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.

Could Hardly Get Through the Mud

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

Friday, February 23, 1912:  It was so awful muddy this afternoon. Didn’t hardly know how I would get through mud and everything else coming home from school.

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

Mud was a huge problem a  hundred years ago. Neither the streets in McEwensville nor the rural roads that Grandma needed to walk to get home from school were paved.

A muddy Main street in McEwensville in the early 1900s. Photo from Watsontown, McEwensville, and Delaware Township: A real Photo Postcard History by Robert Swope, Jr. (Photo used with permission)

Recent photo showing the same section of Main Street. The paved road is a definite improvement on muddy late winter days.

School Had Financial Problems

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

Sunday, February 18, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon. The roads are rather muddy. Went over to see Carrie this afternoon. I mean I went to Sunday School this morning. I wonder what will happen tomorrow at school I just wonder if Mr. Forest Dunkel (that’s his name) is going to be stern and terrible.

Grandma would have walked down this road to church--EXCEPT in those days it wasn't paved.

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

Forest Dunkel was going to be the new teacher at McEwensville High School. The previous teacher had quit mid-year.

As I told you several days ago, McEwensville School had a difficult time keeping teachers because of the low teacher salary. Here’s a little more information about the school’s financial problems:

Sometimes the school board was unable to pay the teachers at the appropriate time and could do so only when there was again enough money in the treasury. The McEwensville school board had difficulty collecting tuitions due from the directors for pupils attending from Delaware Township. At one time McEwensville even considered going to court to collect these monies, but concluded that it would not be worth the legal expense involved.

The History of the McEwensville Schools (2000)  by Thomas Kramm

Grandma’s family lived in Delaware Township, so she would have been one of the students that the school was having difficulty getting the township to pay for in a timely manner.

Carrie Stout was a friend of Grandma’s who lived on a nearby farm.

High Teacher Turnover

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

Friday, February 16, 1912: And this is the last day of that wonderful teacher of ours. I wonder how he felt this afternoon. I expected he would give some kind of an address, but he didn’t. Oh well, I don’t think I’ll be sorry of his leaving if the next one comes up to the average.  

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

Grandma wrote the previous Friday that her old teacher was staying for one more week.

I learned a little more about the mid-year change in teachers in the  History of the McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm:

. . . The high teacher turnover rate, especially in the high school prior to 1916, resulted in a new teacher almost every year. At least one teacher, and perhaps more, would not return to teach the following school year because the school board refused to increase the teacher’s salary. Although it did not occur often, when a teacher resigned in mid-term it was sometimes a challenge to find a replacement. During the 1911-12 school year, when high school teacher Howard Northrop wanted to resign mid-term, his resignation was not permitted until he personally recruited his own replacement.

Whew, it doesn’t sound like the school board did much vetting of teachers. Hopefully the new teacher will be good.

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.

Pull the Blinds–There’s a Burial in the Cemetery

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

Tuesday, September 26, 1911:  Was in doubts and fears as to how Mollie would act when I commenced to milk her. Pop milked her last night, but I had to do it after that, so I got up early this morning, resolving to come off conquering and I did. Hurrah. She didn’t kick.

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

The calf of Grandma’s cow Mollie was sold the previous day. It sounds like Mollie is adjusting to the change.

The previous day’s issue of the Milton Evening Standard had a front page article about the death of John Sheep, the grandfather of Grandma’s friend Helen  “Tweet” Wesner.  It says that Mr. Sheep died at his home after a long illness.

Milton Evening Standard (September 25, 1911)

I wonder if Tweet was upset—though I suppose that she probably was expecting it.

The article indicates that Mr. Sheep was buried on this date in the cemetery next to the McEwensville school.

My father says that when he was a child attending this same school that the classroom blinds were always drawn whenever there was an interment to keep the children from getting upset. It probably was the same a generation earlier when Grandma was a student.

The brick building in the background once housed McEwensville School.

It seems like it would be equally upsetting to know why the blinds had been drawn but not be allowed to see it—but I guess that people handled death differently back then.

In many ways death was closer to people a hundred years ago. Most people died at home —yet the community apparently tried to protect children from death by doing things like pulling the blinds.

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