Friday, September 18, 2009

Invincible in 1909

As the first decade of the promising 20th Century moved toward its end, American felt strong and proud of their country and its accomplishments.
Having weathered the Spanish-American War, the average American felt that growth in industry and family income would make the U.S. the strongest power in the world. America emerged as a World power. It had been called an age of innocence, adventure and invention. People were travelling across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe on luxury liners, and railroads provided the opportunity for many Americans to visit family members in other states.
Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt continued to captivate the American people and promote his strong business, strong military and enthusiastic conservation programs. The nation followed the adventures of this President. The ‘teddy’ bear, named for President Roosevelt became widely popular throughout the country.
Teddy’s successor elected in November 1908 would quickly be known for his size. William Howard Taft became the 37th President of the U.S. on March 4, 1909. Taft was a large man, weighing well over 300 pounds.
Although he was widely known as an intellectual and policy-oriented statesman, he is often mentioned as the man who traveled with his own bathtub. Taft’s tub, which was large enough for four average-sized men, was featured in newspaper photographs and articles throughout the country. President Taft was amused with the obsession with his tub and used the humor to further his policies while in office, although he was not successfully elected to a second term. His keen sense of policy design and interpretation of the American Constitution made Taft the only President who also served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the local front, Robertson county was sending their native son, Joseph Wellington Byrns, to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jo Byrns was born near Cedar Hill in 1867. He was a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and represented Robertson county in the State Legislature before his election to Washington. He replaced the flamboyant, but popular John Wesley Gaines in Washington.
Byrns would remain a well-respected leader, ultimately serving as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Many local shoppers traveled by train to Nashville to shop in the large department stores. A newspaper advertisement of Castner-Knott in Nashville reminded customers that ‘all shoppers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays who presented a railway ticket for the day would be reimbursed for their travel.” Many people also worked in Nashville and depended on the early and late local for their transportation to work. Mail was delivered by railroad mail cars. Mail clerks sorted the mail between stops.
Overnight travel by trail was still an expensive option, but those passengers were treated to a luxurious dinner and superb service.
Tobacco farmers in this region were thrilled that Felix G. Ewing and other representatives of the Planters Protective Association signed an agreement of sale with the Imperial Buyers to purchase Association tobacco. The agreement and rising tobacco prices would soon bring an end to the Black Patch War and the Night Riders.
Although Ewing’s efforts would receive a boost as he was asked to speak at the State Democratic Party Convention, his political ambitions would never be realized. He had angered many individuals who disagree with the Association. Moses Wall, who refused to join the Association and called Ewing an anarchist, challenged him to a duel in Keysburg. Ewing’s brother-in-law, Joseph Washington, the former Congressman, became involved in a public debate with Ewing over roads in Robertson county. Washington’s public support and influential friends would find Ewing without the backing for a political race.
The summer of 1909 brought the Aero Club of America’s great national hot-air balloon race which began in Indianapolis to Robertson county. The Hoosier with Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin as pilot and Charles Walsh, landed at Greenbrier, Tenn. One of those who had the pleasure of seeing the balloon soon after it landed near Greenbrier, and talking to its occupants, was James A. Althauser of the Bransford Realty Co. He gives an interesting account of the appearance of the balloon and of the statements made by the two aeronauts. [James A. Althauser was the son of William and Mary F. Swift Althauser.]
“The balloon came down in Butler Allen’s field about three miles from Greenbrier,” says Mr. Althauser, “and was hauled in to town in wagons. Its appearance created much interest and excitement there and a good-sized crowd gathered. [J. Butler Allen and wife, Clay, lived on Gideon Road.] Capt. Baldwin and Mr. Walsh seemed little the worse for wear. They said they were close enough to talk to people on the ground and until they landed they did not know in what state they were. Frequently, when they would ask where they were, people would yell back ‘come down and take breakfast with us’ or some such pleasantry.”
They told the crowd they would have kept on and could have gone further if they had not struck a sapling and become entangled in it. Under the rules this barred them from proceeding further. The balloon and its occupants with their balloon neatly folded, boarded the L & N Passenger train at 8:16 headed for New York.
America remained a regional country despite the extensive railroad network, hot-air ballooning and introduction of the automobile. Veterans of the Civil War gathered regularly for battlefield reunions and to dedicate monuments to fallen comrades.
Industrial changes and technological advances made Americans contemplate how far man could go in the 20th Century. Locally, sentiments against the whiskey industry were growing. In 1870, Charles Nelson, a native of Mecklenburg, Germany, who had come to Nashville from Cincinnati, bought the Greenbrier distillery to supply his wholesale grocery business in Nashville (at that time grocers sold whiskey). The whiskey was manufactured in Robertson County, but it was both bottled under the Greenbrier label and distributed from his Nashville warehouse on Second Avenue North. When the distillery was founded by Charles Palmer of Springfield, the capacity was a modest five gallons a day. At the peak of production, the distillery employed a work force of fifteen to twenty-five men. According to Goodspeed’s History, in 1885 the Greenbrier Distillery manufactured 8,000 barrels of whiskey or a little less than 380,000 gallons a year, and paid annual taxes of over $341,000.
By 1894, Nelson’s widow, Louisa, was running the distillery but Tennessee was gradually becoming a dry state. In 1903, the Four Mile Law (enacted in 1877) closed the saloons of Springfield. State-wide prohibition of the manufacture of whiskey was enacted in 1909 and Nelson’s Greenbrier distillery went out of business, along with all other distillers in Robertson county.
Learning about the historical events in your area, and understanding how they might have impacted your ancestor is part of keeping the story alive.

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