In 1971, during Norris City’s Centennial celebration, Clo Tison Fellinger wrote a letter about what she remembered about living in Norris city.
Clo was born in Norris City in September 15, 1891 just to the north of the old grade school building. Her parents were Jake J. Tison, a school teacher, and Emma Keasler Tison. I used this in a prior article about eight years ago, but thought it was of value to use it again. Clo passed away on February 1, 1988, at the age of 96, and is buried in I. O. O. F. Cemetery in Norris City beside her husband Paul Fellinger. Here is Clo’s letter: “I REMEMBER NORRIS CITY”
“I remember Norris City because I was born there and lived there for forty four years.
“As young married people, my parents moved there in 1890. As a school teacher, my father wanted to be near the grade school so he bought the first lot (for $40) just north of the school and had a three room house built on it. This house is the present home of Mrs. Mary Hill [in 1971]. This house cost $250 to build which seems cheap now, but with teacher’s salaries at $45 per month for a six months term, it wasn’t so cheap. This was where I was born. At this time Norris City was a fair sized village with two churches, a four room brick grade school, two flour mills, baker shop, two hotels, butcher shop, two general stores and several doctors. The two churches were Cumberland Presbyterian and Congregational. No Methodist church in town, but a Methodist Sunday School was held in the opera house on Sunday morning.
“An early recollection was the tolling of the church bell in the midnight hours when some one in town passed away. It was a means of communication as telephones were yet unknown— I was glad when this custom was dropped
“The baker drove up and down the streets in the late afternoon, ringing a bell to let the housewife know he had fresh bread for sale. I would run out with a nickel and exchange it for a warm loaf of bread, which was neither wrapped nor sliced.
“Every one was born at home and also died there as hospitals were in far away cities. This naturally required the help of neighbors and old friends. Neighbor women were present to help with a new born baby. In case of bad sickness the neighbors would sit up all night with the sick, and after a death neighbors would dress and prepare the body for burial. The undertaker carried a line of caskets, but nothing else. Mrs. Belle Clippinger was called on so often to make a shroud, and my mother, Emma Tison, helped her a few times. They worked under coal oil lamps and into the late hours of the night—it was an act of neighborly love and no compensation was ever offered or expected.
“I remember Norris City also on happier occasions. The people entertained themselves with home talent shows, singings, revivals, and literary society. Every church had its Easter program, Christmas program with an extra bonus of a treat for the children, and Children’s Day. In the summer we looked forward to the 4th of July celebration, Old Soldiers Reunion, ice cream suppers (Homemade cake and ice cream for 10 cents). Also we could expect a tent show or a circus to stop for a day, or a medicine show for a week. The reunions and 4th of July celebrations were held in Jones Grove just north of town, or in the woods north of Ebenezer Church. Now I remember best the merry-go-round, the taffy man who threw the freshly cooked taffy up over a big hook and then pulled it until it was snow white. A nickel bought a flat piece of taffy about three fingers wide and six inches long wrapped in wax paper—‘um but it was good. Another outstanding feature was the Roland Band which came to town in their own special band wagon drawn by four horses. Roland was a small community just south of Norris City and furnished the men and boys, who made a big hit when they drown into town dressed in colorful uniforms and playing a lively march.
“On the grounds was a speaker’s stand with flags and bunting flying from the top, and rough benches for the listeners to sit on. The speakers were political, or perhaps some old Civil War soldier. This is where the older folks rested, talked and listened to the speakers.
“There were contests for the boys, and the one I remember best was the greased pole contest. A watch was hanging from the top of the pole awaiting the first boy to reach the top. Many would try, but would slip down before reaching the watch. One boy, after failing several times, used his head and quickly ran to the road and filled his pockets with dust. Rubbing handfuls of dust on the pole as he climbed to the top was the answer. How the crowd applauded as he reached the watch.
“No one who lived in Norris City on March 29, 1908, will forget the rainy night of the big fire. Two blocks of the business district on Main Street east of the B. & O. tracks were destroyed by fire.
“What happened in our home that night is now humorous to recall, but definitely wasn’t at that time. My father was awakened by the firing of guns and distant voices. When he opened his eyes he instantly saw the light from the fire coming through the windows. With one leap from the bed (taking the covers with him) he hit an empty coal bucket sending it banging across the room, raised a window and stuck his head out, giving a blood curdling yell. This all happened much quicker than I can write it, and my mother thinking he had lost his mind screamed in a trembling voice ‘Jake, what is the matter?’ He answered ‘The town is on fire.’ They hastily dressed and went to the fire—my brother Willard and I watched from the window. The heavens were all a bright glow reflected from every rain drop and puddle of water. Such an eerie and weird sight to behold.
“For days after the fire it was the topic of conversation, and many stories were told. Only one I remember.
On the second floor of the Charley Barnes Hardware Store he kept his funeral supplies, caskets, etc. When the heat from the fire became intense it caused the air to expend in the caskets, and the lids would fly off and whirl high in the air. YES IT WAS A NIGHT TO REMEMBER.
“That summer, new brick buildings were built to replace the wooden ones that had burned and also new concrete walks along Main Street. Many memories come to my mind, but for fear of making it too long I will close.
“Hoping the next 100 years bring all good things to my Old Home Town.
“Sincerely, Clo Tison Fellinger, Mt. Vernon, Ill.”
I have some pictures taken after the fire that started on March 28, 1908 and burned on into March 29 that she mentioned. The school house in Norris City that she mentioned sat just to the north of the older two-story part of the old grade school building. I remember kicking up bricks in the dirt on the part of our school playground that was located at the site of this old school building. This building was often referred to as the “Little Red School House.” People who had attended this school used to have school reunions but since the school was torn down in about 1908, no one, who is still living, attended school in this building.
I also have a picture of the Roland Band that she wrote about.
If any of the readers of these articles would like to write up what they remember about their early life or have stories about early times in this area that they were told by their parents, grandparents, or some other older person, please get in contact with me. Also if you have any old pictures to share with the readers of these articles, please contact me.
I can be contacted at Edward Oliver, PO Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.