Newspapers of yesteryear used descriptions to 'paint a visual for the reader'

·3 min read
Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.
Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.

A picture speaks a thousand words, as the saying goes, but when a picture is not to be had, words must suffice.

One thing that I took note of over the years about newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, because photo reproduction was expensive or unavailable, was writers used descriptive language as a replacement, to paint a visual for the reader.

With this past week being fair week for Lenawee County, I went back to 1894 to find such a descriptive account.

The Sept. 20 Adrian Evening Telegram reported the Lenawee County Fair would be a "big show."

"The Lenawee county fair association was about the only one in southern Michigan that came out ahead on finances. Taken into consideration the fact that the association started with nothing and a heavy debt on hand, it sounds as if the management of George B. Horton, the president, Leroy Mills, the secretary that is, and W.H. Wiggins, the treasurer, were just the men to have at the head of such an institution.

"The prospects for this year's fair, which runs next week are even greater than they were last year at this time. The attractions in horse racing, bicycle racing are better, and it is believed the the general show will be good.

"A little look over the grounds convinces the Telegram that the 'push Adrian' spirit has taken hold of the management. Especially has Master of Ceremonies J.R. Bennett been at work this year, superintending the construction of the new dining hall, seeing to the work of repairing all the places that have met with accident during the idleness of the grounds, and making a general cleanup.

"The greatest convenience is the new dining hall, which is now completed and ready for Schoolcraft & Layward to take hold of and run to the queen's taste. The building is 40x60 feet in dimensions, the main entrance to which will consist of double doors and a porch 7x10 feet, covered by a gable roof, on the north side of the structure. Entrances are also provided at the ends.

"In the interior a section on the south side, 12x60 feet, will be partitioned off for a kitchen, from which nine openings will afford easy communication to the hall containing the tables. In the kitchen will be two rows of shelves, one of which will separate the waiters from those who manage the culinary department. A frame structure, just east of the building will be moved up to it, giving added kitchen room.

"The tables, eight in number, will extend north from the partition twenty-six feet, and afford ample accommodations for a large crowd of hungry sightseers.

"The kitchen is provided with water from the city works.

"The roof area is 3,300 square feet, and some 26,000 cedar shingles are used.

"Another addition that will be welcomed by the ladies is the reception and toilet room provided for them a short distance west of the dining hall. This will be carpeted and provided with seats, washstands and all the customary conveniences."

The descriptive articles of yesteryear are virtually a lost art now, as they were used to inform when a photograph could not. They are valuable in that they describe a building, event or scene in ways an image cannot, or contain details found only in a now-long lost blueprint.

Times have changed, for sure. The large, central dining room has given way to the grange and 4-H dining rooms, and you will likely never again see a carpeted public bathroom at the fairgrounds.

Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Dan Cherry: When photos were unavailable, newspapers were descriptive