The path before us

'Twas in 1924, just about, that we had a concrete example of putting things to good use - that was the year, just about, that our town built its first cement sidewalk. This was a big step forward. The first sidewalks had been but footpaths arrived at without engineering by people who didn't want to get stepped on by horses. These footpaths got improved from time to time by gravel here and gravel there, and by the application of soft coal cinders from the mill and school furnaces. There weren't too many things to be done with soft coal cinders, and once they packed down the footing was fair. Now, town meeting appropriated money for a cement sidewalk up Main Street from the ''corner,'' which is Maine for the stow-wers. The sidewalk was to continue until the money ran out, and extensions would be handled by later town meetings.

The transit-mix business had not then been invented, but the hand-mix with a hoe in a trough had given way to the half-bag mixer with a gasoline en-gine. Harvey Bliss had invested in such, being a forward-looking man, and he had then successfully promoted the idea of cement sidewalks at so much the bag. As soon as frost left the ground, gravel was dumped at intervals along the way - carts and horses and shoveled by hand. Cement came by rail freight and was stored in Harvey's barn until needed. Two-three bags at a time kept well ahead of the crew. Construction of the sidewalk was worth the cost in community entertainment. Everybody spent more or less time watching the progress, and Harvey had plenty of volunteer advice at hand if he'd cared to ''call on.'' Two men shoveled gravel into the hopper and dumped cement and water. One man tipped the mixer when the batch was ready, and two men screeded. Harvey and his brother Ned were on ahead arranging the forms, and as a section of new cement began to ''set,'' they would come back and smooth it. Not too smooth, but with a slight ripple so people wouldn't slip in wet weather.

The make-and-break en-gine had a distinctive pop-pop to it that could be heard generally throughout the village, and except for noonin' this went on from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on good days. Perley Ginter, the night watch (a half century later the town had a police force of seven which at great expense was able to do everything Perley did), would come at quitting time to see that dogs and cats and boy and girls didn't mess in the wet cement. When Perley thought this crisis was over, he'd go on his nightly rounds with his time-clock and reduce local crime to a minimum.

So in proper time the money ran out, and the town had a fine cement sidewalk that started at the corner, went past the boardinghouse and the livery stable, up the main street past the Finley farm (we had several farms still in the village then) and the Universalist Church. The Universalist Church was a lovely old building but it had no active communicants and remained unused. Up the knoll , then, and on past the Baptist Church. The Baptist Church had a rousing good support, and the new sidewalk was a boon to those attending worship there. A small jest ran about town that public funds had built the Baptists a glory trail , and since the Baptists going and coming used the sidewalk most of all there was some truth in it. A hundred yards or so beyond the Baptist Church the money ran out and Harvey Bliss started another campaign to get another appropriation next year. His best argument may have been that as far as he knew, this was the only town in the state with a real cement sidewalk program.

Now, about putting things to good use: Quite a few genteel ladies complained to the selectmen that bicyclists were speeding on the sidewalk and that their dignities had been abused while on stroll. The selectmen then asked bicyclists to refrain from scaring ladies. A complaint was also lodged about wheelbarrows. Gentlemen going to town for a bag of hen feed liked the smooth cement under the wheel - much better than the yielding cinders of yore. And a wheelbarrow is wider than a bicycle. Then, putting the sidewalk to good use, came Grampie Stilphen. Grampie's garden hoe was dull, and it needed sharpening before he tackled the summer's weeds. So he walked halfway to the corner and back, dragging the blade of his hoe on the cement, and got a regular grindstone edge without a grindstone. He chanced to do this on a Sunday morning, right past the Baptist Church, intruding the woeful protest of metal on concrete right between the Doxology and the Offertory. The selectman asked him not to do that again, and he never did.

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