Researching Wilton 100 years ago

WILTON – World War I began for this country on April 6, 1917. To find out how that affected the people of Wilton, Historical Society members David and Marcia Potter read the Wilton Journal for May of that year and presented their findings at the society’s annual meeting on Thursday, June 8.

In those days, The Cabinet printed Wilton news as the front page of the Journal for readers in Wilton and Lyndeborough. For other readers, it was the back pages.

Highlights for May 5, 1917, were 5 inches of snow, causing fear for the orchards; children sold bouquets of mayflowers at the railroad station; and 39 high school boys were to raise corn, beans and potatoes under the direction of the University of New Hampshire as part of the war effort.

Someone wondered why German was being taught in the high school, and was informed, “German is the language of math and science.”

There was a scare when loud noises, thought to be gunshots, were heard on The Island, prompting people to wonder, “Are the Germans coming from Greenville?” It was decided that the sounds were an automobile backfiring.

On May 24, the town baseball team played the first game of the season. Hobos and tramps were to be rounded up and taken to the County Farm to help with spring farm work.

The war did prompt some changes. A Safety Committee was formed. Owners of cars and trucks were required to register in case their vehicles were needed by the military. It was noted that volunteer dentists were “fixing the chewing apparatus of the recruits.”

The paper was very different from today. News was generally in columns, with a paragraph or two, sometimes only a sentence, for each item. There were few separate articles and no bylines. Items were mostly personal: illnesses, visitors from out of town, people traveling and railroad news. There was a rumor passenger service was to be cut.

Ads and editorial comments were interspaced with the news items. Ads were usually marked as such. Language tended to be flowery, as with Police Chief Wayne Hickey declaring, “Our streets will be kept free of drunks.”

The paper listed six churches: Congregational, Liberal Christian, Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Sacred Heart, Baptist and First Unitarian.

Seven organizations met during that month: Advance Grange, Eastern Star, the Rebekahs, Sons of Union Veterans, Parent-Teacher Association and the Red Cross chapter, and a YMCA representative was in town.

There were two theaters, and most movies cost a dime.

At that point, only a month into the war, there had been few changes in daily life. Recruitment of soldiers had begun. The Safety Committee was to form a home guard.

The copies of the paper were found online, David Potter said, through the Wadleigh Memorial Library website. He printed the pages and enlarged them for easier reading, since print back then was quite small.

The pages may be seen at the Historical Society.