The 'portable' Edison phonograph with its large horn, carrying case, and cylinder records, is on display in the parlor at the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum on West Courtland Street.
The 'portable' Edison phonograph with its large horn, carrying case, and cylinder records, is on display in the parlor at the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum on West Courtland Street.
Racine was a bustling business community in 1911.

Forty-some years ago, the Spring Valley Historical Society became embroiled in a fascinating episode in local history. Jerry Cleveland was out cross-country skiing in the boondocks north of Hamilton, several miles north of town, when he came upon an abandoned farmstead. To make a long story short, he recognized it as the girlhood home of a distant relative, Anna Neill, who was a patient at the local nursing home, along with her husband, Bill Hare.

While the couple was under nursing care, thieves broke in, stole artifacts of value, and trashed the rest, leaving the house unlivable. Anna gave the society permission to rescue anything of value, and indeed "we" did.

Dr. Matson, wife Marilyn, daughter Andrea, and I dressed warmly in snowmobile suits in below zero weather, and salvaged box after box of photos, papers, paintings, and household goods. All these were carted to the Pioneer Home Museum, where they were sorted and cleaned during the winter, and many pieces are now displayed at the Methodist Church Museum. Several programs and slide shows resulted from this event, and among the recovered treasures is the following item.

One hundred years ago, well to be exact - 102 years ago in 1911 - the Peoples Telephone Co. of Chatfield issued its tiny directory for its Racine branch. The directory was sponsored, as usual, by many businesses, not only in Racine, but Grand Meadow and Chatfield as well. Perhaps the Record News Stand of Grand Meadow was also the printer of the 3 1/2" x 5" directory. Their full-page ad stated they were "School Supplies Headquarters." One could shop there for tablets, pencils, inks, erasers and chalk, composition and drawing papers. They featured schoolbooks, slates, copybooks, and proclaimed, "We cater to supplying districts with text books."

Chatfield was the home of Security Mutual Fire Ins. Co., "the largest, most progressive and successful fire insurance company in the West." They had over $12 million of business in force; premiums of $200,000; losses paid $307,781; and dividends paid of $72,436. "The company that not only protects its members in case of loss but returns to them their share of the profits." If you were not insured with them, you were urged to call, write or phone number 307. Officers were F.L. Teska, S.E. Bibbens, C.L. Thurber, and A.C. Ober.

Just down the street was a competitor: Minn. Fire Ins. Co. In bold print: "YOUR SUCCESS will be to a greater or lesser extent be enhanced by the success of local business institutions or industries in or near Chatfield. This being the case, it is to your interest to patronize and accept every opportunity to boost for Chatfield industries. Are you for or 'agin' your interests? Phone 310."

The Record News Stand again used a full page to promote their Edison Phonograph and records. Lower in cost was the Gem Machine - $15 cash or $5 now and $2.50 per month until paid. Classier model: The Fireside Machine - $22 or $27, according to style of horn; $7.50 down and balance $3 per month. Two-minute records were 35 cents; four-minute records 50 cents. "To the lovers of good music, a phonograph is almost indispensable. It brings the best music right to your home."

"For news of Racine and neighborhood, read the Grand Meadow Record. $1 for 52 weeks."

At Racine, a full-page ad featured the Jas. A. Smith Lumber Co., which operated a line of 45 retail yards, including Spring Valley. The Racine manager was my great-uncle, O.R. Steffens. Available: lumber, lath, shingles, cement, sash, drain tile, ladders, sewer pipes "and everything found in a first class lumberyard." Also: "Hard & Soft Coal. Priced Right."

The Racine State Bank had capital of $15,000 with interest paid on deposits. Officers: S. Utzinger, C. Schwarz, R.W. Chadwick; Directors: S.J. Sanborn, C.H. Steffens (my uncle Charlie), J.F. Ballinger, and J.G. Schroeder. The Hardware Store was operated by Chris Schwarz & Bro., offering "all kinds of Hardware, Tinware, Cutlery, etc., Farm Pumps, Salt, All Kinds of Machine Oils. Repairing a Specialty."

A.F. Stiles was a dealer in "drugs, medicines, stationery, notions, and school supplies; candies, nuts and cigars, a full line of wallpaper."

"Prescriptions carefully compounded. Ice cream in season."

"A Good Place" to buy groceries and provisions was at G.N. Severson's: candies, fruits, nuts, flour, tobacco and cigars, canned goods, breakfast foods. Ice cream and soft drinks in season."

Mr. F.E. Miland ran the "Big Store - Little Prices" with "Dry goods, clothing, hats and caps, shoes, crockery, glassware, groceries. Produce the same as cash, and we pay the highest market price. Dollars go further here. They sure do."

The M.E. (Methodist Episcopal) Church held services every Sunday at 10:30 and Sunday school at noon. The Evangelical Church, the same. Forty-five years later it was at the M.E. Church where my sisters and I were confirmed, and I babysat for the other pastor, the Rev. Miller's, kids.

Three pages spelled out important notices to subscribers: "Operator is forbidden to visit; do not engage them in conversation. Do not leave the phone off the hook as it interferes with the signal system. Answer promptly when you are called and answer your OWN call only; do not listen to others' conversations; all are requested to give up the line for emergency calls; do not use the line for more than three minutes; profane or obscene language over the wire will cause removal of the telephone; messages may be sent "collect" provided the request is made before the call, and the party being called guarantees the charges."

This is a far cry from our iPhones or other hand-held devices, right? It's ancient history, but fun to know.