Friday, October 14, 2011

The Coming of the Telegraph to Arkansas, by Edward C. Newton, 1919

[Edward C. Newton was born May 4, 1844, probably at New Madrid, Missouri. He died at Little Rock, Arkansas January 11, 1923. His brothers were also telegraphers, Jeremiah L. Newton (1846 - 1917) pounding the brass at Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and Charles Newton (1853 - 1901) at Frankfort, Kentucky. GMN]

The Coming of the Telegraph to Arkansas

by Edward C. Newton (from The Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, November 20, 1919)

The most rapid means of communication, previous to the year 1860, between Little Rock and the outside world was by stage coaches and stern wheel steamboats plying between Little Rock and Memphis, the former having the advantage in making a little faster time between these points. This stage line was operated by the firm of Hanger, Rapley & Gaines, and was equipped with large six-horse coaches which arrived and departed daily on a 24-hour schedule, which schedule, however, depended on the condition of the roads, rivers, and bayous. The stage coaches carried the United States mail and also as many passengers as could be accommodated, that is, nine on the three seats inside and two with the driver outside.

But in 1859 H. A. Montgomery of Memphis came to Little Rock and proceeded to organize the Arkansas Telegraph Company for the purpose of building a telegraph line between Little Rock and Memphis, with Chas. P. Bertrand president, and James A. Henry secretary, both of Little Rock, and H. A. Montgomery superintendent. Some stock in this company was placed locally, but Mr. Montgomery retained a majority.

The railroad between Little Rock and Memphis was projected, but not constructed, and the Arkansas Telegraph Company had to find a way for its lines through the primeval forests and swamps, which, in many instances, offered many obstacles not easily overcome. But the promoter was a forceful man of indefatigable energy, and as soon as it was possible to get the wire and material distributed by wagons along the route through the wilderness he proceeded with the work in the then primitive way of building telegraph lines. Brackets, designed to carry square glass insulators, were nailed to trees, and where there were no trees available, post-oak and cypress poles were used. The wire was of plain iron (not galvanized as now) of No. 9 gauge, and was placed in an open slot on receptacles in the top of the square glass insulator, which arrangement allowed it to slide back and forth through the insulator to prevent breakage of the wire by the swaying of the trees in high winds and storms.

The most difficult part of the route was through the forty miles of low country between the St. Francis river and Memphis. In some places the region was at that time almost impenetrable, and it was, besides, the habitat of every wild animal and reptile indigenous to Arkansas. I have heard Mr. Montgomery tell of his adventures in building the telegraph line in this region, which were both thrilling and laughable.

The wire, however, was finally erected and completed in the year 1860 with offices at Little Rock, Brownsville, Des Arc, Clarendon, Madison and Memphis. The office at Little Rock was located on the second floor of an old brick building on the northeast corner of East Markham and Scott streets, which had formerly been the residence of W. E. Woodruff, founder of the Gazette.

It was now demonstrated that a steamboat could announce its departure on the very day of its leaving Memphis, and orders for merchandise could be placed by telegraph for shipment by that boat and also a
telegram might be sent to New York and an answer received the same day. Furthermore, a telegraph news report, of perhaps 200 words, was appearing in the Gazette, which was considered both remarkable and very enterprising on the part of the paper.

The building of this telegraph line was not only and event in the history of Arkansas, but greatly appreciated by the people, especially just at the inception of the Civil War.

The second telegraph line was built between Little Rock and Pine Bluff in1861 by the Pine Bluff Telegraph Co., which was organized at Pine Bluff by Snow & Ketchum, and which also had its office at Little Rock in the old Woodruff Building. David O. Dodd, the young Confederate martyr, who had learned the rudiments of telegraphy, was the operator on that line in 1862 for a brief period. His knowledge of the telegraph alphabet proved his undoing, for he used it as a code in an attempt to conceal the information about the Federal forces he had obtained on a later visit to Little Rock, resulting in his capture and execution as a spy in 1864. This unfortunate boy, modest and unassuming in his manner and appearance, showed the qualities of a hero at his trial when, on an offer of clemency, he refused, even to the last minute on the scaffold, to disclose the name of the person who furnished the important military information found in his possession.

When the Confederate troops evacuated Little Rock in September, 1863, the Arkansas Telegraph Company, with which I was then associated, retreated also, saving as much wire and material as possible for the purpose of extending its line from Arkdelphia via Camden to Shreveport. The United States Military Telegraph controlled the wires running out of Little Rock during the occupation of the city by the Federal forces, which wires were returned to the companies six months after the close of the Civil War.

H. A. Montgomery, the pioneer of the telegraph in Arkansas, disposed of his telegraph interests to a larger company soon after the war. He became a prominent and wealthy citizen of Memphis. The celebrated Montgomery Park was named for him. He died in that city and a life-like marble statue of heroic size was erected to his memory at his tomb, in Elmwood cemetery.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Christmas, Nineteen Fifteen, by Grace Cornell Newton. 1978

The first of which I have a fairly good memory was Christmas, 1915. All our Christmases were beautiful. The tree in all its majesty dominated the small apartment. The mingled smell of pine and wax, the glittering tinsel, the glass ornaments and balls, cornucopias filled with a kind of candy that seemed to belong to Christmas, the little candles in their spring holders with their tiny flickering lights -- all the greens and reds and golds almost hiding the branches right on down to the floor. The tree itself was Christmas. It appeared miraculously, not the day after Thanksgiving, but on Christmas morning. It never failed to overwhelm me when I awakened to see all the little candles lighted in the dark of early morning.

Even though I somehow realized that Mamma and Daddy were the ones who arose early and lit the candles with a big "kitchen match," Christmas was a miracle no matter that its trappings were wrought by human hands. It was not just THINGS, but a FEELING.

This was the Christmas that we kids all received play costumes, exactly the ones we each had "ordered." Sister [Elizabeth] wanted an Indian squaw dress, so that's what was in the box under the tree for her. The big brother [Willie] wanted to be a cowboy, so a cowboy suit was there for him. The little brother [Jerry] was more inclined to follow his sister's ideas, so he asked for and got a little Indian suit. All my hopes rested on being a policeman, and a very convincing one I became that Christmas morning. My outfit consisted of a navyblue suit with bras buttons on the coat and white piping on the mandarin-type collar and the cuffs, plus white stripes down the pant legs. Finally I wore a navy cap with a hard shiny black visor, and I carried a "billy club." Beaumont's finest would have envied me. I was even "mounted," on a tricycle. But, alas, my mount was soon stolen by that little Indian and I was forced to patrol my beat on foot.

I remember that the two big kids had skates, and many a crisp winter's evening just before dark I would stand by the side of the house beneath the kitchen window and dejectedly watch the skaters zoom down Calder Avenue with the little Indian in hot pursuit on my tricycle.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Fishing Trip and Nineteen Fifteen Hurricane, by Grace Cornell Newton

That September Saturday dawned clear and sunny. We had been invited to visit friends on their house-boat moored on the Beaumont side of the Neches River. Mrs. Borgerson, who had been Mamma's nurse when I was born, lived there with her husband and grown son and daughter.

In our go-to-town clothes, we walked straight down Calder to where it met Broadway, and then past Main to the Neches River. There was no free-way then, and the pine tree forest was still primitive and regal.

After arriving, we kids quickly took off our shoes and gathered on the wide porch or deck, from which we cast our string lines baited with pieces of bacon. I caught a crab and threw it back in. That was my first and only venture as an angler.

Then we got into the rowboat, with the picnic basket, and went to the opposite bank to have lunch under the trees. It took two trips to get us all across the river, and while the rest of the party was still in the boat, the sky grew leaden with "threatening" clouds and a wind was rising. The adults cast analytical glances at the sky and decided bad weather was brewing. So we rowed back to the house-boat and hurriedly ate our lunch in the big breezy kitchen. And soon took our departure.

We made it back to the apartment just ahead of the storm, about 1:30 P.M. Daddy called frantically to tell Mamma not to come to town to the movie as a severe storm warning was out. Of course, he wa unaware that we had been to the far reaches of Jefferson County only a short time earlier.

We stood at the "long" (floor-length) window excitedly watching the progress of the storm. Mr. and Mrs. Johnston, laughing like two kids and enjoying the strong breeze, stayed out on the porch until gusts of wind sent the wicker furniture skipping down the steps and blowing about the front yard.

Jerry [who would have been four years-old] says he remembers standing at the back door and watching the big rain drops plopping into the already flooded yard.

[Somewhere along the way, Grace's memories of this storm became mixed-up. As she was only six-years old at the time, she may have, over time, merged one memory into another. The only hurricane in September of 1915 made landfall on Wednesday the 29th, near New Orleans, Louisiana as a strong Category 3 hurricane. This storm would have been too far away to affect Beaumont very much, I think.

I suspect she was actually remembering the Galveston Hurricane of 1915, which made landfall just to the southwest of Galveston early in the day on Tuesday, August 17. Similar in strength to the 1900 Hurricane, the 1915 Galveston Hurricane was a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph. While property damage was substantial, there were only eleven deaths in Galveston, due to the recently completed seawall.]