Fire, revivals, a cyclone: the summer of 1915 was one to remember

An ad encouraging residents to ride the Santa Fe and “Beat the Heat” that ran in the Richmond News during the summer of 1915. (File photo)

An ad encouraging residents to ride the Santa Fe and “Beat the Heat” that ran in the Richmond News during the summer of 1915. (File photo)

By Linda Emley

A few years ago, I was working on a story about the Woodson Institute, and after reading the Richmond Conservator for four hours, I realized the summer of 1915 was a summer like no other. It’s interesting to look back 100 years ago and see what was going on in our local world and the bigger picture in the world around us.

Many things happened in 1915. Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles were born. Frank James and Booker T. Washington died. Construction began on the Lincoln Memorial. Congress established Rocky Mountain National Park but rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote. It would be another five years before women hit the polls. Poncho Villa was fighting in the Mexican Revolution while WWI was raging in Europe. A German U-boat sank the Lusitania. An earthquake hit Italy killing more than 29,000 people. Babe Ruth hit his first career home run, and Albert Einstein published the theory of relativity. I’m not really sure what the theory of relativity is, but it was a big deal.

This is the story of the summer of 1915.The world was changing and so was Richmond.

May 8: The summer started off with a fire that destroyed the Davis Meat Market. It was located near the Santa Fe Depot on West Lexington Street, so at least the buildings around the square were spared from flames this time.

May 9: Some of the local churches recognized mothers at their Sunday service. The newspaper read, “It will be only a few years until Mother’s Day will be looked forward to with the same degree of interest and love as any of the annual observances of our Christian people.” We all know this prophecy came true.

May 10: George Kiesling left for Utah on his motorcycle. He expected to be in Salt Lake City before the close of the week. His plan was to spend some time in the West visiting various points before returning home. This was on the front page of the paper because it was a big adventure in 1915. I wonder if George ever made it back.

May 16: The RHS Commencement sermon was held at the Farris Theatre.

May 20: Judge Divelbiss delivered the address to a law school in Jefferson City. I am sure these future lawyers were shocked when they heard the news four years later that the Judge had been fatally stabbed in his own courthouse.

May 30: Edith Mayes, the 31-year-old wife of Jewell Mayes, died in the middle of the night from a heart condition. Jewell was owner of the Richmond Missourian and wrote many wonderful stories before he died in 1944. I wonder if he would have devoted as much time to his newspaper if his wife had lived longer.

The Richmond School board had meetings all summer long. The board was dividing Richmond into three school wards and had to select the locations of the new buildings.

May wrapped up with a story about how Richmond was free from saloon money. Not a single dollar came from saloons because the good people of Ray County were wise enough to vote them out of the county in 1908.

June 3: The Woodson Institute ended the school year uncertain if it would be open next fall.

June 24: A cyclone hit Ray County. Two people died and eight were injured.

July 1: Dr. Forsythe closed his Tabernacle Meeting. There were more than 300 conversions as a result of this six-week revival labeled, The Sawdust Trail. The Sawdust Trail was a term popularized by Billy Sunday, who was the Billy Graham of 1915. Sunday wanted his revivals to be quiet, so the floors were covered with sawdust to dampen the noise of shuffling feet when people went forward during his revivals. It became known as “hitting the sawdust trail.” Forsythe borrowed the idea from a fellow preacher.

July 4: It was the coldest 4th of July on record. “Weather was like fall time of the year Sunday and a fire was not to be shunned.”

July 4: John W. Shotwell turned 87. One of our oldest citizens observed another birthday. It would be his last birthday. He died Dec 26, 1915, of old age accelerated by a broken hip, which was caused by a fall on the sidewalk. What a way for one of Richmond’s finest lawyers to go.

July 4: The Sharp Theater on West Main Street had a fundraiser for the victims of the cyclone that hit in May. All proceeds from two shows were donated.

July 8: The Commercial Club was formed to try and save the Woodson Institute from closing.

July 10: Jabez Shotwell, younger brother of John W. Shotwell died in Odessa.

July 15: The headlines read, “New Channel Cut By the River at Camden Bend.”

Aug. 12: Sixty-year-old Orlando Bullock was killed by lighting while working on his farm. The same newspaper said, “Wabash Train killed unknown man Friday.” The accident happened between the Camden and Lexington junction. I think at this point I would have considered leaving town for the rest of the summer.

There were some good things that happened. The Richmond Conservator was printing a chapter a week from the book, Tarzan of the Apes. There was a great sketch of Tarzan hanging from a tree that appeared with each chapter. I am sure many children looked forward to this each week. There was a Big Market Saturday every week where the local merchants offered Saturday-only specials. The Chautauqua came to town Aug. 26 and entertained everyone for a fun-filled week.

One of the biggest things happening around town was the new courthouse, which was almost finished. The new clock chimes could be heard more than three miles away. On July 8, The Missourian mentioned a few of the details. The County Court News mentioned, “Standard Steel Fixture Co., awarded contract for furnishing furniture and fixtures for the new courthouse at $12,391.23, to be completed by October 1st. Gross Chandelier Co., for light fixtures for new courthouse, $2,350. Minter, Williams & Minter, hardware for new courthouse, $215. G. H. Schanbacher, painting and decorating new courthouse, $1,000.”

Another article in the same Missourian newspaper was, “Mr. L. Jay Bohanan, proprietor of the paint and paper store in the Dickerson building on East Main Street, was the lucky bidder on the bronze work in Ray County’s new $100,000 courthouse. The job has a total of 8,000 square feet and in order that this part of the interior work, will compare with the marble settlers, etc., it must be a first-class one in every respect.

“This is the kind of work that Mr. Bohanan has established his reputation upon, and folks may rest assured that the courthouse contract has been placed in competent hands, and that the job will be completed promptly.” The courthouse was dedicated later in the year on Nov. 20.

The hitch racks around the square were taken down the summer of 1915. Move over horses, the automobile was king of the road now.

The summer of 1915 ended when school started at Richmond Public Schools Sept. 6. Labor Day was a national holiday, but it was not considered the last weekend of summer like it is today. It was a day to celebrate America’s labor unions. Everyone hung around town Labor Day weekend, because “The Lake” was still just farmland.

The next time you think you are having a boring summer, just think about Richmond in 1915. It might make you feel better to know sometimes a nice quiet summer is as good as it gets.

We’re planning a 100th Anniversary celebration for our courthouse to be held Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. It’s going to be a wonderful party that we hope everyone will enjoy and talk about for many years to come. Please mark your calendar now.  More details about it will be shared in a later story.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login