Memories of Les Mades

           1940 was the centennial year of Hamburg’s founding.  John Nahm, William Koenig, George Mades, Daniel Schmidt, Jacob Schneider, and Nicholas Roth were the first German immigrants to settle in the area in the 1830’s.  The town of Hamburg was laid out in 1840 by Henry Schneider, who built one of Hamburg’s first homes.  Henry Seib built a general store in 1878, and three years later John Mades became his partner.  In 1894, the MKT railroad completed tracks by Lower Hamburg, and the train depot was constructed.  Electricity came to both Hamburg and Howell in 1935. Although Hamburg was much more of a German community than Howell, by 1940 the German language was rarely spoken.
           Hamburg always seemed to have a very full social calendar.  Folks would gather to celebrate birthdays, to butcher hogs, or to cook apple butter for a church fundraiser.  Oyster suppers were held at the church.  People knew how to mind their own business, but they also knew how to have fun together.  Horseshoe pitching was so popular that when electricity finally came to Hamburg, a lighted court was constructed so horseshoes could continue after dark.  Impromptu musical sessions were common and usually involved a fiddle or two.  Gun club competitions were also held, and people hunted for sport and food.   
           Perhaps the social center of Hamburg in 1940 was the Sieb-Wackher IGA store.  Its second floor was a community center where townsfolk came to play card games, watch theatrical performances, participate in meetings, and enjoy dancing.  After fire destroyed the church in 1940, church services were also held here, worshippers sitting on slatted folding chairs, the hot summer air buzzing with wasps.  Another spot where people talked was Mische’s saloon, nicknamed “The Confectionary.”   Of course, after 1936, the Riverview Dance Hall regularly hosted activities.  Hamburg never had an official barbershop where men could gather, but one or two local men would cut hair in the town garage.  A regular topic of conversation among townsfolk was the incredible amount of dust generated by Highway 94, which had yet to be paved.
           A short road ran down the hill from the Hamburg Schoolhouse to Lower Hamburg, where the MKT station was located.  Also in the vicinity of the railroad station were the MKT station house, a few homes, and a saloon.  During the Depression, railroad hobos would often climb the steep hill to Hamburg, where they knew generous souls would provide them with a meal.  

Les Mades in the 1920's

            Like children in other small towns during the Depression, kids in Hamburg did not find it difficult to enjoy themselves.  Of course, much of their day during the school year was taken up by reading, writing, and arithmetic in the Hamburg Schoolhouse.  During recess they might swing like monkeys from a tall tree, play a hotly contested game of marbles, or quietly walk down the hill to the camel tree to sneak a smoke of corn silk or hickory leaves.  After school and during the summer, children swam in creeks, helped with chores, played on the Yahn dam, enjoyed springhouse-cooled watermelons, and drank cream-laden milk.  In the spring they viewed the annual river flooding and on summer nights watched the glow of foxfire.
          More than anything else, though, Hamburg was a place of familiar faces.  Frank Edwards and his family lived in Lower Hamburg.  The Misches ran The Confectionary, the town’s saloon.  The Seib family had owned businesses in Hamburg for multiple generations.  Lottie Pfarr had spent her entire life in Hamburg and was affectionately known to many as Aunt Lottie.  Douglas Blaylock was the town’s doctor.  These people knew each other, most of their parents knew one other, and in many cases their grandparents had known each other.  These were the neighbors they played with, laughed with, fought with, lived with.  They were farmers, bankers, doctors, housewives, mechanics, carpenters, bartenders, merchants, teachers, and railroad men.  These were the friends they had valued their entire lives.  Hamburg was their home.  This was the life they knew.