Bicycle Popular While
George Moon was Mayor

by George Nye

This is the sixth in a series of articles on the history of Warsaw city mayors, written for The Times-Union by George Nye, county surveyor. This story deals with George Moon, who served as mayor from 1895 to 1899.

It appears that George Moon was mayor of Warsaw for four years beginning in 1895. As a young man 20 years old he had come to this county in a sailing vessel from Ireland. This was in 1836 when it took a vessel several weeks to cross the ocean. Jonathan, older brother of George, had come to America in 1834.

The story goes that Jonathan and some other boys were out walking one Sunday afternoon in Londonderry county in northeastern Ireland near their home when one of them suggested going to America. The idea went over so well with Jonathan that he left without even going home to bid his folks goodbye. His first stop was at Mauch Chunk, Pa., where he secured a job clerking in a store near the mines. He saved his money and in two years sent enough to George so he could come.

George arrived in due time, and the two brothers along with a cousin, Ed Archibald, started west on shank's mare. They ended up at a village called Leesburg, Ind. This was in 1839 when this point was the trading post of the county. Here they started a general store which was a popular trading place for several years. In 1843 they dissolved partnership and George went to work for Metcalf Beck who had a general store there at the time.

First Brick Store
Then for a while we find a firm Moon and Thralls in business at the new village of Warsaw. This later became Moon & Cosgrove. Their store was opposite east from the public square and was the most important trading center in Warsaw during these years. In 1849 they built the first brick store room in town. It was at the southwest corner of Buffalo and Center streets where the First National bank is now. In these days there was little money in circulation so that store goods were traded for anything of value such as wheat, corn, oats, hides, butter, eggs, etc. Store goods were hauled here from Fort Wayne and other eastern points by horse and wagon. Metcalf Beck used to walk to Fort Wayne to buy his goods.

From 1852 to 1856 George Moon served as county treasurer. The first substantial courthouse had been built on the public square in 1845 so it was not very old at this time. It is said that there was no place safe to keep the public money at the courthouse so Mr. Moon put it in his buggy and took it home with him for safe keeping. The first treasurer of the county in 1836 kept the money in a sack under his bed.

Warsaw in 1852 according to Marion Coplen's history of the county to 1876 had a population of perhaps 300 people. In this history there is a list of the persons who lived here in 1850. The census taker, however made several errors in the names.

In 1856 George Moon was elected to the legislature at Indianapolis. The session down there began on Thursday morning so that delegates from these northern counties could get there on horseback in time for the first session. It is not likely that Moon rode down alone for there were always some people interested enough in the making of laws that they went along. Back in the 1840's when there was much talk of making Leesburg the county seat a delegation went down on horseback, among whom was Ludlow Nye. When some promising legislature said that Warsaw could not be made the county seat because of so much marsh land around it, Ludlow Nye told him all that marshland had been reclaimed and was now a vast cow pasture! When oldtimers had had a few shots of tanglefoot they could say almost anything.

Made County Seat
Anyhow by much wire pulling the county seat was located at Warsaw and Ludlow's marsh is just now being filled on Market street by Mike Hodges. In 1868 George Moon financed the building of the Moon block where Carter's store is today. He had a store here and other places during his lifetime. The building replaced a frame building known during the 1860's as Johnny Lane's jewelry store. East and south were dwelling houses.

In 1869 Mr. Moon was appointed collector of internal revenue for the 10th district. He was a capable man and always filled an office to the best interests of the public. When the year 1895 rolled around he was 79 years old but in spite of his age was elected mayor of the city.

Everyone Rides Bikes
It was during the time that Mr. Moon was mayor that bicycles began to appear on our streets. They were called "safeties" because they were safer to ride than the old fashioned bicycles which had a high wheel in front and a small wheel behind. The new bicycles were geared up for speed and had cushion tires. Some of them had cushion seats that could be inflated. The cost of a bicycle about 1896 was from $40 to $60. The Thistle was a well known make. They were nick-named wheels. Bicycle clubs were formed and the entire party would ride to some neighboring town in the afternoon and come back the same evening. Of course the roads were not paved at all but sandy and rough in spots with hard clay. The wheelers kept over to one side and wore a bicycle path. If a sandy hill was encountered they dismounted and pushed their wheels to the top.

In the campaign of 1892 Vincent Foster was president of one club and they met the speakers at the depot and escorted the procession to the hall where the speaking was to take place. A bicyclist to be considered genuine had to be dressed in bicycle clothes. A man had to wear bicycle pants which were baggy at the top and tight to the legs below. Then he had to have bicycle socks and shoes. The shoes were made of canvass. Then he had to have a loose fitting grey colored short which we would designate now as a sport shirt. Then on his head he had to wear a tight fitting cap with a long bill in front, the longer the better up to a certain ceiling length. With this outfit and a bicycle with drop handlebars he was ready to appear in public as a real cyclist. If he could make 20 miles an hour on a good track he was called a "scorcher," the idea being that he was going so fast that he would scorch at least the end of his nose if nothing else.

Women Active
Women also wore bicycle outfits consisting of short skirts, stockings and canvass shoes. There was no crossbar on a woman's bicycle for this would interfere with her skirt. One had to learn to ride a bicycle and many bad falls were experienced by some before they became adept. No Fourth of July celebrations was complete without a bicycle race. Trick bicycle riders would come to town and give an outdoor exhibition at some prominent street intersection uptown, perhaps at Shane's corner or Phillipson's corner. They would sometimes dress as a clown and have a low geared bicycle so that their feet would go around quite fast. During the show they took up a free will offering. A unicycle was the most difficult to ride for it had only one wheel and the rider had to balance himself sideways, backwards, forward up and down all at once.

Bicycle shows were also given at the Opera House which was under the supervision of Charlie Rigdon. In 1908 in Spokane, Wash., I saw several unicyclists who rode them everyday. One fellow went down Riverside avenue, the main thoroughfare of the city one day on a unicycle with a tray of dishes on his head. Had he hit a slight bump in the pavement his fall would have compared to the fall of Humpty Dumpty or something worse.

Bicycle riding on the sidewalks got so bad that the city dads passed an ordinance against it. Several places in town sprang up where bicycles could be repaired. Desoto Grant had a bicycle for exhibition purposes that had a sprocket wheel about a foot in diameter. When this wheel would go around once it would take the machine almost a block. The greatest dream that any boy had was that someday he would be able to ride his own bicycle. A few bicycles came out without chains but the idea died out. An ordinance was passed that bicycles at night should display a light and that there should be a bicycle bell attached to the handle bars to warn pedestrians of ones approach.

Sold for $110
The advent of the bicycle in the 1880's was one of the greatest improvements in small transportation since the days of the Roman chariot. When safety bicycles first came out about 1890 they sold for as high as $110. Charlie Nye had one that cost this amount and his wife had a woman's wheel that cost $90. After a few years the cost was reduced and they became very commonplace on our streets. In a few years many second handed ones were for sale and this opened the market for most everybody. An old second handed wheel was called an ice wagon.

It was during these years that Mr. Moon was mayor that the ice industry was at its height around Warsaw. Some winters were so mild that there was no ice on our lakes thick enough to pack but they counted on a harvest at least every third year. If ice became short in the summer they had to import it from some northern city. during the summer ice wagons made the rounds of the town filling the refrigerators of those who could afford to take it.

Ice Industry Starts
The coming of the electric refrigerator some 30 years ago sounded the knell of the ice industry. When the ice on the lakes got more than a foot thick they would start scraping the snow off of it. then they would mark it out into cross sections with a marker pulled by one horse. Then they would construct a run to the ice house through which they would float the blocks. When everything got to going as it should the blocks were fed into this runway by men out on the lake pushing the large sections. As the blocks went through this runway men standing on small homemade bridges would spud the ice and separate it into blocks. At the end of this runway the blocks were picked up by an endless chain affair which hoisted them up into the ice house. Here the blocks went down long skids and men working in there placed them in order. Insulating material such as sawdust or marsh hay was used to keep the blocks from freezing into one mass.

The icehouse itself was a double walled building insulated with sawdust between the walls. There were houses at the foot of Buffalo on Center lake, some over on Pike lake, and some at Eagle lake (now Winona). There were large houses on North Detroit along the lake. John Collins, Perry Jacques, Jim Cisney, Beyer Brothers and Co. C. W. Chapman were some of the owners of these houses. Clases had houses on Center lake some years later. Godman had an ice house in connection with his ice cream factory. A few farmers such as Bunty Shaffer had houses and would haul the ice to them in wagons. In the summertime much ice was shipped to Peru for those on the east side of Center lake were owned by a Peru company.

Cold Job
Harvesting ice in the winter was a cold undesirable job. The workers were paid about $1.50 a day in the 1890's. They had to dress warm and wear felt boots. When the houses were full the proprietor usually invited the company of workers to some uptown restaurant where they would serve oyster stews. The part of the lake from which the ice was cut would freeze over again and make a good place for skating because the surface was not covered with snow. To venture onto such a place, however, before the ice was thick enough to hold a person up was fatal. Jim Cisney was marking off ice once and both he and his horse went through the ice but fortunately they got them both out.

The old papers relate several drownings in Center lake where boys ventured onto thin ice. Dan Bitner used to live on Indiana street and they had a large dog that they would use for sending messages out to their farm northwest of Center lake. The dog was coming home once winter evening across the lake and feel through the ice. He barked all night and then went under the next morning never to rise again. This history of Center lake would be very interesting if one could begin back in the days when the Indians used to camp on its borders and come through to the present time.

Jake Thralls used to say that when his family arrived here in the 1830's they were just starting the excavation for Center lake but of course we take this with a grain of salt! Maybe some distant relative of Wallace J. Dillingham had charge of the dredging machine. Who knows?

Warsaw Times-Union Tuesday, April 19, 1955

Back to YesterYear in Print