Friday, July 3, 2015

The Golden Age

Indiana's transition into the 20th century was probably not unlike our thinking a century later, though expectations in 1900 were more simple to define.

After all, nobody would have anticipated space travel in 1899, since the closest thing to getting off the ground was a hot-air balloon. One wonders what people of the time saw as the future. "Wow, we have electricity!"

Most of the reading I've done for the period after the Civil War suggests that the state's ideals were fairly clear: Railroads, corn and prosperity.

While the Whitewater Valley was still largely agrarian, most matters surrounding farming were largely political. The growth of the Populist movement added some zing to the debate, particularly as the labor movement gained in numbers in the larger towns. The agrarian segment of Indiana society found Populist dogma appealing on some levels.

In some cases, radical interpretations of Populism also led to anarchy. As a substantive point of view, it ran more on emotion than capital.

James B. Madison, author of a 1986 book The Indiana Way, does a nice job describing how Indiana matured at the end of the 19th century.

"A later generation of Hoosiers would look back on the several decades between the Civil War and World War I as Indiana's Golden Age. Through rose-tinted glasses, they remembered the excitement and entertainment of politics, the comfort and security of rural and small-town community life, the pleasures and popularity of Indiana literature, the sense of growth and progress in education and religion, the visible signs of improvement in material well-being."

Madison asserts that the Golden Age mentality was considered "the Indiana way," a moderate tradition that "many Hoosiers greeted with pride."

It's not really a stretch.

A robust and diverse economy had made Indiana the "Crossroads of America" and helped lure investment from both coasts as well as Europe.

It would be another two decades before the state crawled out of the mud, building the highways that would link the East with the West.

Meanwhile, in the Whitewater Valley, businesses thrived inside a purely local economy. Churches were experiencing enormous growth in membership and schools were functional.

And as the world turned, it would not be much longer before "round" was the word of the day. As in ... roundball.

We know it as Hoosier Hysteria.


In Fairfield and other towns in Franklin County, the growth of secret societies, or more generically -- men's clubs -- was notable. August Reifel, in his 1915 history, includes essays on several such clubs ... the Masons, The Red Men, the Pythias, Odd Fellows.

Well, not so up-to-date
Most men of industry or importance were members of these clubs, whose purpose was varied. These clubs exist today. Their traditions are remotely the same, one would presume.

Fairfield's Lodge 110 of Pythias, was organized in 1883, Reifel says, and its membership in 1900 was about 50. "It meets in its own hall, a two-story brick building, thirty by sixty feet, erected in 1902, costing $4,000. It is an up-to-date structure in all of its appointments."

O.H. Logan, C.R. Dare, George Groce, Charles Gerren, J.T. Buckley, Darlie Hanna, H.H. Rose, Fred Loper, Clyde Newkirk are all listed as officers.

Odd Fellows and Masons also had chapters in Fairfield, the Masons operating at the end. It holds services in a lodge in New Fairfield.



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