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

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.

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.)

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.

Is Bridge Needed Between Watsontown and White Deer?

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

Thursday, September 14, 1911: Besse was out today again and to school I went with a rejoicing heart. I may not have felt just exactly that way, but was glad I didn’t have to miss school.

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

Things were very hectic at the Muffly’s because many men were there helping them thresh the grain (see the yesterday’s entry).  Grandma was concerned that she’d need to skip school to help her mother prepare and serve meals; fortunately her married sister Besse came home to help.

I’m going to share an article that was published  in the Milton Evening Standard a hundred years ago today. It discussed the pros and cons of building a bridge across the river at Watsontown.

Source: Milton Evening Standard (September 14, 1911)

Recent photo of the bridge at Watsontown. This is the second bridge that was built at this site. It's hard to believe that a hundred years ago the first bridge had not yet been built.

Grandma often walked about two miles to Watsontown—but she hasn’t written about ever crossing the Susquehanna River to White Deer.

It’s hard to imagine, but a hundred years ago the only way across the river was via ferry or other boat.

According to the paper, a bridge was needed because:

Everybody knows that the river is a fluctuator. During late fall, winter, and early spring it is a vast body of floating ice and slush. Without a bridge it is dangerous alike to passenger and all other traffic. In the summer it is generally too low for comfortable ferrying and too high to ford.

Milton Evening Standard (September, 14, 1911)

(An aside—after last week’s floods I think we’d all agree that the paper got it right when it said that the Susquehanna is a “fluctuator.”)

However, the paper indicated that a bridge at Watsontown might hurt commerce in Milton (which already had a bridge across the river):

Some may ask: “How would Milton profit by its construction and establishment?”

Milton Evening Standard (September 14, 1911)

A hundred years ago White Deer, the town across the river from Watsontown, was much livelier than it is today.

White Deer is at the foot of the mountains—and for much of the 1800’s huge volumes of lumber moved through White Deer—some went  out via the river and  some was loaded on trains.

Lumber was transported across the Susquehanna River to several factories in Watsontown—including a table factory and a door factory.

The lumbering industry was in decline by 1911. According to Union County Pennsylvania: A Celebration of History by Charles M. Snyder

What appears to have been the last stand of virgin forest in White Deer Township was removed by the Watsontown Door and Sash Company in 1917.

“Going on an Errand for Myself”

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

Monday, July 31, 1911: I went to Watsontown this afternoon, but it was no pleasure trip, for I had to walk on the way, simply a mere matter of going on an errand for myself.

Recent photo of downtown Watsontown

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

The Muffly farm was about 1 ½ miles from Watsontown—so it probably took half an hour or so to walk to town and another half hour to come home. The road was dirt—so on this last day in July it probably was a hot and dusty trip.

In 1911 Watsontown had a two block long downtown area with stores, restaurants, bars, hotels—and an opera house. Several previous entries in the diary indicated that Grandma ran errands to town for her father. This time she says that she went on an errand for herself. I wonder what she needed. I want to imagine that she needed ribbons for her hair . or maybe stockings . . .or some other grooming supply deemed essential by a teen who has a crush on a guy (see the entries on the previous two days)—but I’m probably way off-base.

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