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Friday, November 16, 2012

All the roads have a first name

Our side trip through Frostville last weekend brought so many interested responses I will confess my other addiction—history. 

When I became clerk of my township I was the second occupant of the clerk’s office in the restored township hall.  There always has been a clerk, but until the township hall was restored clerks clerked out of their homes.  I can’t even imagine.  The last clerk before me, a stronger soul than I, packed every remaining piece of paper from the last hundred years of clerks into boxes, by years. They pretty much filled the office and left a few square feet for a desk.

After I completed all the documentation required to be permitted to dispose of the disposable, the town historian and I spent several months of Saturday mornings going through the boxes.  My grandmother used to say “Many hands make light work.”  So do many stories, and I was treated to hours of stories as we went through papers.  I got the back stories, too. 

As we went further and further back in time some of our disposables became hard to part with.  Especially as we passed first his birth date, then mine.  We were handling invoices we could shred, but that had long ago logos on them.  We came to a compromise when his stack of electric bills picturing Reddy Kilowatt was totally out of hand; we kept representative samples of the good stuff.

As we slipped back to the Great Depression the historian knew where all the buildings had been or still were, but the population then far exceeded the current 695.  He carried the thread of the major families:  they still own the quarry where kids swim in the summer; he owned the bank; that family had the Nash dealership.  

 I was struck by the humanity and community the papers spoke to.  There were township warrants to local stores for shoes for this family, coal for that, payment for an ambulance or a doctor.  It seemed half the township men worked some hours each month on the roads.  While that was common in townships I was struck by the two road superintendents foregoing pay and the workmen being paid when funds were lowest.  That was not documented; I figured it out from the trail of checks.

And the checks!  I fell in love with the checks.  Mouse nibbled corners.  Dried on rubber bands.  The handwriting!  I thought of my parents, who each wrote a lovely hand.  All payments were by warrants (checks), and the backs of the checks told a story, too.  There were multiple endorsements; the checks passed from hand to hand like currency.  I puzzled at the number of endorsements in pencil until I realized the pens were in the bank.  Men on the street of a farming community town at the turn of the 20th century might have a pencil, but not a fountain pen.  I kept all the old handwritten checks.

In the end I cataloged all those checks and posted them on our web site, in history.  That’s when I realized our roads all have first names. Except for Oak Hill Road, every road is called after a family that once lived on it.  My own road is called after the dairy farmer who owned all these acres and ran a cheese factory on the other side of the road.  His grandson still lives on the corner.

We have put so much history under the history tab of our township website it might sink if it were a ship.  The tracking program tells us the website has thousands of page visits each year, the majority of them looking at history pages.  I like to think we’re leaving that to the future.

Two trustees added signatures to this check, Thomas Major and Isacc Stine.  And, we have a Major Road and a Stine Road.

I love the endorsements.  There are three, so this check went through several hands until it became cash money or increased a bank account.  The perforated cancellations are wonderful, too.


  1. That is lovely handwriting. It is wonderful you have preserved this history Jo.

  2. This is superb!
    Bringing all these people...and their prevalent life again.

  3. If it isn't written down and saved it's almost like it never happened. Preserving how things were is an important and valuable pursuit. Those that come behind will thank you and be even more amazed at the skill of handwriting now disappearing into our mobile devices.

  4. What a wonderful opportunity that was to relive the past.

  5. History as taught in school is great, but it is local history, signs of how life was for the everyday person that really hits home and has a special meaning...Love it!!!

  6. Wonderful! I always liked looking at the back of my checks when i got them back in my statements. And, when i worked in a bank that got bought and bought again, i had to go through the records up in the attic. I hated to shred some of them, because they too told a story.

  7. You are such an astute observer.

    Technology is wonderful for preserving a lot of those things that time will reduce to dust.

  8. So many wonderful stories and such history. How our world has changed, around here folks are worried daily at all the counterfeit dollar bills and to think checks were endorsed in pencil not too long ago, sometimes I long for the simple more honest days.

  9. This is the sort of history I would have loved to learn in school, instead of Wars, Kings and Queens of England, Parliaments and Governments. The history of the general populace, how they lived and worked is so much more interesting.
    I remember when wages were paid by cheques and they were signed and countersigned as they passed from person to shop to bank etc.

  10. Handwriting used to be so beautiful! Mine is utterly atrocious.

  11. Now that's what I call "A trip down Memory Lane!"

  12. interesting how trustful and open people were then. pencil? would not be allowed today. passing a check along with multiple endorsements? no way!