Lowell had a population of about 1,000 people at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It extended from Nichols Street on the west to the cemetery, from Oakley Avenue on the south to about 10 rods (165 feet) north of the Cedar Creek bridge on the north. The former dirt roads had been made into stone roads, and streets in town were mostly lightly stoned. It was controlled by an elected three-member board and had an elected town marshal.
Commercial Avenue was the most traveled street, and on windy days the dust covered everything. To overcome the dust when the window and doors were open in the summertime, it was sprayed with a light tar and oil mixture. This stopped the dust from blowing but it got on the cars and people's footwear and tracked all over the sidewalks, store floors and home floors, causing quite a problem, but less than the dust problem.
The fire department consisted of one three inch hose cart and one hook and ladder wagon, which were pulled by the businessmen available at the time. Our freight was collected from cars on the side track and hauled to the business houses on dray wagons pulled by teams of horses. If a dray wagon was empty and near the fire house, they would rush to the aid of the men pulling the fire equipment. The whole country depended on horse power, and crops of all kinds were hauled to town by horses pulling wagons or sleds. People rented horses and buggies at several livery barns to make trips to nearby towns or to visit in the nearby countryside. There were many people in town who had barns on their property and kept their own driving horse or had chicken houses and chicken yards and kept their own cow and had their own pasture for it, or rented a neighbor's vacant pastureland.
In 1910 there were a very few daring folks that would risk their money and lives in those horseless carriages, but some few did that dangerous thing. The roads throughout most of the country were dirt roads and could only be used by cars in dry weather or free of snow. When some daredevil would make a trip on such roads, you could hear his motor for miles and know his location by the huge cloud of dust. These early cars were impossible to start in cold weather, and with no antifreeze, they would freeze up and be ruined. They were returned to the corncrib, driveway or barn in early fall, and the horse would be put to use again. When World War I broke out, they had been improved to where they could be started and run in the wintertime and a few folks did use them. There was no antifreeze at that time, so when they came to town for a short time, they blanketed the engine and water jackets. It they were to be in town a long time, they would drain their car to avoid freezing up and when they were ready to go home, would often fill them with hot water from the barber shops. They were what was called open cars and some had side curtains to keep out the rain or cold to some extent. These often would come loose or tear and flap in the wind and scare the horses badly.
The farmers hauling their crops to town in the wintertime would wear heavy sheepskin coats or maybe a long horse or cow hide coat and heavy overshoes or felt boots. Sometimes they walked alongside of their load to keep out of the freezing wind so they could keep somewhat warm.
The farmers brought their families to town in buggies, wagons or sleds. In the winter they covered the bottom of the sled or wagon with several inches of straw and placed blankets over the straw. They had sideboards on the sides of the wagon that were several inches higher than the passengers' heads, and blankets over the feet, legs and bodies to withstand the cold. Some even had foot warmers or heated bricks or stones under their feet and blankets to help keep warm.
In the spring when the frost went out, horses and wagons would sink so far into the mud that the loads could not be pulled so they arranged to bring their crops in while the ground was still frozen or wait until the roads were dry. The teams and driving horses were taken to the hitching racks while their owners were shopping. Hitch racks were posts set in the ground topped with planks or other posts to which the horse was tied with a rope. In the wintertime the horses were often blanketed to keep them warm while standing at the hitch rack. The blankets, if poorly fastened, would sometimes scare a nearby horse and cause it to break the tie rope and get loose. Sometimes they wandered home by themselves, leaving the owner in town.
The fuel used in this period was either coal or wood in cook stoves, heating stoves and furnaces. Fires were started with corncobs or kindling to ignite the coal. Coal was often stored outside in a coal shed or in the basement. When the coal was burned, there was the task of removing the ashes, which generally created a dusting chore, as it was a fine, dirty ash that seemed to drift over all the nearby areas regardless of how carefully you worked.
There was no such thing as fly spray or a garbage disposal. This caused flies to always be plentiful around the doorways and windows and continually entering the buildings in the summertime. The only way of coping with them was by the use of sticky fly paper, or dampened poison paper that killed them or by constant use of the flyswatter.
The county highway department hadn't been created yet and what little road building or repair was done by the township trustees tiring a few men with teams of horses to do the work. When snow came, roads were shoveled out by hand by a group of farmers living along that section of the road. Snow plows were unheard of for small towns and rural areas.
The utilities in those days were not too dependable. Moisture would cause "blackouts" for several minutes or hours or days. I have often finished haircuts or shaves by candle or oil lamp light and stumbled homeward in pitch black streets. The telephone service didn't extend many miles at that time and had the same troubles as the electric and would be out of service for days. This period is often spoken of as "the good old days," but how many of us would trade the wonderful improvements, luxuries and blessings of today for the "good old days"?
In 1927 or '28 the state put in Highway 2 through town. It was a cement road and a big improvement. The highway was supposed to be constructed to go through Belshaw south of Lowell and intersect with Route 2 east of Lowell. We sent a group of people with influence to urge the highway department to change the proposed route and bring it through Lowell, which was done, much to our pleasure. Through the years, with our narrow downtown street, it proved less of a blessing than we thought it would be. The traffic of trucks and cars off Route 41 and later I 65 became a hardship for the town as the traffic seldom provided any patronage for the businesses. Parking curbside with a big truck has little appeal. In 1977 effort was being made to get the state to reroute the highway through Belshaw as was originally planned. When it is changed we can again angle park, do away with the parking meters and accommodate more customers and improve business downtown and maybe retard the business houses going to the outskirts of town as they have done of late.
In my youth the land beyond the town limits of that date were farm lands, and one could play or hunt and trap, with permission, on the land that is now covered with homes. Our swimming hole was in Cedar Creek right where the creek bends just south of Main Street next to the railroad right of way. We mostly swam in our birthday suits and had to stay partly submerged when passenger trains came along or the marshal would get after us.
A giant of a school was built around 1907 [note - actually built in 1896] that housed both grade and high school. It had eight rooms, the upper floor for the high school and the lower for the grade school. Each of the four downstairs rooms was occupied by two grades. When the building became too small, a giant new building was constructed for the high school on Oakley Avenue that is a small part of what we now call the Lowell Middle School [note - demolished in 2012]. The high school was furnished and used in 1914 and there were ninety some students entered and thought to be large enough to last for many years. The first building continued to be used for the grade school but through the years it too became too small and a new one was constructed just east of the high school on ground that used to be the town's ball park "Oakland Park." It too was outgrown in a short time, and a new round building was constructed east of town for the high school. They built onto the old high school building and used it as a junior high school to serve the students of the three townships who are brought in on buses. There were no buses in my school days, and if not too far, you walked to school maybe two or more miles in all kinds of weather. If it was too far they drove or rode horses and kept them in the several livery stables during the day. Some of the lucky rich kids would ride their bicycles to school in good weather and it was a great event for one of us poor kids to get to ride one of those bikes at noontime. What a thrill!
In 1913 Mother and I moved from the farm to town and I got a job peddling papers for 50 cents per week. I saved enough to buy a second hand bike to use on my route that extended from the railroad east to what is called "Flower Hill" (East Street) over one-half mile and carried forty pounds of papers. Fifty cents would buy ten candy bars or good for five picture shows
Return to The History of Lowell.