Wataga News-Herald, 104 Years Ago


by Terry Hogan


On January 2, 1903, the Wataga News-Herald published Issue 48 of Volume 1. The publisher was J. Boyd Johnson. It was the first issue for 1903.  About 1/2 of the front page was dedicated to ads, with many of them being businesses located in Wataga.  There is nothing quite like an old newspaper to give you a snapshot of life for the period.


In Wataga, one could go see J. H. Merrill for lumber, lath, shingles, sand, paints, oils, pumps and fixtures, to say nothing of Baum stock food and fire insurance.  Merrill must have been the forerunner of a shopping mall.  On the other hand, if you had transportation problems, you didn't have to go to Galesburg for help.  D. M. Cooper in Wataga was a dealer in harness, saddles, collars, whips, buggies and "vehicles of all kinds".  But Cooper proclaims in his ad that "harness repairing [was] a specialty".


Not to be out-done, S. R. Miner of Wataga was able to supply the local demand for tin-ware, stove pipe, stoves and ranges, and repairs for stoves and ranges.  Miner would also take orders for roofing, spouting and furnace work.  And if there was a serious problem with one of the heat sources, Miner was also an Agent for the Harrison Mutual Burial Association of Knox County.


Perhaps the most surprising resource available in Wataga was L. W. Olson. You could contact him for steamship tickets for the White Star Line, Scandinavian-American, or "any other Line". 


The most unusually placed ad on the front page belonged to McCalls Magazine, whose column ad, at the bottom right corner of the front page was printed horizontally so that the text ran vertically.  Perhaps McCalls got a discount? 


As was the general case for small town newspapers of the period, the local Wataga news was dedicated to "good news" and sprinkled with local names to keeping them subscribing.  For example, my great great great uncle, M. O. Williamson, who lived in Galesburg, was reported to have visited Wataga on Saturday.  Another of my distant relatives, Philip French, was recorded as spending the holidays with his parents, before returning to Hedding College in Abingdon.  Other local news included that Dr. Eckley of Galesburg was in Wataga and performed an operation on a horse belonging to Grant Gibbs.  It seems pretty clear that Wataga was a booming place in 1903, as it is today.


Now it seems that the towns of Le Roy and Saybrook were a little bit more exciting.  The Wataga paper reports:


A gang of safe robbers, which has been terrorizing central Illinois for the past year, robbed the post office at Leroy (sic) of $1,000 in money, stamps and registered letters.  Then proceeding to Saybrook, eight miles north, they demolished the jail, using a telephone pole as a battering ram.  The gang escaped with a stolen horse and buggy.

Showing the Swedish influence in Wataga, the Wataga paper devoted two full columns on page 5 under the heading "Gossip from Skandinavia" to news from the "home land".


Of course, no good newspaper of the day could survive without the revenue from numerous patent medicines that could cure everything.  My personal favorite is "Paxtine Toilet Antiseptic that was sold to address "local treatment of female ills".   This Paxtine antiseptic set a new standard as a female wonder drug:  "curing all inflammation and discharges, wonderful as a cleansing vaginal douche, for sore throat, nasal catarrh, as a mouth wash, and to remove tartar and whiten the teeth."   I don't believe I can say anything to top this product.  It was obviously beneficial to about any orifice.


The Wataga paper did not limit the local news to Wataga.  Similarly exciting local events of family visits can be found for Foxtown, Pleasant Hill, and Oneida. Although, it seems to me that Foxtown may have had a problem filling out its allocated space for news. A careful reading of the Foxtown entries include "Many of our residents made a trip to Galesburg Wednesday" and "Maude Thorne was home Sunday." Finally, there was this entry under Foxtown that I find both humorous and a little sad:  "Willis Thorne having graduated from Bush Academy, will hereafter dig coal for Rodell and Mitchell until spring."   (I suppose Willis is related to Maude, given the size of Foxtown.)


Finally there is the ad for Horton and Foley, Undertakers of Galesburg.  As the ad was in a Wataga newspaper, it adds "C. O. Johnston, Swedish Assistant".  I suppose the Swedes didn't want some "Norwegian bachelor" as an undertaker.  Illinois was a melting pot, but there were limits!


Such was the news fit to print, 104 years ago when Wataga had a spring in its step; Swedish was the second language; and all the children were above average.