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.

commencement.program.1

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.

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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.

McEwensville

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.

Watsontown

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.

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

Building the Brick Road Between Watsontown and McEwensville

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

Monday, September 23, 1912:  Walked the muddy way to school this morning. Don’t have much to write these days.

Recent photo of the road that went between McEwensville and Watsontown in Grandma’s day.  . . Once dirt, then brick, and now paved. . .

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

With all the mud, it’s a good thing that Grandma got new rubber overshoes  the previous Saturday. September, 1912 must have been a rainy month.  On September 18  Grandma also wrote about the muddy walk to school.

1912 was the last year that Grandma had to walk the entire way on dirt roads.  She lived between McEwensville and Watsontown, and a brick road was apparently under construction that would replace the old dirt road.

According to George Wesner in  History in McEwensville (1976):

The brick road leading from McEwensville to Watsontown was one of the first of its kind to be built in Pennsylvania. Construction was begun at McEwsville in 1912 and completed the following year. . .

It was built by the construction firm Fiss and Christiana of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. In grading, the ground was moved by horse-drawn dump wagons which were loaded by manual labor. While some local people were employed most of the laborers were Italian immigrants. Very few could speak English. They were quartered in a labor camp which was located in a ravine on the farm of Isiah Elliot,  now owned by Samuel Raup. All the materials, sand, gravel, brick and cement were hauled by teams and horses. The only mechanical equipment used was a steam roller. . .

On an occasion when a period of bad weather had caused the operation to run behind schedule, the contractors, in an effort to catch up, requested that they work on Sunday. . . .

I wonder if the wet days that Grandma wrote about during September 1912 were when the road-building crews got behind schedule.

Grandma would have walked this road to school every day while it was being transformed from  a muddy dirt road to fancy brick one. It sounds like a major activity to me, yet she never thought it worth mentioning in the diary. Sigh. . .

Rachel Oakes and Red Hill School

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

Thursday, August 8, 1912:  Hardly worth while and not worth the effort.

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

Since Grandma didn’t have much to say a hundred years ago today, I’m again going to go off on a tangent. I’m always intrigued by what happened to the friends that Grandma mentioned in the diary. 

I recently found a picture of one friend,  Rachel Oakes, when she was an elderly woman. (She’s the one on the left.) It was taken in 1978 at a Red Hill School reunion. Red Hill School was a one-room school located at the southern end of McEwensville.

According to the History of the McEwensville Schools, Rachel taught at Red Hill School during the 1909-10 school year.  Later, during the 1910-11 and 1911-12 school years, she was the primary school teacher at McEwensville School. I suppose that it was considered more prestigious to teach at the larger McEwensville School.

Rachel must have been a few years older than Grandma and  her sister Ruth. (Ruth graduated from high school in 1911—and Grandma graduated in 1913.)

Note that the article mentions Ruth Gauger—that was Grandma’s sister Ruth’s married name. According to the History of the McEwensville Schools, Ruth taught at Red Hill School during the 1914-15 school year (and her other sister Besse taught there from 1906-09).

Recent photo of building that once housed Red Hill School. It is now a home.

Didn’t Have a Good Time at the McEwensville Festival

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

Saturday, July 27, 1912:  Ruth and I went to a festival this evening up at McEwensville. I didn’t have a very good time, and Ruth said she didn’t either.

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

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

I wonder why neither Grandma nor her sister Ruth had a good time. Weren’t their friends there? . . . Did the cute guys ignore them . . .

When I was a child there was an old-fashioned  carnival at McEwensville each summer.. I imagine it being similar to the festival a hundred years ago. .

There was lots of great food– barbequed chicken, chicken corn soup, cakes, pies. . .

And, a cake walk, penny throws, balloon boards . . .

There’s no longer a festival or carnival in McEwensville, but the sign is still stored in the rafters of the picnic shelter.

And, music, good times with friends . . .

There was a dunk tank. They were always looking for kids willing to be dunked. Sometimes my cousin sat in the dunking chair.  I never was brave enough to do it.

Inside McEwensville High School

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

Friday, May 31, 1912:Today seemed like Monday to me, as I didn’t do much work yesterday. Went over to see Carrie.

Grandma’s gravestone is in the foreground. The brick building in the background once housed the high school that she attended.

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

I’d like to tell you some more about last week-end. I got to tour the inside of the building that once housed McEwensville High School!

The school building is next to McEwensville Cemetery and  is now empty, but from the late 1950s until a few years ago it housed the McEwensville Fire Department.

When I went to the cemetery to put  flowers on relatives graves for Memorial Day, I noticed that the building doors were open and that there was a garage sale taking place inside.

With my heart beating rapidly I went into the garage sale, and told the story of Grandma and her diary.

I met a wonderful family, including Vincent Emery, who had purchased the building several years ago. He even gave me a tour of the second floor where the high school was located (the primary school was on the first floor).

Vincent Emery giving me the tour.

As I ascended the stairs, my whole body tingled with excitement. I finally was going to be in the room that Grandma had written so much about. Some things had changed since Grandma’s time. The stairs had been moved to enable the building to serve as a fire truck garage and the tile ceiling was from a later time.

But much appeared to be the same as it had been when it was a school. . . . wooden wainscoting . . . the chalk board . . .

The old slate chalkboard now sits on the floor.

The hole in the wall where the chalkboard once hung.

I thought about the times Grandma sat at in this room and worried about tests . . .  the time  a boy chased her around the wood or coal stove . . . the time she teased her teacher about drawing a picture of a ring, the times wind rattled the windows, the time she cheated on a test . . .

Whew, even now, five days later, I’m still in awe that I actually stood in the same room where Grandma attended school.

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