Local News

March 16, 2014

Letters from the past

Martha Manly wanted to cast a vote, just once.

It was November of 1883.

She wrote to her son Frank Manly “Tomorrow is election day. Wet or Dry. That is the ticket,” read her great-granddaughter Gertrude “Tut” McFarland. “I wish women could vote just one time. We would make it so dry the very air on Earth would feel it. ... The whiskey men are confident and the dry men are determined.”

Saloons, like those with swinging doors in the Wild West, were on Hamilton Street in those days, said McFarland, who spoke at the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society meeting on Sunday at the History Center and Archives off Chattanooga Avenue. She shared her family’s history and the history of Dalton as it was told by her great-grandmother in letters to McFarland’s grandfather.

McFarland is a Dalton native and retired teacher from Dalton Public Schools.

A family member was scared to walk down the street for fear a drunk man would be thrown out of the saloon, she said.

The church bells were to ring if the county would go dry.

“The vote was in favor of becoming dry, and they rang the church bells,” McFarland said.

Many of Martha Manly’s letters speak of what life was like in Dalton, give insight on some of the people who helped the town grow and try to convince her son why he should come home and marry Maggie Pitner.

McFarland’s great-grandparents — Dr. William Judson Manly was his name — moved to Georgia in search of a better climate than upstate New York and Vermont. They lived around the South in a few places before settling on Dalton in 1865. The next year, their son, Frank, was born. He was one of four children.

Martha Manly “was a prolific writer,” McFarland said. “The family was very frugal. ... You’ve heard of reading between the lines. Well, she wrote between the lines. After she had written one page, she would turn it around and write up the border. She would turn it upside down and write between the lines that way.”

When Frank Manly, who later opened Manly Jail Works, was 16 he left home to study at Oxford College, part of what is now Emory University.

He wanted an engineering degree. His mother wanted him to be a preacher.

Martha Manly writes of missing her son while he was away at school. She addresses him as “precious boy” often and reminds him she is praying for him to become a “holy and useful man.”

She encourages frugality in her letters, things like bargaining with a dentist on the price of a filling, splitting the cost of a dictionary with classmates and selling shoes when he developed a bunion.

“If you can’t wear those shoes, sell them,” Martha Manly wrote to her son. “They cost $2.”

Frank Manly left college, forgoing his senior year, to work with family members at an iron works company in Philadelphia. The letters continued.

Music publisher and songwriter A.J. Showalter of Dalton sang in the First Presbyterian Church’s choir when he was home, and that’s where Martha Manly played the organ, McFarland said.

“He handed her a manuscript,” McFarland said. “He handed it to her and said ‘I just wrote this. I want to know what you think.’ As she played, he sang. She said she thought it would be a very popular hymn. It was ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,’ of course.”

The family of Dalton poet Robert Loveman lived next door to the Manly family.

Loveman’s family owned a store, and often customers would come in and couldn’t find anyone to help them, McFarland said. Loveman would wander down the street reading or writing. His father was known for yelling down the street in anger at his son.

“Bob Loveman quit the store,” Martha Manly wrote in one of her letters. “He always wanted a literary life.”

She mentioned that Dalton was growing several times in the letters.

“Water works was carried by a majority,” McFarland read. “Dalton is on a silent boom.”

William Judson Manly — though a physician and surgeon — built, sold and rented real estate in Dalton. When Crown Cotton Mill opened, which was “Dalton’s first big and important industry,” he rented homes for the employees, McFarland said.

“There are so many families coming to work in the factory,” Martha Many wrote. “While there’s no official excitement, there is a steady growth in Dalton.”

She wrote of public schools forming, and by 1888 said they were “booming.” She wrote of an opera house being built on Hamilton Street. She says people ride in carriages through the streets, which is “so different than the Dalton of old.”

In the winter of 1886, Martha Manly says there was more than 2 feet of snow on the ground.

“You would open your eyes wide if you could see the fix we are in,” she wrote. And later, “What a charming day. The ground is covered with snow. The sun is shining brightly this morning. ... It’s amusing how scared everyone is of the snow. The chickens won’t even come out to eat.”

Martha Manly calls theaters a waste of money and encourages her son to visit libraries and Christian men’s establishments. She encourages him to read “Ben-Hur” by Lew Wallace and to read his Bible every night.

Throughout her letters to her son, Martha Manly continually encourages him to return home instead of working in the steel industry. She speaks highly of Maggie Pritner of Cohutta, who lived in Dalton during the school year to attend Dalton Female College.

“So sweet and modest as a rose bush,” Martha Manly wrote of Printer. “So few girls like her.”

Eventually Frank Manly did return to Dalton, and he and Pritner married in 1902, McFarland said. He also opened Manly Jail Works, a steel company and an early industry for Dalton.

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