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”.

Milton Fair Coming: Best Ever with Only Clean Shows!

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

Monday, September 18, 1911: This is fair week. It was rather doubtful looking this morning. Mother wanted me to take an umbrella, but thought it wouldn’t be called for. Pretty soon the sun burst forth and shone in all its radiance. Hope the rest of this week will be as nice as it was today.

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

According to the  Milton Evening Standard the 1911 Milton Fair was going to be the best ever:

. . . only clean shows

. . . the amusements will be fit for man, woman, or child.

As to the horse racing, it will be better than ever. The purses are the largest ever offered.

Milton Evening Standard (September 15, 1911)

Straw Hat Season Over

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

Saturday, September 16, 1911: This Saturday was rather dull. I did some mending this afternoon I have four or five problems. I should have worked tonight, but will procrastinate if until tomorrow or some other convenient time only so I have them done by Monday noon.

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

It’ sounds like a boring afternoon. . . I wonder if Grandma felt down because fall was fast approaching and straw hat season was over:

Milton Evening Standard (September 16, 1911)

Finally Got Cavities Filled

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

Thursday, July 6, 1911: Went to Milton this morning. Got that bothersome tooth that ached in the spring filled and several other ones. Went to the extravaganza of buying a five dollar ring today. I am busted now.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. Grandma probably walked to Watsontown and then took the trolley to Milton when she visited the dentist. (Source: Milton Historical Society)

Recent photo of South Front Street, Milton

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

Yeah! Hip Hip Hooray! Thank goodness! Grandma finally got her tooth filled!

It took Grandma almost three months to get her tooth fixed after it started hurting. She first mentioned that she had a toothache on April 11, and again complained about it on April 15 and April 18. She then tried to visit the dentist in Milton on May 6 and again May 13 but he wasn’t in his office when she got there.

As a mother I can’t imagine one of my children having a tooth ache for months—and wonder why Grandma’s parents let this health problem linger for so long. I guess that times were just different.

I know that this entry was written a hundred years ago, and that all of the problems and concerns that Grandma wrote about resolved themselves one way or the other long, long ago—and that it is irrational for me to be concerned about problems mentioned in the diary–but I must admit that I’ve worried about Grandma’s health when she couldn’t get her tooth fixed for months on end.

The Ring

I’m amazed that Grandma bought herself a $5 ring. In past entries Grandma’s always worried about wasting money, but maybe she decided to reward herself for finally getting her tooth fixed.  The ring must have been really nice. In today’s dollars it would be worth about $140. In June Grandma earned $2.65 from picking strawberries—I wonder where she got the remaining money for the ring.

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