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THE 1910s: Huntington begins to attract citizens from rural areas looking for work

Jan. 15, 2009 @ 10:11 AM

Editor's note: This story was originally published Sunday, April 4, 1999.

Ernest Thorne remembers when Huntington's Ritter Park was a cow pasture, the Ohio River was shallow enough to wade across and Central City was the place to be.

Thorne, now 101, came to Huntington as a young boy around 1909. After his mother died, Thorne left his Jackson County, W.Va., farm home to live in the hustle and bustle of Huntington with his aunt Annabelle Shockey and her husband, Abraham Shockey.

"It was thrilling," Thorne said of his move from the quiet country life to the busy city of Huntington. "I came here very interested in the city of Huntington. It was very different from Jackson."

Thorne arrived in Huntington aboard a paddlewheeler, a major form of transportation during the era, thanks to the lack of paved roads and bridges.

Owen Pleasant, 85, remembers swimming from Burlington, Ohio, across the Ohio River to Huntington.

"There was no bridge then, you either rode a ferry or swam. Sometimes in the summer you could even wade across it," Pleasant said.

The Ford Company had made its 1 millionth Model T when the first moving assembly line opened in 1915. While the vehicles were popular, most Huntington residents couldn't afford the luxury.

"There were a few cars but most still used the horse and buggy to get around," Thorne said.

Thorne would travel about three times a week from his aunt's home atop 8th Street hill to downtown Huntington. "We didn't go to town every day, but we were always interested in going to town," Thorne said. In those times, Central City in West Huntington was the popular place.

"For fun we would go to town and go to the theater," Thorne said. "There were 5-cent movies. We would take in two or three a night."

Thorne was most likely watching silent movie star Theda Bera, who made the dance move vamping popular. Popular movies were "A Tale of Two Cities" and D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation."

When Thorne was not in the theater he was studying at a one-room school just below 8th Street hill. "We just went to the eighth grade then," he said.

Thorne was lucky to be attending school. In most of America's cities during the 1910 decade, education was secondary. Only one-third of the country's children were enrolled in elementary school and less than 10 percent graduated from high school.

Across the river, Pleasant fondly remembers his old four-room schoolhouse as fun but sometimes restricting.

"I remember going to school at Burlington Elementary, whites were on one side and blacks on the other," Pleasant said. "But we all played together at recess, and that was fun."

When Pleasant was young, kids didn't have video games to play, they had to make their own fun.

"We would play marbles and baseball," Pleasant said. "We had a grand time. You can't see kids play like that anymore."

World War I interrupted much of that fun for those who were sent "Over There" to fight what they thought was the war to end all wars. The United States was only officially in the war for one year. Pleasant was a small child, but he remembers when the war ended in 1918.

"I remember going to school and hearing the church bells ringing," he said. "Everyone headed to church, and they announced the war was over. All members were praying, and the women were hoping for the safe return of their husbands and children."

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