Old laws illuminate city’s darker days
by Marguerite Cline
July 11, 2014 01:46 AM | 2813 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It is amazing the things we find when we move the furniture. Dot and Bill Cline are having their floors redone. When their furniture was moved, they found a real treasure. It is yellowed pages from a book of the long-ago ordinances of the town of Waleska.

Although it does not give the title of the book or date of publication, the laws were in effect before the town had electricity. One of the duties of the town marshal was to light and extinguish the streetlights, fill them with oil and keep them properly cleaned.

The marshal must have been the busiest man in town. As expected, he was in charge of law enforcement.

Another of his duties was to enforce the city ordinances that included inspecting to see that citizens did not have a chicken coop in the front of their house or on the sidewalk. In his spare time, he inspected and repaired the roads and bridges.

The marshal was required to be fast and strong. He impounded every horse, mare, mule, hog, cow or goat found running loose in the town. To get their livestock back, the owner paid 50 cents plus 20 cents more for each day an animal was impounded.

The men of the city were required to maintain the streets and sidewalks. “Every male person within the jurisdiction of Waleska who would be subject to road duty shall be liable to work upon the streets and sidewalks of said town for such number of days each year as the Council may fix for that year not to exceed ten days.”

The city fathers were serious about citizens working on the roads and sidewalks. If needed, the marshal had a ball and chain.

There were already problems with traffic in Waleska. Laws regulating traffic were in place. “No person shall leave any buggy, wagon, carriage or other vehicle standing on the square or any street of said town overnight or on the Sabbath.”

It was unlawful to put glass or anything else in the street that would cut the feet of the citizens or the tires of bicycles.

Some ordinances were written to protect the citizens and the environment. It was illegal to plant or set out ailanthus, or tree of heaven, in the town. According to a USDA website, they give off a stinky odor and crowd out other plants.

You might say Waleska was one of the first towns to “go green.”

If it became known to the Sanitary Committee anyone in town had smallpox, a doctor was paid to vaccinate all the citizens unless they had a scar showing they had already been vaccinated.

“It shall duty of said committee to have removed to the pest house, all parties who are infected with smallpox, unless a suitable guard can be and is maintained around said premises, the sufficiency of same to be determined by said Committee, and the expenses of guarding to be borne by the party so guarded.”

In other words, if you could afford to pay a guard ,you could stay home. Your house was marked by a large sign — “Smallpox — Quarantined” — and the guard insured that no one was allowed to enter or leave.

Parts of the marshal’s job description were totally gross.

“The Sanitary Inspector, who may be the Marshal, … to examine all the privies, stables, hog-pens, and all other places of like nature in town that may give noxious odors, create sickness … as often as the Mayor may require.”

Each privy had to be cleaned out under the direction of the Sanitary Inspector/Marshal at least once a week. The excrement was carried in a covered cart or wagon built for that purpose to a designated location. Naturally, the location was outside of the town. Then the empty privy was treated with lime.

Some ordinances protected citizens of Waleska from things deemed sinful and immoral.

No one could have a shooting-gallery, 10-pin-alley, billiard table or pool table. There was a fine for quarreling, using profanity or vulgar language, public indecency, being drunk or being disorderly.

One ordinance addressed ladies of “disreputable character or dissolute habits” standing or loitering on streets or sidewalks after dark. They were arrested by the marshal.

Most of the time when someone was found guilty by the mayor and council members, the penalty for the crime was a fine or time in the city jail.

That was not true when someone was found guilty of keeping a “bawdy house or a house of ill-fame.” One of the options the mayor had then was to tear the house down.

Often, we hear someone wishing we could go back to the “good ole days.” When I read something like this, I think, “Not me!” But if we did, I would not want to be the marshal.


Marguerite Cline is former mayor of Waleska.

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