Monthly Archives: May 2013

Spreading the news…

I’ve said before that Mark Twain’s “Journalism in Tennessee” is my favorite short story. It’s a tall tale that revolves around how Twain—himself originally a newspaper man—saw weekly journalism being practiced down in the Volunteer State.

A major theme of the book revolves around what Twain offhandedly refers to as “exchanges.” It’s a term that’s pretty much ceased to be used in this day and age, but from the late 1700s through the early 20th Century, exchanges were how news was spread from community to community.

Very early in the nation’s life, newspapers were sent from town to town on the stagecoaches that carried the mail. But most of those papers were carried “outside the mail,” that is, a publisher would pay the stage crew in barter or with a minimal amount of cash to carry his paper on down the mail route in a sack or other container that was not the official portmanteau. Mail, by definition, was carried in the official portmanteau, a large, locked valise. Postmasters had the special key for the lock on the portmanteau, and were the only ones who could open it on its journey up and down a mail route.

The newspaper office of Fredrick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y. looked pretty much like thousands of small newspaper offices all over the U.S. in the 19th Century. (Courtesy of the Rochester Public Library)

The newspaper office of Fredrick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y. looked pretty much like thousands of small newspaper offices all over the U.S. in the 19th Century. (Courtesy of the Rochester Public Library)

If and when the paper got to its destination—since it was outside the mail, it’s delivery wasn’t guaranteed—the local publisher would copy pertinent articles into his own paper for publication the next week, and, in exchange, send a copy of his paper back to the first publisher. He’d also send exchange copies of his paper to other publishers.

By this method, news traveled remarkably fast from settled eastern areas west along the mail routes of the era.

But with the passage of the Post Office Act of 1792, Congress recognized the importance of spreading the news as quickly as possible by mandating the inclusion of all newspapers in the official mail. The act required all newspapers, regardless of content, be carried in the portmanteau, thus assuring regular and prompt delivery of the kinds of information Congress deemed vital to an informed electorate.

Even more important, exchanges were allowed to be mailed for free, so papers and the news in them spread quickly. Most weeklies in the 19th Century had a column often headed “From Our Exchanges” that reported non-local news. Non-local news was also spread this way, including national news, political news, and economic news.

The intent of the Federal Government was that the free circulation of news of all kinds was essential to the success of a democracy. In 1788, President George Washington wrote in a letter to Matthew Carey and published in the Columbian Magazine:

I entertain an high idea of the utility of periodical Publications: insomuch that I could heartily desire, copies of . . . Magazines, as well as common Gazettes, might spread through every city, town and village in America. I consider such easy vehicles of knowledge, more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the morals of an enlightened and free People.

Thanks to a commitment on the part of the Federal government, newspaper exchanges were carried free of charge from community to community during the 19th Century. The arrival of the mail stage in town instantly drew crowds to the post office to hear the latest state, regional, and national news carried in the mail.

Thanks to a commitment on the part of the Federal government, newspaper exchanges were carried free of charge from community to community during the 19th Century. The arrival of the mail stage in town instantly drew crowds to the post office to hear the latest state, regional, and national news carried in the mail.

Dissemination of news was considered so essential to the new nation, in fact, that it was enshrined as the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. In order to get freedom of the press and the free flow of information into law, legislation had to be passed. The Act of 1792 was the first time such a sweeping right was given for the free flow of information. In effect, it created the first version of today’s Internet.

Later, Congress mandated that county weeklies could be mailed within their counties of origin free of charge. That was a huge boost to newspapers. While printing costs far outpaced the costs of news gathering in that early era, postage costs were high. For instance, in 1843, James Sheldon Barber mailed letters to his parents from Oswego here in Illinois back to his parents in Smyrna, N.Y. at a cost of 25-cents for a single sheet. This at a time when good prairie land was selling for $1.25 per acre.

So letting weeklies send exchanges and papers in-county to their subscribers free was wonderful way to keep people informed, encourage a vigorous local newspaper industry, and advance the causes of democracy. It also gave Mark Twain some pretty good fodder for short stories.

Things changed in 1970 when the United States Post Office Department was privatized and changed into the United States Postal Service. Like most privatization schemes, it hasn’t worked out very well, although the service gamely soldiers on despite the best intent of Congress to kill it off like the Passenger Pigeon.

One of the consequences of the 1970 act was steadily increasing postal rates for local newspapers. Far from being seen as essential to good government, periodicals were more and more viewed as impediments to mechanized mail delivery. Today, the hoops weekly newspaper publishers have to jump through, over, and around to maintain their Second Class mailing permits are absolutely mind-boggling. It’s almost enough to make a person wonder whether it might not be a good idea to start bartering with mail carriers again like the good old days of 1791.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Newspapers, People in History, Semi-Current Events, Transportation

Doing history: Why backups are very important…

I’ve been a Apple guy my entire (computerized) working life. I started out with an Apple //c and a greenscreen display, and an Apple thermal printer. Down at the newspaper, we went Macintosh as soon as Macs became available after going through a series of sometimes quite odd systems. When the old //c finally became obsolete, I went with a series of Macs, including a Mac SE and a UMAX tower Mac clone. Down at the newspaper, we gradually went from the original Macs with their tiny screens to towers with hulking CRT displays.

My first Mac was the wonderful SE, which had a relatively big hard drive and was quite fast for its day.

My first Mac was the wonderful SE, which had a relatively big hard drive and was quite fast for its day.

With iteration of new Mac towers down at the office, from G3s through the entire G4 line, I made sure each machine had two hard drives, the main drive and a backup. I’ve used a series of backup programs over the years before settling on SuperDuper, which I had–and still have–set up to automatically back up each Mac every weekday.

At the Little White School Museum, we also started out with Macs because that’s what I knew best and because I figured (rightly, it turned out) that we’d be doing lots of graphics, from publications to museum signage to photographs and photo restorations. I’ve got them set up with separate hard drives, too, and they all also back themselves up daily, just in case.

I was one of the few suckers who invested in a UMAX clone, which Steve Jobs promptly killed after he came back to Apple after dabbling with NeXT for a few years.

I was one of the few suckers who invested in a UMAX clone, which Steve Jobs promptly killed after he came back to Apple after dabbling with NeXT for a few years.

At home, my main desktop Mac, which is now a 2011 Mac Mini, is also set to automatically back itself up daily to an Iomega MiniMax external drive. Our laptops at home, however, are not conducive to having an external hard drive permanently attached, so they get backed up less frequently. Last week, for some reason, I decided it was time to back up my wife Sue’s MacBook, which I did. For our MacBooks, I have 250 megabyte hard drives mounted in external enclosures with Firewire ports. I’ve felt it’s important to do that because if the worst happens, the laptops will be able to start up from the external hard drive using the Firewire connection. And using SuperDuper, an exact copy of a computer’s hard drive–a bootable copy–is copied to the external hard drive.

This week, all that computer paranoia paid off. As we were frantically packing to leave for a short trip to Wisconsin, Sue mentioned that Microsoft Word had frozen on her machine in the middle of her doing her book group’s newsletter. So I took a look, and sure enough the dread spinning beachball was telling me things had indeed clogged up somewhere in her MacBook’s electronic plumbing. I tried the old command-option-escape trick to force quit Word, but nothing happened. Which indicated it was not Word, it was the computer. So I did a hard reset by holding down the power button to shut down, counting to ten, and then restarting. At which point I heard the far more dreaded click of death coming from her hard drive, which meant, essentially, that it was trashed. I’ve been holding a laptop hard drive in reserve for just such an occasion, so I quickly installed it, and her machine started up just fine using the other drive, which I had salvaged from a former laptop. But it had an older operating system and was filled with my files, not her’s.

Sue's trusty MacBook proved not so trusty this past week, pointing up the importance of backing up your computer.

Sue’s trusty MacBook proved not so trusty this past week, pointing up the importance of backing up your computer.

So after getting up to Wisconsin, I decided to upgrade her system  first and then copy over all the files from the external backup drive, which I had packed to bring along. But half way through the install, the alternate drive started issuing its own click of death. I tried a couple repair apps, but no dice; that drive was also fried. So I plugged in the external backup drive, and booted from that and we were good to go, she only having lost, basically, the book group newsletter she was working on.

It’s a bit kludgy with having an external drive whirring away on the floor next to her, but it’s working until we can get home and get another computer. I’m leery about installing another drive in her old MacBook for fear a problem with the drive controller is frying hard drives, so I found a nicely Mac-reconditioned MacBook for her, which will, hopefully, be waiting for us when we get home.

The moral of all of this is that computers are wonderful things, and they make historical research remarkably fast in this day and age. Localized sites like Early Chicago, the Internet Archive, the Illinois Secretary of State’s Online Databases, and the Library of Congress American Memory Collection, along with amazing map collection sites like the University of Illinois Historical Maps Online site and the remarkable David Rumsey Historical Map Collection make research not only fun but very rewarding. But computers are also fickle things whose electronic feelings are easily hurt. A friend the other day asked if I keep backups of the thousands of photos we’ve digitized down at the Little White School Museum, and I told him that we keep an on-site backup, plus I carry a full backup in my briefcase on a portable hard drive, plus I have a full backup copy at home. A person can’t be too careful.

And because I was careful, even if it was by accident, we’re enjoying our trip up to the north woods instead of trying to deal with a deceased computer. So the moral is, even if you’re not doing history on your computer, back it up. Do it right now, and then mark your calendar and do it regularly afterwards. You’ll be glad you did. Really, you will.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Frustration, Semi-Current Events, Technology, Uncategorized

The saga of Capt. Henry Detweiller…

We drove down to Peoria this past weekend to help a friend celebrate his 70th birthday. Which doesn’t seem old at all now that both of the inhabitants of the Matile Manse are getting close to the same milestone.

Lots of folks who go to Peoria wonder what’s playing there. Me, I can’t help but think about Capt. Henry Detweiller.

Detweiler is a human historical link between  the old Frink and Walker stagecoach line, naval operations on the Mississippi during the Civil War, and the annual Illinois State Cross Country meet that so many Kendall County student-athletes have attended during the last several decades, which is held at the Peoria park named in his honor.

Capt. Henry Detweiller (1825-1903) was one of Illinois’ pioneer rivermen, learning the trade of riverboat pilot and serving with everyone from stagecoach company operators to the U.S. Navy’s brownwater fleet during the Civil War. He was the namesake for Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

Capt. Henry Detweiller (1825-1903) was one of Illinois’ pioneer rivermen, learning the trade of riverboat pilot and serving with everyone from stagecoach company operators to the U.S. Navy’s brownwater fleet during the Civil War. He was the namesake for Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

Henry Detweiller was an almost-prototypical resident of Illinois during the pioneer era. He grew up fast and in doing so rubbed elbows with some of the most famous of the state’s residents, eventually becoming a respected Peoria riverboat pilot, businessman, and politician.

Like most Illinois residents of the 1830s, Henry Detweiller was born somewhere else—in his case at Lorraine, France on June 19, 1825. His father, a Bavarian transplant, was a farmer, miller, and freight hauler. He married Catherine Schertz of France, and the couple had several children. But the senior Detweiller suffered reverses during the Napoleonic wars and was financially strapped when he died in 1832.

Five years later, Catherine Detweiller and her four children—three daughters and young Henry—immigrated to the United States. After landing in New York, they traveled west to Peoria where Catherine’s older son owned an inn. Henry worked for his brother and, off and on, went to school. But it was the stories the riverboat captains and pilots told when they stayed at the inn that most interested him. Henry badly wanted to become a riverboat crewman, but, as he wrote years later: “My brother was strongly opposed to let me go on the River, and forbid all the Captains to let me go on their boats.”

Deciding on direct action, he stowed aboard the steamer Motto as she was leaving the Peoria riverfront. Gawking at the steamboat’s engine, young Henry was spied by Capt. Grant, the boat’s master, who said, “Hallo youngster, what in the Devil are you doing here, and who told you to serve on this boat?” After hearing the youngsters’ story, the captain agreed to let him travel to St. Louis and then back to Peoria, but no further. And Henry’s brother again strongly advised him to find steady employment ashore. Angered at his brother’s attitude, Henry left the inn to work in a Peoria shoe store.

Realizing steamboats could speed both passengers and mail during the Illinois Rivers’ three ice-free seasons, Frink purchased the small steamboat Frontier to connect with his stages at either Ottawa or Peru, depending on the depth of the river. Henry Detweiller learned the riverboat pilot’s trade aboard her. (Illustration from By Trace & Trail, Oswegoland Heritage Association, 2010)

Realizing steamboats could speed both passengers and mail during the Illinois Rivers’ three ice-free seasons, Frink & Walker purchased the small steamboat Frontier to connect with his stages at either Ottawa or Peru, depending on the depth of the river. Henry Detweiller learned the riverboat pilot’s trade aboard her. (Illustration from By Trace & Trail, Oswegoland Heritage Association, 2010)

For the next year, he waited for an opportunity to join a riverboat crew. That’s when John Frink entered the picture. By 1840, Frink and his partner, Martin O. Walker, were well on their way to dominating the stagecoach business in Illinois. Detweiller met Frink while working at his brother’s inn and later asked him for a job. Frink and Walker decided a passenger steamer would be a natural compliment to their stage business. During much of the year, the Illinois River was free of ice and boats could usually ascend as far as Peru, and sometimes as high as the rapids at Ottawa. Stage passengers and mail arriving from points north (including towns here in Kendall County) could transfer to a steamer for quick passage downriver to Peoria and then on to St. Louis. When the boats couldn’t run due to low water or ice, stagecoaches ran the entire distance.

Frink and Walker bought the small steamer Frontier, whose shallow draft allowed her to run as a daily mail packet between Peru (and sometimes Ottawa) and Peoria. Most steamers didn’t sail until their passenger list and cargo deck were full, but packets like the Frontier sailed on regular schedules, full or not. On April 13, 1840, Frink agreed to hire Detweiller as a pilot trainee to learn the river from experienced pilot Milton Hasbrouck. His pay was $10 a month—a nice raise from the $6 a month he was making ashore clerking at Samuel Voris & Company.

Riverboat pilots, as Mark Twain noted, were the kings of river culture, memorizing the locations of shallows, bars, sunken islands, and snags to safely steer their fragile boats on the nation’s rivers. Henry was soon appointed second pilot, but then in 1842, disaster struck. In the early morning hours of Sept. 2, the steamer Panama ran into and sank the smaller Frontier just above the tiny village of Little Detroit at the extreme north end of Lake Peoria. Quick action by Hasbrouck ran the Frontier ashore before she could sink in the river, saving all of the 40 or so passengers aboard as the crew of the Panama helped carry everyone to safety.

On Sept. 2, 1842, the Frontier was steaming up through the narrows of Peoria Lake when the large steamer Panama suddenly swerved to avoid a sandbar and collided with the Frontier. The Panama took off passengers and crew. After salvaging what they could the crew allowed the Frontier to sink.

On Sept. 2, 1842, the Frontier was steaming up through the narrows of Peoria Lake when the large steamer Panama suddenly swerved to avoid a sandbar, colliding with the smaller steamboat. The Panama took off passengers and crew. After salvaging what they could the crew allowed the Frontier to sink.

Frink and Walker immediately built a new steamer, the Chicago, on which Detweiller again sailed as second pilot until she was withdrawn from service in 1844. That’s apparently when Detweiller left Frink and Walker to make his own way. He continued as a second pilot until 1847 when he was appointed captain of the Gov. Briggs. In 1848 and 1849 he was first pilot on a variety of boats, going on to become one of the most experienced pilots and captains on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. During the Civil War, Detweiller joined the U.S. Navy’s river fleet, where he was involved in the Vicksburg campaign and running cargo past Confederate forces down the river to New Orleans.

With the advent of railroads, river traffic waned, and Detweiller decided to retire ashore and concentrate on the ice business. Described as an “ardent Republican,” the former riverboat captain served six terms as Peoria City Treasurer, and was one of the city’s most solid citizens upon his death in 1908. And Detweiller Park? Capt. Detweiller’s last surviving son, Thomas, bought the rugged land that’s now Detweiller Park and donated it to the city as a lasting memorial to his father–and a grueling test for generations of Illinois high school athletes including dozens from here in Kendall County.

2 Comments

Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego, People in History, Transportation

All the news that fit…

So last weekend, Athenae over at the First Draft blog (which you need to bookmark, by the way) posted her usual weekend question thread. This time it was “What is your favorite short story?”

I pondered that for a while, mostly thinking about all the great science fiction short stories I’ve read over the years in various collections and monthly in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine.

But when I really thought about it, it came to me that my favorite short story has nothing to do with SF. Rather, it’s one by Samuel Clemens writing as Mark Twain, and titled “Journalism in Tennessee.” Twain was doing gonzo journalism a century before Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and doing it just as well. And in “Journalism in Tennessee,” he captures the absurdities of the weekly newspaper biz in the 1870s, which were only a little more absurd than the business had become by the time I got involved.

While we didn’t have to deal with other publishers taking potshots at us through the window, we did have to deal with people stealing our stuff, including a nearby daily paper, as well as local radio stations who seemed to figure that reading our stories without attribution during their newscasts was just part of the game.

Weekly newspapers spread west in the wake of settlement, with the first papers in most counties opening in the county seat to take advantage of revenue from printing legal advertisements. Here in Kendall County, the first weekly paper was the Kendall County Courier, begun by Hector Seymour Humphrey.

Interestingly enough, there was no Kendall County newspaper from 1841 when the county was established until Humphrey decided head west down the Chicago to Ottawa road from Naperville in 1852 and start one in what was then the Kendall County seat.

An 1858 Washington hand printing press of the type H.S. Humphrey probably used to publish the Kendall County Chronicle. This press was bought new in 1858 and is owned by the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac, Ariz. (Courtesy Tubac Presidio State Historic Park)

An 1858 Washington hand printing press of the type H.S. Humphrey probably used to publish the Kendall County Chronicle. This press was bought new in 1858 and is owned by the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac, Ariz. (Courtesy Tubac Presidio State Historic Park)

Humphrey was born in Tompkins County, N.Y. in Jan. 29, 1828. Early in his life he got into the newspaper business at the Ithaca Chronicle and News where he learned the trade. He headed west to Chicago in 1848, where he worked as a journeyman printer on the old Chicago Journal. Looking for more opportunities, Humphrey headed west to Naperville. It’s possible he may have brought out the press and type sold by the Chicago Journal to Charles J. Sellon, who was eager to start a newspaper in Naperville. Sellon teamed with a consortium of Naperville residents to finance the paper and the first issue of the DuPage County Recorder came off the press on Dec. 1, 1849.

Sellon, however, was no businessman, and apparently he wasn’t much of a newspaperman either. The Recorder had been designed to be non-political. That didn’t suit Sellon a bit, so he left and started the Democratic Palindealer, plus a smaller weekly called the Daughter of Temprance. Neither proved successful, and Sellon abruptly ceased publication and left town.

According to A History of the County of DuPage, Illinois by C.W. Richmond and H.F. Vallette published in 1857, by the time he got out of the business, Sellon owned a lot of money, including a considerable sum to H.S. Humphrey, who Richmond and Vallette described as “a journeyman printer in his office.” In return for the debt, Sellon signed over a half interest in his papers to Humphrey, who was able to retrieve at least part of his cash after they were bought by Charles W. Keith and C.C. Barnes. Keith and Barnes paid off the papers’ creditors—including Humphrey—and started a new paper called the DuPage County Observer, which issued its first number in early January 1851. Keith, Barnes, and Humphrey were all on the masthead of the new paper.

Also adding to his life story, Humphrey found someone to marry in Naperville. Helen I. Fox was born near Detroit, Mich. on Feb. 14, 1833 and had come west to the Illinois frontier with her family. She and H.S. were married in Naperville on May 22, 1851.

Unfortunately, Humphrey’s new paper was not a financial success, either. On April 6, 1852, Humphrey sold his interest in the Observer to Gershom Martin, and once again headed farther west on the Chicago to Ottawa road, this time with a new wife, and ending up in Oswego, then the Kendall County seat. In that era, papers heavily relied on legal advertising so if a town in a county was going to have a paper, it was usually the county seat.

Dard Hunter sets type by hand at Mountain House Press at Chillicothe, Ohio in 1950. Hunter is retrieving a capital letter from the upper type case. Lower case letters were stored in the lower case and thus today's terms for capital and small letters. (Courtesy Mountain House Press)

Dard Hunter sets type by hand at Mountain House Press at Chillicothe, Ohio in 1950. Hunter is retrieving a capital letter from the upper type case. Lower case letters were stored in the lower case and thus today’s terms for capital and small letters. (Courtesy Mountain House Press)

Humphrey decided to name Kendall County’s first newspaper the Kendall County Chronicle. It advertised itself as neutral in politics, and was apparently just barely successful. Humphrey ran the paper himself as both editor and publisher until the fall of 1854 when he sold it to Abraham Sellers. Humphrey agreed to stay on as the editor. That arrangement lasted until the summer of 1855 when Humphrey bought the office back from Sellers. Then during the winter of 1855-56, Humphrey sold the paper to William P. Boyd.

Boyd wrote under the pen name of Niblo and made the mistake of changing the Chronicle from a neutral paper to a Democratic sheet. That didn’t go down very well in Oswego or the rest of Kendall County, which had been fairly strong Whig country before the Republican Party was established. After the Republicans organized, Kendall County, driven by its heavy population of New Englanders and New Yorkers, leaned heavily towards the new party.

The flag of the Kendall County Courier from 1855 when H.S. Humphrey was the editor and publisher.

The flag of the Kendall County Courier from 1855 when H.S. Humphrey was the editor and publisher.

As Humphrey recalled the era in a 1903 letter to Kendall County Record Publisher John R. Marshall:

In the spring of 1856, the Republicans desiring an organ, called a meeting of the leading men of the county, decided to establish a paper, and requested me to take charge of it. Subscriptions were made for the paper, for advertising and job work, for which money was advanced for about two-thirds of the cost of material, which was purchased at once and “the Kendall County Free Press” was out soon after for the campaign of 1856.

Boyd’s Chronicle was soon out of business, his printing outfit sold to an Iowa newspaper.

Humphrey's second Oswego paper, this time a partisan Republican paper, was the Kendall County Free Press.

Humphrey’s second, and last, Oswego paper, this time a partisan Republican paper, was the Kendall County Free Press. He published it until the spring of 1864, after which he moved to the old state capital city of Vandalia.

Humphrey continued to publish the Kendall County Free Press as the Civil War broke out as Oswego’s hometown newspaper. Like their counterparts in past and future wars, soldiers serving during the war wrote home asking that their parents forward copies so they could keep abreast of what was happening on the home front. Typical was Alfred X. Murdock’s letter home to his parents on April 3, 1863:

I received your letter of the 22 today and three papers: one Free Press and two ledgers, and can assure you that I never was so glad to get hold of them – more so than I ever was before. It gives me a good deal of pleasure to read them down here – and all of the boys want to borrow them. These make 3 of them that I have got and I hope that you will keep sending them to me.

The “Ledger” Murdock referred to was probably Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger, a weekly story paper popular for its exciting fiction and dashing illustrations.

Humphrey seemed to be making a go of the Free Press, which he published while also serving as Kendall County Treasurer. During that era, it was not unusual for a newspaper publisher to also serve as an elected or appointed government official, from county school superintendent to working as the local postmaster. Humphrey served as postmaster from 1857 to 1863. Although he was pressed by the local Republican establishment to run again, Humphrey had already made the decision to move his wife and young son (born in 1858) from Oswego to Vandalia, Illinois.

He would have had to move from Oswego in any case. In 1859 county voters had passed a binding referendum to move the county seat from Oswego to Yorkville, and that meant if he wanted to continue to serve as county treasurer, he’d have to move his wife and son six miles south to the new county seat.

Further, it was about that time that John Redmond Marshall, a newly released Civil War soldier and former journeyman at the Chicago Journal—Humphrey’s old paper—had announced plans to establish a new county seat paper he proposed to call the Kendall County Record.

Ready to leave Kendall County, Humphrey offered to sell Marshall his printing outfit including type and press for $2,500, a price Marshall figured was highway robbery. Instead, Marshall bought a press and set of type from Chicago Journal publisher S.P. Rounds for his new four-page sheet, which began publication on May 7, 1864. A month later, the official county records were moved from Oswego to the newly finished courthouse in Yorkville, and Oswego was county seat no more.

Hector Humphrey's tombstone in the South Hiull and Fairlawn Cemetery, Vandalia, Ill.

Hector Humphrey’s tombstone in the South Hiull and Fairlawn Cemetery, Vandalia, Ill.

By that time, Humphrey had been gone for a month or so. He moved his press and type down to Vandalia, where he established the successful Vandalia Union, the first issue coming off the press on April 16, 1864. Humphrey published the Union for more than 20 years. In 1869, President U.S. Grant appointed Humphrey postmaster at Vandalia, a job he carried on along with the Union. He also opened, in partnership with his son, Fred, a successful drug store, on which he concentrated after the sale of the Union in 1887.

H.S. Humphrey, Oswego’s pioneer newspaper man, died at Vandalia on April 18, 1914 and was buried in the South Hill and Fairlawn Cemetery in Vandalia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Newspapers, Oswego, People in History

Get a horse? Not so fast, buddy…

Right up until hundreds of thousands of Henry Ford’s cars began to replace them in wholesale lots, horses made the United States hum. They powered farm machinery and they hauled freight inside and outside metropolitan areas. And they caused a variety of public health problems, many of them serious.

In the pre-auto era, horses provided the power to run modern urban areas. As this photo of Sydney, Australia's famed Pyrmont Bridge suggests, city horse traffic was often very heavy.

In the pre-auto era, horses provided the power to run modern urban areas. As this photo of Sydney, Australia’s famed Pyrmont Bridge suggests, city horse traffic was often very heavy. (Courtesy Low-tech Magazine)

According to one estimate, each urban horse consumed roughly 1.4 tons of oats and 2.4 tons of hay and other fodder per year. A contemporary British farmer reported that he figured each horse consumed the product of five acres of land, an area that could have fed six to eight people. Some 15 million acres were needed to feed just the urban horse population at its zenith, an area about the size of West Virginia. Directly or indirectly, feeding horses meant clearing new land of its natural animal life and vegetation, cultivating it, developing and growing new strains of crops, and sometimes diverting water to irrigate it, with considerable negative effects on the natural ecosystem.

In 1870, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 8.7 million horses in the U.S., with more than 1.5 million categorized as “not on farms.” By 1900, the total horse population had grown to 24.1 million with slightly less than three million in cities. In cities with populations of more than 100,000, there was roughly one horse for every 15 people, although that varied. In Kansas City, for instance, there was one horse for every 7.4 people while in New York City the ratio was one horse for very 26.4 people.

The hay press, often housed in its own special barn, compressed hay into bales for easier storage and shipping. This stationary hay press is in the collections of the Green Gables Museum on Prince Edward Island, Canada. (Roger Matile photo)

The hay press, often housed in its own special barn, compressed hay into bales for easier storage and shipping. This stationary hay press is in the collections of the Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island, Canada. (Roger Matile photo)

The rural hinterland near urban centers were tapped to supply staggering amounts of hay and other fodder. In the East, the New England states became a large hay-growing area to supply the needs of New York, Boston, and the other cities of the region. In other parts of the country, every agricultural area close to urban centers produced hay to help feed the growing numbers of urban horses.

The demand not only increased the acreage under cultivation for hay, but also led to the introduction of new hay crops including bluegrass, orchard grass, alfalfa, timothy, and white and red clover.

The problem with supplying hay to urban centers from their agricultural hinterlands was transporting the bulky product. As early as 1836 the hay press had been invented to press hay into bales for easier handling, storage, and transport. By the late 19th Century every small town had its hay press barn to house the press, which was generally powered by horses with the hay brought to town for pressing by area farmers.

Around these parts, the first hay press barn started operations on space rented on a local farm in September 1871. Others soon followed. And the customers were far from local, or even engaged in the Chicago market. As the Kendall County Record’s Oswego correspondent noted on March 7, 1872:

This is getting to be a big hay market; about 10 [rail] cars were left here on Saturday to be loaded for the Boston trade and about half of them have now gone forward.

In 1899, one expert estimated that nearly a third of the hay produced in rural areas was being shipped out of its county of origin. That year, Chicago imported nearly 198,000 tons of hay.

Before the advent of trolley and cable car systems, cities relied on huge numbers of horses to power their street car systems. (Courtesy of the International Museum of the Horse)

Before the advent of trolley and cable car systems, cities relied on huge numbers of horses to power their street car systems. (Courtesy of the International Museum of the Horse)

The need for urban forage also had important effects on which crops farmers chose to grow. In 1879, roughly 11 percent of the nation’s farmland was sown into hay crops. By 1889, it had jumped to nearly 15 percent.

Oats were the other staple crop of the horse trade. High in fiber and protein, oats were uniquely suited to the horse’s digestive system. The burgeoning oat markets for the horse trade led to a variety of innovations, including spurring the invention of the grain elevator and making Chicago a key grain shipping and marketing center.

Of course, what goes in must come out, and that’s where the era’s public health concerns began. Experts of the day estimated each horse produced between 15 and 30 pounds of manure per day. For Chicago, which had a horse population of 82,000 in 1900 (about when the city’s equine population reached its peak), that meant between 1.2 and 2.4 million pounds of manure were deposited on city streets and alleys and in city stables every day. Each horse also produced about a quart of urine daily, which in Chicago added up to around 20,500 gallons per day.

Wet weather turned unpaved city streets into swamps and rivers of muck, but dry weather brought little improvement as manure and urine-soaked mud dried. Traffic turned it into to fine dust—even in paved areas—which was then whipped up by the wind, choking pedestrians, coating buildings, and sifting into homes, businesses, and schools.

Although hay and oat shipments to the city were reciprocated with manure hauled back to the country for fertilizer, as the 19th Century wore on the surge in the number of urban horses caused the fertilizer market to crash. While early in the century farmers were happy to pay for the manure, by the end of the 1800s stable owners had to pay to have it carted off. As a result of this glut, which became particularly severe in the summer when farmers couldn’t spread the manure on their crops, which were already growing, vacant lots in cities across America were piled high with the stuff. In New York these piles sometimes towered 40 to 60 feet high.

Horses not only deposited impressive quantities of manure and urine onto city streets, but quite often their own bodies were left to rot where the unfortunate animals fell. (Courtesy Ephemeral New York blog)

Horses not only deposited impressive quantities of manure and urine onto city streets, but quite often their own bodies were left to rot where the unfortunate animals fell. (Courtesy Ephemeral New York blog)

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, one contemporary expert estimated that in 1900 three billion flies—each a small mobile disease factory—hatched in horse manure every day in U.S. cities.

And it’s also part of the history of that day and age, and important to remember, that dead horses often littered city streets, creating yet more disease vectors.

In 1915, the horse population in America peaked at more than 21 million animals. But thanks to the introduction of the auto, they were replaced at the rate of about a half-million a year through the 1920s. By 1960, only about three million horses remained in the U.S. and the era of urban horsepower was long past.

During the time that literal horsepower was replaced with mechanical horsepower in the nation’s economy, millions of tons of horse manure, thousands of gallons of horse urine, and billions of flies were gradually eliminated from U.S. cities. When you think about it, the problems we face today caused by the glut of autos on our streets seem to pale in comparison to the conditions our great-grandparents took for granted.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farming, Food, Illinois History, Kendall County, Science stuff, Transportation

Stand and deliver!

Although we seem to have crime problems from time to time in Kendall County—and we have had them since the county was established in 1841—at least we haven’t had to contend with road agents demanding we stand and deliver for quite a while.

Not that highway robbery wasn’t a problem both earlier and later in our history than you might imagine.

So far, Kendall County residents seemed to have avoided being stopped and robbed by road agents since 1930.

So far, Kendall County residents seemed to have avoided being stopped and robbed by road agents since 1930.

The first account I ran across of road agents trying to rob someone around these parts was in the Aug. 7, 1879 Kendall County Record. The Record’s Oswego correspondent provided the details:

A.J. Ives being in Aurora the other evening started to return about 9 o’clock and just outside the city (east side) near Spring Lake cemetery overtook two men on foot, one of which grabbed the horse by the bit and the other poked a cocked pistol in the face of Ives with the request “throw up your hands you —– —— —–; after appropriating his pocket book containing $12 and watch and chain they wanted the ring on his finger but Ives got mad and declared to submit no further bulldozing even if it had to come to the worst; the robbers expressed admiration for his spunk and let him go; driving about two rods, Ives halloowed the name of a resident near there when the highwaymen fired two shots at him and then put for the woods; they were masked. Ives had left his pistol at home.

Can’t help but wonder what those three words were the miscreant called A.J.

The last incident of literal highway robbery took place, surprisingly enough, in the first third of the 20th Century, and involved Oswego’s then-new dentist and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Sheldon Bell. According to the Nov. 8, 1930 Record:

Dr. Sheldon F. Bell was one of the victims of the bandits during the 10 holdups in Kane and Kendall counties on Wednesday evening, Nov. 1. He was robbed of about seventeen dollars on Route 22 near Normantown. Dr. Bell was accompanied by his wife, who was not molested. All the robbers wanted was money, rejecting the bill fold and the papers it contained.

Route 22 is now known as U.S. Route 30, and Normantown was the small hamlet located where Normantown Road used to cross the EJ&E tracks just north of what’s now called 127th Street. In fact, Normantown is still illustrated on many modern maps.

So, yes, we have the occasional holdup, lots of burglaries and pilfering from local businesses, but at least we haven’t had to worry about being ordered to “Stand and deliver” for some decades now. So I guess we’ve got that going for us, right?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Uhhh……ick?

Minding my own business, catching up on The Raw Story (broadband and phone’s been out since last night; tech guy got it back up and running about a half hour ago), and I come across a story about the good folks at Jamestown eating the brain of a 14 year-old girl during the desperate winter of 1609-10, called forever after “The Starving Time.”

Archaeologists discovered the girl’s remains during a Jamestown dig conducted by the brilliant Bill Kelso in 2012. Kelso, you may remember, is the guy who refused to believe the remains of Jamestown had been destroyed by the James River, and who almost singlehandedly made the rest of the world believe it.

Anyway, say what you will about the Pilgrims, at least they never ate anybody’s brain. That we know of.

Leave a comment

Filed under People in History, Science stuff, Semi-Current Events