Parcel Post Packages Sold at White Elephant Sale

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, April 18, 1914:  Went to a social this evening up at town. Parcel post packages were sold at an auction. I bought a package, which, when unwrapped disclosed a handkerchief. That wasn’t a misfit, but there were some that were more. Who ever heard of a man wearing a sun bonnet or an apron? Well that’s what some of them got.

Milton Evening Standard (April 28, 1914)

Source: Milton Evening Standard (April 28, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Wow, occasionally I just tingle, when a post pulls together like this one did. I never would have guessed that I’d find a newspaper story about this diary entry—

Several weeks ago, I was browsing through old Milton Evening Standard microfilms at the library looking for interesting stories and advertisements that I could use on days when Grandma didn’t write much—and suddenly this column jumped out at me. Grandma attended the party described in the paper!

Parcel post in the US began in 1913—and apparently it was such a cool thing that people had fundraisers with White Elephant sales—but with a twist. Instead of bringing the wrapped items to the party, they mailed them via parcel post.

Two days before this entry, Grandma mailed several packages that apparently were sold at the party:

Went up to town this afternoon to mail some parcel post packages. Oh dear me, and it cost eleven cents . . .

April 16, 1914

Social News

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Tuesday, March 31, 1914:  <<no entry>>

Milton Evening Standard (March 30, 1914)

Milton Evening Standard (March 30, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t’ write anything a hundred years ago today, I’ll share the social news for McEwensville.

McEwensville was (and still is) a small town. Two friends of Grandma’s were mentioned in the newspaper: Rachel Oakes and Helen (Tweet) Wesner.  I don’t think that Grandma attended the party that Rachel helped organize—at least the diary provides no indication that Grandma was at a party on the previous Tuesday.


Christmas Eve Service at the Lutheran Church

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, December 24, 1913:  Went to Watsontown this morning with Pa on the big wagon. This trip finished my Xmas shopping.

Ruth and I went up to McEwensville this evening to attend the Christmas services in the Lutheran Church. Was pretty dark coming home. Discovered on the way that I had left my umbrella behind me. Hope I get it again.

Messiah Lutheran Church, McEwensville

Messiah Lutheran Church, McEwensville

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma generally attended the Baptist Church, but Messiah Lutheran Church in McEwensville apparently held a Christmas Eve service each year that community members attended. Grandma also attended the Christmas Eve services at the Lutheran Church in 1911.

(An aside: Grandma’s future husband, Raymond Swartz, attended Messiah Lutheran Church—though he and Grandma weren’t yet an item when this diary entry was written.)

Christmas is a time for memories. I’m going to reprint part of the post that I did on Christmas Eve, 2011 below. It’s equally relevant this year, and I thought that you might enjoy reading (or rereading) it.


When I was a child I regularly went to candlelight services at Messiah Lutheran Church  — the same church Grandma attended on Christmas Eve a hundred years ago.  I wonder if the services have changed much over the years.

In the middle part of the last century, I remember singing wonderful old-time carols at the candlelight service —We Three Kings, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels,  . .. . ..

We’d end with Silent Night after all of the lights had been extinguished except for the candles we were lighting.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know why, but I have strong memories of one year when an elderly woman didn’t extinguish her candle at the end of the service, and took the flickering light out into the cold night.

I remember asking my mother why the woman didn’t follow the directions—and my mother said that the old lady was remembering Christmas’s from long ago and that we should let her be.  I looked at the woman and could see how happy she looked as her face was illuminated by the flickering light.

I hope that I have equally wonderful memories of Christamases past when I am her age.

Visited Old High School

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, December 12, 1913:  Not as a pupil, but as a visitor, I entered again the dear old M.H.S. this afternoon. The school room looked the same as in those by gone days when I myself was a pupil and a blockhead (sorry to say, but I am the latter yet.)

Recent photo of building that once housed McEwensville High School

Recent photo of building that once housed McEwensville High School

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma graduated from McEwensville High School the previous spring. She probably went back to the school to see a Christmas show put on by the students.  In previous years Grandma participated in the shows. For example, on December 15, 1911 she wrote:

Our entertainment is over at last. That dialogue went off alright. I didn’t forget any of my part although I was rather doubtful about it. . .

The McEwensville Schools had a high school on the second floor and a primary school on the first floor. The show may have included students from both schools. If so, Grandma’s little brother Jimmie probably was in the show.



You ARE NOT a blockhead! Don’t put yourself down.

PLEASE—THINK POSITIVELY ABOUT YOURSELF.  You are darn smart—I can tell that even a hundred years later from reading your diary.

Memorizing Essay to Present at Graduation

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, April 8, 1913:  Am trying to learn my essay. I know about half of it.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Even though Grandma won’t graduate for another several weeks, I’m going to share her commencement program today since I think that she probably was trying to memorize an essay that she wrote for her graduation speech.

(The graduation program contains lots of interesting tidbits—and I plan to explore different facets of if in several upcoming posts. Today I’m just going to focus on Grandma’s speech.)

Grandma was probably trying to memorize the essay that she mentioned on March 21, 1913:

. . . Am tugging away at my old essay it is almost finished.

Her graduation essay was titled Relics of the Earth’s Past. I wonder how the topics were selected. Maybe it was a really interesting speech, but the topic sounds kind of boring to me.

Earlier in the year, Grandma had written about writing an essay on the Revolutionary War. The teacher told the class that the person who wrote the best essay would win  a 2 1/2  dollar gold piece. Based on the program, it appears Grandma didn’t win the gold piece—since J. Karl Watson did a graduation presentation titled, Valley Forge, A Dark Spot of the American Revolution.

Played Cards After Play Practice

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, January 31, 1913: We went to practice again this evening. I don’t know any more of my part than the first time we practiced. Ruth had to stay in turn after it was over to spend a few hours in card playing. I’m not much of a card player but I did learn to play one game.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Recent photo of the McEwensville Community Hall and picnic grove. The festival probably was held in this small park.

The play practice probably was held at the McEwensville Community Center. The building has been a community center for more than 100 years–and it had a wonderful stage. In recent years part of the stage has been converted into a storage area, but when I was a child I can remember it being a regular stage with lots of rows of curtains.  I took these pictures in 2011 when I attended a community pot luck picnic.



It sounds like Grandma’s sister Ruth went along to the play practice.  Based upon a previous diary entry, I thought that the play was a class play and that the cast members were students who would be graduating in the spring.  On January 20, Grandma wrote:

Our class expects to have a swell blow-out one of these days. We’re going to give a play. . .

Ruth was two years older than Grandma—and a teacher at a one-room school house.  This entry makes it sound like Ruth was also in the play. Maybe it really was a community play rather than a class play—or maybe Ruth just accompanied Grandma so that Grandma wouldn’t need to walk to town in the dark by herself.

In any case, it sounds like the girls had fun socializing after play practice. It probably was an almost perfect Friday night.

Population of McEwensville, Watsontown, and Milton, 1910 – 2010, with Links to US Census Data

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, November 30, 1912:  Ruth and I washed this morning. Went to Watsontown this afternoon.

Click on graph to enlarge.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sounds like a nice way for Grandma to spend a Saturday—doing a little work in the morning with her sister Ruth, and then rewarding herself by going to town in the afternoon. Maybe Grandma started her Christmas shopping.

There are three towns regularly mentioned in this diary—all small in the big scheme of things, but within Grandma’s world there was a small town (McEwensville), a medium-sized town (Watsontown), and a large town (Milton).

Today none of the three would be much of a shopping destination—but  a hundred years ago transportation was so much more difficult and each had stores.

McEwensville was the small town, but the one Grandma went to the most frequently . It also was where she attended school.  McEwensville was about 1 1/2 miles east of the Muffly farm. It had a general store, a pharmacy, a restaurant, and a few other businesses.


Watsontown was the medium sized town and where Grandma went a hundred years ago today. It was also about 1 1/2 miles from the Muffly farm, but in the opposite direction from McEwensville. Grandma often walked to Watsontown. It was to the west and is located along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. It had a small downtown with a full range of stores where clothes, housewares, etc. could be purchased.


Milton was considered the “big city” in Grandma’s day—even though the population was only about 7,500 people. At the time, it was a considered a glamorous shopping destination with glittery department stores, women’s clothing shops, shoe stores, and restaurants.   It was about 5 miles from the Muffly farm. Grandma would have either ridden in a buggy to get there—or she could have walked into Watsontown and then taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.


Since all three towns seem very sleepy today, I decided to see it they’d lost a lot of population across the years (see graph above). I was surprised to discover that the population had changed less than I expected between 1910 and 2010. Milton and Watsontown have lost a lot of factories since the 1970s—and many people moved away. It’s nice to see that the population trends have turned and that the population is increasing.

Links to Census Data Sets

I used data from US censuses to make the tables. There is an awesome amount of census data available for every town in the US. Here are the links to the Census population data for each of the years.

1910 census

1930 census

1950 census

1970 census

1990 census

2010 census


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 827 other followers