For Iowa's town dweller a stroll down main street in 1900 was nothing special. People who lived in Iowa's small towns lived, worked and played in a close-knit community of friends, neighbors and family. On a daily basis folks in town enjoyed concerts, social and academic clubs, speeches, parties and other community events. All these happenings contributed to the character of a town.
Farm Families Visit Town
When farm families paused from their work in the early 1900s to walk, ride or drive into town, usually on Saturdays, main street exploded with people and energy. Farm families came to town to stock up on supplies, meet with friends and exchange news and gossip.
Men and women met at different places. Men hung out at the barbershop, the blacksmith's shop and the tavern. Women congregated at the milliner's, where they had dresses and hats made, and at the general store. Children tagged along with parents, hoping a kindly merchant would give them a free bag of candy.
Adelaide Lloyd's childhood visits to town on Saturday during the summer meant a concert on the city square.
"Farm families anxious to get the week's groceries before the music began, came to town first," Lloyd recalled. "Everyone gathered on the sidewalks surrounding the bandstand. At eight o'clock, the director gave the signal to begin."
"While the band played stirring marches or dreamy waltzes, farm women sold their eggs or bought groceries or dress material in the general store," Lloyd remembered. "Farmers discussed crops and prices. Older children sat on the curb and talked; younger children played tag around their mothers. The soda fountain in the drugstore grew crowded. Children whose pennies would not cover the cost of a fifteen cent soda were usually able to produce a nickel for an ice cream cone."
Going to town on Saturday night also was a family ritual for Ellen Graham Lemke. "Daddy gave sister and me a dime a piece for the movies," Lemke recalled. After the show they wasted no time getting to the ice cream parlor.
Later, walking arm-in-arm, Lemke and her friends strolled through the streets, window shopping. "The jewelry shop window held our interest the longest," she wrote years later.
As the hour grew late, Saturday nights on main street wound down. People wandered home, already looking forward to the next week's trip to town.
- Millie Freese, “To Town,” The Goldfinch 18, no. 3 (Spring 1997): 20.