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

Chapter 8,   pp. 13-14 PDF (618.0 KB)


Page 14

in Beloit at least 80 years. They
own property down in Broad
street.
In the whole period from 1860
to 1880 Beloit was a small town.
It had a very slow growth. The
population, I think, was not over
5000 by 1880. They always used
to say this was due to the load of
old railway bonds that Beloit was
saddled with. These bonds were
issued in 1856 or 1857 to promote
the Racine and Southwestern R.R.
company    which  was   putting
through a road from Racine to
Savanna. The name of the road
was later changed to the Western
Union and they had an ugly old
aepot which stood south and east
of the present St. Paul passenger
station. This road is now a part
or the C. M. & St. Paul Railroad
system. The present brick pas-
senger station was built in 1900
or 1901.
It was not till after these bonds
were paid off that the town began
to grow. In 1880 Beloit was cer-
tainly a "hick town." The down
town stores were shabby, many of
them wooden construction. But
fires now and then gradually elim-
inated the old wooden buildings.
The streets were unpaved. They
were either all mud or all dust.
The sidewalks all over town
were made of wooden planks laid
on stringers. In many places, es-
pecially down town, they were set
up on posts or stilts, two feet or
more above the street level. Hitch-
ing posts were placed at close in-
tervals as it was all horse traffic.
I must not fail to mention the
street sprinkler wagon. When the
streets were dry and dusty it was
terrible. So the merchants clubbed
together and each agreed to pay a
small amount monthly to maintain
a sprinkler service.
The wagon was run by George
Donner for many years. In the
rear of our factory property in
Third Street Donner installed a
water wheel with water buckets.
The lower part of the wheel was
submerged in the stream and the
current  revolved  the   wheel,
bringing up the buckets filled with
water. From the elevated tank he
filled his wagon tank. As the
wagon passed up and down the
streets  it would throw a wide
spray but it did not last long. In
an hour it was all evaporated and
dry as before.
The street department now and
then "improved" the streets by a
coating of gravel which did but
little good. It was not till 1896
that we began our paving pro-
gram in a very small way. The
first streets paved were Grand
avenue from the C. & N. W. sta-
tion to State street, and State from
Bort's corner to Broad. The so-
called paving consisted of a strip
of brick paving 10 feet or so wide
on each side to form the gutters at
the sidewalk and the center of the
street for traffic was paved with
crushed limestone. This was only
the beginning. After that the pav-
ing program continued to expand
year by year, until all city streets
were fully paved. At first various
types of paving were tried-brick,
asphalt, wooden blocks and cem-
ent. Now nothing but cement is
used.
The old wooden sidewalks were
a snare and delusion. They rotted
out and became dangerous and
unsightly. The first change for the
better  was the so-called "tar"
walks. Then some brick was laid.
Now cement sidewalks are uni-
versally accepted as the only good
sidewalk.
In those early days every resi-
dence lot had to have a fence
around it to keep out the cows,
dogs and children who were roam-
ing the streets. A real swell place
had a white picket fence and they
really looked very nice. The gate
posts were boxed in with a suit-
able cap on top. Other places had
board fences, the boards running
longitudinally. They were much
easier for the boys and girls to
climb on and the flat board placed
on top was fine to sit on and prac-
tice walking on. The kids today
don't have all this fun.
When C. C. Keeler built his fine
new house, corner of Broad and
Prospect, he removed his fences
and set a new style. At first every-
body thought it was terrible, but
gradually, little by little, others
adopted the new style when their
old fences became rotten and
rickety.
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