Matamoras Minute: Winter of 1912

Continuing with the winter activity of the early years, note should be made of the welcomed cold temperatures in order for ice to form. This was true because it would be packed in sawdust for use in the summer since electricity for refrigeration was not widespread.

This lack of electricity and the ensuing darkness when evenings and nights are long during the season led to “the old lamplighter” of years ago. Pictures abound of gas lights on Matamoras streets. Of course they did not burn during the daylight hours. So someone had to walk the streets to both light and extinguish the flame. Carrying his short ladder and a long taper the lamplighter would proceed from corner to corner along all the streets of town. Children often followed him to see the glow arise in the glass casing. One lamplighter for many years was J.B. Johnson who also served as town marshall.

The winter of 1912 goes down as one of the worst remembered with below zero temperatures occurring much too frequently throughout the season. At times the temperatures were from 15 to 20 degrees below zero with a record of 28 degrees below. But there was one interesting diversion to keep minds from the frigid conditions. That was the campaign to decide if Matamoras would be “Wet or Dry.” This of course was in reference to the availability of liquor.

The decision was to be made in January. In Grandview Township a group was organized and dubbed itself the “Dry Quartet.” They attended churches and club meetings to sing temperance songs. Members were Arlye Stahl Miracle, Mrs. E.W. Cline, Donald Whetstone, and Mrs. E.H. Meyer. Several speakers trudged through the bitter cold as well. This group had among them Marie Harrington Garrett, Wanda Kirkbride, Iva Keeler, Flora Kette, and Harry Smith. Those in favor of alcohol formed their own organization and offered a rousing counter campaign.

The local paper, The Matamoras Enterprise, reported on Jan. 18, 1912, “To show his appreciation… Dr. J.H. Martin gave (prominent members of the dry campaign) a jolly sleigh ride on Tuesday evening. From the looks of the sled he seemed to be at war with the cold, and all enjoyed hugely the ride behind the doctor’s splendid horse.”

In the outcome Matamoras voted 107 dry, 53 wet. Grandview Township voted 216 dry, 121 wet. However, county-wide the wets won by 20 votes.

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.


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