Sifting through Wilton’s history

Published 2:13 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A pastime I find intriguing involves reading the dusty old minutes of city council meetings.

I recently spent an interesting morning in Wilton scanning the minutes of the early years of the smallest Shelby County town. City clerk April Price seated me at the mayor’s desk in the neat little town hall.

The original town hall was destroyed by fire in the early 1930s and the present two-story, rock building was built during those depression years by WPA workers. The second story was designed and used for many years as a jail and the first floor held offices.

The little railroad town was officially incorporated in April 1918, but minutes of the first years were destroyed in the fire. It was difficult to put definite dates to happenings, but the early ordinances were confirmed after the fire and are fun to read.

In one ordinance a vagrant was defined as “one who is able to work, but wanders the streets in idleness or one leading an idle life, who has no property sufficient for his support.”

Prostitutes, gamblers and able-bodied men who did not support their families were also considered vagrants. Ordinance No. 2 set speed limits in Wilton at 10 miles per hour and five miles per hour over rail crossings. Fines ranged from $5-$25.

A later ordinance outlawed living in adultery or fornication. And then there were those ordinances requiring a $3-a-year street tax payable in two installments.

Instead of paying the tax, able men could work on the streets for five days. Another law required the cleaning of dry closets (toilets) monthly.

The early council also gave out business licenses with fees ranging from $5 for a merchant to $35 for a slot machine. Property tax was set at 5 mills. The water system was built in 1934 with 10 fire hydrants. The town secured a loan of $105 from Merchants and Planters Bank needed to pay their marshal, Claude Fore.

The present mayor, Joe Fancher, told us, “I was a councilman for 32 years and mayor for eight. In the early years we had big plans, but when the elementary school burned in 1939 it really hurt. We haven’t grown much since — we have only about 600 people, but most seem to be happy with our small peaceful community.”

More Wilton historical information can be found in Tommie Harrison’s book “Wilton Sketches of the Past.”

Catherine Legg can be reached at