ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


The Curfew of 1881

The practice began in 1881 and continued for about 15 years,

until the water tower whistle was used for the curfew.


WDT 1932 article


Although only a common, ordinary hand bell, such as a scissors sharpener clanks as he plods along the street, or a country school teacher rings to call in her pupils after the recess period, an old antiquated hand bell, now lost, at one time caused both young and old, merchants and children alike, to respond to its ring.


Clerks hurriedly rushed about the stores covering the merchandise for the night and school children darted from the street as the first sound of the bell resounded through the business area at 8 o’clock sharp!


It was the curfew 50 years ago [1881], before the old brick pavement even existed, and was the signal alike for stores to close and boys and girls of school age to be on their way home.


The bell was sounded by a small boy, usually one of the sons of Jacob Brunner, who over a half a century ago ran a tailor shop on the south side of Main Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets.  He would start at Fifth Street, walk to the bridge and then back up on the opposite side of the street ringing the old hand bell as he went along.


“We didn’t wait for the boy to get in front of our door before closing,” a merchant, who was a clerk at the time, stated, in speaking of the closing rule of days gone by.  “As soon as we’d hear him start at Fifth Street, we started to close.”


Jacob Brunner was in charge of the curfew.  The merchants hired him, and each contributed a small fee every month, 25 or 50 cents (no one recalls, it was so long ago) for his services.


“Those were the days,” this merchant said “when the stores were open every night in the week, except Sunday, and we made up for the Sunday night off by opening on Sunday morning.  It got pretty monotonous working every night.  Often times, there was nothing else to do but sit around, and that was particularly boresome for me, because I had a girlfriend I wanted to visit more than one night a week,” the merchant stated.  He finally gathered courage, and insisted on another night a week off and by constant persistence was relieved of his duties on Wednesday night also.


At first the curfew boy walked only to Main Street bridge, but later west side merchants also requested the service and it was then extended to the west side also.


The practice began in 1881 and continued for about 15 years, until the water tower whistle was used for the curfew.



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History of Watertown, Wisconsin