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

100-Year-Old Halloween Costumes

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

Thursday, October 31, 1912:  And this is Halloween. What a pity it is that I’m not out having a good time, and I’ve never had that pleasure either.

Witch (Source: Ladies Home Journal, July, 1912)

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

Poor Grandma—It’s too bad that she missed all the fun. I’d be bummed, too.

Here’s what was happening in nearby Milton on Halloween, 1912:

HALLOWEEN PARTIES AND MASQUERADERS MADE NIGHT GAY

Young Folks and Old Enjoyed Selves in Various Ways

Streets Were Filled with Merrymakers

Milton was the scene of high carnival last night. Chattering and laughing, it was a merry throng that wandered up and down the length of Broadway and Front last night for hours attired in costumes that represented every character and nation under the sun, and in some costumes that didn’t represent anything in particular. . .

Milton Evening Standard (November 1, 1912)

Recent photo of Broadway and Front Streets, Milton The street is generally very quiet now. Imagine what it was like a hundred years ago with masqueraders parading through the downtown.

Biplane Whirling Aloft at the 1912 Milton Fair

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

Thursday, October 3, 1912:  I really did go after all my doubtings, but now I feel just as tired as there is any use in being. Saw a flying machine whirling aloft in the air for at least 10 minutes. I think twas quite a sight to see.

Biplane at 1912 Milton Fair. (Source: Chronicles and Legends of Milton by George Venios. Used with permission.)

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

Grandma went to the fair in the nearby town of Milton. She wrote the previous day that she planned to go.

Whew—I can hardly believe it, but I found a picture of the flying machine Grandma saw.

George Venios, in his book titled Chronicles and Legends of Milton, writes about the Milton Fair. And, he includes a picture of the plane that was at the 1912 fair.

The photo caption in the book says:

The photo, taken in 1912, is a pusher type biplane and is believed to be one of the first aircraft to land here while on a hair-raising “barnstorming” tour.

I contacted George and he generously gave me permission to include the photo in this post, so that you could see it. Thank you!

When I found the photo, I got my magnifying glass out to see if I could find Grandma in the crowd; though, of course, I couldn’t.

George also sent me a picture of a mural in Milton that reflects the history of transportation in the town. The mural includes an image of the 1912 biplane.

Transportation mural in Milton (Source: George Venios. Used with permission.)

Chronicles and Legends of Milton is an awesome resource that tells the story of Milton, and is full of wonderful photos. Milton has a really interesting history—and I’d encourage anyone interested in its story to get a copy of the book.

Downtown Milton–Then and Now

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

Saturday, March 23, 1912:Ruth and I went to Milton this morning on a shopping tour. I needed a pair of new shoes and so I got them. We went in and came out on the train so you can see we weren’t gone long.

Postcard showing Marsh Shoe Store, Milton a hundred years ago (postally used December 1910).

Recent view of S. Front Street. Marsh Shoe Store was once located toward the far side of the block on the left side.

Another view of downtown Milton.

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

Milton was about five miles from the Muffly farm. There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad near their farm. Grandma and her sister Ruth probably needed to change trains at Watsontown.

A hundred years ago Milton had a thriving downtown. Today better transportation, nearby malls, and several floods have all taken a toll–though hopefully the recent movement toward shopping local will help revive it.

Rural “Mass Transit” a Hundred Years Ago

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

Saturday, January 20, 1912: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. We both had our pictures taken. I hope mine won’t be any bigger than what I am, but I won’t know for a whole week yet.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. (Source: Milton Historical Society, Used with permission.)

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

Sounds like Grandma was worried that she’d look heavy in the photo. I wonder if she’d gained weight over the holiday season.

The Muffly farm is about 6 miles from Milton—but the sisters probably used “mass transit” to get there.

Ruth and Grandma probably walked the two miles to Watsontown—or  maybe they took the train to Watsontown. (There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad at Truckenmiller’s Feed Mill which was located near their farm.) Once the sisters got to Watsontown they would have taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.

It amazes me how many transportation options were available in a relatively remote area of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. And, how trolleys and passenger rail service vanished a little later in the 20th century as automobile ownership proliferated.

Origins of Fire Prevention Week

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

Wednesday, November 15, 1911: There was a fire near Watsontown about noon or a little afterwards. Four of the boys took the afternoon off and hurried away to find out the happenings. Tomorrow they have some work to do. I wouldn’t like to be they, for part of what they have to do is rather difficult.

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

A hundred years ago devastating fires occurred much more frequently than they do today.  Fire codes often were non-existent—and when they did exist they were less stringent than today.

Many homes and businesses were heated with wood or coal stoves, and if the chimneys weren’t cleaned properly, creosote could build up and catch fire.  And, when a fire occurred, it took longer for firefighters to arrive on the scene—and the firefighting equipment they used had many limitations.

"New" buildings in downtown Milton. These buildings were built after the Great Milton Fire of 1880.

People in towns and cities across the US had memories of  “Great Fires.” For example, in the diary Grandma often mentioned shopping in nearby Milton.  There had been a horrible fire that burned most of Milton on May 14, 1880, so when Grandma went shopping she would have been going into “modern” buildings  that were  only about 30 years old. Her parents and other adults would have remembered the fire–and probably told stories about its devastation.

George Venios in Chronicles and Legends of Milton described the Great Milton Fire:

At fifteen minutes before twelve o’clock the steam whistles at the Milton Car Works began to sound frantically but since it was so near to the noon lunch hour, few noticed the importance of the distress signal. A man on horseback charged down Broadway screaming over and over from the top of his lungs for all to hear–“FIRE! — FIRE AT THE CAR WORKS!” . . .

The fire spread rapidly . . . Buildings were crashing and burning like kindling. . .

In less than four hours, almost all of Milton was decimated. Nearly 125 acres burned, consuming 625 buildings . . . Over 3,000 people were left homeless.

So many disastrous fires occurred across the U.S. a hundred years ago, that there was even discussion of creating another holiday called Fire Prevention Day. According to the November 11, 1911 issue of The Youth’s Companion magazine:

Fire-Prevention Day

Shall we give ourselves another holiday? The suggestion is made that we take October 9th, the date of the great Chicago fire, and, in spite of its nearness to Columbus day, observe it as Fire-Prevention Day.

That course is urged by Governor Hadley of Missouri, prompted, perhaps, by the burning last winter of the Capitol at Jefferson City with many priceless records. It was urged also by the National Fire Marshals’ Association in convention in Albany, New York, where also the state Capitol was recently damaged by fire. . .

If a day could be given to cleaning up waste places, to inspecting danger spots, to punishing those who violate the building laws, to having fire-drills in schools and factories, to installing and testing fire-fighting devices, and in general, to stimulating a keener sense of the waste of fire, it would be so valuable a holiday that it might well be made monthly, rather than yearly.

But would another holiday, whatever its name, be so usefully employed?

It’s awesome  that there was interest in creating a holiday that would be dedicated to the public good a hundred years ago.

Fire Prevention Day never became a national holiday, but the idea eventually later morphed into Fire Prevention Week. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first Fire Prevention Week.

Now the National Fire Protection Association sponsors National Protection Week each year. It  is held during the week that contains October 9 (the date of the Great Chicago Fire).  During that week schools often have activities about fire prevention, the media publishes safety tips, fire stations hold open houses, and so on.

Rode Ferris Wheel

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

Thursday, September 21, 1911: Went to the Fair today with Miss Carrie of course. We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel (a thing I was never on before) and a ride on the Curling Wave. Saw a good many people I knew and more that I didn’t know. I got rather tired walking around all afternoon and sot such a thumping headache. Got home about six o’clock and then had to do all the milking as Ruthie hadn’t yet made her arrival.

The Ferris Wheel at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 (Photo Source: Wikipedia)

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

Grandma and her friend Carrie Stout went to the Milton Fair. According to yesterday’s entry McEwensville High School gave the students the day off to attend the fair.

The rides sound exciting. I checked Wikipedia and discovered that the first Ferris Wheel was at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. It was invented by a bridge builder named George Ferris, and manufactured by Bethlehem Steel in Pittsburgh.

I was somewhat surprised that a fair in central Pennsylvania would have a Ferris Wheel only 18 years after very first Ferris Wheel was created. I imagined that new technology once diffused more slowly than it does today. But I guess that 18 years was a long time—both then and now.

I asked my father about the Milton Fair. He cannot remember there ever being a fair at Milton, but says that when he was young, people called the area on both sides Route 405 near the Arrowhead Restaurant “the fairgrounds”.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,017 other followers