Stephen F. Austin State University

Memories of Older Times (September 2019)

Memories of Older Times

by Jonnie Miller

Grace Lee Amiott was a little girl in Newton in the years before World War I. She had fond memories of watching silent movies at the local "Picture Show Building." Times were carefree for the inhabitants of the small town but money was scarce. She tells of the need of a dime for the show. Her grandfather, who lived nearby and was more affluent than her own family sometimes paid her and her friends for small jobs they did for him. If all else failed they would sell her friend's goose to her friend's father for thirty cents (she needed enough for her, her cousin and the friend with the goose). Her friend's father never seemed to remember that he had bought that same goose two or three weeks before.

The carefree times ended on April 6, 1917 when our country entered World War I. Many young men from the area left via Orange & Northwestern Railroad on a motor car that at that time ran daily between Newton and Orange.

When these young men left, the school children were allowed to go to the depot to see them off.

The first casualties weren't combat related. They were caused by influenza, a disease new to most of the country at that time. Doctors didn't know how to treat it so many young men were sent home from basic training to be buried. This resulted in people in their home towns contracting the disease. The contagion was so severe that those who were well, trying to help, would cook a pot of soup and leave it at the door because they were afraid to venture inside the affected homes.

Newton, along with most of the country, became a sad place. Everyone had enough to eat but many things were rationed and people waited for news from the war. Selling Liberty Bonds and folding bandages for the Red Cross were the usual activities instead of going to the picture show. She remembers November 11, 1918 for the rest of her life as if it had only happened yesterday. Every whistle and bell in town began to sound out for "Armistice Day." The U.S. had lost 116,000 young men and had 325,000 casualties. It touched everyone.

When the war ended there were jobs available in the timber industry for those coming home. The railroad was now available for transport of logs and lumber. By 1913 Newton had 15 mercantile establishments including a turpentine plant with 200 employees. The population rose to 1000 and prices declined due to no more rationing. However, it didn't last as the crash of 1929 ended the economic boom and workers often had to commute to Beaumont and Orange for work. It changed the dynamics in the county-it seems a bust always comes on the heels of a boom. Raising cattle, cotton, and hogs kept the county from going under and reduced the pain. Discovery of oil in the region helped but many young people began to move away in search of work.