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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Microfilm Of 1889 Article Provides Insights To Early Lebanon

Dallas Bogan on 17 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

While scanning through the microfilm at the Historical Society in Lebanon, this writer came across a very interesting article concerning early Lebanon. It was a letter written in three different segments of The Western Star by John C. Skinner, dated October 31, 1889. Skinner's residence at the time was Richmond, Indiana.
He tells of his remembrance of Lebanon in the year 1824 and a few years thereafter. After reading this article, I found quite a few facts that I had not read before. The writer will now extract portions of his letter.
Mr. Skinner recalls the early days in regards to the features and outlines of the buildings as well as the civil and moral structure of the town.
One of his first recollections was the relationship with "THE WESTERN STAR" and the town. He speaks very highly of John McLean, the founder of the Star.
In 1824 Broadway Street's extension was no farther than to South Street, or the east branch of Turtlecreek.
The Cincinnati road (U.S. 42) ran in and out of Lebanon on the Shakertown road (Rt. 63). It turned southwest and crossed Turtlecreek on its old bed near the border of Shakertown road, just a short distance west of the Presbyterian graveyard. The road ran through the lands of Henry Taylor, who ran a gristmill on Turtlecreek at this point. It then traveled through the land of Esquire Benham, passing the old Eddy tavern.
Floraville, at that time, was all woods west of the present extension of Broadway, the only residence in the present boundary being Dr. Dyche's dwelling.
Mr. Skinner states: "The Dayton road [Rt. 48] ran in and out of Lebanon at the point where the late break in the reservoir occurred, and ran along the creek, entering Broadway at the present site of the late Nelson & Marlatt grist mill.
The bed of the old reservoir and all the adjacent land was covered with a forest of beech and sugar trees, it was called 'Little Jersey,' and was a romantic and pleasant rambling place."
Mr. Skinner believed that Matthias Corwin, father of Thomas Corwin, owned this land at that time, the area being the favorite resort or studio of young Thomas while pursuing his law career.
The southeast borderline of these woods stretched very closely to the Presbyterian Church, and also covered the site of the encampment of the soldiers preparing for the War of 1812.
He makes notice of the atrocious roads. He asserts that the roads, in bad weather, which includes all the seasons, were "one bad mud hole, reaching the whole distance of travel, and the streets of Lebanon were minus any gravel or grading, and the pavements considerably minus of brick and stone."
Mention is made of the darkness of the night in Lebanon, and the method for lighting the way was if those who were able would purchase a tin lantern and equip it with a tallow candle, tilting the lantern so that the light could be emitted through the holes that were pierced in the sides.
The part of the town lying west of the north branch of Turtlecreek, and between Main Street and the Franklin Road (Rt. 123), was virtually absent of buildings.
The only building of subsistence in this area was the old Baptist Church, which stood on the northwest corner of the old graveyard. The balance of the land was an open tract, which was generally used for horse racing, animal shows, general musters, and Fourth of July celebrations. The entire extension of Broadway Street contained only seventeen brick buildings. The remainder of the buildings was all one and two story frames. The main business center, in 1824, was between Main and Mulberry Streets. The total length of Mulberry Street from Broadway west and east including both sides contained only six brick buildings, the rest being small frames.
Mechanic Street contained more vacant lots than buildings, there being a total of five brick buildings and the rest scattered frames along with two log structures.
There were no grocery stores in Lebanon at that time; the dry goods stores kept and distributed all the grocery goods.
Hanging a "shingle" out with the word "GROCERY" painted on it was misleading to the fact that all that was on hand was a little tea and coffee, a little salt and tar, with a large selection of tobacco and cigars and raw tobacco snuff.
These facilities were in reality a disguise for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Mr. Skinner remembered that the first "true" grocery store was located on Mulberry Street and was under the firm name of James B. Hayes and John E. Dey, the time being sometime in the 30's.
There was a black man in Lebanon who was quite a businessman. His name was Figara and was part French. He had a disease called phthisis, which was apparently a lung affliction that sometimes affected his breathing.
He, at this time, was the only barber in Lebanon. His location of business was in several areas of the town, strictly for the convenience of his customers.
A day was set aside for each location in which he could render his service. Blacking boots and shoes was another of his talents. His identifying mark was that he carried a blue basket in which all his paraphernalia was carried.
Each day he would visit his specified station with all the pride of a professor. He charged a fipanabit (?) for shaving, and for cutting hair, the latter in regards to the thickness. A charge by the clip was levied for the hairs hanging around a bald head. He died of phthisis and was buried somewhere in the vicinity of Lebanon.
The days of intemperance were prevalent in the early days of Lebanon. Mr. Skinner describes the overindulgence of alcohol products as one of ruination to the common households. He says that "whiskey, wine, brandy, beer, ale and porter flowed like so many gas wells in Lebanon, and was piped into almost every family dwelling, store, shop and doggery without any restrictions, remonstrance or admonitions from the people."
He also said that families competed in their parlors that which could glamorize the "most tempting and brilliant sideboard of liquors." Store and shop customers were treated with spirits and the "doggeries lavished it out for profits to their blur-eyed and bloated customers, like swill to so many swine."
Saturday afternoon was generally the day when the rougher class came into town and the fights and brawls were carried on. The local tavern was normally centralized for this type of activity. Mr. Skinner's version of the outcome of one of these brawls was that "those men after coming out of the fight, and perfumed with mud, were as interesting as a couple of roosters, after coming out of an hour's fight in a pig sty."

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This page created 17 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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