January 15, 1919: The Great Molasses Flood

Does the scent of molasses linger in your home long after the holidays? The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 left residents from one city claiming they could smell molasses for decades. On January 15, 1919, a giant tank holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst open in Boston’s North End neighborhood. It flooded the streets creating a 15-foot wave of molasses that carved a path of destruction. The sticky quagmire killed 21 people and injured 150, paving the way for more stringent safety standards across the country.

During WWI, molasses was distilled into industrial alcohol and used to produce military explosives. The Purity Distilling Company set up shop in the densely populated North End neighborhood in Boston. The area was home to many immigrants, and the company encountered little opposition when they constructed a 50-foot tall, 90-foot diameter molasses tank, just three feet from the street in 1915.

Days before the deadly explosion, a ship delivered a fresh load of warm molasses. It was mixed with cold molasses already in the tank, causing gasses to form. With the tank filled to near-capacity, a later structural engineering analysis revealed that the walls were too thin to support the weight, and there was too much stress on the rivet holes.  

Around 12:30 p.m. on January 15, 1919, workers stopped for lunch and a group of firefighters in a nearby firehouse sat down for a game of cards. Suddenly firefighters heard a strange staccato sound. It was the rivets on the molasses tank popping off. Other witnesses described a low rumbling sound. Before anyone could react, the tank of molasses burst, sending a rush of air that hurled people off their feet. A tsunami of sticky syrup poured over bystanders and horses, and knocked buildings off their foundations. The resulting river of molasses ran through streets and passageways, filling cellars and basements. A one-ton piece of steel from the vat flew into a trestle of elevated railroad tracks, causing the tracks to buckle.

First responders rushed to help but were slowed down by knee-deep sticky molasses that had become thicker in the cold air. They labored to find survivors and recover the dead. Initially, there were concerns that the bursting tank was caused by sabotage or an outside explosion (a claim that Purity Distilling Company clung to). Officials later determined that faulty tank construction was the cause. Workers spent months cleaning the molasses mess by sprinkling sand and hosing down the streets with saltwater.

The tragedy led to many lawsuits and more than 100 damage awards. It also spurred changes in building codes with more stringent building regulations, first in Boston, then in Massachusetts, and then across the country.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Molasses Food, search Newspapers.com today!

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Letters to Santa Found in the Newspapers

Nothing is more magical than seeing the holidays through the eyes of a child. For nearly 150 years, letters to Santa have appeared in newspapers. Some are sweet, some are funny, and some tug at your heartstrings. We searched our archives to share just a few examples:

Daily Press: Newport News, Virginia – 1932: “Dear Santa Claus: I am a little girl eight years old. Mother told me that I had been very good, so please bring me a bicycle, pair of shoes for dolly. Please don’t forget the oranges, nuts, apples and candy. Don’t forget my little cousins, Billy and Norman. Your little friend, Lauretta Crockett.”  

Davenport Weekly Republican: Davenport, Iowa – 1901: “My name is Ray Sindt, and don’t forget our house number; it is 1222 Gaines street corner Thirteenth, for Irene’s letter did not have it. And no date, dear Santa Claus, on it, either, then we won’t get our presents. I would like very much to have a live pony and a cart to go with it; then I can take Irene and our kittens out next summer. I would like to have a gun—but well, I’m not big enough, then I’ll take a sled and skates, and a few nuts and candy, if it is just the same to you. And if you have candy canes, Irene would like to have one, too—red and white striped ones. Please don’t forget Irene’s letter, for she felt very sad when she read it. We will hang up our stockings. Be sure and don’t forget our number this time, and don’t forget the pony. I can take good care of it. Good-bye Santa. I am 7 years old. Merry Christmas. Ray Hamilton Sindt. Don’t forget ma and grandma.”

Tampa Day Times: St. Petersburg, Florida – 1925: “My Dear Mr. Santa Claus: I take the liberty of writing you at this seemingly early date to remind you that I have changed my address from Boston Mass., to St. Petersburg, Florida, and should be quite up set, Mr. Claus if you by some error, perhaps not of your own, but of one of your many assistants, took my gifts to our old address. I hope you will not think me greedy for I am told you dislike that in all small boys, when I ask you to leave in or rather around my stocking or stocking’s a complete addition of the “Book of Knowledge,” and “in Tune With the Infinite.” My parents whom you have probably encountered in their youth have been for the past ten years connected with Harvard college, and I feel sure that they would be charmed to have you make your annual visit to us here in St. Petersburg. I will be twelve my next birthday, and while I have never mingled with other small boys my age, I am sure that I shall not feel the lack of any young companions if you accede to my request. Hoping you and Mrs. Claus are in the best of health and that you will enjoy your trip south. I remain, Horace Percy Greenapple.”

In 1992, a letter was dropped in a mailbox outside the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles, Washington. The heartbreaking contents prompted a desperate search for its author, a boy named Thad. Newspapers across the country, including the Chicago Tribune, reprinted Thad’s letter. The young writer was never identified and donations, which poured in from the U.S. and Canada, were eventually turned over to the United Way. Thad’s letter read:

“Dear Santa Clas, Please help my mom and dad this Christmas. My dad is not working anymore. We don’t get many food now. My mom gives us the food she would eat. Please help my mom an dad. I want to go to Heven too be with the angels. Can you bring me to Heven? My mom an dad woud not have too by things for me no more. That would make them happy. Plese bring my dad a job an some food. I live in my house like last year. We got candils. A city man took the lights a way. It looks like we don’t live heer no more. We do. I will wate for you too come in my room. I will not slep. Wen you give my dad a job and some food too my mom I will go with you and the rain deer. Merry Christmas too you Mrs. Clas too the elfs too. Thad.”

Fortunately, most letters to Santa are filled with child-like anticipation and thoughts of toys and sweets. They also offer a historical snapshot of what was happening in America at the time. Many letters from the 1930s included a request for a Shirley Temple doll. In the 1950s children wanted a Slinky or Play-Doh, and G.I. Joe topped many lists in the 1960s.

Journal Gazette: Mattoon, Illinois – 1966: “Dear Santa—I’m a little boy, five years old, so my mother is writing this for me. I’ve been a pretty good boy all this year. I would like to find under the tree, a GI Joe space capsule and space suit, a GI Joe crash crew set, and a GI Joe flagman set. A green Beret doll. A Johhny Eagle Red River set. A Hands Down and Tip it game A table and chair set for my room. Thank you for all the presents you left me last year. There will be cookies and milk under the tree for you! Your friend Robbie Metcalf, 808 S. 9th St.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to find a letter that one of your family members wrote to Santa in our archives? To see more Letters to Santa from across the decades, search Newspapers.com today!  

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December 6, 1917: The Halifax Explosion

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the harbor of the Canadian province of Halifax in Nova Scotia resulting in a massive explosion that ultimately killed 2,000 people and injured thousands more. The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic age.

During WWI, the port at Halifax was a beehive of activity. Ships loaded with troops, munitions, and supplies sailed in and out of Halifax harbor to support Allied war efforts. The morning of December 6th, the French freighter Mont Blanc prepared to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic. The ship was filled with tons of highly explosive materials including TNT, gasoline, picric acid, and gun cotton.

At the same time, another ship, the Norwegian relief vessel SS Imo, left its mooring headed for the open sea, and eventually New York. In an area known as the Narrows, the two ships collided, sparking a fire on the Mont Blanc. Realizing the danger, the crew of the Mont Blanc evacuated into lifeboats and began to row furiously toward the shore. Their burning ship drifted until it eventually brushed up against a pier, setting the pier on fire.

The flames attracted curious onlookers who came down to the shore or watched the tragedy unfold from their windows. At 9:04 a.m., the flames ignited the Mont Blanc‘s cargo resulting in a massive explosion. The ship was instantly obliterated and a super-heated shock wave flattened 300 acres, including most of the north end of Halifax. The detonation also caused a tsunami to roll over the waterfront.

One survivor described a scene worse than any battlefield. “I saw people lying around under timbers, stones, and other debris; some battered beyond recognition and others groaning in their last agonies…I groped about assisting some of the poor mothers and little ones who were running about screaming and searching vainly for lost ones, in many instances never to be seen by them again.”

The explosion blew down doors and shattered windows, sending shards of glass flying. Nearly 1000 people were blinded when exploding windows turned glass slivers into projectiles as they watched the fire from their homes. The disaster led to medical innovations to treat eye injuries and resulted in the formation of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind the following year. Reconstruction of the devastated area took more than a year, but urban planners replaced the ruins with a design consisting of homes, businesses, and green space.

Investigations into the cause of the collision and subsequent explosion determined that both vessels were to blame. If you would like to learn more about the Halifax Explosion of 1917, or read more first-hand accounts, search Newspapers.com today!

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New Michigan Paper!

Do you have ancestors from Michigan or an interest in Michigan history? We’ve added the Homer Index to our archives of Michigan papers bringing the total number of digitized Michigan papers to 93! Homer is about 30 miles southeast of Battle Creek, and the Index covers news in Calhoun and Hillsdale counties.

The Index is a weekly that has been in publication since 1872 when the first issue promised an independent paper that would “further the interests of the community.” The Index reported on Homer pioneers that settled this Michigan township established in 1862. 

The Homer Index May 31, 1876

In 1876, the Index reported on the Centennial International Exhibition. It was the first World’s Fair held on the nation’s 100th birthday in Philadelphia. Some Homer locals traveled to attend the Exhibition and described pavilions filled with wonders like machines to wash clothing and dishes. The Declaration of Independence was transported back to Independence Hall for the event, and many of the nearly 10 million visitors got to see it.

In the late 1800s, the Index reported on a bird problem. Flocks of English sparrows had arrived in town, damaging crops, eating all the chicken feed, and chasing away other songbirds. The birds were introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s to eat harmful insects. They multiplied and were quickly spreading across the continent. Michigan enacted laws to get rid of the birds. Killing sparrows became a pastime for many young boys in Homer. They could bring sparrow heads to the county clerk and receive a bounty for each one. The Index reported on payouts for young men like James Lane, who brought the heads of 1200 sparrows to the clerk’s office in 1900, and received $24 (the equivalent of $750 today)!

The Homer Index September 3, 1890

In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and America entered WWII. A few weeks later, Homer residents learned that one of their own died in the attack. Over the next several years, many soldiers from Homer and surrounding towns stepped up to serve. The Index published their letters home and reported on additional local casualties.

You’ll find lighter topics covered in the Index over the years. For instance, this 1951 front-page story complaining about a driver’s poor parking skills made us giggle. But you’ll also find sweet stories of neighbors helping neighbors. In 1976, a group of farmers set aside their chores to help an Eckford neighbor during a time of crisis. Carl Harris was at the hospital with his seriously ill son, but it was time to plow his 350-acre farm. Several dozen local farmers showed up to get the job done. After they finished at the Harris farm, they moved to another farm and did the same thing.

If you have ancestors from Homer, or surrounding areas like Clarendon, Albion, and Tekonsha, search the pages of the Index for things like obituaries and local news. Start searching the Index today on Newspapers.com!

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Uncovering Hidden Treasure

Who doesn’t love a good hidden treasure story? The newspapers are filled with stories of ordinary people who uncover extraordinary treasures in the most unusual places. Whether found in a hidden secret compartment or buried in the ground, these stories might leave you wondering if there is a hidden treasure in your house! Here are a few fun treasure stories we’ve uncovered.

In 1924, the owner of a house built in 1860 made plans to demolish it. The house was originally owned by a bank president. During the demolition, workers found a concealed compartment containing $100,000 in gold coins. That is equivalent to $1.5 million today!   

In 1928, George Maher invented a metal detector. While scanning the ground on a farm near Natchez, Mississippi, he discovered a cache of coins buried two feet deep. The money was buried shortly before the fall of Vicksburg during the Civil War. Maher’s find validated his invention and allowed him to deposit more than $1,000 in the bank.

In 1986, two workmen found a hidden room on the third floor of a 140-year old Italianate home overlooking Cayuga Lake in New York. The door to the room didn’t have a handle and was disguised by wood paneling matching the room. A desk and shelves further guarded the doorway. Once inside the secret room, the men discovered three steamer trunks filled with 19th-century toys, historical items, and at least $10,000 in coins.

In 1935, after the death of an Oklahoma pioneer, his four daughters inherited his valuable estate. An attorney representing the daughters visited a farm owned by the pioneer to take an inventory. An aged caretaker told the attorney that additional valuables were hidden in an old office building in Wheeling, West Virginia. The treasure, he said, dated back to the Kings of France. Traveling to West Virginia, the attorney discovered a partition and false fireplace inside the office building. He removed them and found a dim passageway to an attic where he discovered three brass chests filled with a fortune in gold and silver. The treasure once belonged to Louis S. Delaplaine, the U.S. consul in British Guiana. Delaplaine kept a luxurious apartment in the West Virginia office building. The discovery added to the valuable estate inherited by the four daughters who were related to Delaplaine by marriage. They also received an island in Lake Huron gifted to Delaplaine by Queen Victoria.

Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln daguerreotype

Not all treasure is money. In 1929, a man was examining the contents of an old wooden chest found in the attic of a home in Westport, Connecticut, when he came upon a rare daguerreotype. Further examination revealed the image was that of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Another historical treasure was discovered in 1998 by C.P. Weaver. She had papers and documents passed down through her family stored in her attic. After seeing the movie Glory about a troop of Black Civil War soldiers, it stirred something in Weaver’s memory. She went to the attic and retrieved the stash of papers and discovered the fragile diary of Union Col. Nathan W. Daniels, commander of the Second Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first Black regiments organized in the Civil War. The diary was eventually published and provided priceless historical understanding.

In 1998, a Florida couple bought a painting at the thrift store for $1.99. The painting turned out to be an original by Auguste Rodin, sculptor of the masterpiece, The Thinker. Their $2 investment was valued at $14,000 and earned them an invitation to appear on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show about uncovered hidden treasures.

Have you ever discovered a hidden treasure? Tell us about it in the comments below, and search Newspapers.com for many more treasure stories.

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Search the World’s Largest Archive of Historical Wedding Announcements

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the first phase of our Newspapers.com Marriage Index collection. The Marriage Index collection is a searchable archive of more than 50 million U.S. wedding announcements! We’ve teamed up with Ancestry® to train machine learning algorithms to scour more than 600 million pages of digitized newspapers to extract wedding announcements.

Wedding announcements often contain detailed genealogical information, including the names of family members, biographical details, addresses, and more. These key details can break down genealogical brick walls and open up new research avenues.

How Does it Work?

Using OCR (optical character recognition), we’ve converted our archive of newspapers into machine-readable text. We’ve trained computers to identify keywords often associated with wedding announcements. The computer then draws a text box around that announcement. If you hover over the announcement and then click on the text box, you will see a dialogue box pop up. It has the information we’ve indexed. That indexed information is searchable in our Marriage Index. Occasionally you might notice an incorrect date or misspelled names. This is a result of the OCR conversion process. You can correct the facts by clicking on “Add alternate info” within the dialogue box. Your updates will then become searchable for other users. You then have the option to electronically clip the announcement and save it or attach it to your Ancestry® tree.

The first phase of this release contains information from more than 200 million records from over 50 million lists and wedding announcements from the United States dating from 1800-1999.

  • List marriage announcements were usually a weekly list of couples that had applied for a marriage license that week. The lists usually contained the names of the bride and groom only. See an example of a list announcement here.
  • Non-list marriage announcements might contain detailed information about the bride and groom, photographs, addresses, the names of relatives, the wedding officiant, and wedding guests. See an example of a non-list announcement here.

You will soon see wedding announcement hints to your Ancestry® tree. These hints can lead to personal discoveries and genealogical breakthroughs! We will continue to update this index with additional wedding announcements and international wedding announcements in the future. Start searching our Marriage Index collection today on Newspapers.com.

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New Papers from the Cornhusker State!

If you have ancestors from Nebraska or an interest in the history of Nebraska, we are excited to share our big news. We’ve recently added more than four million new pages to our Nebraska archives, for a total of almost nine million pages of content from 1,616 papers – and there’s more to come! We have partnered with History Nebraska, a state agency tasked with preserving the history of Nebraska, to make this important archive easily accessible for all. Many of these papers are short-run titles from small towns, and they contain a goldmine of information!  

Our papers in this archive date back to 1854, more than a decade before Nebraska achieved statehood. As the American frontier expanded westward, settlers moved to, and through, Nebraska. Emigrant trails, including the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail, opened up the Western United States to settlement. Chimney Rock became a prominent landmark mentioned in many journals as travelers crossed the plains.

In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, bringing a wave of settlers to Nebraska. The first homestead claim was filed in Nebraska in 1863. That claimant, Daniel Freeman, became the sheriff of Gage County, and his original homestead became Nebraska’s first National Park, and later Homestead National Monument.

The farmland of Nebraska proved rich, and farmers successfully grew healthy crops including fields of corn. That corn was the inspiration for the University of Nebraska’s mascot, the Cornhuskers. A sportswriter from the Nebraska State Journal coined the term in 1899, and the school officially adopted it the following year.

The pages of these papers contain fun Nebraska trivia. For example, did you know that SPAM was invented in Nebraska in 1937? Hormel created a spiced canned ham product and then sponsored a contest to come up with a catchy name. The winning entry was SPAM – short for spiced ham. The meat became a favorite of soldiers during WWII because of its indefinite shelf life. Another nostalgic American favorite, Kool-Aid, was invented in Hastings in 1927 and is the official state soft drink.

You’ll also learn about famous Nebraskans like legendary dancer Fred Astaire. He was born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha in 1899. As a child, Astaire performed in a vaudeville act along with his sister Adele. Their popularity grew, and by 1908, the Austerlitz siblings were performing on tour. Other famous Nebraskans include Johnny Carson and President Gerald Ford.

Though it’s fun to search for famous Nebraskans, we know that it pales in comparison to finding the names of your ancestors. When searching for your family, check the social news, obituaries, wedding announcements, and birth announcements.

Start searching our expanded Nebraska archives today. We are adding new Nebraska content each day, so check back often to see the latest additions on New spapers.com!

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Newspaper Marriage Announcements: Using the Language of Love to Break Down Genealogical Walls

Have you found a marriage announcement on Newspapers.com that led to a genealogy breakthrough? For some of us (like me), uncovering long sought after information is like opening a gift on Christmas morning! Marriage announcements can be short and succinct or long and rich in detail. As a genealogist, I’ve spent hours poring through marriage records on Newspapers.com. I have some tips that might help you read between the lines of your marriage announcements and might help you make new personal discoveries within your family tree.

The Bride’s Maiden Name: A marriage announcement is often a great way to uncover the holy grail of genealogy for women – her birth name! A birth name can open the door to further research for the bride and her family. Here’s a marriage announcement from London revealing the bride’s birth name that dates back to 1701!

Parents’ Names: Marriage announcements often include the name of the parents for both the bride and groom. Now you can go back one more generation in your research!  

Photographs: The first photos started appearing in newspapers in the late 1800s, and by the 1900s, many papers included a picture of the bride. What a treasure to find a photo of your ancestor!

Address: It’s hard to imagine now, but it used to be common to give an address for the bride and/or groom, like in this announcement from 1875. An address allows you to search land records, census records, and nearby relatives – remember families often stuck together back then. (Pro tip: enter the address in Google Earth to see if the house still stands. If it does, you can explore the neighborhood virtually)!

Wedding Announcement 1933

The Wedding Party: I love a wedding announcement full of lots of juicy details like this one. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how many yards of silk it took to make the wedding gown? A detailed wedding announcement often mentions everyone in the bridal party, and sometimes even guests. Chances are, many of those named are relatives. I’ve gone so far as to build a tree for everyone mentioned, and each time, I have discovered new cousins and siblings. It takes effort, but if you’re up against a brick wall, it just might lead to a breakthrough. Pay special attention to those who have traveled from out-of-town to attend the wedding. They are probably family!

Who Performed the Wedding? Marriage announcements usually give the name of who officiated at the wedding. You aren’t likely to find church records in the newspapers, but if you have the name of the person who performed the wedding, you can research the congregation, and that can lead to church records. Church records often list the name of the bride and groom’s parents and sometimes the mother’s birth name. This can unlock new research possibilities.

The Seattle Star: January 18, 1917

Then and Now, Weddings Can be Full of Drama: While searching for family wedding announcements one day, I came across this dramatic clipping! It shares the story of a young immigrant who left Greece for an arranged marriage in America. The groom ended up rejecting her, and she sued him for $5,000 for breach of contract. The article is full of genealogical information for the family – both in Greece and in the United States. This article is more of an announcement for the wedding that didn’t happen!

One Final Tip: While searching for wedding announcements, we sometimes tend to search in a limited range of dates. You might be missing out on so much more. For example, I’ve come across dozens of clippings like this that describe women’s groups getting together to model old wedding dresses. These women modeled their mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s dresses. In many cases, they give the names of the original bride and the year she was married. Who would have thought to search for a wedding more than a hundred years after it happened? What a treasure trove of information!

Ready to dive in and find your ancestors’ marriage announcements? Start searching Newspapers.com today!

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G.I. Bill Gives Back to Soldiers Returning from WWII

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the new Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill created sweeping new benefits for millions of veterans returning from WWII. Those benefits included money for education, job training, low-interest home loans, and unemployment benefits. Within its first seven years, about 8 million veterans took advantage of these benefits. The G.I. Bill led to a jump in university and college enrollment, a housing boom, and helped usher in an era of prosperity.

President Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill: Press and Sun-Bulletin June 23, 1944

During the war, government officials realized that when the war eventually ended, 16 million men and women serving in the armed forces would return home unemployed. That level of unemployment had the potential to create financial instability within the country and could lead to an economic depression. In a bipartisan effort led by the American Legion, planning got underway for new legislation that could help returning veterans and benefit the economy. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was passed by Congress in January 1944 and signed by President Roosevelt the following June.

The Tampa Times: October 11, 1945

One of the landmark provisions of the G.I. Bill was funding for education. Before the war, a college education was out of reach for the average American. The G.I. Bill, however, flung the doors to universities and vocational schools wide open with benefits that covered tuition, books, supplies, and offered a living stipend. A college education was now within reach and many veterans took advantage of the opportunity. Educational funding had the added benefit of preventing too many veterans from flooding the job market all at once. In 1947, nearly half of those admitted to college were veterans, and between 1940-1950, the number of college and university degrees earned doubled.

Another popular benefit offered through the G.I. Bill was low-interest home loans. The VA Home Loan benefit granted 4.3 million low-interest, zero down payment home loans between 1945-1955. Veterans starting families snapped up the home loans and moved to the suburbs. New neighborhoods sprang up in mass-produced subdivisions all around the country and veterans became the largest single group of homeowners.

Berwyn Life: December 17, 1944

The building boom helped usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity and growth for the middle class. Homeownership “cemented the stability of millions of veterans’ families,” fueled job growth, and added substantially to personal income and consumer demand. WWII rations and shortages gave way to abundance and prosperity that helped shaped the country for decades.

Other benefits offered through the G.I. Bill included unemployment benefits, money to start a business, additional veterans hospitals, and veteran job counseling and employment services.

The original G.I. Bill ended in 1956, though it was extended several times. More recently, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Forever G.I. Bill have passed to help veterans.

Did someone in your family benefit from the G.I. Bill? Share your stories in the comments below and search Newspapers.com to learn more about the 1944 G.I. Bill.

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New Papers From South Carolina!

Do you have ancestors from Sumter, South Carolina, or an interest in the history of South Carolina? We’re happy to announce that we’ve added The Sumter Item and The Watchman and Southron to our archives, with issues dating back to 1881. The Watchman and Southron was a weekly (later a semiweekly) paper that was published through 1930 when it was absorbed by the Sumter Daily Item, which in turn became The Sumter Item.

The city and county of Sumter are named after Gen. Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. South Carolina history is also closely tied to Civil War history. It was the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 and the state where the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April 1861. It’s also the place where some of the last shots of the Civil War took place. The Battle of Dingle’s Mill was a Civil War skirmish that took place when Potter’s raiders confronted Confederate forces on April 9, 1865, in Sumter County. This fighting is especially noteworthy because the Civil War officially ended the same day, but the word of the Confederate surrender had not yet reached Sumter where fighting continued until April 25th.

The Sumter Item is the oldest continuously family-owned paper in South Carolina, and one of the oldest in the country. It has been run by the Osteen family for five generations and was started by patriarch Hubert Graham Osteen. The Osteen family has chronicled the changing news in Sumter over the decades.

When the first automobiles arrived in Sumter in the early 1900s, The Sumter Item reported on several attempts by residents to climb the courthouse steps in their new automobiles. After several accidents, city leaders realized that they needed to enact safety measures and speed limits.

Prohibition took effect in Sumter in 1916 (four years before Congress mandated Prohibition nationally). Despite impassioned arguments against the use of alcohol, some Sumter residents operated underground, producing liquor despite the constant threat of police raids.

In April 1924, a tornado with a path 135 miles long struck Sumter causing multiple casualties. The tornado destroyed buildings, burying people in rubble and carving a path that resembled “a forest after an artillery barrage.” 

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, The Sumter Item published a special edition announcing the attack. In the following days, Sumter was on a high state of alert. Soldiers stood guard over public buildings and a Sumter bridge. The Item kept residents informed about local soldiers serving in the war.

If you have ancestors from Sumter, search the pages of this archive for things like death notices or wedding announcements. The society columns are another place to search for colorful details about your family. Start searching the pages of The Watchman and Southron and The Sumter Item today on Newspapers.com!

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