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Last weekend my husband and I took a drive through Big Valley, on Route 655 between Belleville and Reedsville in Mifflin County, along the Kishacoquillas River.
We stopped in at an antique store that’s going out of business, to be replaced with a new restaurant venture later this year.
Among other things, I found eight editions of the Belleville Times: five from the fall of 1942, a couple from 1959 and one from 1973. It was a weekly newspaper, serving a small rural population. I don’t know when publication stopped, but one online search suggests it was started in 1909.
I started reading the earliest one, Sept. 10, 1942, the other day. The front page includes articles about national issues: urging people to stock up on coal because demand was expected to outstrip supply that winter, a decrease in national highway fatalities, a “fire sale” of furnishings from the French liner Normandie, which had “toppled over on its side in a serious fire some months ago.” 16,720 beads in 40 cases sold for $2,125 dollars, along with carpeting, mattresses and pillows.
Those items were just the ones above the fold in the leftmost of the seven columns on the front page.
Local news included a list of young men accepted for service in the U.S. Army and congratulations to Henry D. Zook, who had earned a Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania College in Chemistry, and taken up a position teaching Chemistry at that same school.
A column called “Victory Varieties” published letters from a “local boy” about making his way from induction and basic training at New Cumberland, to his train trip across the country to Oakland California for aeronautics training at Boeing.
“Sunday School Executive Committee Meets,” comprised about 10 column inches of meeting proceedings.
Another item called for farmers to look around their farms for iron scrap: “The Harvest is Not Over.”
“…Well Folks, it’s needed. The supply of scrap iron is reported to be very low. A lot of it was used for war purposes and more is needed. A lot will be needed to make farm machinery, to make stoves, to build bridges and for other civilian purposes. Won’t EVERY farmer gather up his old iron and bring it to Belleville on one of the harvest days…The announced price is 50 cents per hundred pounds.”
Another treasure was “Local Civic Club To Hold First Meeting On Next Thursday Evening”
The first meeting of the Community Civic Club for the winter season will be held on Thursday evening, September 17 at the home of Mrs. James Dahl, when the following program will be presented: Roll Call (name and locate a city of South America); Program on Conservation; Radio Play: “The Yellow Rosebush,” by Mrs. F. Ray Delaney, Mrs. Donald Kester, William Maclay, Harry Fleming andRobert Russler; Poem on Morale, Mrs. C.T. Mitchell; Piano Solo “Trees”, Mrs. M.W. Helfrich…”
The inside pages are full of more news, advertisements, sports stories and so on.
I bought the newspapers because I’m curious about what local newspapers and local communities were like in the before times, and what they potentially could be like in the short- to medium-term future, if the forces of localism and decentralization and liberty manage to outmaneuver the forces of globalism and centralization and tyranny.
Having started reading, I’m curious about which died first: local civic bonds or the local newspapers that recorded them and reflected those communities and their values back to the people who comprised and lived them.
Because I’m also curious about which needs to be restored or re-created first (assuming such creative things are even possible): local civic life, or the local newspapers that are part of sustaining that civic life.
Maybe that civic life is still going on in small-town pockets across America, but without local newspapers to help facilitate the incorporation of geographical transplants, it’s only accessible to those who are born into it, leaving newcomers and outsiders adrift in too many places, after too many generations of everybody moving house too many times.