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.

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. . .

Watsontown Industries a Hundred Years Ago

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

Wednesday, August 21, 1912: Went to Watsontown this afternoon.

Site that once was the Watsontown Door and Sash Company (though the buildings are from a somewhat newer time period).

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

Watsontown was about one and a half miles east of the Muffly farm. Why did Grandma go there?

Since school was going to start in a few days, maybe she went to Watsontown to shop for school supplies . . . or  maybe she went there to run an errand for her mother or father. . . or to . . .

I’ve previously shown you photos of downtown Watsontown, so today I’m going to show you some of the industries.

Watsontown was a small, but bustling industrial town at the time that Grandma was writing the diary. Over the last forty years or so, Watsontown has had lots of struggles as industries have moved abroad, but it currently seems to be on an upswing.

A hundred years ago the major industries were the Watsontown Door and Sash Company (later it was the Philco plant and now Moran Industries is located on the site), the Watsontown Boot and Shoe Company, and the Watsontown Steam Flour Mill.

Just outside of town were two brick Companies—Watsontown Brick and Keystone Brick (later Glen-Gery).

Bricks are still produced in Watsontown and sold nationally. The town is famous for its clay soils that make excellent bricks.

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.

A Trip to Watsontown

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

Wednesday, July 31, 1912:  Made a trip to Watsontown this afternoon. Had to get some things for tomorrow. Hope it doesn’t rain anyway.

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

The Muffly farm was located mid-way between McEwensville and Watsontown. Grandma would have had to walk about one and a half miles to get to either town.

McEwensville was (and still is) the smaller of the two  towns, but the diary has focused more on McEwensville because it was where Grandma went to school and church.

Today, I’d like to share some recent pictures that provide a sense of what  Grandma would have seen on a trip to Watsontown.

(Unfortunately the photos weren’t all taken during the same season. Three are spring photos and one is a summer photo, but hopefully you’ll still be able to get a sense of what it was like to walk to Watsontown.)

Grandma would have walked up the road that went past her house. At the intersection she would have turned right to go to Watsontown (instead of left which would have taken her to McEwensville).

The view Grandma would have had as she walked into Watsontown. (Well, the view isn’t exactly the same because 100 years ago there would have been a bustling railroad station where the vacant lot is today.)

The homes that Grandma would have walked by as she entered Watsontown.

A hundred years ago today Grandma probably shopped in some of these buildings in downtown Watsontown.

After Grandma finished shopping maybe she took a walk by the Susquehanna River. (There wouldn’t have been a bridge across the river a hundred years ago.)

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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