Article written by W.E. Billings in the News-Journal in honor of his 35 years with the paper
(Reprinted in NMHS Newsletter, November 1988)
It will be thirty-five years tomorrow that the writer of this column began his newspaper work in North Manchester ---October 1, 1900. Since then there have been many changes in North Manchester, in her people and in their way of doing things. That at least most of these changes have been for the best is to be sincerely hoped. A brief recital of some of the conditions as they existed in North Manchester at that date may be of interest.
Electricity was only for night use, being turned on as the shades of evening began to gather and turned off at midnight. There was not an electrically operated device in town. Gas was unthought of.
Most of the yards in town were surrounded by fences, for while the days of the “town cow” were over, yet considerable stock did get out and roam at large.
Two railroads operated passenger service, and there were sixteen passenger trains making regular stops, twelve on the Wabash and four on the Big Four. Now there are four trains daily and none on Sunday. A big part of the local newspaper man’s job in those days was to make the trains, for there he could learn of all who were going or coming, that being about the only way to get in or out of town. Electric or interurban lines were just coming into attention, and in hope of having one on Main Street people were working themselves into an enthusiasm that later occasioned considerable furor. We did not get an interurban, and we now have good reason to be thankful that we did not.
There was not a foot of street pavement in North Manchester. Chain hitch racks extended along both sides of Main Street, and a line of cobble stone furnished a more or less insecure footing for horses as they stamped at the flies. Street cleaning was not thought essential, and there were plenty of flies, as well as the ever present smell.
There were eight or ten saloons, and the over zealous customers were let sleep it off in the back room if afoot, or were loaded into their buggies, the horse untied, headed toward home and given a start slap.
Automobiles did not come to town for two or three years. The first one recorded came one Sunday morning, stopped at a drug store for gasoline and later on was watched for hours as it made its way out of town. Church attendance was small that morning.
A dollar a day was a pretty standard wage, and with many from sun to sun was considered a day, though there were a few holding favored positions who worked only ten hours.
Much attention was being given to getting factories. There had been canning factories of many other kinds. During the summer of 1900 the Syracuse Screen & Grille factory was brought here from Syracuse. Other factories in operation at that time were the Dunbar heading factory, the J. A. Browne & Co. wagon wood factory, the Miller foundry, the J. W. Strauss saw mill, and the Holloway or Eel River creamery. It was not until in the fall of 1901 that the Peabody School Furniture factory was secured for North Manchester, it taking a building that had formerly been occupied by a bed factory. Of the manufacturing establishments of those days only two remain, the Peabody and the Eel River creamery. New ones have come; some have stayed, others have gone.
Stores usually remained open until nine o’clock in the evening, or until the lights in competitive stores went out. People had no automobiles that they had to drive, and spent their evenings in the stores, on the streets, or visiting with their neighbors. Conversation was a fine art in those day, and many and many a wild tale of the good old days was rehashed with additions for the edification of the listener. We stayed in our home town at night and enjoyed ourselves, for there was no way to go to other places, and the hours would probably have been more dull away from home than at home.
Pretty generally we had an idea that we should pay our debts, for unless we did, credit was soon gone. Thrift was encouraged, and lots of people thought they should have a home of their own before buying a horse and buggy. Installment buying for luxuries was practically unknown. Debts were seldom created excepting to buy productive property, or to provide business capital in an earning enterprise.
We were satisfied with home produced music. It was a glorious occasion when the home band marched down the street playing “Marching Through Georgia,” even if a few of the horns were a little bit flat. Even the phonograph with its canned music was seldom heard, while the radio was unthought of. Young people or old for that matter, at social parties depended upon themselves for their entertainment and did not feel they must hire some professional entertainer. We knew our home folks and our home locality better. Closer and more lasting friendships were probably formed. We felt more of a personal kindly interest in our neighbors, and we found most of our real enjoyment in what today so many would consider out of date, or too common for consideration. We have advanced in many ways in thirty-five years. Inventions, progress and thought coupled with substantial effort have brought us many blessings. We would not go backward in that respect. But we have lost some things while we were getting the new; some that we have lost being probably more worthwhile than some that we have received.