The Good Old Days?
by Katheryn F. Fuller, Deputy Historian
We all know the big strides in technology during the twentieth
century - cars, telephones, radios, TV, space explorations,
but life has changed in many small ways, too. In the decade
of the twenties, life in Edwards was quite different from today.
Things changed rapidly then, too, and many of the things true
of the early twenties had changed by 1930.
Winter was the same then as now, but the response to it was
different. The few people who had cars drove them into the haymow
or an empty shed, jacked them up to take the weight off the
tires, took the battery into the cellar so it wouldn't freeze,
and covered the car with a canvas tarpaulin to keep dust and
chaff from the paint. It is told that one spinster teacher not
only blocked up her car for the winter, but took off the tires,
wrapped them in newspapers, and put them down cellar for winter
Roads weren't plowed; they were broken. Some hardy teamster
went through with his team and bobsled to break a trail. Sometimes
the road commissioner hitched a heavy iron kettle behind his
team and "kettled" the road with that by dragging
it through the drifts. Occasionally, a few men would be hired
to shovel some especially deeply drifted areas.
The main traffic was farmers taking milk to the factory and
bringing home grain for the stock and groceries for the family.
But log teams took advantage of good sleighing and big loads
of logs were on the road from before daylight until after dark.
What did the kids do in the winter? Nearly every family,
even the poor ones, had at least one sled, and sliding down
hill was by far the most popular sport. "Catching pollies"
was fun. That meant hitching your sled to a farmer's big empty
bobsled and getting a free ride. Some parents forbade the practice,
and some farmers wouldn't allow it, but it was quite common.
Eastman Hill was a favorite spot for sledding; the road was
open, but didn't have much traffic. Sometimes when several children
and sleds gathered, the sleds were hooked together, forming
a train, and the whole gang went down together.
Some lucky kids had skates and skated on the Oswegatchie
when it was frozen. Some had skis, simple affairs made of pine
with a strap across the toe, and a great build-up of hardened
snow under the heel after a few trips downhill. There were several
who became very proficient on both skis and skates. Homemade
skip-jacks - a barrel stave with an upright post and a small
board seat, provided a thrilling ride for the venturesome.
If you had been thirsty on a hot summer day in the 20's,
you would have gone to the water pail and dipper on a handy
shelf in the kitchen. If there had been only an inch or two
of tepid water in the bottom of the pail, you would have had
to go to the nearest pump for a refill of cold, refreshing water.
There were twenty to thirty wells in the village, so no one
had to walk a long way to get drinking water, but the water
in the village system was untreated Oswegatchie River water,
not considered potable. Gradually, one by one, the wells became
contaminated so that by the time the village water was obtained
from drilled wells there were few left. If you had found the
pail empty on a cold, winter day, you would have had to bundle
up, with mittens to protect your hands from the cold pump handle,
and would have had precarious footing on the ice under the pump
where water had ben spilled.
Housewives doing grocery shopping didn't find things neatly
packaged in plastic. Cookies were taken from big boxes and put
into a brown paper bag, by the dozen or by the pound. Lard was
dished out of a tub and put into a thin wooden boat-shaped container
and wrapped in brown paper with an oiled finish, butcher paper.
Farm women made their own butter and sold any excess to customers
in town or to stores. It was packed in stoneware crocks, usually
holding five pounds. The crock was returned for refills. Yeast
was available in bulk, or Fleischman's cakes, but many good
cooks preferred to buy it from Carrie Pratt who made her own.
It was during the 20's that some government agency decided
that maple vinegar, the favorite kind for many families, especially
those who made maple syrup, was deficient in acetic acid and
no longer legal. It was replaced by cider vinegar which didn't
have the accustomed flavor.
A number of people in the village kept a cow and supplied
milk for themselves and neighbors. Fred Freeman delivered bottled
milk to Frandy Dulack's meat market and had a small milk route
on the "Brooklyn Side" of the village. The customers
had two matching pails, one or two quart size, and a bracket
on a pole or a box on a post placed so it could be reached from
the milk wagon. Each day, or perhaps every other day, they set
out the clean pail and it was replaced by the one full of fresh
milk. Milk tickets were available so the customers could pay
in advance and not have to take the change out when they saw
the milkman coming.
There were five different bells in Edwards, each with its
distinctive tone. Each of the three churches had a bell rung
for Sunday services, or special meetings. The school bell rang
at 8:30 as a warning, the "first bell". Then at 9:00
it rang again, the "last bell", school was in session.
The fire bell with a loud, unpleasant tone, was on the hill
behind the Town Hall, and when that rang the firemen responded,
along with a number of spectators.
Many changes have occurred in the village itself since the
1920's when Main Street was lined with stores, including two
clothing stores, a furniture store, and John Milan's ice cream
parlor. A Grange Hall and IOOF Hall were impressive social gathering
places. There were two saw mills, two feed and coal businesses,
a large milk station and a busy railroad depot with two trains
each day. The zinc mines provided an inn for single men and
company houses for management. Many miners lived in the village
and walked to work.
Now the mines, the bank, the school, the Grange and IOOF,
many stores, the sawmills, feed stores, the railroad, and milk
station are gone, victims of improved transportation and marketing
or economic changes. Very few employed people work in Edwards;
they commute to mines, mills or businesses in other towns. Yet
with all the changes, Edwards remains a pleasant place to live
with local citizens interested in keeping it pleasant, especially
at Christmas time when it is one of the best-decorated places
in the North Country.
23 Apr 1997