stone seems best at starting you at the right level. If you have a passing familiarity with Spanish, for example, you probably don’t need to start at “hola.” And Rosetta Stone won’t put you there.

Like every online app, it isn’t obvious at first how to use the question-and-answer modules. That seems true for every app and you will get a few instructions in English. But users will quickly get the hang of the app’s interface.

Trending among language apps are Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel.

Duolingo and Memrise both work on the idea of spaced repetition for better memorization. Rosetta Stone and Babbel may seem more immersive–at least in the beginning.

All the apps have combinations of flashcards and listening exercises. Rosetta Stone features a listen-respond tableau with every lesson. Memrise offers its Learn With Locals videos that demonstrate a new phrase.

Babbel focuses on conversational examples to show the context of words and phrases. It also has a speech recognition feature designed to give you confidence in actually speaking the language.

Memrise is unique in that about 90 percent of its course offering is free. You can buy the pro package, which is supposed to be helpful, especially as you progress. It also has a social element with a leaderboard, which has actually been controversial since some people hacked their way up the board. This is why we can’t have anything nice.

Duolingo calculates your streak in coming back to the app and its little bird mascot regularly (and somewhat infamously) exhorts your participation.

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Students push back against cheating software

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Educators are fighting cheating with software, but students are fighting back.

Online learning and test-taking have opened new doors for the ancient art of cheating. To fight it, some schools require students to take tests over webcam while professors or teaching assistants observe. But according to TechDirt, a growing number of institutions are using anti-cheating software instead, which uses a mix of human proctors and algorithms to spot what they classify as signs of cheating.

These online proctoring companies use webcams, microphones, and algorithms to monitor eye and head movements, background noise, mouse movements, scrolling, and keystrokes. The software flags suspicious behavior for instructor review. Even something as simple as multiple users taking the test on the same network, connectivity issues, or too much background noise can be flagged, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the popularity of online proctoring software continues to grow. According to EdSurge, the online proctoring company Proctorio is partnering with McGraw-Hill and other textbook publishers to include its software with courseware, meaning that even homework may be tracked for cheating in the future.

As the software has gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, students say that it violates privacy and causes intense stress for test-takers, according to the Washington Post. And according to NBC News, students have little recourse when penalized for things beyond their control, like interruptions or unconscious behaviors, such as reading out loud. The anxiety they experience while trying to satisfy the software’s demands, they say, is too much.

According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, dozens of petitions are circulating at colleges and universities to abandon platforms like Honorlock, Proctorio, ProctorU and Respondus. And some schools are receptive to the complaints — The City University of New York recently decided that professors cannot require students to use online proctoring software.

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Lack of rural broadband access hurts American students

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that much of the world goes to work and school, rural Americans were less likely to have access to broadband internet service. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Eighth Broadband Progress Report, nearly a quarter of Americans who live in rural areas–about 14.5 million people–lack access. In tribal areas, nearly one-third of the population lacks access.

The benefits of broadband access are well-established. In a webinar for the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, Federal Reserve Bank economist Alex Marre pointed out that broadband access is linked to higher wages, lower unemployment, more population growth, and higher home values. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts Broadband Initiative, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced disparities in access to the forefront and highlighted the need for universal broadband access.

But the cost associated with extending rural broadband to every American is high–about $80 billion, according to Farm and Dairy.

Lack of broadband access in rural areas particularly hurts America’s children. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts Broadband Initiative, an estimated 15 to 16 million elementary and secondary students do not have adequate internet access or digital devices at home to support online learning. At present, 12 states are seeking to alleviate this burden on families by using Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars to help students purchase internet-enabled devices, wireless hotspots, or both.

According to a Common Sense Media report, issued during the summer of 2020, about 50 million children have engaged in remote learning as a result of the pandemic. Even in states with the smallest disparities, about one in four students lacked adequate internet access. In states with the largest divides, half of the students lacked access.

The incoming Biden administration will spend nearly $5 billion in annual rural telecommunications subsidies, according to Bloomberg Law. Critics of the fund say that it is needlessly complex and distributes necessary funds unevenly between and within states.

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150 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the O’Learys hit the news again

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Did Old Lady O’Leary’s cow kick over a lantern in the shed in 1871, thus causing the Great Chicago Fire?

You’ll be hearing a lot about the truth (or not) of the cow and Old Lady O’Leary in October when the 150th anniversary of the fire kicks off, so to speak.

But while you wait, the O’Learys are in the news for another reason.

The 33-room mansion of Big Jim O’Leary is on sale this year in his hometown of Chicago.

Big Jim was Mrs. O’Leary’s son, and he was a gambling man who made quite a tidy living running resorts (gambling houses) in Chicago. In fact, he was called the “gambling king of the stockyards.”
He had a personal motto: “There are three classes of people in this world: gamblers, beggars, and burglars.”

Around 1890 or so, Big Jim was sufficiently rich enough to build himself a massive Renaissance revival house on Garfield Blvd. in the then-stylish Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

It has an ornate brownstone facade that includes James O’Leary’s initials and a female face that legend says belongs to the same lady with the criminal cow.

With extensive woodworking inside, the house is full of period touches. Two walk-in safes no doubt gave Big Jim a lot of space to store his gambling proceeds.

Ironically, the house has its own fire hydrant in the back, very rare for the 1890s.

In rough condition inside, the 12-bedroom, 6,300-square-foot house is on sale for about $600,000, according to Chicago Business.

The house has not been owned by O’Learys since 1925 when Big Jim died.

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