Some informal comments about studying Slatington history

These are just some quick notes, general impressions and ideas that I have reached about Slatington as I read through past years of The Slatington News, 1870s through 1920s. What I find especially interesting is that while a lot of the externals of life in the town have changed, for examples, cars replacing trains, there is an awful lot that hasn't changed.

Fraternal organizations

Fraternal organizations were an important part of the life of the town, and there were a lot of them like the Knights of Pythias, Star Lodge, Knights of Malta, Knights of Friendship and others. They provided recreation at a time when there was no radio, television or Internet, and they provided social welfare (in case a member was sick or died). Besides the fraternal organizations, there were also associations, like a dramatic group, literary circle, a YMCA for a while, brass band, militia (until the 1890s).

Suicides

They happened far more often than I would have thought, and while there was a fairly common mention of them in the paper in the 1870s and 1880s, I found fewer and fewer references by the 1910s. My suspicion is that the suicides did not stop, but that they just ceased to be reported. The suicides were both men and women, people of all ages, some were previously ill, some weren't.  My impression is that most common means of committing suicide was by hanging.

Elopements

These were covered in great detail whenever they happened somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania. I'm sure that each elopement did not all receive newspaper coverage, but the ones that did were sensationalised. It is clear that this was something that just was not supposed to be done in the nineteenth century.

Ku Klux Klan

There was a Ku Klux Klan present in Lehigh County in the 1920s, although I am not sure when it first organized or how widespread it was. There were also occasionally KKK speakers in Slatington, but not sure exactly how active the organization could have been since the town had basically no black people. I would add that the town did not exactly have a welcoming hand for perceived outsiders, such as Hungarian immigrants.

Trains

Slatington was on the main line of the Lehigh Valley railroad (two tracks on the main line, one east and one west); The Central of New Jersey ran through Walnutport (across the river); a branch of the Lehigh Valley ran out to Slatedale and allowed the Reading Railroad to interchange with the Lehigh Valley near the depot; the Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie and Boston also reached Slatington via its bridge across the Lehigh River and also interchanged with the Lehigh Valley--later this railroad became part of the Lehigh and New England Railroad and reached Walnutport. These railroads all served the slate belt region around Slatington and the coal region to the north and connected the Lehigh Valley to New York and Philadelphia. This meant that there was an awful lot of railroad traffic through the town, and, as a result, there were always a lot of railroad accidents. Railroad employees died all the time, crashed and mangled beneath the wheels of a train, but people died to--often as a result of trying to jump on or off a moving train--as did horses and cattle. Cars, trucks, and other vehicles were frequently destroyed. Railroad wrecks were also common, especially in the 1880s, but continued to occur into the 1920s. Trains were everywhere and could be deadly.

Personal Privacy

In the olden days, a lot of personal information was published as public knowledge, and it is quite amazing the extent of that information. There was often news of who was visiting whom; there were attendance reports from the schools, and there was grade averages from the high school.  Also, you would have thought that the paper would have paid closer attention to births, deaths and weddings in the town, but that was not the case in the 1880s and 90s. There was more town information being published by 1920.

Schools

In the nineteenth century, the school year was a little shorter at eight months until about the early 1890s when the school board moved to a nine-month term. School started around September 2nd and ended at the beginning of June with a Christmas break in there, and by the 1920s, vaccinations were required. So school was not all that much different from today. School board proceedings were always published in the newspaper.

Ties to Allentown and Philadelphia

Allentown, about 18 miles away, and Philadelphia, about 60 miles, were the closest cities, and stores in those cities routinely advertised in the local newspaper. Connections to these cities were pretty well-developed, and people traveled back and forth to these cities via the railroads and later trolleys and finally cars.

Weather

Well, it was certainly colder in the winters back then, enough to allow ice harvesting work, although I am not entirely sure if that took place on the river or any of the quarries. The canal was usually drained in the winter to avoid damage. They didn't seem to get much more in the way of snowstorms, or thunderstorms, but it is difficult to know exactly as there was no weather information published in the paper, since it was a weekly.

Vagrancy

There were always comments in the newspaper about bums hanging around or people, especially kids, up to no good. There were complaints about drunken people, and also incidents of women being harassed by drunks or kids. There were also complaints in the newspaper of saloon keepers selling liquor to underage minors. No different than today.

Marriages

Marriages were not just between people who grew up or lived in the town. In fact, it is a little surprising how people from pretty distant locations, like Allentown which was eighteen miles way, did get married. Most, though, probably did have some kind of connection to the town.

Ads

The newspaper was always filled with pretty amazing, very diverse ads trying to sell anything under the sun. Besides the usual ads for stores (clothing or furniture), there were all sorts of weird medical tonics and potions, supposedly good for treating various illnesses, for sale. There were a lot of ailments in the nineteenth century, just as today, but the difference was that there were not too many real medical solutions for most sicknesses. So it is actually not all that surprising that people who were suffering would try anything like Wm. Radam's Microbe Killer that "purifies the blood, destroys microbes."

Length of the Newspaper

It takes a long time to read through years (decades) of a newspaper, even if it was only a weekly of four or eight pages (up to twelve pages by the late 1920s). I've found that gradually, over time, the focus of the paper shifted. International and national news tended to disappear from the pages of the town newspaper, as other regional newspapers, such as the Morning Call in Allentown, provided that information.

What also struck me while reading the paper in the 1870s and 1880s was the small amount of town news that appeared in the paper, but then I realized that the town itself was still pretty small (about 1,600 in 1880). Maybe there just was not all that much new news to print every week.

Few married women worked outside of the home

This is something that I've noticed after looking through the census records for the town in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was so much work to do around the house, washing, cleaning, cooking, that it was hard for any married woman to have the time to find a job. This also assumes that most men made enough money to support a family, although I have not looked closely at wages or housing costs. In reality, there is actually rarely a mention of any woman in the newspaper, except for death or marriage notices.

Elections

Town elections took place in February instead of the current November elections. The primary elections were also a different time of year.

Sports

Coverage of town baseball teams was there by the late 1890s, and then by the 1910s basketball by the high school and other town organizations (once there was a high school gymnasium in which to play). Both baseball and basketball were very popular.

Quarry Work

Well, it was dangerous, and every issue of the newspaper carried mention of someone being injured, and even sometimes killed working at, or in, a slate quarry. Blasting, hoisting slabs of stone from the quarry, cutting and trimming slate pieces; all of that meant that there were a lot of ways that someone could get injured.

Cartoons

By the 1920s cartoons ("The Purdys") had appeared in the paper as well as advice columns ("In Confidence" or "Etiquette by Flo") and the daily horoscope. Almost forgot, there was also usually a "Today is your birthday" feature. All of these have long been staples of newspapers, and still are.

Christmas Shopping

By the mid-1920s, in the week before Christmas, the newspaper had a special issue of ads for the holiday. Even way back in the early 1890s, the paper carried a "countdown to Christmas" and kept track of how many shopping days were left until Christmas. So the commercialization of Christmas started a long time ago, not just after World War II (as depicted in Miracle on 34th Street).

Snow Removal and Clearing the Streets

Already by the mid 1920s car traffic had increased to such an extent on the streets of Slatington, that it was important to clear away snow as quickly as possible after a snowstorm so that the cars and the street trolley could get around. Sound familiar?

But even earlier, by the 1880s or so, the streets were being graded or levelled with crushed limestone. In 1890, Upper Main Street was macademized!

Ice Cream

In the 1880s, which surprised me because of the early date, ice cream was a popular treat in the summers. There were notes in the paper just before ice cream season opened, and then regrets when it was ending.

Flu

Influenza outbreaks first seem to have been reported around 1890. Maybe it was because by that time, the town was large enough to actually allow the disease to spread from citizen to citizen. Some people did die.

The Mountain Road

The "Mountain Road" was already called "the mountain road" in the 1880s.

Fires

While there were not that many fires in town, there were a lot of fires on the Blue Mountain. Most of these were started either by lightning or by sparks from a passing train, and since there was a lot of train traffic from the 1860s through to the 1920s, the sight of the mountain burning was not unusual.

Villages

Every small group of houses in the vicinity of Slatington had some sort of name attached to it, notwithstanding the one village of Emerald (aka Franklin at one time). This allowed residents of the area to be able to easily locate where things were happening. A few of these place names I had not heard of before: Best Station, Custards, Deibertsville, Friedens, Germans Corner, Germansville, Hazard, Hoffman, Indianland, Jacksonville, Lynnport, Lynnville, Millport, Newhard, Newside, Pleasant Corners, Rextown, Rockdale, Saegersville, School Hill, Welshtown, Williamstown.

Parades

On Saturday, October 29th, 1898, Slatington held a grand parade to celebrate Peace Jubilee Day (victory in the Spanish-American War). As noted in The Slatington News on the following Saturday, the parade formed on Lower Main Street: "the route of the parade was up Main to 2d; up 2d to South; out South to Main; down Main to Post Office; countermarch up Main to Church, to Fourth; up 4th to Washington; out Wahington to First; down First to Church; out Church to 2d; down 2d to Main; down Main to place of formation and dismiss." That was a lot of walking for the parade, and took it all through upper Slatington.