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Bidwell, Ohio, was an old town as the ages of towns go in the Central West, long
before Hugh McVey, in his search for a place where he could penetrate the wall
that shut him off from humanity, went there to live and to try to work out his
problem. It is a busy manufacturing town now and has a population of nearly a
hundred thousand people; but the time for the telling of the story of its sudden
and surprising growth has not yet come.
From the beginning Bidwell has been a prosperous place. The town lies in the
valley of a deep, rapid-flowing river that spreads out just above the town,
becomes for the time wide and shallow, and goes singing swiftly along over
stones. South of the town the river not only spreads out, but the hills recede. A
wide flat valley stretches away to the north. In the days before the factories came
the land immediately about town was cut up into small farms devoted to fruit and
berry raising, and beyond the area of small farms lay larger tracts that were
immensely productive and that raised huge crops of wheat, corn, and cabbage.
When Hugh was a boy sleeping away his days in the grass beside his father's
fishing shack by the Mississippi River, Bidwell had already emerged out of the
hardships of pioneer days. On the farms that lay in the wide valley to the north
the timber had been cut away and the stumps had all been rooted out of the
ground by a generation of men that had passed. The soil was easy to cultivate
and had lost little of its virgin fertility. Two railroads, the Lake Shore and Michigan
Central--later a part of the great New York Central System--and a less important
coal-carrying road, called the Wheeling and Lake Erie, ran through the town.
Twenty-five hundred people lived then in Bidwell. They were for the most part
descendants of the pioneers who had come into the country by boat through the
Great Lakes or by wagon roads over the mountains from the States of New York
and Pennsylvania.
The town stood on a sloping incline running up from the river, and the Lake
Shore and Michigan Central Railroad had its station on the river bank at the foot
of Main Street. The Wheeling Station was a mile away to the north. It was to be
reached by going over a bridge and along a piked road that even then had begun
to take on the semblance of a street. A dozen houses had been built facing
Turner's Pike and between these were berry fields and an occasional orchard
planted to cherry, peach or apple trees. A hard path went down to the distant
station beside the road, and in the evening this path, wandering along under the
branches of the fruit trees that extended out over the farm fences, was a favorite
walking place for lovers.
The small farms lying close about the town of Bidwell raised berries that brought
top prices in the two cities, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, reached by its two
railroads, and all of the people of the town who were not engaged in one of the
trades--in shoe making, carpentry, horse shoeing, house painting or the like--or
who did not belong to the small merchant and professional classes, worked in
summer on the land. On summer mornings, men, women and children went into
the fields. In the early spring when planting went on and all through late May,