The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society

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

Thursday, February 21, 1911: The same old routine, I hope it will soon be broken. I was busily making errands today, they didn’t concern me so very much. I got a ride home from school with Oakes, and it was a little bit windy. The wind blew my cap off of my head, and I had to get out, and go back after it. Too bad, wasn’t it?

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

Ah, the ennui of  the dog days of winter. I know the feeling—the holidays were long past and an almost forgotten memory, the cold seemed like it would never end,  and spring seemed impossibly far away  (though the wind suggests there is a bit of a spring feel and that blustery March was on the horizon).  And, probably NOTHING was happening in McEwensville. A few years before Grandma’s time, McEwensville was a wild and crazy place. . .

The large white building has had many names over the years. In the era of the Horse Protective Society it was called the Washington Tavern.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society was the center of the social scene in McEwensville in the late 1800s–though it probably no longer existed in 1911 when Grandma began her diary. The farmers near McEwensville had had a lot of problems with horse thieves, and organized the society to recover the horses.

Each year at an annual meeting thirty men were selected to be part of the posse for the following year. According to  C.V. Clark in an address to the Northumberland County Historical Society, “The yearly meetings were held on the last Saturday of the year and this was a gala day in McEwensville. With a membership which at one time numbered 290, the town was filled.”  

The annual meetings of the Horse Protective Society were held at the Washington Tavern, but according to Clark the society’s by-laws indicated that “members should not introduce or bring any spirituous liquors of any kind into the room where the yearly meeting was being held, nor smoke tobacco while on business. Members misbehaving at the yearly meeting were to pay a fine ‘not exceeding ten cents.’ ”

Hmm–the meetings were held at a tavern, it was a gala event on the last Saturday of the year–yet no alcohol was allowed. I wonder what percentage of the members were fined in a typical year? . . . I guess the town has become more sedate over the years.

Which church did Grandma attend?

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

Sunday, February 5, 1911: Went to Sunday school this morning. Went to church this evening with Ruth. It was rather quiet today. Everything seemed so quiet.

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

There are so many pieces to the jig-saw puzzle that make up our ancestors’  lives. Questions like, “Which church did Grandma attend?” probably aren’t very important in the bigger scheme of things—but I’m curious. I asked my father. I searched for member records in church histories and other supplemental documents. However, the available data were inconclusive, and I still don’t definitively know the answer.

Based on a scan of the diary I can’t find any place where Grandma said which church she attended—though the diary entries indicate that she faithfully attended Sunday school. There were two or three churches in McEwensville one hundred years ago: St. John’s Reformed Church, Messiah Lutheran— and maybe a Baptist Church.

In the diary Grandma mentions the Lutheran and Reformed churches by name when she visits them—but she provides no church name when she attended her regular church. This suggests that she didn’t attend either of those churches–but  rather that she went to the Baptist one. However, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that conclusion since I know that the Baptist church closed early in the 20th century. Agnes Beard wrote in 1939 in her History of McEwensville

“The Baptist Church, a brick edifice, has fallen into ruins, there being no members in or near the place to keep it in repair.”

Agnes Beard (1939)

Prior to reading Grandma’s diary I never thought about her religious beliefs. After she married Raymond Swartz she attended Messiah Lutheran Church. I don’t remember Grandma ever discussing religion—and was somewhat surprised that she probably was raised in a somewhat more conservative tradition than what she practiced as an adult.

Recent photo of building that once housed Messiah Lutheran Church.

As an older woman Grandma enjoyed visiting with friends in the “old ladies Sunday School class” at Messiah Lutheran.  Both Grandma and Helen “Tweet” Wesner were in that class. Tweet never married and lived her entire life in McEwensville. It’s kind of cool how life-long friendships and relationships developed in this small community.


15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Tuesday, January 24, 1911. It’s getting so terrible muddy. Wish it would snow. I love to take sleigh rides. Don’t get many though. I feel rather sleepy just now. Will soon be asleep.

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

I tend to think that winter weather was historically very harsh in central Pennsylvania.  But the diary entries indicate that many days were above freezing during January 1911. In more recent years the temperature typically is below freezing at night but above freezing during the daylight hours. And, there are almost constant freezing and thawing cycles. I suppose the weather patterns were similar  in 1911.

 Mud was a huge problem a hundred years ago. The roads both in McEwensville, as well as in the outlying rural areas, were not yet paved in 1911. According to George Wesner in his History of McEwensville , there was even a boardwalk that went from McEwensville  across Warrior Run Creek to a train station which was about half a mile north of town.

 The route was muddy at times and dusty at times . . .To alleviate the situation an elevated boardwalk was built from the station to the old bridge (which crossed the creek at right angles not diagonally) and from there parallel with the highway to the borough line.

George Wesner

The McEwensville railroad station is long gone, but this photo was taken near the location of the old station and looks toward town. It's difficult to envision where the boardwalk once was.

McEwensville Has Made the New York Times — Twice!

Saturday, January 7, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

Since there is again no diary entry today, I thought that it might be fun to see if McEwensville was ever mentioned in the New York Times. I searched the paper’s data base and found two news articles with a McEwensville connection.

Recent photo of the McEwensville United Church of Christ (Reformed Church)

According to the September 11, 1885, New York Times:


The Rev. J. K. Millett, of McEwensville, was drowned in the river at Watsontown yesterday. He was out in a boat with a young girl named Culp, and by some means the boat was upset. Miss Culp succeeded in saving her life by clinging to the boat, but Mr. Millet, although a good swimmer, went under. He was about 46 years old.

 McEwensville was again  mentioned in the New York Times on May 2, 1942:


 Edward Burrowes Jr., 21, star Princeton University middle distance runner, was in a satisfactory condition at the university infirmary tonight after physicians found he had punctured a lung in a dressing room accident at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, last Saturday following the Penn Relays.  . . Burrowes entered the infirmary last night complaining of a slight pain in his chest. He said he had slipped on the wet floor of the Franklin Field dressing room and had fallen on a sharp-handled comb. Burrowes is a member of the junior class and lives in McEwensville, Pennsylvania. He holds the I.C. 4-A half-mile championship and university records in the 440-year and half-mile runs.

Grandma grew up on a farm outside of McEwensville. She kept her diary between 1911 and 1914—about midway between McEwensville’s two moments of fame in the New York Times.

McEwensville High School

Friday, January 6, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

Since there is no diary entry again today, I’ll tell you a little  about the high school that Grandma attended.

Grandma attended McEwensville High School.  The school building is next to the cemetery at the edge of McEwensville. She generally walked the mile and a half or so from her home to school.

Recent photo of the building that once housed McEwensville High School.

 The high school contained only one classroom and it was located on the second floor of the school building—the elementary class was on the first floor. It was a three-year classical high school where students learned Latin, poetry, literature, history, and arithmetic.

In 1911 Rachel Oakes—a friend of Grandma and her sister Ruth—was the elementary teacher.

After they graduated from McEwensville High School some students continued their education by taking a fourth year of high school at Milton or Watsontown. For example, my grandfather went to Milton High School after he graduated from McEwensville.

Milton had a more comprehensive curriculum than McEwensville—and included business courses and other classes that would more directly prepare students for a career.

The last high school class to graduate from McEwensville High School was in 1921. The high school closed because it had few students since most students in the area wanted to attend a comprehensive high school for all four years.  

Twenty or so years after my grandmother wrote her diary, my father attended the school. At that time it was an elementary school. One teacher taught grades 1-4 in the room on the first floor. Another teacher taught grades 4-8 in a classroom on the second floor. 

After the school completely closed in the late 1950s, the building was converted into a fire station. But the fire station is now gone, and in recent years the building has sat vacant and abandoned.

My friends have expressed surprise that my grandmother attended high school. In the early 1900s about half of the children in the United States ended their school careers with an 8th grade education or less.   

However, according to Benjamin Andrews in a 1911 book he wrote about girls’ education, there were more female high school graduates in the early 1900s than male because men could easily get jobs without a degree. A key role of high schools at that time was to prepare students to become teachers.

I don’t know why Grandma’s parents decided to send her to high school. I don’t think that she ever became a teacher.


Formerly Pine Grove

Thursday, January 5, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

Since there is no diary entry again today, I’ll tell you a little more about what I’ve learned about McEwensville.

There is a sign at the edge of town which says that McEwensville used to be called Pine Grove.  I can’t remember the town ever having another name, but I thought maybe it had a different name when Grandma was young. But according to George Wesner’s History of McEwensville the name change occurred much earlier.

The building that once housed Alex McEwen's tavern.

The town was originally called Pine Grove, but there was a problem because another town in Pennsylvania had the same name. So the residents decided that the town needed a name change.

A War of 1812 veteran named Alex McEwen owned a tavern in the hamlet. One evening a number of guests were at the tavern. Alex was a fantastic host and the probably well-lubricated guests were having a wonderful time. The town name issue popped up. It was suggested that the town should be named after Alex—and it has been McEwensville ever since.

McEwensville in 1911

Wedsnesday, January 4, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

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

As I’ve prepared to post this diary I’ve discovered a lot of background information about McEwensville–the nearby town where Grandma attended high school. I’ll be posting some of what I’ve learned about McEwesnville’s history over the next several days. 

Today McEwensville is a sedate town where, according to a resident, “It’s a wonderful place to live, but nothing ever happens.”

The building in the foreground was a combination restaurant and boarding house in 1911. The building further down the street used to be Armstrong's Store.

I love to visit McEwensville and find it relaxing to dig into the local history books at the Montgomery House Library while quilters –or other meeting attendees–are busily at work in the library’s community room.   

According to the 2000 census McEwensville has a population of 314. A hundred years ago McEwensville had several stores, a pharmacy, a carriage factory, three churches, and a school. Today it has a diner, a chain saw repair shop, a bicycle shop, a beauty shop, and a church.

In 1911 Armstong’s General Store on Main Street was the center of activity. There was a combination restaurant and boarding house at the corner of Main Street and Watsontown Road. A transportation service using horse-drawn vehicles took residents from McEwensville to their jobs in Watsontown and Milton.

When Grandma was young there were large oil lamps on street posts in McEwensville that were lit each evening. The lamplighter got the job through a sealed bidding process, and the low bidder usually got the position. According George Wesner in his 1976 history of McEwensville, “Johny Phillips was one who filled this position for many years. He was short of stature and used a short ladder while performing his duties as a lamplighter.”

The white building was once Mauser's Carriage Shop.

In 1911 Mauser’s Carriage Shop was at the corner of Maple St. and Main Street. The company made horse-drawn carriages and employed about 12 people.

Advertisement in the January 4, 1911 issue of the Milton Evening Standard

At the corner of Main Street and Potash Road there was a blacksmith and horse shoeing shop. Somewhere along Main Street there was a foundry that manufactured  farm implements (including plows), water troughs, butcher stoves and other cast iron items.  

 Most food was locally produced in Grandma’s day. According to Wesner, “In the early days many families kept a cow to provide milk and butter for themselves and at times extra for neighbors.”

Grandma probably walked past Gold’s  Butcher Shop on her way to school each day.  Wesner wrote,  “Gold’s Butcher Shop was located along the south side of the old Watsontown road, the last building in the borough . . . Gold’s sausage was a favorite of the community. As there was no refrigeration at that time, it was a cold weather project.”


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