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October diary entries of Nashville engineer reveal bits of history

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10/22/2016 | 10:53am CEST

This "Memories of the Past" article by the late Susan Hinckley was published in the Maple Valley News Oct. 21, 1986.

Tidbits of Nashville history, including public works data, are found in a collection of diaries kept by longtime Nashville village engineer Frank Russell that now is part of the local history section at Putnam Public Library.

The books were given to the library by the family of the late Vern Staup, a longtime Nashville barber who had received the diaries following Russell's death in 1952.

In the late 1970s when we first started this column and often called on Mr. Staup's fantastic recall of Nashville history, he loaned us the Russell diaries to allow us to prepare a transcript that has since proved to be a valuable reference source in preparing Memories of the Past.

Russell's succinct diary entries reflect life in Nashville of his era. He made daily weather notation; commented on traffic and road conditions; noted production of local garden crops, the construction of new homes and other buildings in the village; kept track of fires and other local tragedies; recorded deaths (even down to whose pet dog or cat had died); and offered occasional comments on community social events and sometimes noteworthy local tiffs.

All in all, Russell's diaries are a commentary on life along the Thornapple River, the heart of which (for him) was the village pump house at Waterworks, later Putnam, Park.

As a young man, Russell had dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer, but family circumstances compelled him to relinquish that aspiration. While operating a threshing rig in North Dakota in 1902, he was summoned home to take care of his recently widowed mother, Helen. Frank's father, Hiram Russell, died that year. He and a sister were the only children, so Frank Russell traded in his railroading dream for a settled life as village engineer.

When he was hired April 10, 1907, to run the two steam pumps in the waterworks building, he tackled the job with a rare dedication. He moved a bed in alongside the machinery and slept in those quarters for the next 29 years, pampering the old pumps to assure Nashville a dependable public water supply.

In addition, he was responsible for installing water services, reading meters and collecting water rental fees. Russell also enjoyed mowing the village parks and planting "posies" here and there to brighten the scene. (His complete life story was told in a Memories of the Past article published March 5, 1980.)

The column below has excerpts of several of Russell's October diary entries, beginning in 1909. That was the era when Nashville's early sewer system was being installed and many of his comments pertain to that construction.

We have added parenthetical comments where further explanation seemed necessary. Number indicate the October dates for each year.


1909 - 3 -Sunday. Got the tile laid on Cleveland Street to Washington, 6 -A peach of a day. Bivens drawing coal (to waterworks building to power steam pumps). 7 -Jim Hummel digging his potatoes in park. 8 -Jim finished up potatoes today. Bivens finished coal. Putting in shake grates at schoolhouse. Wreck at Vermontville. 10 -Got dug on sewer in front of my house (his mother's home at 210 Phillips St.) 12 -Snowing and blowing this morning. Kept it up all day. 14 -Hardest freeze of the season. First time it froze ground. Some snow on ground yet. 18 -Rained a little last night. Turned in $55 water rents. 19 -A good white frost this morning. Helped Will Shields fix his smokestack. Repairing arch under west boiler. 21 -Clifford had cow killed by (railroad) cars. 23 -Commenced snowing at half past 8. Tapped main at Pliny McOmbers. 27 -Jagnaw (sewer contractor) commenced on Queen Street this morning. Quite a high wind. Quite cold. 28 -A little ice on the bio (bayou, probably meaning the millpond); first I have seen (this season). 29 -Repaired service pipe at George Wellman's. Seen a flock of wild geese. 31 -A nice warm day. Buried my apples. Painted tin roof on house. Got sewer dug in front of Will Feighners.

1910 - 3 -Liebhauser commenced tearing down old coal bin (at waterworks). 13 -Masons commenced on new coal bin this morning. Tapped main at Farmers & Merchants Bank. 17 -Liebhauser commenced carpenter work on coal bin. Bought 10 bushels potatoes of Dull, 50 cents. 24 -John Liebhauser painting coal shed. 28 -Bill Woodard drawing sand for cementing coal bin. 31 -Finished up cementing.

1911 - 4 -The ditch digger got to John Taylor's alley. 8 -First killing frost of the season. 13 -Ditch digger working on State Street today. 14 -Raised water main on Reed at State Street to let tile go north. 20 -Working on sewer down on Buston's flats. 24 -Tapped for flush tank at Peat Walkers and for schoolhouse sewer. 27 -Picked my apples today. 28 -Ace (Asa) Bivens placed iron fence south end of the bridge.

1912 - 1 -Tapped main for Home Downing. 3 -Electric wires come down twice at waterworks. Rob Feighner's funeral. 10 -

Continued next page

© Copyright © 2016 Maple Valley News, All rights reserved., source Newspapers

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