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Thompson, Oscar T. / Home town : some chapters in reminiscence
(May 1942)

Chapter 4,   pp. 8-9 PDF (597.8 KB)

Page 8

and my mother patronized her for
new bonnets. In those days mak-
ing over last years hats was the
customary thing to do. The Smith
house is still there, near the corner
of Portland and Fifth.
How many people ir. Beloit to-
day know that at one time we had
a steamboat service on Rock river?
Sometime in the early eighties
Captain Berg owned and ran a
steamboat on the river  he lived
near where the Portland avenue
bridge now is, and the city ter-
minus for his boat was right there.
He made daily trips up to the Big
Hill and back. His boat line was
very popular for picnic parties and
moonlight rides on the water.
Another vivid recollection was
the burning of the paper mill
straw stacks in 1868 or 69 or there-
abouts. That summer we had had
some very severe .electrical storms
and frequent lightning strokes.
One night we were awakened by
the loud blowing of the paper mill
whistle to sound the alarm and
summon the fire department.
Lightning had struck one of the
big straw stacks and set it afire
The volunteer fire department got
there as quickly as possible and
by hard work succeeded in put-
ting out the fire, or so they
thought. But the next afternoon
it broke out again and the whistle
sounded, but it was no uset This
time it got away from them and
all the stacks burned. There were
a large number, ten or twelve.
The fire kept burning ana smoul-
dering for weeks thereafter. It
must have been a big loss to the
Rock River Paper company
Chapter 4
I will now relate some episodes
that happened in those early days
of our town.
After the war there were several
hundred veterans back home, liv-
ing here in the city. Every year
we had a Fourth of July celebra-
tion with a parade, city band, fire-
men, fife and drum corps and
floats, old soldiers, a big brass
cannon, etc. The brass cannon was
a piece of Spanish artillery cast in
Spain, covered with Spanish in-
scriptions and date. I think it was
an eight pounder.
One Fourth, in the late sixties,
Hugh Riley, a war artillery man,
had the cannon placed in Bridge
st. (now West Grand ave.) with
the muzzle pointing up Third st.
They were firing salutes, using
grass to ram in the charge, and
Hugh was the chief gunner. I re-
member my father and several
other men were standing in the
street in front of his shop. I was
also there watching the firing.
Suddenly while Riley was ram-
ming in the charge after a num-
ber of salutes had been fired and
the cannon was hot, the man with
his thumb on the primer let go
and the gun went off. The ram
rod broke Riley's arm and he was
terribly burned on his face and
chest. He was quickly nicked up
and carried into John Kline's sa-
loon. They feared his sight was
gone, but he recovered and lived
many years thereafter. The ram
rod was shot up Third st. and
went through a board sign in
front of our shop, just over the
heads of where we were standing.
It was a close shave.
Some years later at a Fourth of
July celebration, the old cannon
exploded and was blown to pieces,
but luckily no one was hit.
Two other reminiscences of the
old happenings may be of inter-
est to old timers.  One incident
was the circus riot which occurred
in the spring of 1875  The Burr
Robins circus was showing in Be-
loit. Their tents were pitched on
the lot on Shirland ave., where
the gas works are now located. In
those days we had a lot of toughs
around town who were always
looking for trouble, and circus
people were a tough lot too. In
some way, I don't know how, a
squabble arose which soon led in-
to a general all-around fight. The
police were called and City Mar-
shal Janvrin appeared on the
scene to restore order. But he
could not singlehanded handle the
mob. Reports were that he was
hit on the head by a club in the
hands of Pat Ford, a circus man,

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