Saturday, August 29, 2015

TVA -- a most amazing project

There's a close connection between the loss of Fairfield and the consequences of the Great Depression. You just need to look past the obvious and get to the ... real obvious.

The year was 1927. One of the worst floods in history ravaged the Mississippi Delta and sent America roaring into the global downturn without a plan.

How to end flooding on the Mississippi was a matter of identifying ways of actually achieving it. A flood control act was passed in 1928, but a larger comprehensive plan was needed.

The grandest plan of all was perhaps the most overwhelming. It would divide the country politically, affect the lives of millions and produce one of the most fascinating engineering miracles of the 20th century.

It was called the Tennessee Valley Authority, the TVA ... the solution to many problems, the creation of a few others and ... would lead to the general notion that controlling our rivers would control our economy.

Or at least reduce the shock of having it washed away every spring.

TVA was widely opposed by many when it was created in 1933. Socialism, it was called.

The Depression had produced more than its share of interesting viewpoints but none carried a candle to the strategies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was convinced that massive federal spending was the only way to turn the tide. Arguably he was right, in the end.

Either way, the legacy remains.

Consider the living conditions of most of rural America in 1933. Almost nine in 10 did not have electricity, so the new-fangled radio that was charming the rest of the world was something of little or no value to people who had no supply of electrical power.

Historian David Kennedy called the TVA "the forward edge of the great transforming blade of federal power that would resculpt the Cotton Belt into the Sun Belt."

The TVA would have many roles, ranging from malaria research to fertilizer production, flood control recreation, and conservation. Mainly, TVA was a source of electrical power. By 1945, electricity was wired into nearly three-fourths of the Tennessee Valley, leading to industrialization and a new kind of economy.

TVA was probably Roosevelt's chief victory in his "socialism" that brought America out of the mud and into a world that allowed it to compete against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.

What was TVA and why do we care?

A series of 27 dams from eastern Tennessee westward into the valleys of Alabama, Virginia and Kentucky ... it's not exactly flatland in that direction, so unlike Brookville, where one dam controls the lake, the TVA structure is many dams that level out the lakes over hundreds of miles.

Lakes created by TVA are numerous and hold back and tame rainfall that can reach as much as 80 inches a year in some areas of the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee.

It's about 700 miles long from start to finish, and the Tennessee River is essentially nothing if it isn't one long series of controlled waterways.

National Geographic did two significant studies on the TVA, one in 1948, a dozen years after the project was essentially done ... and again in 1973 after 40 years on the job.

In the 1948 article by Frederick Simpich:

"Since 1936, when the first dam above Chattanooga was built, 15 floods have started on the Tennessee River. The crests of all have been reduced. Total estimated savings in flood damages to that city alone are well over $20 million."

But the enormity of TVA and the economy it generated over the middle third of the 20th century is essentially the reason that government continued to pursue eminent domain projects like the one that doomed Fairfield.

Why? Mainly because it could.

Brookville Lake, if part of TVA, would be a single entity in a much larger-scale project.

TVA was studied globally and parts of the concept were used in other parts of the world.

How did TVA become so controversial? First off, it displaced thousands from their homes and was ridiculed by its opponents as government milking the land just to sell electricity back to people who had no need for it. Some questioned whether the government had the constitutional right to take people's land without asking, though various native Indian tribes were probably not asked to weigh in on that.

But Roosevelt's experts knew that TVA was more than just a giant power supply. The so-called "state's rights" argument was thrown up ... a fairly common argument when the federal government moves forward on any project.

"Upgrade life in the valley, improve navigation on the river, flood control, reforestation, better use of marginal land, to spur agricultrual and industrial development."

All that happened.

Oddly, one industry came to fruition as a result of TVA -- in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where the atomic energy production began. It seemed we needed more electricity than TVA could produce.

That happened in 1943 during the war. National Geographic's story in 1973 says "Most Oak Ridgers (who worked there) didn't have the foggiest notion what they were doing at the plant."

But from the valley also came another source of energy -- coal -- and there was enough of that along the valley to cause environmentalist outrage. Strip mining was a cheap and easy way of mining coal. Parts of the valley were ruined. Remediation was slow and probably not sufficient.

Flood control on other river basins was not directly connected to TVA, but the notion that managing the Ohio River was nothing new. Flooding was regular on the Ohio.




Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rushville -- right next to Heaven

Over the past four decades or so, we've seen more than our share of reports about "America's most livable cities."

These reports are hardly news. They're generated by real estate agencies, tourism departments, or organizations with a vested interest in generating conversation about urban living.

In short, they serve to serve themselves.

Curiously, the concept is hardly new. In fact, it's more than a century old in at least one Indiana area.

Rush County.

Wendell who?
Home of Wendell Willkie and the Manilla Owls.

Well, you may have heard about Willkie.

Green and gold on the other.

In 1899, the thinking leaders of Rush County decided it would be a nice idea to publish a book extolling the virtues of their communities. The time frame is important for a couple of reasons, the main one being that the promoters felt a sense of the "20th century" ... and the other one being that the natural gas had run out.

The gas part is a bigger story but no less important. Indiana had experienced major growth from Rush County north across central Indiana. By the end of the century, the natural gas was little more than a whoosh.

Towns that had endured as a result needed to be creative.

Rush County took matters into its own hands.

In an outlandish exploration, a publication called "The Promoter," of Louisville, Ky., spared no adjectives in boosting Rush County to the world. One can presume that fees were charged.

The original publication itself was reprinted with 1986 rights to Selby Publishing of Kokomo. (I found it in the Valparaiso Public Library's genealogy section.)

Fully illustrated, the 1899 prospectus was edited and produced by George Campbell and George Johnson. Not much was left out.

Ranging from the assets of the Rush County Courthouse to dairies, churches, civic government and social clubs ... everything got a blue ribbon.

"Much of the enterprise noticeable in Rushville is due to the efficiency and hustling proclivities of the city government. Within the last year they have greatly beautified the city by laying a large number of blocks of granitoid pavement."

The many churches, societies and fraternities "tend to the advancement, culture and pleasure of her citizens."

Still not sold on Rushville?

"The women of Rushville are abreast of the times in all that relates to woman's work, and in this city she has taken an active part in the cause of religion, the promotion of education, the advancement of social and musical culture, the upbuilding of character, and the uplifting of mankind from the grosser and more sordid things of life."

So, no more barbarism, please, even in Manilla where the Owls have a big game scheduled against the dreaded New Salem Eagles.

The publication heaped on the praise, selling the water works, the electric light plant, commercial clubs, grand and glorious business opportunities.

The book was sent to all parts of the country, its publishers claimed, because "Rush is a banner county and few counties in the country are more richly endowed. These endowments are easily apparent to the stranger, and no one seeking a location, be it farmer, mechanic, or home seeker, can fail to be impressed with what Rush County has to offer."

One presumes that the promoters of Rush County had almost NOTHING to do with that testimony. (Right!)

Rushville sold itself as a commercial center with "unequaled railroad facilities," which doubtless meant the city could become a manufacturing mecca. "And where is a city which can offer mechanics a better home?"

Better yet, the residents were prosperous, the essay said. "There are no millionaires in Rushville but the great majority of residents are well-to-do." Plus, the publishers were quick to add: "The citizens are genial, social, well educated, thrifty, enterprising and energetic. A stranger in their midst is made to feel at home."

So what was the intent? The publishers explained: "While this book will in a manner be historical, it is not the purpose of the author to delve deeply into history, but rather to give to the outside world an accurate and unbiased portrayal of the Rushville of today."

Oh, well ... if you say so.

Those "fine public buildings are the reflex of public-spirited men, and stamp the community in which they exist as in active and enterprising one."

In that regard, Rushville's courthouse was "the finest in the State of Indiana."

Except the one in ... well, never mind.

The book is laden with portraits of civic and commercial leaders, including members of the Rush family who doubtless owe their name to the county, or vice-versa.

Best of all, the city had the fortune of having the Klondyke Laundry, which we all know was equipped with "the latest improved and most modern machinery in the industry." It was also run by Mr. Webster who, while not really a laundry man, "is a polite gentleman and accommodating with a host of friends."

And while you're there, please consider the Windsor Hotel for your lodging.

Need we explain why?

"The Windsor is the only two-dollar-a-day house in Rushville ... is one of the most popular places on the road ... and gets high praise by Knights of the Grip."

Knights of the Grip ... doesn't get much better than that.

Taxes, meanwhile, were "comparatively low."

*  *  *

The authors issued this disclaimer with a caricature 
who strongly resembled a cartoon face who would 
appear many decades later -- Alfred E. Newman.

Dog Leg Left, Dog Leg Right

This entry has nothing to do with Fairfield or even Franklin County. But it was fun to learn about this.

*   *   *

Century-old histories of Indiana are frequently much less about history than a measure of the moment.

Often baffling in presentation and usually amusing as a result of it, not much of importance escaped the authors of these tomes.

Please define "importance."

A 1915 history of Dearborn County, compiled by Archibald Shaw, remains a fascinating study. Ranging from what would have been the "politically correct" viewpoint of the time to its uniquely cumbersome writing style, the book is more than a thousand pages of sheer delight.

Unlike regular histories, you never know what you'll find.

Case in point: The legendary Dog Leg Society of Lawrenceburg.

Please state the secret word at the front door. "Woof!" (You're in!)

Shaw describes the erstwhile society in glowing terms. (Kinda makes you want to start your own chapter.)

"As extinct as the great auk, the Dog Leg Society lived its time, which was for about forty years following the Civil War. This organization, if it may be called such, sprang into being spontaneously -- no one knows exactly how or why."

"Of philosophy they had plenty and of sophistry and sarcasm and imagination they were likewise plentifully supplied."

It appears Mr. Shaw had some insight into the Dog Leg Society, perhaps knowing where the bones were buried.

The society apparently just happened when a bunch of Lawrenceburg men decided they had a lot in common, evening hours to kill and thoughts to share. So they met along the riverbank in mild weather and in a nearby grocery store in rough weather.

Uncle Russ Hollister was the lead dog, Shaw reports, claiming the organization got its name from a brand of chewing tobacco named "Dog Leg," evidently one that most members (or was it a requirement?) chewed.

In any case, Uncle Russ was the head provocateur because of his "biting jest and perversions that would make old Ananias himself blush with shame." (No idea who Ananias was but I assume he was the guy from old-time Greek politics or early Christianity, or a saint or a mathematician.)

It seems the Dog Leggers were first on board every day when the news of the town, state, region, world, or universe was made ... "Uncle Russ was wont to offer caustic comments ... and the scope of his remarks was vast."

Shaw says the best-known Dog Legger was Jacob Kiger, "a grand old man, upright in every way and God-fearing." Uncle Jake was inclined to read the Cincinnati newspapers faithfully and was inclined to share their contents, as well as his divined opinions.

Of Uncle Jake, Shaw writes: "His memory seemed to be the most tenacious on stories that bordered on the unusual and he would recite them very deliberately, pausing now and then for the expected comments of Uncle Russ and the others."

The Dog Leg Society appears to have been an eclectic group, not bound by politics, religion or ethnicity. They frequently argued over such matters, Shaw reveals.

"But the idea must not be gathered that they were vicious or maiicous in their observations." (Refreshing! We could use some of that today.)

Calling them "kindly old gentlemen who had, from long years of practice, become accustomed to expressing themselves in such language that to the uninitiated seemed generally out of tune with the subject under discussion." (Kind of like Facebook, right?)

Demise of the group? Easily explained, Shaw says. "One by one the members answered the great call and the little band dwindled down until the final Dog Leg passed down the vale and left the memory of the society to those of us who have grown up with it and seen it go."

I found Shaw's volume in the genealogy section of Porter County Library in Valparaiso. It's likely to be available in other libraries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Photography of Ben Winans

Ben Winans
All of us have a short list of names of people we'd like to "do lunch with" if we could go back in time.

Ben Winans is at the top of my list, maybe not so much for who he was, but for what he saw.

The infrastructure that made up the Whitewater Valley was to be something more than just the usual stuff to Winans and for that, we are extremely grateful.

Winans' photography has been captured in a book produced and written by Franklin County historian Don Dunaway and includes pictures of places long gone from the memories of even the people who might have reason to remember.

These are photographs from the first decade or so of the 20th century and include images of bridges, churches, schools, social events ... and people.

Writes Dunaway in his book, published in 2001: "Winans produced approximately 3,000 glass-plate negatives depicting life in this archetypal small Indiana community of two thousand people."

Winans' photos captured in great detail the devastation of the 1913 flood on the Whitewater River, as well as great welcome-home parades following World War I ... awe-inspiring photography.

According to Dunaway, Winans' work was all but forgotten after his death in 1949 at age 90. In fact, Dunaway writes, Winans' obituary in the Brookville newspaper neglected to even mention the man's photography -- only that he had been a printer for 75 years.

But the glass-plate negatives had been in the possession of an Anderson, Ind., newspaperman named Eugene Bock, who knew of Winans and was able to get possession of this trove of history.

Bock, in the 1980s, made arrangements to give the collection to Dunaway, who put together the book that contains around 130 of Winans' pictures, taken between the years 1902 and 1926.

Brookville telephone exchange 1910
The publication is available at the public library and it can be purchased.  AMAZON 

Dunaway, a Franklin County native, has done remarkable work in identifying the photographs.

So who was Ben Winans?

He opened a printing business in Brookville in 1891. The business served him well and gave him the opportunity to pursue a love of photography. He found particular delight in the natural settings that made the Whitewater Valley so interesting.

Dunaway says Winans' skills in the darkroom were amazing. "These negatives -- a testimony to Winans' darkroom skills -- survive today in remarkably good condition, thanks to another avid photographer (Bock, of Anderson) who had an interest in Winans' work and thought it worth saving."

Winans went one step farther with his craft. He actually described the photographs. Darned handy if you weren't there when the moment occurred.

It's likely you see old Winans postcards from the Brookville area, dated around 1910-or-thereabouts. Had it not been for Ben Winans, a measurable amount of Indiana history would have been lost forever.

Waterworks bridge east of town survived 1913 flood.
Winans took many pictures of valley bridges.

Eight members of the Fries family of Brookville perished
in the 1913 flood. Winans captured the funerals.

Photograph at Old Franklin Church, 1908

The federal land office, torn down in 1913. 
This photo may have been 1902, early in Winans' career.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Before the crash -- 1927 (Part 2)

1927 GE refrigerator

If anything about the middle part of the 1920s is unique, it's that Americans had begun to imagine the future being much different from the past.

Consider the attitudes of a century earlier, most commercial investors saw the canal boat system as superior to the one that replaced it - the railroad. Life in the 1800s simply did not move very fast and the people who lived in those times adapted. Nobody, save a few eclectic authors, envisioned machines that could fly.

Somewhere during the 1880s, at least one congressman advocated closing the patent office because he said it was foolish to fund the agency because everything had been invented.

Except. ...

After the Wright brothers conquered the air and the military perfected its killing value, all bets were off.

By 1925, it was safe to dream. (It wasn't legal to drink alcohol, however.)

You could make a phone call from New York to London, though the average Whitewater valley farmer probably didn't know anybody in London, so what was the point?

The point was, those who could invest in ideas for the future stepped up in droves to do just that. They bought stock, more stock, and even more stock. And they paid for it with promisory notes that claimed that when they sold one stock for an enormous profit, they'd buy even more less-expensive stock and watch it soar through the roof.

Meanwhile, the presidency of Calvin Coolidge sustained the policies of the late Warren G. Harding (Harding died in office) ... and that was to basically let the past sort itself out in Europe. The war was over and no more were being scheduled.

As improvements in air traffic leaped forward, the nation's love affair with the automobile began to expand exponentially. People could travel now and they could spend money.

For millions of others in the underclass, poverty was like a stain on the wall. It had been there forever and was expected to remain.

But 1927 was a wonderland year.

Gerald Leinwand, in his book about 1927, explains:

"The automobile was not alone in spearheading the Coolidge prosperity. Coolidge was the first president to speak to the nation by radio."

Radio: By no means a small achievement!

By 1927, Leinwand says, about one in three American households owned a radio, which became a source of news, entertainment and a whole new concept in capitalism: mass advertising.

"Labor-saving household appliances proliferated, including the wall-mounted can opener, toasters, vacuum cleaners, heating pads, refrigerators, coffee percolators, waffle irons and washing machines."

Americans had become consumers.

Advertisers spent close to a billion dollars, employing thousands of workers ... and the assembly line factory worker found shift work abundant.

There was no ceiling and, the higher we rose, the farther below lay the floor.

The floor was very real, however. As the nation became consumer-oriented, it left behind the advice they'd probably have learned 40 years earlier: If you don't have it, do you need it?

Well, yes.

Advertising agencies and market research firms began studying the American consumer and finally decided that of the 118 million people in the country in 1927, with simple math, extracting killers in prison, kids under 12 and really poor people, that about 90 million consumers were waiting to be plucked.

But illiteracy was rampant, poverty was observable but difficult to define in areas where a barter economy produced no working labor-consumption numbers.

In short, market research worked on raw numbers. About a third of American children were not even attending school, Leinwand reveals. Nearly half were functionally illiterate.

Radio, for the good it did, shoved people farther away from reading. The motion picture industry introduced new slang and "a whole series of bad habits."

Most people who lived outside the cities didn't even have electricty. A new refrigerator was of little value.

The marketing gurus gathered macro-data, converted it to a process and assumed that "the farmer was becoming a business person."

But the farmer was not, despite the transluscent illusion. "They knew that they were not sharing in the general prosperity," Leinwand writes. Millions of farmers, as a result, left the rural areas and plodded into towns to work in industry.

As it turned out, that wasn't always the best place to make a living.

In fact, by the end of 1928, making a living was user-defined. A lot of it was on paper.

The crash was inevitable.



Sunday, August 9, 2015

Before the crash -- 1927 (Part 1)

The Model "A" Ford
Smack-dab between Indiana's most infamous era and the world's most disastrous decade ... is a year that is largely forgotten for the simple reason that it actually worked.


Gerald Leinwand liked that year so much that he wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE FOR THAT

While rural Americans struggled with a depression that had seen no real beginning and offered no real hope for ending, the rest of the country was enjoying the high life.

At least all that glittered appeared to be golden.

"Not since the close of the World War has there been a year which produced such an amazing crop of big news as 1927," wrote Herbert Asbury.


Silent Cal Coolidge was governing from the White House in much the same way as had the man he replaced, Warren G. Harding.

Harding, a Republican, had died in office after being elected on a platform of essentially letting the country manage its own affairs. "Normalcy," he called it.

Meanwhile, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees were off to the races, and Charles A. Lindbergh was off to Paris. Lindbergh got there first because he was in an airplane.

Babe hit 60 HR in 1927
The Yankees went by train.

Much of life centered around New York, thanks in part to the burgeoning celebrity life popularized in print and on the new expanding world of radio.

In Hollywood, the movie industry was never happier and screen stars roared into a world larger than life. America was enthralled.

The New York Times boasted "prosperous with all confidence ... to 1927."

There were warning signals, to be sure, but the average Wall Street investor saw nothing on the horizon that suggested failure. Buy low, sell high ... everything is coming up roses.

The numbing numbers told a story that the elite scarcely considered, according to Leinwand in his book.

Citing the data from a Yale economist, "eight in 10 people earned little more than what they needed to live."

Put another way, national economists estimated "a worker's family of five required a minimum of $1,880 a year while an office worker's family of the same size required $2,119." (It's not clear what constituted the distinction other than cost of living relative to environment.)

But ... the baseline set by the Department of Labor was $2,330 ... "as a bottom level which a family cannot go below without danger of physical and moral deterioration."

So, Leinwand concludes: Despite the appearance of wondrous prosperity, most Americans were walking a razor's edge.

Other experts warned of "fading prosperity," though it's unlikely anybody on Wall Street was inclined to care about that.

Prices were too high for many and wages were too low. Farmers were still suffering.

Flapper styles
But Mae West, Duke Ellington and Al Capone were making headlines and flappers, world peace and national highways were all the rage.

Morality was changing as the raucous appeal of Hollywood and the speak-easy emerge, though it's doubtful that played a major role in the lives of folks in the Whitewater Valley. Immigrants were coming to the U.S. despite attempts by the Ku Klux Klan to discriminate against them.

More people were getting divorced.

Writes Leinwand:

"As never before, the 118 million people who live in America in 1927 were bombarded by the bewildering possibilities of the airplane, the motion picture, the telephone, radio and, above all, the automobile."

Nearly one in five Americans owned a car by 1928.

As travel improved, so did the introduction of the filling station, the highway lodges and the tourist attractions. You could get your kicks on Route 66.

So many models to choose from. "Where can you find so much for $750!" boasted one Chrysler advertisement.

The Ford Model "A" became the every-man car that didn't even need to be cranked to start. It also had a speedometer.

Not that it mattered. More than 21,000 people died in automobile crashes.

What else could wrong? For many, not much.




Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Horse thieves, beware

Indiana's somewhat untamed "upbringing" is not without its peculiarities.

One of the more robust components of those early years was a quite serious — though amusing today — attempt to control the theft of one of the pioneer's most valuable assets:

His horse.

By the 1820s, Indiana had begun to sprawl geographically and found itself stretched pretty thinly in terms of law enforcement. In other words, prime picking for horse thieves.

An article in explains. "Without horses, travel was slow, plowing was impossible and getting perishable goods to market was a hopeless proposition. In the early 1800s, an epidemic of horse thievery resulted in some of the area’s crops being abandoned."

A stolen horse was no laughing matter. Life or death, basically.

The creation of the National Horse Thief Detective Association (there are variations on the title) was formed in 1865 and, owing to the critical nature of the matter, the agency was given broad powers. State-approved vigilante justice, but one hardly without merit.

The Historic Indianapolis article reveals that "organized gangs stole horses and operated so-called stations where stolen goods could be hidden. Station keepers were paid by gangs to help locate horses to steal and then to feed and rest stolen horses until they could be taken to the next station."

The scheme covered at least five states and went on for several years until Indiana's legislature acted, forming the detective association, giving it almost unlimited power. The association began its work in the west-central Indiana town of Wingate, with membership limited to “only the best men in the community." High morals were expected.

It's unclear if the detectives operated to any degree of efficiency in the Whitewater valley but their reach would have permitted it. The public took the association quite seriously, as seriously as it did horse theft. It's unclear how many horse thieves were captured or what punishment was meted out.

One can assume that hanging was an option.

By the early 1920s, the association was nothing more than an entry on a legal document in the Indiana books of law.

Until D.C. Stephenson heard about it.

Stephenson, who was the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, got advice from the KKK's lawyer that the National Horse Thief Detective Association existed and that its powers were still intact.

Stephenson urged Klan members to simply rejoin, reform and retool. With its legislated powers that allowed for the carrying of weapons without much control, the horse thief detective association became the intimidation arm of the Indiana Klan.

Conveniently, there wasn't much the state legislature could do about it, or was willing to try. The Klan found a way of frightening its opponents without having to do anything except resurrect an 1865 law.

How broad was the association's reach?

The Indiana Magazine of History, in researching newspaper clippings from Hamilton County (Noblesville) says:

"Little was said in the press about more physical forms of intimidation, although in September 1921 the Ledger reported the arrival of the Horse Thief Detective Association in northern Hamilton County. Within a few years the association had 9 or 10 companies operating throughout the county, with as many as 600 members."

The association most frequently targeted bootleggers, gambling establishments, and other moral transgressors, which allowed for some forms of revisionist history that aim to cast a softer light on the KKK.

There's not much clear evidence that minorities were overtly intimidated. It's difficult to believe that wasn't the case, however. It's probable that minorities, including Jews and Catholics, remained silent in the face of fear.

The association was as much civic organization as law enforcement agency — largely composed of white, propertied men who were wealthy enough to pay the dues. By 1926 there were still as many as 300 active companies in the region, some of which formed alliances with the Klan.

In 1928, the group dropped “Horse Thief” from its name, becoming the National Detective Association, in an attempt to rid itself of the Klan connection. The name change didn’t work. By 1933, Indiana lawmakers had repealed all laws that gave the HTDA enforcement powers. All such groups had dissolved by 1957, after horse thievery “had ceased to be a major problem.”