Harmon’s Histories: Time to make ‘fitting preparation for spring’

By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current

My apologies to lovers of snow, but enough is enough.

Yes, after years of drought, we needed the moisture. But winter has long overstayed its welcome.

We traveled to Billings last week for the State B basketball tournament. The trip was straight out of the TV series, “Highway Thru Hell.” May we never have to travel in such conditions again.

It’s time for spring to take up its seasonal residence. It’s time, as the 1871 Missoula Pioneer newspaper put it, “to clean off the accumulated disorder of the winter from house and garden, and to make fitting preparation for spring and sunshine.”

After all, asked the paper, “What looks more beautiful than a neat little cottage surrounded with shrubbery and flowers, enclosed by a nice white paling, having in the rear a well-kept vegetable garden?

“Those who own property (should) now be at work in making everything around them look inviting and cheerful. By doing so, the natural beauties of our picturesque town will be greatly enhanced in the estimation of visitors, and it will add materially to our own comfort.”

Good advice then and now, for all of us – and, it’s not just for aesthetic reasons.

A Missoula newspaper, in the 1890s, warned of “the danger of contagious disease or other holocaust” if folks failed “to properly remove the garbage and other refuse which, for convenience sake, is daily deposited in the rear of business blocks and many residences.”

Odoriferousness was one thing, but the paper worried that the heaps of ashes and discarded flammables in alleyways was also a prescription for a devastating fire.

Fire chief/health officer “R. S. Mentrum and his little buckskin horse (were) busily engaged in traveling through the alleys and along the highways and byways, instructing property owners to clean up for the summer season.”

Over at the courthouse, Sheriff Ramsey was doing his part, having “a number of his guests employed in the easy and airy work of cleaning up the courthouse square, the improved appearance of the yard being quite agreeable.”

On the east bank of the Rattlesnake river (as it was called then), Thomas L. Greenough established “one of the most delightful spots in the Garden City.” The private grounds contained an extensive orchard and a “bountifully supplied strawberry patch.”

In 1909, the Daily Missoulian reminded readers why Missoula was known as the Garden City: “To its miles of residence streets is to be traced the origin of the title, which, after all, is the proudest that Missoula bears. Long rows of tall shade trees, stately, well kept, fringe the streets in straight, seemingly endless lines.

“After the trees of the streets come the trim lawns of the residences that line Missoula’s avenues and boulevards. The man who owns property on any street of Missoula is bound to keep his premises in a neat condition. He would be very conspicuous if he didn’t and so a slovenly yard in Missoula is a thing hard to find.

“There are many flower garden experts in Missoula. Scarcely a yard doesn’t boast its decoration of this kind. The climate is conducive of such things as pansies, sweat peas, nasturtiums and rose bushes, lilacs — everything in fact, that grows to perfume the air.”

In 1914, the city street department was praised in the local press for its thoroughness in laundering downtown streets using the “flushing tank” along with fire hoses, leaving the roadways “spotlessly clean.”

In the spring of 1948, volunteers were asked to turn out at Thomas Greenough’s old place (by then, converted to “Greenough Park”) to clear out the overgrown brush and dead trees. They were instructed to bring their own tools and meet at the “new wading pool” near Monroe street.

All across Montana, newspapers encouraged their readers to tidy up.

In Lewistown, the Fergus County Democrat, urged men of the household to “go halvers with their wives in the cleaning business.” The 1905 paper suggested townsmen get outside and “make some dirt fly,” planting flower beds, while their wives made “the dust fly,” inside.

In Glasgow, the Courier called on everyone from the rotary club to girl scouts to do their part in a 1918 clean-up campaign to eliminate “all fire hazards” in the area.

The Great Falls police department, though, took “spring cleaning” to a different level. In 1922, it organized a spring-cleaning-roundup of undesirables.

The Tribune reported everyone on the force from the chief down to the beat cop, “took a hand in the arrest of more than 20 persons on charges of vagrancy and drunkenness.”

The 24-hour cleanup was aimed at ridding the town “of many of its present undesirable citizens and to check the incoming flow of professional vagrants.”

I think I’ll limit my spring clean-up to yard and garden.

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