James M. Cisney Mayor Here
at Turn of Century

by George Nye

This is another in a series of articles written for the Times-Union by County Surveyor George Nye on the history of Warsaw Mayors. This story deals with the term of James M. Cisney, who served as mayor here from 1898 to 1902.

James M. Cisney was mayor of Warsaw from 1898 to 1902, following George Moon, whose term expired in 1898. (Moon died in 1902.)

Cisney was born in Richland county, Ohio, in 1841. Richland county is in the north central part of the state with Mansfield as the county seat. Cisney was a boy learned the occupation of a harness maker. He came to the town of Warsaw in 1860 at the age of 19. The following year he volunteered as a soldier and served with distinction for three years in Co. B of the 30th regiment. After the war was over he settled down in Leesburg where he engaged in the saddle and harness business.

In 1865 Cisney married Nancy Parks, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Parks, who lived in Leesburg. In 1867 at the age of 26 he was elected sheriff of the county and for four years lived in the upstairs of the brick jail that stood on the southwest corner of the public square. It had been built about 1847. Wash McGrew, William Biggs, George W. Scott, A. D. Pittenger and Zena Bratt were the sheriffs that used this old jail before Cisney was elected.

In the commissioners' records for 1857, we read that John Nye was paid $5 for whitewashing the interior of the Jail. The late Jimmy Woods once said that Deliah Brake, a notorious character about town some 80 years ago, was once put in this jail for drinking too much tanglefoot. Deliah used to smoke and she set the jail afire and then cried through the bars for help. Jimmy and some other boys threw a lot of snow through the window and told Deliah to put her own fire out.

Reub Williams said that the prisoners used to tease farmers who would go by with something to sell. One of them cried out, "I'll take that wood," and the farmer got down from the wagon seat to talk to his customer and, of course, found none.

Quite a bit is said of this old jail in the commissioners' records from 1847 to 1870 when the new jail was built on the lot where Ben Richart had lived for several years. The old jail was finally sold to Bill Conrad about 1872. It got so dilapidated that prisoners could escape without much effort and so the commissioners had to transfer the first class offenders to the jail at Goshen. Jim Cisney was the last sheriff in the old bastile and the first in the new.

Becomes Store Owner
After leaving the sheriff's office Cisney became the owner of a store located on the present site of Phillipsons store. Along Buffalo street on this side was a string of frame buildings reaching to Cosgrove's big brick just south of the alley. About 1884 this whole lineup burned down and Cisney lost quite heavily. It was rebuilt by C. W. Chapman and Mrs. Loney in 1885 and W. H. Gibson moved his store to this corner. He had been across in the Moon Block. Gibson died not long after the move was made and his wife closed out the store.

On June 1, 1888, Phillipsons moved to this corner and have been there for 67 years. In 1877 Mr. Cisney was elected as a member of the common council of Warsaw and so when he became mayor he had had some schooling in civic affairs. In 1898 Cisney owned ice houses on North Detroit street.

The Cisneys lived on South Buffalo street just south of the Dr. Burket home. One cold winter day Cisney was marking off blocks of ice on Center lake and he and his horse both went through. They were rescued fortunately from the icey waters by the other workmen. We can understand how they might get a man out of the lake but to get a horse out is another matter. Jim Cisney was a large, redfaced man who wore a beard and a moustache and was quite jovial. He was perfectly able physically to take his own part in any altercation that might arise regarding his dignity or status quo.

Many Customs Change
Many customs, of course, have changed since the days of Jim Cisney. Rutters then advertised the Jewel range as the latest kitchen stove. This had a warming oven at the top and a reservoir at one end in which the cook could have a supply of warm water. Either wood or coal could be used for fuel but most people burned wood. The cost of a cord of good wood was $1.25. In most kitchens there was a refrigerator in which lake ice was used. the iceman made his daily trips except on Sunday and filled the ice compartment for 10 or 15 cents. Rag carpets, made here in Warsaw, were used on the kitchen floors or in the living room. Mrs. Web Nye was a weaver who made beautiful rugs.

Houses had several chimneys so that a stove could be set up in most any room. If a bedroom was not heated, hot irons or a hot soapstone was placed in it to keep the feet of the sleeper warm during the night. In many homes there was a front parlor which was a kind of holy of holies used only on Sunday afternoons or when company came. In this room there would be a Brussels carpet, a parlor suite and maybe an organ. Estey organs with 14 stops were very common.

In this room, too, there would be lace curtains, a marble topped stand and a well blackened room stove. Robert Hitzler made parlor suites of five pieces that sold for about $120.

Few homes had running water. If a person wanted a drink he would find the pump on the back porch with a tincup tied to it. If he wanted a good cold drink it was best to get it out of the northeast corner of the well! Many places had a summer kitchen and the good housewife was always glad when the time came to move out into this cooler room. Houses had cellars but they were used only for the storage of canned goods. Much canning was done during the summer.

Walk Many Miles
People walked a great deal 60 years ago. Willis Walton, a middle aged man who lived out in the Pleasant Valley community used to walk to town each Saturday. He thought nothing of it. School teachers boasted as to how they had walked several hundred miles during the winter back and forth to their country schools. They did this for their health.

Bill McAlpine, a man of long strides, used to teach at Oswego. He would walk into Leesburg occasionally. One day a man with a team and farm wagon overtook him and the man asked Bill to ride. Bill turned down the offer remarking to the man that he was in a hurry! Which one got to Leesburg first is not a matter of record. Asa Lechrone lived on North Park avenue in a house he built himself at odd times. He walked back and forth to the Blodgett school one winter, the round trip being perhaps eight miles.

Families that came to town from the outlying districts at night had to light their way with a lantern. Gas lights were still in use in these districts but uptown there was an arc light hanging at each one of the main crossings. Edgar Petyon Weston was the great walker of the day. He made trips all over the United States walking mostly on railroad tracks. Shoe companies would donate him their shoes for the advertisement they received from his walking. He went through Warsaw several times.

Schools Different
Customs in school work has also changed in 60 years. It used to be that a teacher would keep a boy in if he did not have his lesson and would hear him recite to her privately. Students were seen taking some books home to study after supper. Physiology was stressed in the upper grades. A student of the 8th grade was supposed to know all the bones of the body, be able to trace the blood in its course, and discuss the anatomy of the nervous system intelligently. In fact he was sort of a premedic at the age of 14.

Charts were up in front in schoolrooms showing the inside of the body of a cigarette smoker all infected and other charts showing the dire effects of using intoxicating liquors. They were there in obedience to a state law against smoking cigarettes and drinking. Any boy who smoked cigarettes in 1898, parted his hair in the middle and read Diamond Dick novels was skidding straight to the underworld according to the standards of the day. No women smoked and few worked away from home.

Changes Custom
It had been customary at high school commencements for each graduate to read an essay that he had prepared. Noble Harter, superintendent here in 1900, did away with this custom. They were to hand in their essays and they would be bound and kept in the high school library ad infinitum.

W. W. Parsons, of the Terre Haute Normal, gave the address that year. The graduates were Gerow Baker, Edith Goldsmith, Ethel Baker, Margaret Woods, Ralph Bartol, Verna Hoke, Bessie Brown, Inez Brazington and Celestia Easterday. Miss Felbaum was principal of the high school which had about 97 students. Miss Curtis and Mr. Bush were teachers. Mr. Bush was ill for several weeks in 1900 and John Early took his place as science teacher. Elocution was a popular subject in finishing schools in 1900. This is the art of talking with expression and making proper gestures. It took more with the young women of the day than it did with the men. Such feelings as pity, remorse, scorn, love, hatred, mercy, etc., all had to be portrayed by the looks on the face and by proper gestures.

The "Wreck of the Hesperus" and "The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled" if given correctly by an outstanding elocutionist never failed to bring tears to the eyes of the audience. Many a young woman of the day left Warsaw for a finishing school and came home a first class elocutionist admired and envied by her more unfortunate playmates. But enough of this for on this line we could go on endlessly.

Buy Sewer
The biggest thing that happened in town during the time of Cisney as mayor was the building of the sanitary sewer in 1900-1901 by E. Woods and Son, of Decatur. A five-foot brick tube was built from the creek east on Market street. Bolder boys on Sunday afternoon would banter the other to walk through it to Columbia street. A smallpox siege struck the town and countryside in 1902 and the present Salvation Army home was made the pest house. One man by the name of Baker died of this dreaded disease and was buried at night.

All school kids had to be vaccinated and did their arms get sore! Fastidious young women did not want to be vaccinated on the arm because the scar would show so they asked the doctor to inoculate them somewhere else where it would not show. Today this would be hard to do.

Warsaw Times Union Friday May 20, 1955