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Columns

Montgomery: Long before social media and ‘selfies’

Today, when one thinks of the word “social,” one might have images of online profiles and that perfect “selfie” to share. But life in Montgomery in the early 1900s was quite different from what we experience today. Although gas and electricity were beginning to be available for those who could afford it, there was no indoor plumbing, except for an occasional tap from the well to the kitchen sink, which was considered a luxury. Women washed laundry in washtubs and cooked on wood-fueled stoves – no microwaving a quick bite to eat.

At that time, automobiles still were uncommon, and the horse and buggy was the primary mode of short-distance transportation. Homes had an outdoor latrine, plus a barn out back for the chickens, a cow and a horse or two. Horses were not only dedicated to help with transportation, but also most farmers used draft horses for hard labor. Horses were used for plowing, planting and cultivating fields, and pulled wagons of vegetation grown on the farm.

In 1900, the population of Montgomery was only 350 people, compared with about 20,000 people that Montgomery has today; yet the village still boasted quite a few businesses, including two grocery stores, a blacksmith shop, barber shop, block factory, a tavern and the sheepyards on the BNSF property west of the railroad tracks. The sheepyards and the new Lyon Metallic factory were the two largest employers in Montgomery for many decades. The typical six-day work week left little time for relaxation, but residents enjoyed occasional opportunities for socializing in the evenings or on Sunday.

Before radio or TV, relaxation and social life in Montgomery revolved around church activities and social clubs. Various male-only fraternal lodges and clubs in Aurora, such as the Masons, had drawn members from Montgomery as early as the 1850s, while churches occasionally offered musical entertainment or dinners. Then, in 1898, a new benefit society called the Royal Neighbors, based on the concept of neighbor helping neighbor, opened a chapter in Montgomery with 25 charter members.

With membership open to both men and women, the club provided social activities, life insurance for women and children, assistance for the needy and firmly supported the women’s suffrage movement.

Initially, the Royal Neighbors met in members’ homes, but as the group grew, it met on the upper floor of Beher’s Grocery Store on Webster Street. Members enjoyed card parties and box socials in addition to providing assistance to families in need. The group sponsored a monthly sewing circle that had grown to more than 50 members by the 1920s. Montgomery also had a dramatic club that presented plays in the Montgomery School.

Fishing and hunting were common pastimes, and during the summer months, area residents enjoyed recreational activities such as camping, dancing, rides and baseball games at Riverview Park just south of Montgomery. Chautauqua-style presentations (living history programs) were offered at the park at very little cost. These social groups and activities played a very important role in fostering friendships and a creating a sense of community in early Montgomery.

Whether you’re taking time to remember your past or planning your future, make sure you picture yourself here in Montgomery.

• Debbie Buchanan is executive assistant for the village of Montgomery and serves as village staff liaison to the village’s historic preservation commission.

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