Saturday, January 5, 2013

Downtown Ottawa 1900

Ottawa, Kansas circa 1900

What if you could magically be transported back to Ottawa, Kansas 1900.

Sat Evening Post 1904
The numerous electric poles on the east side of the street in the image below demonstrate that Edison's light bulb has arrived. But while the sidewalks are paved, the street is not. Nor, is there an automobile to be seen.

Gentleman, as the image of Ottawa demonstrates, wore hats and long sleeve shirts with stiff collars. Women wore dresses down to the ankles with high button collars. The dresses were tailored and the bustle was diminishing in size. Soon, it would disappear entirely from fashionable women's stores. If ladies appeared in public, usually there was a walking stick or parasol to shade their delicate features from the sun.

The image below is from the Franklin County Historical Archives. It has been digitally reworked. It is a view of the 200 block of Main Street, looking north. Boston Department Store clearly in the right foreground.

Downtown Ottawa, Kansas circa 1900
Parks Annals

In 1988, Doris Parks Elder contributed to the Ottawa Library annals drawn from Ottawa newspapers (early newspapers included the Ottawa Daily Republican, the Ottawa Gazette, and the weekly Ottawa Herald). See KSHS. The annals were compiled by her father, Hobart Parks, for the years 1864-1920. These became known as Park's Annals. I have interspersed my own comments with Parks Annals to recreate Ottawa history for 1900.

1900 Ottawa

Ottawa's mayor was Dr. F. O. Hetrick. He would serve two terms.President McKinley was completing his first term as U.S. President and campaigning for a second term.

January in Ottawa, work commenced on the Paola to Ottawa telephone line. The line was completed a month later and citizens were allowed to use it free of charge for the first two days. The telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell was patented in 1876. By the mid-1890's the patents were running out, spurring small independent companies to create their own lines.

That spring, Ottawa University (founded 1865) had an enrollment of 120 students. Architect George P. Washburn (designer of the Ottawa Courthouse) went to Pleasant Hill to begin construction of an opera house.

In May, the city hired a traction engine at $10 a day to grade streets, seven blocks were graded in three hours at a cost of $2.70 formerly required one and a half days at a cost of $11.70. The high school senior class graduated 25 students at a ceremony at Rohrbaugh Theater.

In June, the city began discussions to pave Main Street. Note the dirt street in the photograph.

In July, the Assembly held in Forest Park featured H. S. Roberts lecturing on the "Empire of the Czars". Meanwhile, on the national stage, the Democrats are holding their political convention in Kansas City, Missouri. They would nominate William Jennings Bryan.

The Ottawa newspaper advertized a rubber-tired surrey for $127. Wheat was selling for $1.27 a bushel. Not bad since wheat was exporting for about half that amount at 71 cents a bushel. Bulletin No. 1-37, USDA. Division of Foreign Markets, Frank Harris Hitchcock. Wheat prices in the years to come would spike at $2.45 a bushel at the end of World War I and plummet to $0.47 a bushel at the depth of the depression in 1932. USHistory.

Fall 1900

In September, a hurricane struck Galveston, Texas causing great loss of life.

In October, the entire student body of Ottawa University turned out to greet the football team, returning from a victory at Warrensburg, Mo.. The score was 20 to 0.

In November, Republican William McKinley would be re-elected president. He would serve for less than a year and be replaced by Theodore Roosevelt.

Late in the year, Marshall Danic warned firing blanks on Main Street must stop. Commissioner Fetter complained that horse hooves were damaging the curbs.

More Buggies
A wagon load of extra large Buffalo fish (also known as the gourd head, redmouth buffalo, big-mouth buffalo fish, bernard buffalo, roundhead, or brown buffalo) was taken from the river, and put on sale on Ottawa's Main Street. The slow moving fish are often speared, but it is likely that this batch was taken by the use of a skein. At Mathias' grocery store, beef in bulk sold at 8 cents a pound, coffee at 15 cents a pound.

In December, the telephone line to  Williamsburg was completed.

Horse and Buggy

Montgomery Ward
In 1900, the horse and buggy was the most common means of transportation in America. Buggies cost as little as $25, and could easily be hitched and driven by women or children. But that didn't mean buggy travel was without risk.

Only three years earlier, Ruleff Hood, a prominent citizen and deacon of the Ottawa Baptist Church died as the result of a horse and buggy accident. His horse startled and ran wildly through the streets pulling his buggy behind it. Ruleff was thrown from the buggy and died as a result of his injuries. Hood Family Ancestry.

Change is on the Way

The new century meant change was on the way. The first mass production of automobiles was begun by Karl Benz in Germany in 1888, and two years later in the United States and France. Three years later, in 1903, Henry Ford formed the Ford Motor company. The discovery of oil in great quantities made fuel cheap. By 1910, a half million automobiles on the road would surpass the number of buggies. Ford was making over 30,000 Model T cars a year.

The term "horse and buggy" today means to cling to old-fashionedness or out-of-date, but it could just as easily suggest a nostalgia for a slower pace of life in a smaller place where everyone knew your name.

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