A favorite turn-of- the- 20th-century saying was, “Waste not; Want not.” People from all walks of life saved things. Even the very rich did things in a frugal way. Millionaire W.J. Young was noted for his parsimonious habits; he lived in a common house and worked his entire life. His widow built a terrific mansion on 7th Avenue So., which became famous as the Amvets Club in the 1940’s. Progress came, and it was torn down to make way for the first Eagle Super Market, which was torn down to make way for the second Eagle’s, which was torn down to make way for a drug store that went out of business and became, again, a grocery store! And so it goes. Mankind cannot seem to make up its mind.
However, it wasn’t that way a hundred years ago. I once found a box in my Aunt Irene’s attic that her mother had placed there during the “roaring 20’s” and it hadn’t been opened in decades. Inside, were all the family treasures…. Like the telegram that told of my grandfather’s death in 1901. But the most notable thing in the box, wrapped in a 1927 newspaper, was a petrified parrot! Yikes, they kept EVERYthing! These were poor people who horded and tried to preserve all that they owned. They had known hard times and adhered to and lived by that old adage cited above.
However, the most outrageous case of conservation was moving a house up Congregational Church Hill, in 1902. Dwight Lamb and his family were living on 6th Avenue So. and 5th Street, when his wife may have mentioned, “Darling, let’s move up to our new lot on the bluff overlooking the Courthouse and the River.” He likely inquired what kind of house she would like to build. She responded, (in my imagination), “Oh, I just love this house. Please let’s not leave it behind.”
So, they spent a lot of money, time, and effort to move their home eleven blocks up 5th Street and ninety feet up the hill. They placed it majestically atop the bluff, on Woodlands Drive on an exquisite lot which most Clintonians have never seen! Trees had to be trimmed and wires moved to bring it up 5th Street. They left all the furniture inside and, so the story goes, a glass of water was placed on the kitchen table and, if they spilled a drop, the job was free. YEAH, RIGHT!!
The Crowe Brothers from Chicago spent all summer moving the home. They used a special roller system and jacked the house up inch by inch. Mules pulled the house a few feet, then they jacked it up some more. Such expertise no longer exists, and besides, who would pay the enormous cost!? But the Lambs added some new porches and fabulous shrubbery, and continued to live in the home for many years. Then it passed to Ike and Vincy Carnes and then, later, to historian Ed Zastrow, as an apartment house. After that, it tragically burned down.
Kids marvel that anyone would go to such extremes to move a house! Today, someone occasionally moves a house, but it was common back then, when time, materials, and labor were relatively cheap. Many things were done in a time-consuming and labor-intensive manner that we wouldn’t do today. In fact, contemporary people hardly blink when structurally sound buildings are torn down so that another business can build a newly-designed one on the same spot!
If something sounds strange to them, kids will frequently ignore the concepts history could teach them. I recall showing a picture of the house going up the hill to some children and hearing one ask, “How did they get it around the Congregational Church?” Children also seem to believe that folks who lived long ago were homely, unskilled, and didn’t have much fun! …. To which we need respond, “Well, how did you get here then? - And so smart, too?!”
We should assure them that people of other eras had numerous and varied skills. They were not as specialized, for they had to do all their own work and repairs. Pioneers had to clear land and build their own cabins; early industrialists like the Lambs and the Youngs had to invent and create new pieces of machinery. Today, teams of inventors or whole companies might develop a new gadget, but Thomas Edison was on his own!
In school, we learned the names of many famous inventors: Marconi with his radio; Edison’s electric light bulb; Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone. We even say that Ford invented the automobile (though it was actually the assembly line that he created.) Things get murkier as we go along. Do you know who invented television or the computer? Sudden inventions, such as those our parents’ generations saw, were phenomenal, news events!
Yes, much has changed in the century and a half since Clinton was established. They’ve been, perhaps, some of the most telling decades in history. Yet, the next 100 years could bring even more stupendous things, as history begins over and over. Modern technology assures that information will explode into a never-ending expansion of new knowledge. Many theorists believe knowledge is doubling every few years now, and that it’s moving faster and faster! -- Even so, there will always be much for us to learn from studying history. Waste not, want not.