Lansing Townsfolk Greeted Year 1900 With Elation

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – January 1, 1950

New Century Hailed With High Hopes Here
Lansing Townsfolk Greeted Year 1900 With Elation, Expectancy
By Birt Darling
(Journal Staff Writer)

–Never did the townsfolk of Lansing face a new year with a sense of great things to come the way they did on that New Year’s Eve of Dec. 31, 1899. The moustache cup came out that night, and daring young belles scented their hair and girded themselves in the new straight – front French corsets – sans busks. There was a feeling of elation in the air. A new century doesn’t come very often, and this was a special new century – the century of science. The oldsters had quiet parties in their homes and retired even before the new year and the new century arrived, not so sure in their own minds that the new era of science was good for mankind.
–Already, early in the evening, some of the gay young blades were motoring up and down Washington ave., attaining the fearful rate of 20 miles per hour.
–The police department was busy trying to rescue runaway teams of horses and apprehend those youthful violators.
–The city had weathered the depression of 1893 in good style. It had only one regret: Ransom Eli Olds, the local young man who hadn’t been able to get the support he needed here for his new mass-production auto venture, had moved bag and baggage to Detroit, and it looked as though he might stay there, now that his factory in that city was beginning to turn out horseless carriages at an astounding rate.
–But they celebrated anyway, on that memorable night, despite the fact nobody was quite sure just when the new century should begin. Donsereaux “busy big store” was offering a $10 clock or overcoat to the person who could give the correct answer as to when the 20th century began – or was to begin.
–Out at the agricultural college, a little group of M.A.C. students celebrated by ripping all the advertisements of a street-car that ran between their institution and Lansing. Among those arrested was the captain of the football team, and it was greatly feared on the morning after that his expulsion might hurt M. A. C.’s gridiron chances the next autumn.
–There was some concern, as the 20th century opened, that the state might be in for a difficult time. The Lansing Journal ran an item headed “Not Clean Broke,” in which it pointed out that Michigan’s cash balance was only $361,134. It added, however, that this was about $113,500 more than a year previously. This, of course, was long before the days when the state’s debt ran many millions annually, and a national debt was unheard of.
–Many a Lansing family spent part of New Year’s Eve skating on the ice rink just east of the Michigan ave. bridge on the north side of E. Michigan ave. The operators of the rink advertised: “Don’t Drown Your Children – Send Them to the Ice Rink!”
–Baird’s Opera House, where the present Gladmer theater stands, was the scene of gala presentations, the cultural center of a community of 17,000 souls, and the ladies and gentlemen of Lansing were there that night in silk hats and fur capes.
–But the home was the center of life, much as it had been in 1847, when pioneers, many of them still living, had cut their clearings in the shadow of the new frame capitol. There were taffy-pulls and stereoptican slides among the horsehair chairs and davenports, and the tasseled curtains between hall and living-room lent a homey touch. Besides, it was Sunday night, and reading from the big, thick, leather-bound family Bible were in order. Parents who were sons and daughters of the pioneers and who knew how the Good Book had carried their fathers and mothers through desperate times, though it would be a good way to see 1900 in.
–Speculation was in the spirit of the times. A group of five local men controlled the board of the Verde Mining company of New Mexico, and had returned in time for the new century festivities, “weary but decidedly happy” over the fact that their ore was assaying as high as $114 to the ton. Some of the successors in similar ventures were to end up merely weary and decidedly broke, but the opening of America’s natural resources required such investments.
–Telephone were all the rage, having appeared on the local scene not many years before. The Lansing Telephone Exchange had just completed a “handsome new private telephone system” in the Bement factory at the foot of Ionia st., and the Michigan Telephone company was advertising, advising merchants to “put a telephone in your store – it will draw customers.”
–Waverly park and Pine lake (now Lake Lansing) provided outlets for family energies in the warmer months. Street-car lines were extended to both, and the ride was as much a thrill as the cotton-candy and carousels at the other end. Waverly could be reached either by street-car or by river steamer, and it had the advantage of being close in. It was located just north of the present-day S. Waverly bridge, on the east of Waverly rd. Tall trees and underbrush hide any vestige of the site nowadays, but it was quite a place in its heyday, and even boasted a hotel.
–The advent of the automobile was soon to bring an end to Waverly park. Folks wanted to motor farther out. Lake Lansing, conversely, became even more popular. It was just a “nice ride,” and could be reached in less than an hour if your horseless carriage was functioning well and the old “Pine lake rd.” that cut through Chandler’s marsh wasn’t too boggy.
–The marsh was a great place for hunting and fishing, and in the fall ducks and geese settled there by the tens of thousands. You could even shoot an occasional wildcat if you were on your toes. Widespread draining hadn’t been started yet, and it wasn’t until around 1915 that the area ceased to be one of the best hunting grounds in lower Michigan.
–They’d started laying underground conduits for electric wires, and cars were becoming common on city streets after R. E. Olds relocated here. Autos were getting so thick that the common council passed an ordinance regulating their use. No car was allowed to travel more than 10 miles per hour in the business section, nor more than 15 in other parts of the community. The aldermen further decreed that horns must be sounded at all points to warn pedestrians. Owners were required to register their vehicles with the city clerk. Violations would result in fines ranging from $3 to $25 – or 30 days in jail.
–A fuel famine hit the city in the fall of 1902, and Mayor James Hammell and councilmen nearly exhausted themselves trying to find some way to solve it. The board of water and electric light commissioners stepped forward and offered several carloads of coal to the commissioner of the poor, and thus was one of the city’s earlier crises met.
–The following year was the one during which Lucy Gaston Page, cited as a “prominent civic leader,” received a commendation from the city council for her “efforts to put down the cigaret evil.” The aldermen, in fact, became so enthused about the crusade to crush that Old Devil Nicotine, that they petitioned the state legislature to enact a law forbidding the manufacture or “sale of cigarets in Michigan.”
–Behind all this, was the fact that Lansing, a former prominent cigar manufacturing center, was losing out to eastern centers. The straight-laced aldermen seemed to forget too, that some of their mothers and grandmothers had smoked corn-cob pipes.
–This same year a “Law and Order league” got itself some headlines for its attacks upon the saloon. The league urged checks upon suspected acts of criminal nature coming to their attention. –Indicative of the growing restiveness of a new generation with the “Victorian” generation, was the petition some “gentlemen drivers” had brought before common council. They wanted to use Capitol ave. for a “speedway” for harness-racing during the winter months.” Councilmen took a dim view of this and solidly said “no.” The fathers of the “hot-rodders” turned away, chagrined.
–Mayor Lyons suggested in 1904 that saloons be limited, suggesting one per 1,000 population. He was opposed to granting franchises, and advocated allowing more transportation firms to operate in and through the city.
–This was the same year when councilmen adopted an anti-spit ordinance, making it unlawful to expectorate on city sidewalks, under threat of a $5 fine or five days in jail.
–The Lansing Central Women’s Christian Temperance union hit at the most vital part of the saloon business in 1906 when they asked council to prohibit free lunches in saloons. They succeeded too, but music “and other features” were allowed to continue.
–Old Dobbin still outnumbered the automobile in 1906, when new water troughs were installed in the downtown district, in one of the most notable civic improvements of that year.
–There was some indication that a civic auditorium might be a good thing, even as far back, for it is noted that, in 1906, common council chambers were being used for state conventions.
–If it didn’t have an auditorium, Lansing did have one object of which it was proud. This was the E. Michigan ave. bridge, erected in 1896-97. In a 1908 city council notation, we find the boast of officials that it was “the widest bridge in the world.”
–Boxing was an early-day target of reformers. In 1910 we find that the Lansing Ministers’ union had asked council to forbid showing of the Johnson-Jeffries prize fight, “because of the demoralizing influence on our youth.”
–Skating on the Grand River was regularly banned by police, when the ice was considered too thin, but of course, small fry skated anyway, there not being the system of municipal rinks of today.
–Slot machine raids are nothing new. There is note of them as far back as 1911. There were also raids on “gambling dens.”
–Things were looking up for the woman suffrage movement that year, when O. P. Black, city attorney ruled that women were entitled to vote in city elections. There was a slight catch, however – they had to be taxpayers. And very few of them were.
–The horse was still far from extinct in 1912, for that was the year aldermen gave the assent to horse races on River st., from E. Main st. to Grand ave., during the period from Dec. 1 to April 1 at specified hours, and ordered installation of hitching posts, six of them to the block, in the downtown area.
–We’d been separated from Europe by 3,000 miles of space and generations in time, when the kaiser sent his armies through Belgium in 1914. We didn’t know it, but things would never be the same again. City council that year urged Lansing citizens to contribute to a drive for Belgian relief.
–The liquor issue was becoming thornier all the time. A teachers’ committee representing Michigan Agricultural college sent a report to city council asking an ordinance to prohibit saloons from operating with curtains, screens, shades or room annexes, in order that the moral standards of young students might be maintained.
–Prohibition came in 1917, ending the controversy – at least on the surface. That was the year we were pretty busy thinking about other things. We were singing “Over There,” and sending our finest to a far-away front in France, and Lansing found itself in full-scale war production for the first time.
–When the shooting was all over, Lansing looked around and found it had grown. It had acquired a “know how” that made it a far more important industrial town than even before. In a word, it had entered a new era. It was becoming more important as a state capitol too, as the new state office building, started in 1919, attested.
–The “jazz age,” also referred to as the “era of wonderful nonsense” was upon us, replete with short skirts, non-curvaceous silhouettes, mannish hair “bobs,” raccoon-skin coats, hip flasks, and two cars in every garage. Several thousand grown men in night-shirts marched down Michigan ave. as the state Ku Klux Klan met in solemn “konklave” in 1925.
–There were other evidences of wackiness, but it mustn’t be supposed that all citizens were indulging in it. We were starting fresh air camps for tubercular children, improving our school system and making our city government one of the most solvent in the nation. Our industry was building was steadily and offering men higher wages and shorter hours. We were making more, we were buying more. But there was some doubt that we were any happier than we’d been on that New Year’s Eve of 1900.
–The depression of 1929 hit Lansing as it did every other city, town and crossroads hamlet in the country. But Lansing, with such diversification as industry, the state capitol payroll and Michigan State college, wasn’t hit as hard. More and more, people realized it was a good town in which to live and rear their families, even though, temporarily, they were “just getting by.”
–The return of prosperity was inevitable, but we’d hardly begun to enjoy it when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In the 23 years since we had last gone into war-production our engineers had learned a lot of techniques – techniques that made our World War I effort look like child’s play.
–On a population basis, Lansing turned out far more than its share of war material.
–Then we settled down to “normalcy,” whatever that was. Some of us forget World War II as quickly as possible. Others were aware that Lansing was now as close to Europe as London had been before that war. Where we had once had only a sense of world responsibility, and it would shape our minds and our institutions from now on.

Transcribed by Timothy Bowman – May 11, 2014.

Ransom Eli "R. E."  Olds

Ransom Eli “R. E.” Olds








the original 1950 article

the original 1950 article


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