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Loose Ends: Please, no more swine on sidewalks

A copy of the River Falls City Charter, dated March 24, 1885, came across my desk recently. I found it to be chock-full of interesting regulations and definitions needed to incorporate this city way back when.

Did you know that if a city officer did not deliver all his books, papers, etc., belonging to the city to his successor within 10 days he was subject to a $100 fine? In 1885 $100 was a heck of a lot of money and disorganized or disinclined election losers wouldn't need much more encouragement to hand over his "stuff."

"Preventing riots, noise, disturbances, the suppression and restraint of disorderly houses and houses of ill-fame, and destruction of all instruments used for gaming" were very important to the 19th century council and its citizens. It reminded me of the Wild West or a Larry McMurty novel.

Back in the day, The City Council was also allowed:

  • To compel the owner or occupant of any grocery, cellar, tallow chandler's shop, soap factory, tannery, stable, barn, privy, sewer or other unwholesome or nauseous house or place, to cleanse, remove or abate the same from time to time, as often as it may be deemed necessary for the health, comfort and convenience of the inhabitants of said city.
  • To direct the location and management of slaughter-houses and markets, and to prevent the erection, use or occupation of the same, where the offal or filth thereof shall discharge into the waters of the creeks or river (where?!?), and to establish rates for and license vendors of gunpowder and to regulate the storage, keeping and conveying of the same or other explosive materials.
  • To prevent horse-racing, immoderate driving or riding in the streets, and to regulate the places of bathing and swimming in the waters within the limits of said city.
  • To restrain the running at large of horses, cattle, swine, sheep, poultry and geese, and to authorize the restraining, impounding and sale of the same.
  • To prevent persons from bringing, depositing or having within said city or placing in the waters adjacent to said city, any putrid carcass or other unwholesome or nauseous substance, and to require the removal of the same by any person who shall have upon his premises any such substances or putrid or unsound beef, pork, hides or skins of any kind, and on default to authorize removal by some competent officer, at the expense of such person or persons.
  • To establish the size and weight of bread, and to provide for the seizure and forfeiture of bread baked contrary thereto.
  • To prevent all persons from riding or driving any horse or mule, cattle and other animals on the sidewalks in said city, or in any way doing any damage to such sidewalks.
  • To regulate, prevent and control the landing of persons from boats, cars and stages wherein are contagious and infectious diseases or disorders, and to make such disposition of such persons as to preserve the health of the city.
  • To restrain and regulate runners and solicitors for boats, vessels, stages, cars, public houses and other establishments.
  • To restrain or prohibit all descriptions of gaming and fraudulent devices and practices, and all playing of cards, dice and other games of chance for the purpose of gaming in said city, and to restrain any person from vending, giving or dealing in spirituous or vinous liquors, unless duly licensed by the common council.
  • Enact and enforce ordinances or bylaws for the preservation of fish in the waters within the city limits, and may also, by ordinance or resolution, prevent any deterioration of said waters, or any nuisance being cast therein by which the health of the inhabitants of the city, or the purity of the water shall be impaired.

    It seems to me our city founders were concerned with protecting citizens and property from harm -- whether it be in the form of polluting the river or themselves, spreading disease, immoderate behavior or unscrupulous bakers.

    And today our city fathers (does that make Council Member Joleen Larson a city mother?) are still concerned with these very same issues, and I'm glad they are.

    Obviously, we weren't the stewards of the land we could have been and we're still learning how to care for our natural treasures -- the rivers and streams and the bluffs around the city; along with our human treasures -- citizens, young and old, rich and poor.

    So let's all try to keep our filth out of the river, swine off the sidewalks, our measles to ourselves, our horses from racing down Main Street, our privies wholesome, and our traveling salespeople traveling.

    Contact Pat Hunter at the River Falls Journal, 425-1561, or email

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