I'm a member of an organization that spends some of its time fussing about (and trying to clean up) messes that occur in the "public square," also known as the Chariton Courthouse Square Historic District. Messes these days include cigarette butts, weeds and the leavings of careless dog owners who do not clean up after their pets.
It's kind of reassuring to know that this sort of fussing (and activism) has been going on for as long as there's been a Chariton.
During 1895, dozens of strong women frustrated by the casual approach to cleanliness adopted by the menfolk who, in that era, were expected to lead the way in all things progressive, formed the Chariton Improvement Association, devoting themselves not just to hard work but to constructive harassment as well.
As an illustration of the latter, here are "Improvement Notes" as published in The Chariton Democrat of Aug. 16, 1895. Although the piece is unsigned, it bears all the marks of Jessie Mallory Thayer, a prime mover in the Improvement Association.
The photo of the west side of Chariton's square dates from the late 1870s, and this was 20 years later, but the sources of some of the difficulties remained unchanged. At least today, we've got large dogs rather than large horses to contend with. And mercifully, there are fewer of them.
"Much has been accomplished already towards the betterment of our city, and ten times more can be done in another season, if the people who live in Chariton will devote a little time and thought to civic affairs.
"Subjects of hygienic value to every member of our community may well form a basis for a program of study, and there are few even among our most intelligent citizens who could not learn something on the subject of drainage, sewerage, house sanitation, improvements of roads, water-works, etc.
"The next regular meeting of the Chariton Improvement Association will occur on the first Wednesday of September, the fourth. The meeting should be one of great interest, as the work of the Association for the past six months will be reviewed, the reports of all committees heard, and plans made for the course of work for the coming winter.
"The committee on streets and alleys made a tour of inspection and report very favorably. With the exception of weeds there was but little to find fault with. Weeds are very much in evidence, but a few moments' work with scythe and rake each week and garbage cart to carry them off to where they could be burned would make Chariton a model of cleanliness, health would be improved and the value of property much enhanced. They found a few pig pens that needed scrubbing and in places the stable litter was too thick, but on the whole the condition was not bad.
The question has suggested itself to many of our observing citizens who have become interested in the attempt this summer to keep our little city more like a city and less like a gone-to-seed barnyard: why does the weekly cleaning of the filth deposited around our public square occur on Friday? Nine-tenths of the accumulation around the courthouse fence is deposited on Saturdays, when our farmers come to town and necessarily hitch their teams on the square. The manure, hay, papers and general litter then remain there, an offense to the eyes and noses of everyone who goes upon our public square, until the following Friday, when it is carefully cleaned up and we have a clean square for just a little less than twenty-four hours; and then comes the Saturday and a new accumulation, to be endured for another week. Why not clean up on Monday morning?
"I would like to be the Mayor and City Council for just about fifteen minutes," said a disgusted resident the other day. He was contemplating the attractive lawn which surrounded his house and the neat, carefully trimmed parking in front of his property. "Now I have put in my spare time for two years making this lawn. It adds 50 percent to the appearance of my place and to the attractiveness of the whole block. It is the same way with some of my neighbors, but there is one man in the middle of the block, who is too blamed lazy to even pull up his weeds. The result is that his ill-kept, weedy, mean looking yard spoils the whole block. You can go to almost any residence block in town and see the same thing. The most of the property owners will keep their places neat and attractive, but one or two will offset the whole effect by letting their lawns go to seed or choke up with weeds, or leaving up a tumble town, unpainted front fence. Now if I were the mayor and the council it would take me about ten minutes to pass an ordinance that would impose a penalty on property owners within a certain district who did not keep their property in decently good shape. It may be that it would not be constitutional, but it would receive the endorsement of three-fourths of the property owners of the city."