"Roznowski has the storyteller’s skill for isolating relevant detail and employing rhetorical flourish to illuminate both character and scene." —Jacob Jones, University of Maryland
An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927by Tom Roznowski
They lived "green" out of necessitywalking to work, repairing everything from worn shoes to wristwatches, recycling milk bottles and packing containers. Music was largely heard live and most residential streets had shade trees. The nearby Wabash Rivera repeated subject of story and songtransported Sunday picnickers to public parks. In the form of
They lived "green" out of necessitywalking to work, repairing everything from worn shoes to wristwatches, recycling milk bottles and packing containers. Music was largely heard live and most residential streets had shade trees. The nearby Wabash Rivera repeated subject of story and songtransported Sunday picnickers to public parks. In the form of an old-fashioned city directory, An American Hometown celebrates a bygone American era, focusing on life in 1920s Terre Haute, Indiana. With artfully drawn biographical sketches and generously illustrated histories, noted musician, historian, and storyteller Tom Roznowski not only evokes a beauty worth remembering, but also brings to light just how many of our modern ideas of sustainable living are deeply rooted in the American tradition.
"Tom Roznowski uses an innovative way to capture the image of Terre Haute in 1927. The City Directory listings become a social history carried along by humor, deep feeling and a sense of national history. The prosperous and famous share the stage, as they should, with ordinary residents. Even those living at the County Poor Farm find their rightful place in the fabric of community." —Dorothy W. Jerse, On the Banks of the Wabash: a photograph album of Greater Terre Haute 1900-1950, 1983, IUP
"Tom Roznowski has deployed the 1927 City Directory of Terre Haute like a mist net across time to catch a vanished place. An American Hometown is part Akenfield--Robert Blythe's portrait of an English village--and part Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. Terre Haute, 1927, is more alive than many American cities today." —Howard Mansfield
"Tom Roznowski brings the lost world of a city back to life, and in so doing asks us to re-imagine the way we live now." Bloom Magazine
"For Roznowski, the pursuit of the past is not an exercise in nostalgia, but an attempt to bring wisdom forwardto learn not just from our mistakes as a culture, but from the things we did right as well, and then left by the wayside in the 20th century's mad dash to a consumerist, automobile-centered society." Bloom, February/March 2010
"Roznowski is an evocative, romantic storyteller, and his research revives a simpler time and place not far from here."
"Roznowski has the storyteller’s skill for isolating relevant detail and employing rhetorical flourish to illuminate both character and scene." Jacob Jones, University of Maryland
Dorothy W. Jerse
"Tom Roznowski brings the lost world of a city back to life, and in so doing asks us to re-imagine the way we live now." —Bloom Magazine
"For Roznowski, the pursuit of the past is not an exercise in nostalgia, but an attempt to bring wisdom forward—to learn not just from our mistakes as a culture, but from the things we did right as well, and then left by the wayside in the 20th century's mad dash to a consumerist, automobile-centered society." —Bloom, February/March 2010
"Roznowski is an evocative, romantic storyteller, and his research revives a simpler time and place not far from here." —
Dorothy W. Jerse
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Read an Excerpt
An American Hometown
By Tom Roznowski
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2009 Tom Roznowski
All rights reserved.
ABEL MANUFACTURING COMPANY, 101 ½–107 ½ Wabash Avenue, Phone: Wabash 1999, Mfrs. of Over-Stuffed Living Room Furniture, Wm. H. Abel — president, Meyer Mannberger — secretary-treasurer
Mrs. Amelia Abel — cutter, Abel Mfg. Co. — r 1738 N. 12th
Walter E. Abel (Lestia F.) — upholsterer, Abel Mfg. Co. — h 1124 S. 8th
Warren L. Abel (Florence) — upholsterer, Abel Mfg. Co. — h 615 S. 20th
William H. Abel (Amelia) — president, Abel Mfg. Co. — h 1738 N. 12th
As good a place to start as any. The Abel Manufacturing Company was the kind of small local production facility based on a skilled handicraft that flourished in Terre Haute and throughout America, up until the Great Depression. Despite the ambitious corporate titles here, Abel's Manufacturing was really just a step or two removed from the home-based cottage industries of the early nineteenth century.
Abel's was a family-inspired effort, with William providing the business savvy, Warren and Walter the hands-on creative direction, and Amelia the trusted precision with all that expensive fabric. In addition to Meyer Mannberger, there were about 20 other employees involved (list of Abel employees at www.hometown.indiana.edu/1927). Rose Atkins, a widow and single mother who lived at 518 North 8th, was listed as a cushion filler at Abel's, ultimately responsible for the overstuffing of every piece of furniture the company produced. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Allison rode the interurban line everyday from Clinton, Indiana, to work at Abel's; Frank was a woodworker, Mary a seamstress, using heavy thread and thick curved needles to stitch the upholstery.
The Abel Manufacturing Company operated without the help of conveyor belts or fork lifts. In fact, a freight elevator was probably the only mechanical assistance used in the course of a work day. By and large, the daily work at Abel's in 1927 was done by hand. Amelia, measuring twice then cutting once with a tailor's shears. Walter and Warren, holding upholstery tacks between their lips as they hammered. Beyond those steady sounds, the noise probably wasn't that intrusive. At Abel's, after all, they were building soft places to sit.
This was all small-scale mindful production; just a few pieces of furniture being created over the course of a day or week. The work space was a vast upper-story loft that relied on skylights and tall windows to illuminate the beamed brick interior. At least one of those windows would have offered a good view of the river.
The wearing effects of time tell us how unlikely it is that any of the Abel company's work survives today. In any event, this particular business, with its beginnings upstairs at 101 ½ Wabash, would survive the partnership of the brothers Abel. By the late 1930s, Warren was making his own furniture on Ohio Boulevard, Walter had taken to selling furniture others had built, and as for William, he continued with the modest operation the family had originally founded. Long after his brothers had left Abel Manufacturing, William's partnership with Meyer Mannberger was somehow still intact.
ACME EXPLOSIVES COMPANY, 806–807 Terre Haute Trust Bldg., Wholesale Explosives, John F. Murphy — secretary
What remains fascinating about Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1927 is how it continually represents what we've come to regard as the classic American hometown: groups of kids walking home from school, a trolley car easing down a shady street, a corner grocery with the proprietor living on the floor above.
These idyllic images and many others like them became part of American popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century. That said, there doesn't seem to be an easily identifiable source for the all-purpose Acme Company that appeared in the old Roadrunner cartoons created by Chuck Jones for Warner Brothers. The name "Acme" was simply how something generic was labeled around that time. So it makes sense that included in Terre Haute's iconic status is the fact that it was once home to the Acme Explosives Company, which stood ready to ship volatile products in large wooden crates to remote desert locations per the order of one Wile E. Coyote.
DAVID C. ADAMS (Lula) — musician — h 1210 N. 8th
Playing a musical instrument in early twentieth-century America was a valuable social skill, regarded as an outright necessity within many communities and families. While mechanical reproduction of music was certainly well-established through phonographs and player pianos by the 1920s, most of the music being heard was still being performed live. Four theaters in Terre Haute maintained house orchestras in 1927, though with the advent of talkies and the continuing decline of vaudeville, the handwriting was already scrawled on the dressing-room wall.
All across Terre Haute, an upright piano was often featured in the living room, with an ample supply of sheet music stored in the piano bench, and at least one family member who could play passably. By 1927, these impromptu recitals, not to mention the actual pianos themselves, were increasingly being pre-empted by newly purchased radio sets. Even so, the immediacy and beauty of live music was revered. If Sis could play, the family still found time to listen.
Like other everyday skills that flourished in the 1920s: dressmaking, carpentry, or baking — musicianship in Terre Haute was informally structured into a type of pyramid. At the base of this pyramid were literally thousands of gifted amateurs who performed gratis for gatherings of family and friends. Just above it was a large middle tier of individuals whose cultivated talents might have attracted occasional payment. This group would have included music teachers with perhaps one or two after-school students or choir directors for small church congregations in their neighborhood.
At the top of this pyramid were the individuals who actually listed their primary occupation as musician or music teacher (list of musicians at www.hometown.indiana.edu/1927). There are a surprising number of these in Polk's Terre Haute Directory for 1927. Some held a steady position with one of the theater orchestras (see William R. Joyce). Certain others apparently taught music consistently enough to consider their homes as places of business (see E. Blanche Rippetoe).
Due to their tender age, scant income, or female gender, the clear majority of these music professionals continued to live in extended family households. In 1927, many of them were dues-paying members of Musicians Local 25, which met the second Sunday of every month at the Central Labor Union. Local 25 had been founded in Terre Haute in 1897 with a charter membership of 380 musicians. For the musicians working then, paid performances at dance socials, company picnics, park concerts, parades, and vaudeville shows had been plentiful. The hearing of music in those days was almost exclusively a live experience. Recorded music on gramophones was considered a rare novelty. Nationwide radio broadcasts and music in motion pictures could scarcely be imagined. By 1927, though, that future was clearly in sight.
David C. Adams is unique in that he is listed as the head of a household, one that in 1927 included his wife Lula and their daughter Lynn. The Polk Directory from that year also tells us that Edwin and Gertrude Adams were living right across the street at 1215 North 8th Street. We don't know David's instrument of choice, but the proximity points to frequent family gatherings and likely one of David's favorite venues.
(N) Miami Adams (spouse of James — miner) — h 848 Lafayette
(N) Luella Ades (spouse of Isaac — president, Terre Haute Tent and Awning Company) — h 2026 South Center
Luke Adkins (Mary) — laborer, Street Cleaning Department — h 1566 S. 13 ½
Street cleaning was one of the most essential daily services provided by municipalities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, due in no small part to the unregulated presence of the natural world. Streets in residential neighborhoods were usually lined with large elm trees, which inevitably left clumps of wet leaves on paved surfaces. In Terre Haute, festive parades involving animals were common to celebrate national holidays or announce the return of the circus to town. The street sweeper often signaled the end of the parade, pushing his broom behind the last animals.
Much of the daily effort at street cleaning, however, was a response to the presence of horse-drawn vehicles. In 1907, the city of Milwaukee was dealing with an average of 133 tons of horse manure a day, or roughly three-quarters of a pound for every resident. At the same time, health officials in Rochester, New York, estimated that the 15,000 horses in that city were producing enough manure annually to form a pile 175 feet high that could easily cover an acre of ground. In the process of gathering all this information, statisticians somehow calculated that this enormous dung heap would be capable of breeding 16 billion flies. Flies were also drawn to the carcasses of dead horses. As late as 1912, more than 11,000 of them were removed annually throughout the city of Chicago.
Besieged by these ominous statistics, it's not surprising that many observers at the time considered the steady increase of motor vehicles to be an asset to public health. Whether Luke Adkins counted himself among these observers remains to be seen. His job in 1927 still occasionally involved cleaning up after horses. Milk delivery wagons, farm wagons loaded with produce, peddlers urging their tired horses on, all of these were common sights in Terre Haute, even in the heart of downtown.
Luke would have dealt with this familiar challenge as he would a spent plug of tobacco; by nudging it with a push broom toward a sewer grate and on its way to the Wabash River.
Victor Aldridge (Cleta) — baseball player — h 2412 S. 8th
In 1925, it was noted that Terre Haute, Indiana, had placed more of its hometown players in World Series games than any other city in the nation. Up to that point, various residents of the city had appeared in 13 different World Series games. Terre Haute had earned this distinction somewhat unfairly. In the early part of the twentieth century, a huge bumper crop of young players rose from the flat expanses of the American Midwest, nurtured by minor league teams that seemed to exist in almost every small town. Of course, to actually have played in the World Series or the major leagues up to this time, you had to be white.
Enter Vic Aldridge. He was born in the tiny rural community of Indian Springs, in nearby Martin County (see James W. Thompson). Much like Joe E. Brown's character in the 1933 movie Elmer the Great, Vic was drawn to the bright lights of Terre Haute, Indiana, to play baseball.
Vic stood only 5'9". He understood quickly that his best chance to get to the majors was by standing a little taller on the pitcher's mound. He developed a nasty curve ball that eventually got him there in 1917. Rogers Hornsby, an excellent hitter who was known to be quite nasty himself, deemed the pitch one of the finest curves he'd ever seen. It proved to be the basis for a successful career as a professional athlete. By 1927, Vic Aldridge had been pitching in the major leagues for eight years and had even won two games in the World Series for Pittsburgh in 1925.
In the early decades of major league baseball, hometown nicknames for players were very common. These nicknames often defined a career more clearly than individual statistics or game exploits. Vic's nickname was The Hoosier Schoolmaster, and three other pitchers with Indiana roots had some real beauties: Amos Rusie was The Hoosier Thunderbolt, Sam Leever was The Goshen Schoolmaster, and George Mullin was Wabash George. Pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, who eventually owned a gas station at the corner of 7th and Cherry Streets in Terre Haute was also known as "Miner." (See photo of Mordechai Brown's gas station at www.hometown.indiana.edu/1927.)
With his bonus money from the 1925 World Series, Vic Aldridge purchased a modest clapboard home on South 8th Street where he and Cleta lived throughout 1927. In October of that year, Vic Aldridge would pitch in his final World Series. In the eighth inning of Game 2, a clutch double by Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees sent Vic and his Pirates team to defeat. After the subsequent four-game sweep, Vic must have been happy to return home. The following season would prove to be Victor Eddington Aldridge's last as a major leaguer, during which he would pitch for a new team, hit his second home run against major league pitching, and lose almost twice as many games as he won.
Through it all, his adopted hometown seemed to suit him just fine. Vic Aldridge would live the rest of his days as a Terre Haute resident, closing in on 80 when he died in the spring of 1973.
Minnie G. Allen — seamstress — r 1656 N. Center
Operating with needle, thimble, and thread, and maybe — occasionally — a treadle sewing machine, Minnie was practicing her craft in a city filled with worthy amateurs. In this case, her skills would have been measured against nearly every post-adolescent female in Terre Haute. For a moment, imagine how good she must have been to make it her living.
Carl Anderson — County Poor Farm
Flora Anderson — seamstress, Stahl-Urban Company — r 2116 Dillman
Unlike Minnie Allen, Flora was on the clock and on a machine, one of about 160 machines that operated at the Stahl-Urban Plant at 918 Ohio Boulevard (see Darrell D. Donham). The Stahl-Urban Company made overalls and work clothes, so handling heavyweight denim all day probably rubbed Flora's fingers raw. But there were a couple of bright spots for Flora in addition to her weekly pay voucher: The sewing machines at Stahl-Urban were powered by electricity in 1927, which at least saved Flora's ankles, and her job as seamstress probably put her in a position to obtain factory seconds for her husband, Elija, listed that year in the Polk Directory as a laborer.
William J. Anthony (Margaret) — equipment manager, Indian Refining Company — h 920 N. 4th
In 1924, Toscha Seidel of Terre Haute, Indiana, was one of the few and fortunate violinists in the world to possess a "Da Vinci" Stradivarius. This rare violin, one of approximately 1,100 instruments created by the master, had acquired an uncertain history over the years. Mr. Seidel had initially purchased it from a dealer in Berlin, who could only verify its ownership back to 1886. Apparently, the rare violin had vanished and reappeared numerous times since it was finished by Stradivari's sons just after his death in 1737.
In 1927, William Anthony also had a rare eighteenth-century artifact that he would occasionally display to curious visitors. This was an original Franklin penny, struck in 1787. It was the first copper coin authorized by the new Congress.
Just as Toscha Seidel's Stradivarius produced extraordinary sound, Mr. Anthony's single penny offered invaluable wisdom. Inscribed on one side just beneath a sundial indicating the sun's meridian, was the ageless advice: "Mind Your Business." On the coin's other side, printed in the center, was an important reminder to those fortunate enough to actually hold something that old: "We Are One."
(N) Salome Apman — janitress, Greenwood School — h 2831 S. Center
(N) Apolina Appler — (spouse of Adam — laborer) — h 437 S. 14th
John Archer (Laura B.) — blacksmith — h 531 N. Center
Excerpted from An American Hometown by Tom Roznowski. Copyright © 2009 Tom Roznowski. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Tom Roznowski, based in Bloomington, Indiana, is a writer and musician. He is host of Hometown, a radio program broadcast by NPR affiliate WFIU.
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Coming from a guy who doesn't read many books, I literally could not put this book down because of the historical value alone. I grew up about 20 miles from Terre Haute, and reading this book gave me an interesting snapshot into a town I visited many times in my younger years. I still visit Terre Haute quite frequently, and will look at the town in a different light now that I've read Tom's book - great job!