Take a stroll around the main floor of the Benton County Museum and you'll likely get a feel for what life was like a century ago in Philomath and the surrounding area.

Over in one spot, you can view World War I items that belonged to Gen. U.G. McAlexander. Another display details information on the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed millions of people around the world. Photos illustrate parts of life ranging from a parade down Main Street to an automobile stuck in the mud. In the middle of the room, there's even a old still that belonged to a Kings Valley resident.

“Circa 1920: Roaring into the Modern Age” opened recently at the Philomath-based museum to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences of life in America 100 years ago. Many of the objects on display were part of the Horner Museum collection, formerly at Oregon State University.

Mark Tolonen, museum curator, said technology is his favorite part of the exhibition.

"The addition of electricity and the availability of it to people's homes was so rapid and it affected every part of people's lives," Tolonen said. "All of a sudden it's like, 'wow, can I have electricity in the bedroom, too? And how about the kitchen, can I have a light over there? A toaster, we can have toasted bread?'"

Tolonen wasn't exaggerating with electricity bringing homes into the modern age.

"It was expanding by leaps and bounds," Tolonen added. "Instead of quilting by the fire at night, you could do it in any room you wanted."

Statistics show the number of homes nationwide equipped with electric power rose from 15.9 percent in 1912 to 53.2 percent in 1925 and 65.2 percent by 1930.

Martha Fraundorf, a retired OSU professor, volunteers at the museum and performed most of the exhibition's research.

"I probably like the fashion. I think that's fun and I like the way Mark arranged it around the old piano because that was a real thing," Fraundorf said. "People would stand around the piano singing."

The social and economic structure of American society changed radically from 1914 to 1925. Women’s right to vote, migration from farm to city, expansion of big business and resulting income inequality, restriction on immigration and rising nationalism were embraced by some and rejected by others.

It was a time of technological change as well. Airplane technology developed rapidly during World War I, automobile use increased seven-fold and road-building proliferated. The Panama Canal was completed during this era, which shortened the route from New York to San Francisco by nearly 8,000 miles.

Both Tolonen and Fraundorf enjoy firsthand accounts that reveal an intimate look at daily life around Benton County. In fact, the museum's collection includes an excerpt from the diary of a woman named Alvina Amort.

"There's a story in here about traveling from Corvallis to Newport and getting three flat tires along the way," Tolonen said. "And they had to stop to let the engine cool down. It was an all-day affair."

Amort describes the following trip to Newport in a diary entry from Aug. 10, 1917.

“Left Corvallis about 9. Nineteen miles from home just before we reached Wren, we had our first blow out," the diary reads. "We ate our dinner way beyond Blodgett. Had two more blowouts. Couldn't fix the last 'till a guy came who had an extra patch. At 4 o'clock we stopped a long time to cool the engine and rest. Stopped at Toledo for gas. Got to Newport about 5:30.”

Fraundorf, who writes an informal blog on Benton County history, said the best thing she enjoys about doing the research is learning new things.

"One of the things I taught the last few years before I retired was economic history, so I really got into history," she said. "You can kinda tell that background because I stick in numbers a lot."

Tolonen added, "But they really give it a perspective and convey it in a way that anybody could relate to."

For example, in 1913, Oregon had only 25 miles of paved roads. Although that doesn't seem like much, it was not unusual. In 1914, 90 percent of the 2 million miles of American roads outside of the largest cities were unpaved. Most of the others merely had gravel spread on top.

Fraundorf said that in the period from 1915-1920, the number of roads went from 2.5 million to over 20 million.

"It's really the Model T that became cheap enough for people, middle-class people, to afford," she said. "It's mixed ... you can see people riding horses, too."

Besides technology, transportation and WWI, other themes in the exhibition include art, fashion, music, the influenza epidemic, troops at the Mexican border, the Panama Canal, prohibition and community developments.

Through the various advances, the world got a little smaller.

"There was this sort of widening out into international stuff, the Panama Canal, the war, our ability to move around with cars and everything," she said.

Philomath wasn't quite a timber town just yet during this period of 100 years ago. In the years before and after 1920, agriculture was the primary industry. Timber came along later during the World War II era, Fraundorf said.

Taking over the Horner Museum collection plays a major role in having objects available for such an exhibition.

"Many historical societies in Oregon started around 1950 or 1951, so they started collecting the World War II era objects," Tolonen said. "But we've got the luxury of the Horner Museum going further back, so we actually have a really good collection from an early era for Oregon. I think that's primarily why we are able to do this."

Tolonen said there is no definitive closing date for the exhibition.

"Generally, we only change this gallery out once a year," he said. "I'm guessing some new objects will probably come in where people will say, 'I've got something I'm willing to donate' that fits this theme. Sometime at the end of the year, we'll switch over."



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