Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Making hay on the courthouse lawn

This is another of those odds and ends that turned up recently while searching digital archives of The Chariton Leader looking for something else. It's a brief account of how the courthouse square looked when editor and publisher Henry Gittinger (1861-1953) was a boy. The little story appears on the front page of the Leader dated Feb. 1, 1917.

Henry was a great story-teller and occasionally engaged in invention, but in this case we have a photograph, probably dating from the late 1860s, of how the courthouse square actually looked at about the time he first rolled into town in a wagon from the family farm in far-away Washington Township, southeast of Russell.  So we know that it appeared then exactly as Henry described it some 50 years later. 

Those who read here regularly may recall that the image turned up in the collection of the Kearney County Historical Society, Minden, Nebraska, and was kindly shared by Jack Hultquist.

Here's the text of Henry's story:

It has been many years ago now --- how many the writer cannot tell --- since the first time he visited Chariton. A big, high board fence enclosed the court house square and one entered the enclosure over high steps. the old brick courthouse stood in the center where the present building is located. All over the yard was tall grass but few trees.

We drove in from the country --- the southeast corner of Washington township --- a long distance in those days. We got to town about noon, unhitched the team, turned it around to the wagon and fed it. Then we ate our lunch.

A man had been mowing the tall grass in the courthouse yard with a scythe and when we got ready to move out for home in the afternoon, he was winnowing the hay and piling it in cocks. We asked our elders what they would do the the hay and the reply was, "feed it to the county officials --- maybe."

It seems like yesterday, but that was a long time ago. These are the impressions of childhood. The courthouse square is not a "prairie country" now. It is full of trees and some of them are old. Yesterday a man with a team was hauling wood from there. Many of the old trees had been cut down and split into fragments and corded up. It looks like a timber lot. Such are the changes which time brings.

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