Monday, February 11, 2013

Chapter 7: "Shadows of the Old Order"

We are all aware that "things" were "different" in the past. Some of these things we know, e.g. people used horses for transportation before there were cars. Sometimes things surprise us. In reading Country Editor by Henry Beetle Hough, I was surprised by the following passage about the independent thinking and action when it came to providing a rural area, in this case, Martha's Vineyard, with telephone service and electricity, and the nature of transportation to and from the island. The book was published in 1940 and covers the first twenty years that Hough and his wife served as editors of the Edgartown Gazette. Unless, it's a harmful or dangerous, I like becoming aware of different ways of being and living from other times and/or other places. It's humbling and serves to shake one a bit out of complacency.
There were many survivals of the old order in the community as we found it. Dr. Tarry was still practicing. He was tall and thin, penetrating and sardonic. He went about with a tall silk hat, cutaway coat and striped trousers....Some years earlier Dr. Tarry had built himself a telephone line and founded a telephone company. The science and business of communication was not far along, and the Bell company did not care about extending its poles on the country roads in more thinly populated districts. But in these places Dr. Tarry's patients lived, and he wanted to reach them. Being of an energetic and determined nature, he went ahead and was soon operating successfully....Dr. Tarry had sold out his telephone company to the Bell System before we took the Gazette...The electric light company, too, had been started by local enterprise...The principal figure was a former steamboat captain and islander of the old school. The founding of these enterprises was simply a continuation of an old tradition, and there was something about it which seemed to characterize the whole community. One was aware of a strong individualism, a spirit of initiative and of self reliance. In the old days the steamboats linking the island with the mainland had been built and operated by local companies....the captain had as much say about operating his steamboat as anyone else. If he wanted to leave his route and give a tow to some becalmed schooner, or salvage the cargo of a distressed craft, he did so, and the passengers had so much extra sail and so much added experience of life, in return for their delayed passage...In the modern age the steamboats had become the property of a single company, and control of the company had been sold to a railroad system on the mainland. This was the modern trend....Centralization was sucking it out of small paces such as our island. The moving impulse was no longer to be the ideas and initiative of an individual in town, but something coming, like an electric current over a wire, from a city in the distance.

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