A View From The Attic
23 March 2009
by Lona Lewis
Our news today is filled with
worries about another great depression paralleling the one the USA
had in the 1930s. But
one large difference surfaces, there was no safety net during
those hard economic times. Families had to find a way to survive.
The Historical Society, in its collections, has items from the
Depression that provide clues as to how people coped.
Fremont County in 1930 had a
population total of 15,533. Towns were filled with small
businesses. Each community had all the services needed including
more than one grocery store, auto dealerships, filling stations
and movie houses. Most area schools had their largest graduating
classes during the thirties. (Baby boomers from World War 1.)
Although the residents and businesses did not know it, they were
experiencing their heyday.
The towns depended on those
living in the country to trade in their establishments. Regardless
of the number of thriving small towns and their residents, Fremont
County, then like now, was a rural area. If one drove a section,
there would be numerous small farms with a garden and chickens
dotting the countryside.
As the Depression deepened, more
than ever the gardens sustained families. Town residents also had
gardens. Canning and root cellars were mainstays to keeping food
on the table. Barrels of salted pork, apples, potatoes and squash
could be found in their cellars. Sauerkraut’s
pungent smell mixed with all of the other aromas that assailed the
nose when the cellar door was lifted. There was no end to the
foods that could be preserved for winter use.
Every household had a pressure
canner that was forever busy in the summer.
Lewis of Riverton, lived
though those Depression years as a young woman raising three
children. Even into the 1990s
her memories of that period were vivid. She most remembered that
as spendable cash disappeared, everyone in the neighborhood worked
together to provide necessary services. She would talk about how
her husband, Dawson, cut everyone’s
hair. Another neighbor fixed shoes.
Homegrown Sunday dinners of
fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and cake were
something to look forward to all week. Only the sugar, flour and a
few other ingredients had to be purchased at the local store.
Sunday evenings were times for
popcorn and soup. Neighbors would join in the fun and many times a
chicken was sent home with a family who was having an especially
It was obvious in talking to
Mabel that she remembered that time as a challenge but one that
still had its joys. The biggest pleasure being relying on family
and friends for entertainment and working together that helped
keep everyone close knit.
As does any economic downturn,
those times left their mark. Census data shows that from the early
1900s through 1930 the population in Fremont County was stable. By
1940, it had lost 888 residents. Ten years later, in 1950, the
population number had decreased by 3,210 to 12,323 from its high
in 1930. In 2000, Fremont County had 8,010 residents.
No longer is the countryside
dotted with small family farms. The number of grocery stores for
the entire county is now three. The use of automobiles and
changing economics, especially in farming, have affected
population in the County but it began with the Great Depression.