Posted by: marthabernie | August 17, 2014

PHILLIPSBURG, MISSOURI REMINISCENCE

I wrote the following article s couple of years ago and sent it to the Lebanon Daily Record newspaper.  Lebanon is the county seat for Laclede County, Missouri, where my mother grew up.  The newspaper publishes old photos and historical pieces about the county, and my article was published a couple weeks after I submitted.  Here it is:

My mother grew up on a farm in Union Township about two miles west of Phillipsburg.  In the last few years before she died, she was nearly blind and couldn’t read for herself, but I often read entries to her from Anderson McFall’s journal which chronicled every day life in Phillipsburg between 1898 and 1914.  While my mother wasn’t born until the year after McFall died, she remembered many of the people mentioned in the journal, and she was able to clarify many entries and expressions which were puzzling to me.  We also learned some very interesting things we hadn’t known before about some of our ancestors!  The journal led us into many conversations about growing up in such a small town in the 1920’s and also much reminiscence about living on the farm and all the activities that were driven by the four seasons or annual calendar.

One of my mother’s favorite times of the year was June.  School had officially closed its doors in early May, and the annual spring cleaning was finished.  The rugs, featherbeds and pillows had been hung outside to air, and the straw mattresses were emptied and the ticking washed.  If there was painting or wallpapering to be done, it had been completed long before the weather began to get too hot.

The kitchen garden near the house was planted as soon as the frost subsided in late April or early May, and beans, cabbage, beets, radishes, cucumbers, peas, tomatoes and onions grew in abundance for the family’s daily meals.

The much larger truck garden was well under way by June and included all of the above in larger quantities, as well as potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes, all for sale at market and for canning.    The “Irish” potatoes had been in the ground since March.  Some of the previous year’s potatoes were always stored in the cellar, and by St. Patrick’s Day or before, they would begin to sprout.  They were cut into chunks with three “eyes” and planted.  It was believed that the potatoes would not produce a good crop unless they were in the ground by March 17th, even if the ground was still hard!

So by the beginning of June, the children had their daily chores, but there was a break in other work until the harvesting and thrashing began later in the summer.  They began practicing for the annual Children’s Day Program at church.  This was a major summer event because everyone usually got a new dress or suit of clothes, and a lot of effort went into learning songs and poems for the program held on a Sunday evening in mid-June.

At the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Phillipsburg,  Rev. J.A. Russell assigned the recitations or songs and scripture verses to each grade level two or three weeks in advance.  The “Beginner’s” class always sang The Sunbeam Song or Rainy Day Brigade.  Older children sang solos or duets and recited lengthy poems, and some were lucky enough to be selected for the pantomime, requiring crepe paper dresses or costumes made from old sheets.  Reverend Russell’s wife sewed dozens of these costumes over the years and coached the children during Saturday rehearsals to make sure the program was ready to be presented.

When the Sunday of the program arrived, the church was decorated with flowers cut from home gardens and with wildflowers, and the children proudly lined up for their processional to the little stage set up at the front of the building.  Each child participated in some part of the program.

The June 17, 1923 program included recitations by Jean and Georgia Minnick, Nora Rich, Mildred and John Cruts, Irene Frye, Eva Brooks, Mary Hoke, several of the Ross children, and my mother and aunt, Anna and Minnie Shank.  Their cousins, Reba and Francie McMenus, sang little songs as did Lanna Roper and Eunice Prosser.  Tracy McFarland played a piano duet with Freeda Hough and also accompanied the other children when they sang.  The flag was presented in a flag drill by the boys, and the program ended with a pantomime titled, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

Once the Children’s Day Program was over, it was just a few short weeks until the 4th of July.  Celebrations usually started a day or two early on the farm with lemonade being made in stone jars, five and ten gallons at a time, and ice was brought in from town so that homemade ice cream could be churned the day before.

Chores were also done ahead of time, and on the morning of the 4th there was little to do but the milking.  The family went to the town picnic in Phillipsburg in their wagon, arriving close to midday.  Each child in the Shank family received 25 cents from their father, and another 50 cents each from their Grandfather Shank.  Nearly everything available for sale at the picnic sold for a nickel, so it was possible to buy lunch, toys, candy, play games for prizes and still have money left over to buy some simple fireworks.  There were also foot and sack races, and each year the town’s “prettiest baby” won a new pair of shoes!

Local merchants rented space at the picnic for a couple of dollars and set up their stands.  One early Phillipsburg merchant was E.P. “Press” McMenus, my mother’s uncle.  Until his death in 1921, he always had a stand at the Phillipsburg Picnic, selling sausages, meat and fish sandwiches, lemonade, watermelon and ice cream.  His son, Warren McMenus, later followed in the family tradition by opening a drug store in Phillipsburg and then setting up his own concession stand at local, county and state fairs and picnics.

My mother’s family always returned home before dark on the 4th of July in order to do the evening milking, though some of the older kids would go back to town after dark to see the fireworks. It wasn’t a big fireworks show like we expect today but just a collection of smaller fireworks set off mostly by the young people. The younger children really didn’t mind that they had to stay at home in the evening because they got to enjoy more homemade ice cream and set off their own firecrackers and fireworks purchased earlier in the day.

The Phillipsburg town picnic was held in an open area near the Methodist Church for many years before moving out to the Route 66/Conway road near the Twin Oaks gas station and restaurant in the 1930’s.  In later years, a Ferris wheel and other, more modern carnival rides were brought in for the day.

My mother always said that the rest of the summer went by quickly.  Though there was a lot of canning and harvesting work to be done in August, those chores were often punctuated with swimming in one of the ponds and fishing.  One summer the fish were so plentiful that over 150 bass were caught in one of the Shank farm ponds, using only cane poles with string and hook attached.

In a recent, belated bout of spring cleaning, I came across our copy of the Anderson McFall Journal, and it brought back wonderful memories of my mother and all the conversations that followed after we read his daily entries.  I often wonder if Anderson McFall had any idea how far and wide his simple journal would travel and how much pleasant reminiscence it would bring.


Responses

  1. My great-grandmother was Samantha Olive Davis Harrill who lived in Phillipsburg. Looking for information about her mother, I believe was Rebecca Builderback Davis and/or other relatives.

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    • My McMenus family married into the Bilderback and Harrill families. No information on Rebecca, but I have Harrill cousins who may know.

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      • Any info would be appreciated. Would love to see some vintage pics when the Berg had a downtown-and the McMenus store(s) if anyone has them.

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      • I have posted a photo earlier of the railroad depot, and the EP McMenus store (the concrete building on the other side of the railroad tracks, not the WG McMenus store which still stands today) … I have photos of the town when it was thriving (hotel and many stores) and will post them when I come across them. Come back and check now and then. In the meantime, the archives are full of Phillipsburg stuff. The MOLACLED@rootsweb.com list also probably still has my posting from 10 to 12 years ago with excerpts from the McFall Journals.

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      • Thank you so much!

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  2. Which Minnie moved to Hayward, California? Was it Minnie Shank?

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    • Minnie Shank moved to California and married Dan Greninger. They lived for decades in San Leandro, CA.

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  3. My great aunt is Mary Hoke, one of the children mentioned in the program. Mary’s second husband (she lost her first husband and two children in a house fire) was Neil Burd. Neil’s brother, Sylvester, is my grandfather. My grandpa is still alive at 98 years old. Neil died in 1999 and Mary in 2004 (I think). I was raised on a farm outside Phillipsburg and heard many, many stories about the town when it was bustling as my grandparents were growing up. My mother in the last class of 8th graders who graduated from Phillipsburg school. Students were then transported to Conway. Both my grandparents are graduates of PHS. I’ve known many descendants of the McMe
    nus family through the years.

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    • THanks for getting in touch. My mother kept in contact with Neil and Mary until she died in 1999. They lived west of the town near the SHanks, I think, and went to the Union School.I am packing to move at the end of December but will be posting more Phillipsburg information soon. Come back and take a look. And if you have anything you would like to share, you can contact me at: eireann626@gmail.com. Thanks!

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