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Beloit 36 Years Ago
Published in History of Rock County vol.1 (1908)
By Joel B. Dow
The city government in 1872 was vested in a mayor, eight aldermen, city clerk, city attorney, treasurer, city marshal and city surveyor. The mayor and common council served without pay. The mayor was then Samuel J. Goodwin; the city clerk, C. F. G. Collins; the city attorney, S. J. Todd; the city marshal, Parsons Johnson. Each received a salary of $100 a year. The entire police force was embodied in the city marshal, save two night watchmen, one for each side of the river. The total expense of running the city government did not then exceed $3,000. The population was about 4,600. There were two volunteer fire departments, Nos. 1 and 2. Two hand engines and water supply, a stone's throw from the river, provided in wells and cisterns, which license to utilize like private reservoirs when occasion demanded. There were no paved streets. There were no waterworks; "Charlie" Salmon was then barely a "prospect."
Two years prior to the opening of this story the city was swept by an epidemic of typhoid fever; many of the leading citizens with others whom they led paid the penalty of combining wells and water closets for generations. There were no sewers, but a multiplicity of cesspools which conspired with closet vaults to contaminate the water. As a sanitary measure, then, to prevent a repetition of this and kindred epidemics, as well as to afford fire protection and encourage the introduction of manufacturing interests, a waterworks system was planned and built, and, finally coming into the hands of Mr. Salmon, was commendably perpetuated. In 1872 there were no bathrooms, only in isolated cases, and these were conundrums. They were heated by friction -- that is, the water, and the water was pumped by hand suction. There were no plumbers -- nothing to plumb. No joints to wipe -- no tears to shed over a plumber's bill. There were but two livery barns -- Drury's, opposite the John Foster shoe factory, and Sam Allen's, where the Allen block now stands on East Grand avenue. The two stables were each equipped with two hacks. One of them kept a goat. The goat, for prudential reasons, when the weather was cold, slept in a hack. A stranger once attending a funeral here, and riding in the "goat hack," immediately behind the hearse, sensing the odor, suggested that the undertaker had been careless in his w ork, and that the corpse ought to have kept.
There were no electric lights. It was four years later than this, at the centennial in Philadelphia, in '76, that specimens of such lights were on exhibition as a possibility. In thirty-two years that "possibility" has lighted the world. Through the enterprise of W. A. Knapp, then a citizen of Beloit, and Wiley & Warner, still with us, Beloit was pushed into the "limelight" and two electric plants were installed.
In 1872 Joseph Hendley & Sons were responsible for all the gas light, and a few streets and part of the homes were lighted by their torch. Kerosene oil, with its odor, and candles galore, were the chief agencies then for perpetuating the day. There were no telephones. The "halloo" girls had not been born. The world was waiting for them. Some time after, their star was seen in the east, and while they were yet in swaddling clothes and in waiting the telephone became a fact in Beloit. George H. Anderson, still a resident of Beloit, and Bennie Oliver (our Bennie) were the first to take their lives in their hands and admit that each in turn respectively was the "central." Anderson was the American Express agent at the time, and the city clerk, and yet, in connection with this, he had time to handle all the business of the patrons of the telephone, with time to spare. Bennie was the lineman, the electrician, the "information girl," the collector and the solicitor, as well as the court of appeals in final settlement of disagreement.
There were no gasoline stones, and so no skull and crossbones engraven on gasoline permits in the insurance policies.
There were no hardwood floors -- hence no Mesheds or Kirmanshas. The sidewalks then were all of plank -- the soft side up -- and not a corn doctor within twenty miles of the city. Beloit college was still mainly a "prayer." The writer was a promising product of the college. President Chapin was then at the head of the college as its president, and associated with him were some of those grand old men -- Emerson and Blaisdell and Bushnell and Porter -- who laid the foundation upon which the present superstructure has been reared, and through whose unselfish labors both sides of the world have been made better. There were then but two ward schools, Nos. 1 and 2, on the east and west sides, and with them a congested high school. The kindergarten was looked upon as a heresy and its introduction finally contested as strenuously as was the street car proposition.
In 1872 Beloit had no factories, as compared with her status now along those lines. She ran to paper mills. They utilized two-thirds of the water power and gave back nothing. The help they employed were ragpickers and unskilled labor, and not enough of the latter to furnish recruits for the Salvation Army. They utilized the farmers' straw and impoverished the farmers' land. Aside from the paper mills, John Thompson, O. E. Merrill & Co., the Eclipse Windmill Company, Charles Hansen and the John Foster shoe factory were doing business on a prospective basis, and, all told, didn't feed one-half the men which one of our up-to-date institutions does today. There were three grist mills -- the Blodgett mill, the Brooks mill, and the Old Red mill just west of the Keeler lumber office. The mill-race from the Turtle to the river was an open question along the south side of the city, and duck raising was a lucrative business.
There was but one "iceman." Dole by name, and the ice was doled out by him in spasmodic chunks and left upon the front steps or in the yard, to be utilized where it would do the most good. It was cut in Turtle creek, a good deal of the mossy bank and sand dune in the bottom of the stream being evidence in the product.
There were two restaurants and ice cream parlors. One was manned by Ed Day and the other by Hank Talmadge, the two on State street. That both men survive and are well-to-do evidences the fact that they were masters of the situation and dispensed that which the people demanded. There were seven physicians -- Strong, Taggart, Bell, Johnson, Brenton, Hunt and Merriman. There was no hospital, no appendicitis. The two gravestone men who followed in the wake of the physicians and took up the burdens they laid down were Jackson and Ackley. Both survive, and the former is still "taking up."
There were two banks, each with less than $50,000 deposits -- L. C. Hyde and Davis & Washburn. The savings bank had been foretold. The Hon. S. T. Merrill, through whose constructive genius it was to be produced, was then wasting his substance in the riotous wasting of Rock river -- he was president of the Rock river paper mill. Benjamin Brown's residence and six wooden stores had been burned in 1871, but he rebuilt that central business location, southwest corner of State and School streets, with a three-fold block of six (stone and brick) stores in 1872 and 1873.
There were three drug stores, Fenton's, Strong's and Gregory's, and three hotels, the Goodwin, the American house and Frank Salisbury's. There were four insurance agents, Parsons Johnson, E. P. King, Whitford & Heffren and Charles Kendall. There were six lawyers, Hon. S. J. Todd, Alfred Taggart, Horace Dearborn, Judge Mills and Richard Tattershall. The county seat at Janesville was reached by rail, stopping off at Clinton Junction and a dinner with "Lote" Taylor.
Dr. George Bushnell was then the oracle at the First Congregational church, Rev. H. P. Higley at the Second, Rev. John McLean, just beginning at the First Presbyterian church, and Dr. Fayette Royce at St. Paul's, Rev. Levi Parmerly at the Baptist, Father Sullivan at St. Thomas', with an itinerant at the Methodist. The church edifices, barring the first, were all back numbers and impressed the onlooker that the respective worshipers were either poor in purse or poor in spirit, or were literally obeying the injunction to have with them neither purse nor scrip.
There were then no bicycles, no automobiles, no city car line and no interurban. The 4,600 to 5,000 people comprising the city were on foot.
The above outlines some of the salient features of Beloit thirty-six years ago. Let the gentle reader thrown upon the canvas a picture of Beloit today, and the changes wrought during these years will be gratifyingly apparent.