Thursday, February 24, 2011

"A Coal Famine in the Winter", 1902-03

James L. Jenney, coal and wood dealer, Middleborough, MA, billhead, 1890.
In 1890, local coal dealer J L. Jenney sold a ton of coal to Clarence L. Hathaway
for his School Street residence for $7.  Thirteen years later, during the "coal
famine" of 1902-03, the same ton sold for exactly twice as much - $14.

Reliance upon fossil fuels, fuel shortages and consequent high fuel prices are not confined to the present. In the past, such shortages could reach crisis levels with serious consequences. The most notable local fuel crisis prior to the 1970s oil embargo was the 1902-03 coal shortage when Middleborough and Lakeville confronted the threat of a severe winter without fuel.

The 1902-03 shortage was prompted by a strike in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania. Labor action seemed endemic to the turn of the century coal industry, as mine workers sought better wages, shorter hours and improved working conditions. On May 12, 1902, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) struck in favor of these objectives and for recognition of their union. When coal mine owners proved unwilling to negotiate, the strike lengthened and the nation faced a looming disaster in the prospect of a severe shortage of coal which then provided the principal fuel source for heating, transportation and industry.

“A coal famine in the winter is an ugly thing, and I fear we shall see terrible suffering and grave disaster”, President Theodore Roosevelt remarked to Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, concerned that a protracted strike would have grave consequences beyond the mining industry. To avoid such a calamity, Roosevelt intervened directly in the labor dispute, becoming the first American president to take such action. In the face of continuing intransigence by mine owners, Roosevelt threatened a temporary federal takeover of the mines to prevent a coal shortage. Ultimately, federal intervention was successful, bringing about an end to the strike on October 23, 1902.

Despite the ending of the strike, coal shortages would become widespread throughout the winter, created by nearly six months of suspended production in the Pennsylvania coalfields. Middleborough and Lakeville would be confronted with shortages throughout late 1902 and early 1903 which were exacerbated by the severe weather which was then among the coldest on record.

Initially, prospects looked good for a sufficient supply, with the plentifulness of coal being reported in Middleborough in early December, 1902. Local coal dealers such as Bryant & Soule, J. L. Jenney and O’Hara Brothers continued to sell the article in ton and half-ton lots. Though the scarcity elsewhere had driven the price per ton up to $9.50 and $10, after Scott Barden began supplying coal he brought from East Taunton at $8.50, the other dealers cut their prices.

Yet within ten days of this glowing report, virtually no coal was available for sale in Middleborough. While dealers did have the article on hand, the bulk had been pre-sold.

There is little coal to be had in town now. O’Hara Bros. got some recently, but have only a ton and a quarter left. Every pound of the next three cars that arrive is sold. J. L. Jenney has about 15 tons, but that is all sold. Geo. F. Bryant received a car Saturday and another yesterday, and it is being carted to fill orders as fast as they can get it.

By the close of December, the situation was even direr, and Middleborough was characterized as being “in a worse condition than ever before.” The supply at O’Hara Brothers had been depleted, while J. L. Jenney had a supply of only 8 tons of hard (anthracite) and soft (bituminous) coal, and George F. Bryant a few tons of the less-preferred soft coal which had a lower heating value. One local correspondent despairingly remarked at the time that there wasn’t “much hope” for a renewed supply.

It was inevitable, with suppliers being unable to sate the demand for coal, that its scarcity would bring with it higher prices. Such had been the case during the latter years of the Civil War when local coal sold for as much as $12 a ton. By mid-January, 1903, the price of coal per ton would rise as high as $14 at Middleborough, prompting to the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial to remark: “Middleboro people are still being held up in western style when they want coal.” But the high price proved no deterrent. Four railroad carloads worth of coal sold from the J. L. Jenney coal yard on Vine Street on January 20 and was “gobbled up rapidly” despite its $14 per ton price.

Not only coal, but wood soared in price. Pine lumber was reported scare in Middleborough in late 1902 with the price of standing timber being $1 higher than the previous year, “and would be buyers report that they do not find much for sale at that figure.” By 1903, dry wood of any kind was increasingly difficult to find, and green wood was resorted to for heating and sold for an unheard of price of $6 a cord. Nearby institutions such as the state farm in Bridgewater felt the scarcity sharply, and by January, 1903, inmates had been set to work chopping wood. In time, even wood and the men to harvest it would become scarce, and Lakeville was hard-pressed to find men to do the work.

Given these shortages, it is perhaps surprising to find that Middleborough was regarded as better placed than several other neighboring communities. “Middleboro is better off than most towns hereabouts in the matter of coal. The dealers have been receiving it in small lots, and can meet any reasonable demand made.” Some even found humor in the situation, such as the Middleborough jeweler who displayed “some fine specimens of coal in his window, marked $3.75, the price including a handsome fob chain.”

The largest demand made upon local coal merchants was for coal for home heating purposes and this demand was higher than in previous winters as December, 1902, was among one of the coldest months then on record. On the night of December 8-9, the temperature at East Middleborough fell to 20 below zero “while at the center the thermometer registered from 10 to 14 below.” At North Middleborough, the excessive cold forced 150 barrels of cider belonging to Bradford Cushman to blow out their plugs and on each was reported “an icicle of cider projecting several inches above the barrel.”

While most local householders were able to purchase some coal and wood throughout the winter to keep warm, even at inflated prices, the less fortunate within the community frequently faced the prospect of going without. Consequently, great demands were made upon Middleborough’s Overseers of the Poor who were responsible for the welfare of the community’s underprivileged. As early as late October, 1902, the Overseers had begun receiving numerous calls for wood and coal and they too would struggle throughout the winter to provide the article in sufficient quantities to warm the poor.

Besides the obvious heating issue, the lack of coal impacted the social, educational and industrial life of the community. In early January, 1903, the Board of Selectmen placed a moratorium upon any further rentals of the Town Hall concerned that they would be unable to heat the building, though they honored those engagements which had previously been booked. The operation of the schools appeared tenuous for a time, though once the school department secured a 4 to 6 week supply of Welsh anthracite (which was reported as “free burning, and gives good satisfaction”) in mid-January, classes were able to remain in session. Nonetheless, the shortage severely impacted the school department’s financial balance sheet as indicated by surviving figures. While nearly $425 was spent for coal to heat the central schools during 1902, the following year the cost would skyrocket to $2,079.71, with the largest amount being paid to Bryant & Soule. The situation prompted the School Committee to urge larger future appropriations for heating. “In the event of being able to procure coal at the exorbitant prices prevailing, a debt of several hundred dollars must have necessarily been contracted, and the fact is still before us that a larger appropriation for fuel must be made than has been called for heretofore.”

Industry was negatively impacted as well. On January 3, “LeBaron’s foundry [on Vine Street], where about 100 men are employed, was shut down, as they did not have any coal or coke with which to keep up operations. While the factory is shut down the firm will take an account of stock. It is expected that the foundry will get some kind of fuel in the course of the week to start up with next Monday [January 12].”

The prospect of milder weather rapidly brought relief, both in terms of a lessening of demand, but also in a consequent drop in prices. “Coal is feeling the approach of spring,” reported the Memorial on Valentine’s Day, 1903. “Middleborough is receiving shipments quite freely, and the price there is $10.50 a ton. Similar lowering in cost has taken place all over this section.” By the close of February, local coal dealers were well supplied, and the price had declined further to $9 a ton. A month later, it had dropped still further to $8. The fuel famine of 1902-03 would remain one of the worst on record in Middleborough.

An interesting postscript to the entire episode was the burglary which occurred after the worst was over. Perhaps expecting to find a large amount of cash from high priced coal sales over the previous months, burglars in mid-April, 1903, blew open the safe at the J. L. Jenney coal office on Vine Street. They were sorely disappointed, securing “25 cents in coppers, which was hardly up to the scale of wages demanded by the Burglars and Housebreakers’ Union”, according to the wry comment of a local correspondent.

Brockton Times, “Middleboro”, December 6, 1902; ibid., December 9, 1902; ibid., December 10, 1902; “North Middleboro”, December 11, 1902; “Middleboro”, December 16, 1902; ibid., December 27, 1902; ibid., January 5, 1903; ibid., January 21, 1903
Old Colony Memorial, “News Notes”, October 25, 1902:3; ibid., November 1, 1902:1; ibid., November 22, 1902:3; ibid., December 27, 1902: 3; ibid., January 10, 1903:3; ibid., January 17, 1903:3; ibid., January 24, 1903:3; ibid., January 31, 1903:3; ibid., February 7, 1903:3; ibid., February 14, 1903:3; ibid., March 21, 1903:3; ibid., April 25, 1903:3.
“Annual Report of the School Committee of the Town of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1902” in Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1902. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1903, pp. 8, 10.
“Annual Report of the School Committee of the Town of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1903” in Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1903. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1904, p. 8.

For further reading about the 1902 UMWA anthracite coal strike, see the Library of Congress and United States Department of Labor.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hathaway, Soule & Harrington Ephemera

Carole Tracey, great granddaughter of Savory C. Hathaway, founder and senior partner of the Hathaway, Soule & Harrington shoe manufacturing firm which operated a plant on Cambridge Street in Middleborough between 1887 and 1900 has generously shared the following pieces of business stationery from the firm.

Hathaway, Soule & Harrington envelope, 1882.  Courtesy of
Carole Tracey.
Among the firm's earliest logos was that shown here on one of
the firm's envelopes, depicting a man's high-top button shoe. 
This style remained a staple of the firm for a number of years.
At the time this envelope was used, the firm maintained its
offices in Boston.

Hathaway, Soule & Harrington letterhead, 1897.  Courtesy of
Carole Tracey.
The stylized H, S & H logo with the entwined banner was a
trademark which the firm used during the 1890s to mark its product.
It featured frequently in the firm's advertising and communications,
helping brand the firm's high quality products in the mind of the
buying public.

Hathaway, Soule & Harrington business stationery engraving
(detail), late 19th century-early 20th century.  Courtesy of
Carole Tracey.
This high-style engraving was typical of the attention 19th
and early 20th century businesses devoted to promoting their
operations.  The view depicts Hathaway, Soule & Harrington's
three shoe manufactories, including the Middleborough plant
(at the far left).  The plant is seen from the southwest with the
railroad tracks in the foreground and Cambridge Street out of view
at the opposite end of the building.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Local History Weblog Links

A new feature has been added in the sidebar: links to local history blogs. Presently Green School History and History of the First Church of Middleboro are featured.  The two blogs are invaluable resources for the history of those institutions, as well as general educational and religious history in Middleborough. It is hoped that additional web logs devoted to the preservation and publication of Middleborough and Lakeville history may be included in the future.  You'll find the links provided under the Local History Resources section.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The All-Wright Diner, 1955-72

The All-Wright Diner, Station Street at Everett Square,
Middleborough, MA, photographic halftones,
February, 1958; October, 1969; and August 1971.
During the 20th century, Middleborough had a number of diners including most notably Sisson’s Diner in South Middleborough and the “Wind Tunnel” on Wareham Street. Perhaps less well remembered was the All Wright Diner which was located on Station Street at Everett Square.

Established in 1952 by Charles B. Goodwin, the Everett Square Diner was known as Charlie’s Diner and was operated by Goodwin for three years until February 1955 when he sold it to enter the sign business. The purchasers were Helene E. (1910-2011) and N(athan) Ernest Wright (1903-1959). Mrs. Wright had come to America in 1926 and was employed for 26 years by the George E. Keith Shoe Company before entering the restaurant business.

The diner they acquired was a narrow wood-frame structure with a barrel vaulted roof.  A service counter behind which was located the preparation area ran the length of the rear side of the diner while the Station Street side was occupied by a range of booths with glass jalousie windows overlooking the street.  The shape of the roof on the exterior was disguised by signs with the "All Wright" name, while the base of the diner remained painted with the alternative "Everett Square Diner" for a period in the 1950s.  Later, now nostalgic advertising signs for NEHI would be added.  Entrance to the diner was through doorways at the center of the diner on Station Street as well as the northeast end closest to Everett Square.  In time, this latter entrance would become the principal one.

The All Wright was noted for its long hours, opening at 5.30 a. m. and closing at 1 a. m. the following morning. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the diner remained open until 2 a. m. It was remarked at the time that “Mrs. Helene Wright and her husband … realize the necessity of providing people of this area with a place where they can obtain quality meals no matter what the hour.”

Among the early employees of the All Wright were Don Mello who worked as the cook during the daytime hours, Mrs. Frances Denson, Mrs. Hazel Ballard, Mrs. Thelma Goodwin and Mrs. Frances Poirier. The Wrights advertised the establishment as “a place where the prices meet our pocketbooks, where the food is the way we like it and where we can dine in comfort with quick and efficient waitresses to answer our needs.”

In 1972, Mrs. Wright retired and the diner was closed.

Interior, The All-Wright Diner, Station Street at Everett Square,
Middleborough, MA, photographic halftone, January, 1956.
Middleboro Gazette, "Start Your Day Right at All-Wright
Diner", September 27, 1956.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The "Scandalous" Marriage of Kendrick H. Tribou and Grace Whittaker, 1904

In January, 1904, Kendrick Harrison Tribou (1881-1960) of Middleborough and Grace Whittaker (1883-1968) of New York scandalized some local residents when they married without notice while the bride’s mother and step-father were absent in Connecticut. The reason for the surprise was the perceived insuperable financial and social differences between the couple. Tribou was an employee at Moreland Acres, the Marion Road estate of millionaire Clifford Read Weld of Boston (now the Fairhavens Rest Home) where Tribou helped tend the property on which Weld pursued his passion for horticulture. Miss Whittaker, the daughter of Weld’s wife Clarissa Rundle Lyons and her first husband Edward Welles Whittaker, was accustomed to moving in New York society and was rumored locally as a likely heiress to the Weld fortune. (This despite the fact that Weld had two daughters of his own, Elizabeth and Katherine).

No doubt suspecting that Grace's parents would disapprove of her choice of a husband, the young couple kept the nature of their relationship hidden from the Welds (as well as the remainder of the estate staff) until their sudden marriage on January 25, 1904, while the Welds were visiting Connecticut. Tipped off by an estate employee, the Welds returned immediately to Middleborough. James H. Creedon recounts the tale:

The residents of the south part of the town are greatly surprised over the marriage of Kendrick Harrison Tribou of this town and Miss Grace Whittaker, who claims New York as her home, though she lives with her mother, Mrs. Weld, at their country home here.

Tribou is about 25, of good appearance and for the past four years has been helper on the country estate of Clifford Weld in the portion of the town known as “the Neck.”

Miss Whittaker is the 20-year-old daughter of Mrs. Weld by a former marriage, has mingled in good society in New York, is accomplished and the neighbors at “the Neck” say she was educated at Wellesley.

It is also rumored that she stood a good chance to come in for some of the Weld fortune, which is estimated at about $1,000,000.

The marriage took place while Mr. and Mrs. Weld were in Connecticut. They have since returned, and are said to be considerably put out over the affair. Mr. Weld was seen today by a reporter, but declined to say anything on the subject.

Although it was known at the place that the young woman and Tribou were friendly, there was nothing which would lead one to believe there was anything ardent in their acquaintance.

Last Monday their marriage intentions were entered at the office of the town clerk A. H. Eaton, and a license was issued. They went to the residence of Rev. E. E. Williams of this town, and were married. They then returned to the Weld house, remaining till the next day, when they left.

According to the story told they went to Boston, and later to Plymouth, where they have been for several days.

Marriage record of Kendrick H. Tribou and Grace Whittaker,
Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough,
Mass., for the Year 1904 (Middleborough, MA: Town of
Middleborough, 1905), p. 88.
Tribou returned to town this noon, coming from Plymouth. He was seen at the station and at first declared he knew nothing about the matter, but he later stated they were married here last Monday by Rev. E. E. Williams. He said he and his wife were at Plymouth for some days past, and that she was still there. When asked if he intended to return to Plymouth to work, he said he thought he would.

It seems that the young woman had charge of the place, Mr. and Mrs. Weld were gone and when it was decided that the time for the marriage had arrived. It is said, she requested Myles Standish, the head farmer, to hitch up a horse for them. It is also said she told him that a marriage was to take place, and on learning this he refused to hitch up the horse.

Roland Tinkham, another employee, loaned them his team to get to Rock village, at which point they could connect with steam or electric cars.

Standish, having heard of their securing a team, immediately followed the pair, and it is said he telephoned to Mrs. Weld. She returned home next day.

The Weld estate is one of the finest in town, and is situated on the Marion road, about seven miles from here.

For several years following their marriage, the Tribous resided at Clark's Island in Plymouth where Tribou found work as a farmer. By 1930, the couple appears to have reconciled with the Welds and had returned to Middleborough where they lived on Marion Road.  At the time, Tribou was employed as an estate care taker, possibly on the Weld estate. Despite the indignation and initial disapproval of the Welds, the young couple never wavered.  Kendrick Tribou and Grace Whittaker were wed for the remainder of their lives.

Unidentified newspaper clipping, February 1, 1904, James H. Creedon scrapbook, Mddleborough Public Library.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trials & Tribulations of the Peirce Street Bakery

"Simple Milk Loaf", photograph, April 9, 2009,by
juanelos.  Reused under a Creative Commons
Half-way down Peirce Street, at number 122, just around the corner from Pearl Street, stands an unobtrusive-looking house which blends inconspicuously with its neighbors. Despite its present-day residential appearance and use, 140 years ago it housed Middleborough's only bakery, an operation plagued with chronic difficulties.

Fittingly, the Peirce Street bakery, which was to be so troubled with problems, had its origin in the misfortune of another bakery - the Wareham Street bakery- which went up in flames in December, 1857, taking with it for good measure, the nearby dwelling house of Abial Gibbs as well as Gibbs' barn which housed the Middleborough and Plymouth stage line.

Because the Wareham Street bakery had been what would have been termed in those days "a going proposition" (generating some $10,000 annually), the incentive for a go-getum entrepreneur to build a new bakery was great.

Accordingly, in January, 1858, Eleazer Richmond began construction of a new bakery with brick foundation on Peirce Street, a location close enough to the Four Corners to take advantage of the growing number of residents requiring baked goods, but far enough removed as to minimize the threat of fire to the entire village (always a concern with bakeries).

The bakery commenced operations at the start of April under the direction of George H. Everett, the unfortunate last proprietor of the Wareham Street bakery, and its opening was heralded with an announcement and advertisement in the pages of the Gazette. As a courtesy, Everett (operating under the assumption that "you can't buy advertising like that") sent the Gazette "crackers, gingerbread and cakes hot from the new oven and good as we could imagine."

The abeyance of Everett's troubles following the Wareham Street fire, however, did not last long. In late May, 1858, the apprentice he had engaged for the new bakery absconded one Sunday evening with $60 worth of clothing and money, a sum representing some 2 to 3 days' receipts for the bakery.

Apparently, the Peirce Street bakery wasn't as "going" a proposition as its predecessor. Money became tight, and Everett was compelled to shut down operations for what was described as a "lack of funds." Truly, it was a lack of patronage which closed the bakery as indicated by the Gazette's own somewhat circular contention that "there is patronage enough in Middleboro and vicinity to support it well, if bestowed in that direction.

No money was forthcoming, no patronage bestowed, and in September, William B. Smith took charge of the bakery. Again, the Gazette (purely for the sake of journalistic accuracy) felt compelled to sample the bakery products. "Having tried Mr. Smith's bread we pronounce it first rate."

The community didn't agree with this assessment and, within months, Smith was gone.

Map of Plymouth County, H. F. Walling, c. 1857,
detail showing the location of the Peirce Street
bakery circled.
The following spring, the building's owner, Eleazer Richmond, had his own difficulties with the bakery - this time with the theft of the bakery's firewoood by not too intelligent thieves. Feeling especially punchy that week, the Gazette commented: "Mr. Eleazer Richmond wishes us to request those who steal his wood from the Bakery on Peirce street, not to scatter it on the high way, between the Bakery and their place of destination, as it thus becomes a nuisance to travellers and may lead to detection. Mr. Richmond, being a humane man, desires not to be compelled to convict and put in execution the law provided in such cases."

In May, 1860, a third baker, N. C. Hunt, decided to try his hand at running the bakery, and the Gazette pronounced (after still yet another sampling) that the bakery's products were fit for Queen Victoria "or any of her darling daughters." (The bakery's problems not withstanding, at least the Gazette staff was well-fed).

Hunt had no more success than the others, and charge of the bakery operation was taken by Henri Johnson who, in April, 1861, formed a partnership with grocer James Harlow to continue the business. "They intend to furnish the best bread, crackers, pies and cakes, for their patrons."

In mid-November, 1861, Johnson engaged a new baker and announced his readiness to supply the community with brown, white and graham bread. "Particular attention will be paid to the baking of beans and pudding if left at the bake house by eight o'clock, Saturday evenings."

Despite the Gazette's encouragement (it considered the maintenance of a bakery in Middleborough of supreme importance), the Peirce Street bakery was never a successful operation. It was not until the eventual arrival of Samuel S. Bourne that the town was able to sustain a commercial bakery.

The Peirce Street bakery ultimately folded operations, and by 1872 when the property was mortgaged, the bakery building had been converted into a dwelling house, a use it has maintained ever since.

Monday, February 7, 2011

James Soule Blacksmith Shop, 1898

James Soule Blacksmith Shop, Cedar Street, Middleborough, MA,
real photo postcard, 1898.
The handwritten caption on the card reads:"Middleboro, Plymouth
Co., Mass.  On the road from Eddyville to Halifax.  Before and after
1860, this was the blacksmith shop of James Soule.  Grass &
flowers, in the foreground, grow where was formally [sic] the lane.
This picture was taken 29th of June 1898."
This real photo postcard depicts the James Soule blacksmith shop which stood on the west side of Cedar Street, Middleborough, between Soule and Winter Streets. The shop was operated by James Soule (1811-84) and was built on Soule’s homestead farm [now 94 Cedar Street] probably in the late 1830s or 1840s. It is clearly shown on Walling’s 1855 map of Middleborough, and it remained in operation through at least 1880 when Soule is listed as a blacksmith in the census record for that year.

The shop was one of three which once served the Soule Neighborhood, including an earlier one at the corner of Cedar and Winter Streets and a later one at the corner of Cedar and Soule Streets.

The view captures the shop the year before it was moved across Cedar Street for use as a grain storage house on Charles H. Soule’s duck farm. The shop no longer stands.