Last time around, I wrote about finding my grandmother’s birth listed in a New England annual report — specifically that of Keene, New Hampshire, in 1914.
This time, we go back to the report for a closer read, to see what it tells us about the place where she was born. What was her corner of the world like at the moment she entered it?
We find Keene in 1914 as a city of about 10,000 people (it’s about 23,500 today).
It’s a city on the move, at least by its own modest standards, with population increasing almost 10 percent between 1900 and 1910. It has a fairly healthy manufacturing sector; maybe the growth reflects an increasing willingness among the area’s people to swap farming for well-paying jobs in a factory.
One of the city’s major employers is making threatening sounds. The Boston and Maine Railroad is hinting at what the report calls “a very considerable reduction in the working force” at its Keene repair shops. (Layoff anxiety is eternal.)
Among the city’s other companies are the Monadnock Shoe Co., Keene Mica Products Co., Ashuelot National Bank, the Sentinel newspaper and its affiliated printing company, the Burdett Chair Co., the Keene Glue Co., and the marvelously named Impervious Package Co.
There is no business specifically identifying itself as a brewery. Perhaps Keene does not have a large enough German population to support one. Or maybe the mood in town is starting to favor prohibition, which is only about five years away from becoming national law.
Keene is not a dry city, though. It has a liquor agent, Ervin M. Bullard, who reports purchasing and selling everything from New England rum to porter to California brandy to something called “cherry rum.” And H.O. Wardwell, clerk of the Board of Police Commissioners, reports 152 arrests for drunkenness and nine for violating liquor laws in the first three quarters of the year.
Wardwell also reports one arrest for operating an auto under the influence of liquor, and five for auto speeding. Clearly, the automobile is not a major transportation option in 1914 Keene. (Progress is coming: The fire department’s portion of the report recommends the purchase of an automotive fire truck.)
Keene might not be a dry city, in the alcoholic sense, but it sure is dusty. Of the 103 miles of roads in town, only about nine-and-a-half are paved. Each home or business abutting an unpaved road is charged $2 in taxes to pay for water sprinkling to hold down the dust.
Keene Gas and Electric has 522 incandescent streetlights installed in the city, the locations of which are noted in detail in the report. One is located opposite the city’s hospital, Elliot City Hospital, then at 305 Main St. Perhaps it lit Maud Wamboldt’s way there as she prepared to give birth (if indeed she gave birth there, and not in a private home).
Also, while water and sewer lines are still being laid, quite a few are already in place, and the report goes into detail about when each one was installed. One wonders how many of them, patched and repaired over the years, are still in service.
Exactly 1,969 students aged 5 to 16 are in the city’s public schools — 1,063 girls and 906 boys. I cannot remember how long my grandma lived in Keene, but I am not sure it was even long enough to ever make it into that statistic.
The report includes each of the resolutions passed by City Council during the year, and they make for an interesting combination of the important and the mundane:
- “Sliding” (presumably sledding) is permitted from 4 to 9 p.m. on a section of upper Water Street.
- No one can rent a room to use for dancing without obtaining the permission of the mayor (one Herbert Fay in 1914) and the city aldermen. A dance permit costs $2 per year.
- The Lynn Wood Heel Co. is exempt from taxes for 10 years as a reward for moving its operations and machinery to town, with 150 jobs expected to be created.
- An extensive set of driving and traffic laws, covering both autos and horse-drawn carriages, is passed six days before my grandmother’s birth. (There is no indication that these laws supersede anything already on the books.) Fines are anywhere from $1 to $10 per offense.
- Nine hundred dollars is set aside for the construction of a concrete bridge over Beaver Brook on Church Street.
The state of New Hampshire has levied a bounty on hedgehogs, and the annual report lists a good 30 names of local men who have taken advantage of it. The most industrious, Ralph Manley, collects $1.60 for his work.
Keene has a college — then called Keene Normal School — but it’s only five years old in 1914 and doesn’t appear in the city’s annual report, except for a few brief mentions related to expenses.
Also mostly absent is World War I, freshly begun and not yet directly involving the U.S. There’s a reference to it in the library department’s report, of all places, but not much else. Keene, and the rest of the country, was still willing and able to stick to its own knitting in 1914.
Finally, William and Maude Wambolt and their two young daughters do not appear in the report, except for the Vital Statistics section mentioned in my previous post.
They didn’t owe any taxes; they didn’t serve on any city boards; they didn’t do anything else of note.
They just had a daughter, without whom you might have spent the last 10 minutes doing something more productive.