A Telephone!

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

Sunday, May 7, 1911: Went to Sunday school this afternoon. Saw M.C.R. I went over to Stout’s this evening. Carrie wanted me to try their new telephone but I wouldn’t do it. Besse and Curt were out this evening. 

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

Today feels like a milestone was reached in the diary. So many days Grandma’s life moves forward in rather routine, predictable ways—but a hundred years ago today Grandma apparently had her first opportunity to use a telephone—though she declined because the new technology evidently intimidated her.

I’m surprised that Grandma had never previously used a phone. According to George Wesner in his 1976 History of ‘McEwensville:

“Around the turn of the century there were two telephones in the town. The Bell was at Watson’s Store and at the home of Armstrong’s. Later phones were installed at the Gearhart Foundry, A. & C. Mauser’s carriage works and the J.G. Smith’s residence. A number of years later, the West Branch Bell Telephone Company began operations and built lines throughout the area.”

I love how phones came into the McEwensville area so slowly that Mr. Wesner could name exactly who had the first ones when he wrote his history almost two-thirds of a century later. It must have been very prestigious to own a phone in that era.


Throughout the diary Grandma often used initials rather than names to identify guys she liked, so I assume that M.C.R. was someone who Grandma thought was cute. She apparently was concerned that her mother or sister would read her diary, so often tried to mask the names—though it seems to me that if family members were reading the diary that they would have been able to decipher the initials.

Old McEwensville Photos

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

Tuesday, April 4, 1911: Not very much for today. It still continues to be so chilly and so dreary. To increase these conditions it had to rain this afternoon. I have to write about the weather, when I have nothing else to write. I don’t believe Thursday is going to be the beautiful day I want it to be!

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

Grandma was hoping for nice weather on Thursday because it would be the last day of school. The commencement ceremony for her sister and other seniors at McEwensville High School will also take place that day.


McEwensville in the Early 1900s. Source: Watsontown, McEwensville, and Delaware Township: A Real Photo Postcard History. (Used with Permission)

Today I’d like to tell you about the best source of information about McEwensville and the surrounding area that I’ve found:

Watsontown, McEwensville, and Delaware Township: A Real Photo Postcard History by Robert Swope Jr. (2006; Publisher: Heritage Trails, PO Box 184, New Hope VA 24469; phone: 540-363-4537). 

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words—and this book is a wonderful example of the power of photos. I keep my copy on a shelf next to the reclining chair in my den. Often I flop into the chair after a long day and find myself reaching for this book—even though I’ve previously looked at every page many times before. The photos pull me back to the simpler days a hundred years ago and I feel like I can almost sense what it was like in McEwensville when Grandma was writing this diary.

This book contains lots of post cards from the early 20th century and is absolutely the best resource that I’ve found on the McEwenville of Grandma’s day. There are descriptive captions for all of the  post cards in the book, and it also contains an interesting and informative history of McEwensville.

In the early 1900s real picture post cards were very popular. Back then people were very interested in sharing the sites and activities of their towns with others.

This blog has  given me the opportunity to meet via technology many wonderful people. One such person is Robert Swope Jr., the author of this book. I contacted  Bob and he very generously allowed me to reproduce a few photos from the book. Most of them are on the Setting page. (I updated the page last night—so if you haven’t looked at it recently be sure to check it out.)

I would encourage anyone who is interested in what McEwensville was like in the early part of the 20th century to read this book. I purchased my copy at the Packwood Museum Gift Shop in Lewisburg. It is also available at other stores in central Pennsylvania.

The book can also be purchased  by calling the phone number listed above or from Bob’s  Ebay store. Just go to Ebay and search using the word “McEwensville”. The listing for the book will pop up.

Tombstone Tuesday–McEwensville Cemetery

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

Wednesday, March 29, 1911: Nothing of importance, not one thing. Ruth gave me a piece of her mind tonight. She wants me to keep my mouth shut, not that I say too much, for I am rather bashful, but I’m to breathe though my mouth instead of through my–Darn it, I don’t mean that, I mean vice versa.

McEwensville Cemetery with old McEwensville High School building in background

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

My son and I visited McEwensville over the week-end. We stopped by the abandoned building that once housed McEwensville High School. Now—just as it did a hundred years ago—the school sits next to a cemetery that is filled with the stories of the past. Each marker has its own story to tell . . .


Tombstone of Helen(a) Muffly Swartz and Raymond Swartz

Earlier in the diary I mentioned that Grandma lived her entire life within a 5 mile radius of the farm her family lived on when she kept this diary. The same probably could be said for her sister Ruth.  I find it even more amazing how close together they are buried.

Grandma and Ruth are buried within 50 feet of each other in  McEwensville Cemetery–and within a few hundred yards of the school they attended when they were young. Both sisters married men who also attended McEwensville High school (and who are also buried in the same cemetery).

Tombstone of Ruth (Muffly) Gauger

Over the years there were times when Grandma and Ruth were close confidants and other times when they were less close; there were “spats” and reconciliations—but for perpetuity in McEwensville Cemetery they will remain close.

Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad

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

Monday, February 27, 1911: The roads were so muddy that I went up the railroad to school and came home that way. Besse was out this afternoon. Wish I had all of my lessons out for tomorrow especially my latin.

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

It’s hard to picture how bad the mud must have been in the era before paved roads. Railroad tracks for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad (S.B. & B. R.R.) crossed the Muffly farm.The route went from Watsontown to McEwensville and Turbotville and then continued east to Washingtonville, Bloomsburg, and Berwick.

My father says that Grandma always called the railroad the Sweet Bye and Bye.

According to an essay by the Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad (S.B. & B.R.R.) was often called the ‘Sweet Bye and Bye’ because traffic was intermittent, and trains traveled at a slow speed and stopped at every hamlet and feed mill along the route. Sweet Bye and Bye is also the name of an old-time hymn.

There were flag stops at two feed mills between Watsontown and McEwensville (a distance of only 4 or 5 miles). One was at a hamlet called Pioneer–it’s just a group of 4 or 5 houses today–and the other was at Truckenmiller’s Mill which was located next to the Muffly farm.

The railroad was also sometimes called the Weak and Weary railroad. It was a financial failure because there were no major industries along the route.

The S.B. & B.R.R. no longer exists, but the track is still used by trains transporting coal to the Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP & L) power plant at Strawberry Ridge near Washingtonville.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society

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

Thursday, February 21, 1911: The same old routine, I hope it will soon be broken. I was busily making errands today, they didn’t concern me so very much. I got a ride home from school with Oakes, and it was a little bit windy. The wind blew my cap off of my head, and I had to get out, and go back after it. Too bad, wasn’t it?

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

Ah, the ennui of  the dog days of winter. I know the feeling—the holidays were long past and an almost forgotten memory, the cold seemed like it would never end,  and spring seemed impossibly far away  (though the wind suggests there is a bit of a spring feel and that blustery March was on the horizon).  And, probably NOTHING was happening in McEwensville. A few years before Grandma’s time, McEwensville was a wild and crazy place. . .

The large white building has had many names over the years. In the era of the Horse Protective Society it was called the Washington Tavern.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society was the center of the social scene in McEwensville in the late 1800s–though it probably no longer existed in 1911 when Grandma began her diary. The farmers near McEwensville had had a lot of problems with horse thieves, and organized the society to recover the horses.

Each year at an annual meeting thirty men were selected to be part of the posse for the following year. According to  C.V. Clark in an address to the Northumberland County Historical Society, “The yearly meetings were held on the last Saturday of the year and this was a gala day in McEwensville. With a membership which at one time numbered 290, the town was filled.”  

The annual meetings of the Horse Protective Society were held at the Washington Tavern, but according to Clark the society’s by-laws indicated that “members should not introduce or bring any spirituous liquors of any kind into the room where the yearly meeting was being held, nor smoke tobacco while on business. Members misbehaving at the yearly meeting were to pay a fine ‘not exceeding ten cents.’ ”

Hmm–the meetings were held at a tavern, it was a gala event on the last Saturday of the year–yet no alcohol was allowed. I wonder what percentage of the members were fined in a typical year? . . . I guess the town has become more sedate over the years.

Which church did Grandma attend?

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

Sunday, February 5, 1911: Went to Sunday school this morning. Went to church this evening with Ruth. It was rather quiet today. Everything seemed so quiet.

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

There are so many pieces to the jig-saw puzzle that make up our ancestors’  lives. Questions like, “Which church did Grandma attend?” probably aren’t very important in the bigger scheme of things—but I’m curious. I asked my father. I searched for member records in church histories and other supplemental documents. However, the available data were inconclusive, and I still don’t definitively know the answer.

Based on a scan of the diary I can’t find any place where Grandma said which church she attended—though the diary entries indicate that she faithfully attended Sunday school. There were two or three churches in McEwensville one hundred years ago: St. John’s Reformed Church, Messiah Lutheran— and maybe a Baptist Church.

In the diary Grandma mentions the Lutheran and Reformed churches by name when she visits them—but she provides no church name when she attended her regular church. This suggests that she didn’t attend either of those churches–but  rather that she went to the Baptist one. However, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that conclusion since I know that the Baptist church closed early in the 20th century. Agnes Beard wrote in 1939 in her History of McEwensville

“The Baptist Church, a brick edifice, has fallen into ruins, there being no members in or near the place to keep it in repair.”

Agnes Beard (1939)

Prior to reading Grandma’s diary I never thought about her religious beliefs. After she married Raymond Swartz she attended Messiah Lutheran Church. I don’t remember Grandma ever discussing religion—and was somewhat surprised that she probably was raised in a somewhat more conservative tradition than what she practiced as an adult.

Recent photo of building that once housed Messiah Lutheran Church.

As an older woman Grandma enjoyed visiting with friends in the “old ladies Sunday School class” at Messiah Lutheran.  Both Grandma and Helen “Tweet” Wesner were in that class. Tweet never married and lived her entire life in McEwensville. It’s kind of cool how life-long friendships and relationships developed in this small community.


15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Tuesday, January 24, 1911. It’s getting so terrible muddy. Wish it would snow. I love to take sleigh rides. Don’t get many though. I feel rather sleepy just now. Will soon be asleep.

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

I tend to think that winter weather was historically very harsh in central Pennsylvania.  But the diary entries indicate that many days were above freezing during January 1911. In more recent years the temperature typically is below freezing at night but above freezing during the daylight hours. And, there are almost constant freezing and thawing cycles. I suppose the weather patterns were similar  in 1911.

 Mud was a huge problem a hundred years ago. The roads both in McEwensville, as well as in the outlying rural areas, were not yet paved in 1911. According to George Wesner in his History of McEwensville , there was even a boardwalk that went from McEwensville  across Warrior Run Creek to a train station which was about half a mile north of town.

 The route was muddy at times and dusty at times . . .To alleviate the situation an elevated boardwalk was built from the station to the old bridge (which crossed the creek at right angles not diagonally) and from there parallel with the highway to the borough line.

George Wesner

The McEwensville railroad station is long gone, but this photo was taken near the location of the old station and looks toward town. It's difficult to envision where the boardwalk once was.