Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, area in little stories from the 1940s to the 1970s

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Even the cactus in my daughter's front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The cactus in my daughter’s front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The winters here in the Sonoran Desert aren’t anything like the icy, snowy, overcast winters I experienced for most of my life in the Northeast U.S. But there are clues to remind us southern Arizonans which season we’re in: the daytime temperatures gradually change from sweltering 100 degrees to a springlike 60-70 degrees, cacti in front yards suddenly sport Santa hats, strings of colorful lights outline an increasing number of houses and, of course, the stores are in full commercial steam as they tout their holiday wares.

Many of us, particularly retirees, have relocated to the Phoenix area to escape the inclement weather of northern winters. The closest we come to snow here is when trucks bring in piles of the clean, white, fluffy stuff from the high country, usually Flagstaff, for snow-deprived Phoenix-area children to play in. But I’ll admit that I miss at least one good Western Pennsylvania-style covering of snow during the holiday season in the desert.

The following story by Judy Caldwell Nelson, formerly from Sharpsville and now living in Washington, can make anyone nostalgic for such a snowfall.


An Evening Snowfall

Behind Stesharpsville_snowingwart’s, the grocery store on the corner of 7th Street and Ridge Avenue was a vacant area with trees and bushes and a small creek running through it.

One winter during a spectacular snowfall, I was out walking in the evening snow bundled in a snowsuit and galoshes. I was probably between eight and ten years old at the time. As I walked up Ridge Avenue, I turned my head to look at the lot behind the store. The bushes and stunted trees, like everything else, were clothed in overcoats of white. I walked into the area.

The rocks in the stream had pillows of snow on them and the creek trickled around them on its way to some unknown destination. The dim streetlight on the corner reflected off the trees. The stream ripples reflected the light. I breathed in the brisk, clean air smell that always accompanies a snowfall. Blue shadows outlined the mounded snow drifts in the open areas between the trees. Each tree branch and twig was outlined in white. And everything sparkled. Huge snowflakes were silently falling all around me, and I felt alone in a place of great beauty.

I didn’t want to leave the moment. I wanted to wrap up my feelings and the beauty and save it forever.

I’ve always wondered at the fact that snowflakes fall so silently. It seems that all those swirling, falling and drifting flakes should somehow cause a small faint tinkling sound – just as stars ought to have a few faint heavenly notes accompanying their nightly appearance in the sky.

Now the vacant lot has been filled in and paved over to create a parking area for store patrons. In the song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell described a “paradise” that was paved over for a parking lot. Those lyrics perfectly described my sadness at the loss of this beautiful bit of nature.

– Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA, March 2013


For more winter stories, go to:

The Big Snow of 1950

A Christmas Kindness

A Sharpsville Christmas

Sharpsville’s Santas

christmas-snowflake-3


WHEATLAND IV: Once Upon A Time

This is the last in a series of blogs recording memories of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s. 


WHEATLAND IV: Once Upon A Time

More About the Slag Dump

A recent email from Tom Hoovler, a former resident of Wheatland and Farrell, PA, vividly describes his memories of the red-hot steaming slag that was dumped over a hillside by the local steel mill:

Steel Mill Gondola

Steel Mill Slag Ladle.

Ah, what memories. When I was growing up, you could see the light from the dumping of the ladles all over the valley. Up on the hill in Farrell, where I lived, the night sky would light up with a bright orange glow. This was even more intense in the winter when there would be snow on the ground that would reflect the glow from the sky.

And quite often, you would hear a dull thudding sound, when the engineer would lurch the train forward to shake loose the nearly solid slag residue that remained in the ladles. If you were watching from a fairly close distance, as I would sometimes have the opportunity to do, you would see that remaining solid residue come tumbling from the ladle in one big chunk, and it would finally collapse into the pit. Quite often, this didn’t happen until the engineer had made the train lurch several times in order to shake it loose.

My father worked for Dunbar Slag Company on Ohio Street, just on the opposite side of the river from Wheatland. This was located on Sharon Steel property and the molten slag pits were not far from their location. There were times we would go over there at night to see the dumping of the ladles from a close proximity. Very good memories, indeed.

Elementary & High Schools, Revisited

More memories (and a correction) from Tom Hoovler:

Your experience of walking to the Wheatland elementary school seems comparable to the stories my mother has always told, especially about the trains. And your description of the elementary school experience at the time was not all that different from hers, in fact it really wasn’t all that different from mine, with the exception of the walking distance. Fortunately, I never had to walk more than three blocks when I was in elementary school.

There is one thing, however, that you were incorrect about and that relates to the Wheatland high school students being bussed to school. They never actually did that. As my mother would attest, they had to huff if up over the hill all the way to Farrell High School. And walk home. Everyday. Apparently, you weren’t aware of that because you had moved to Sharpsville by then. 

Even in my day, when the Farrell School District starting busing elementary students to schools outside of their own neighborhoods, all high school students still had to walk. I had a one-mile walk to the high school, but at least it was not as steep a grade as the Wheatland students still had.

Professor King 

sharpsville_noteOne of the most colorful figures in my Wheatland recollections was Professor King, my first piano teacher. I can still see him, hovering tall over me, dressed in dark clothing that contrasted sharply with his flowing white hair and leaning on a cane. I had the idea that he wore a black cape, but maybe that was just because he loomed so large in my eyes. We always called him “Professor King.” I don’t recall ever knowing his full name. My father describes in his memoir:

One of my well-worn music lesson books from the 1940s. [Photo by AAE]

One of my well-worn music lesson books from the 1940s. [Photo by AAE]

There was room in the shack [on Second Street] for an upright piano that the nearby Methodist Church gave me when the church was donated a new one. Both Michael and Ann began taking piano lessons from Professor King and did so for many years afterward. The Professor was a retired older man, who was impressively tall, intellectual, and always meticulously dressed. He made house calls to his students, a modern-day version of the traveling musician.

The Professor would walk from one house to another in Wheatland, teaching children, black or white, the basics of playing the piano or violin. My brother and I continued our lessons with him when our family moved to Sharpsville. By this time, we rode the bus to his Wheatland residence. Eventually, he lived in an apartment in Sharpsville, and we walked to our lessons with my mother. I remember that, as she took her turn at her violin lessons, I would lose myself in the stories and black-and-white photos in his stack of Life magazines.

My brother and I continued our piano lessons with various teachers throughout high school (and I did so into my college years) thanks to our parents’ encouragement. Looking back, I now appreciate not only my parents’ resolve but also the Professor’s efforts to provide us with a solid foundation in the study of music.

Bicycles, Roller Skates, and Cherry Trees

Mike Angel & playmate. Wheatland, PA, April 1950.

Mike Angel & playmate. Wheatland, PA, April 1950.

The area in which our family lived in the Wheatland flats was semi-rural, allowing us children plenty of room to play at our various outdoor activities. Dad bought us second-hand bicycles and helped us learn to ride them. The bikes were a bit too large for us at first which made learning to ride them a challenge. But we persisted, and soon enjoyed the feeling of freedom and the excitement of speed as we rode with our friends up and down the cinder-covered dirt road that was Second Street. I think my brother’s blue bicycle was a Schwinn. I know my red and silver bicycle was a Raleigh. It had a wire basket and a curious row of holes along the rim of the rear fender. I either imagined or was told that string or wire used to be threaded through the holes and connected to the axle, forming a protective web that kept little girls’ dresses from being caught in the spokes.

Although our street had no sidewalks, that didn’t stop us from roller skating even if we had to carry our skates to other blocks in the neighborhood to do so. The sidewalk in front of the church on Church Street was our favorite because part of it consisted of dark gray slate slabs. Oh, how smooth that surface was compared to the bumpy ride on concrete walks! Our skates were all-metal with leather straps, typical of kids’ skates in those days. We used a skate key to turn bolts and lengthen the skates as our feet grew and to tighten the clamps that held the skates to our shoes.

In those days, we had no inkling of smartphones or video games, but we had plenty of things to do. On long winter weekends indoors, we had coloring books and comic books (which we traded with friends) to keep us busy. Then there were the summer playground activities that were provided for us by the town. I created quite a few brightly painted plaster of Paris figurines — including small busts of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — for my parents to display on the family bookshelf.

We also had our own personal playground in the form of the cherry trees in our front yard. Their short height and widely spaced tree limbs were perfectly designed for climbing. The trees encircled a small open area with a table and benches, where our family and friends would sometimes gather for a nighttime bonfire under the stars.

The Traveling Carnival

sharpsville_carnival-colorA high point in our summers in Wheatland was the week or so when colorful tents and rides of a carnival would spring up, as if by magic, in the middle of an empty field across from the church. My brother and I were given a few coins and then sent off, unaccompanied by any adult, to roam about the carnival grounds to our hearts’ content, carefully deciding how our handful of coins would be spent.

I no longer can recall the rides or the food at the carnival, but the freak show stays in my mind, as grotesque to me now as it was then. Hearing the carnival talker shout, “It’s all right here! Sights that will scare you, that will astound you! See the bearded lady, the strongest man in the world, the amazing contortionist!” piqued my curiosity enough to pay the entry fee and enter the tent to see for myself. One of the shows featured the Spider Lady. You peered into a lighted box and saw the head of a lady on the body of a huge black spider. It was obvious even to my young mind that it was an illusion created by mirrors. Another “freak” was a man who claimed he could bite the head off a chicken. This was the most disturbing act, but it too was trickery, which was fortunate for the hapless chicken.

sharpsville_ducks-2Of all the carnival games, I was sure to visit the Duck Pond because I won a prize every time I played. All I had to do was pick up one of the little yellow rubber ducks from the many floating by in a trough of water. The number on the bottom of the duck matched a number on one of the various prizes displayed on the shelves along the back of the tent. I never won the grand prize of a large stuffed toy animal or a curly-haired doll in a fancy gown, but I was happy enough winning trinkets, such as a shiny ring, a plastic comb, or a tin whistle.

Demographics Once Upon a Time

Indeed the flatland in the southern part Wheatland was once a little community, populated by residents of various backgrounds. According to the U.S. Census of 1940, many of them were relatively new to the United States, including Romanians (as was my grandfather), Polish, Hungarians, Slovakians, Austrians, Germans, Lithuanians, Czechs, Scots, Croatians and Italians. There were others who were African-American and white southerners (including a few of my mother’s relatives from the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky) who traveled north to find work.

The men were mostly hard-working clerks or laborers in the local sheet mill, steel mill, Malleable Steel, Tube Company, Westinghouse, tin mill, the coal yard, on the railroad or the “road project.” The women kept the household running and the few who were employed were teachers, waitresses, seamstresses in the “sewing project” or domestics. The projects were possibly home-front WWII efforts.

There were still over three decades yet to go before the tornado destroyed the town. Although I no longer lived in Pennsylvania by then, I can imagine the succession of families quietly living out their lives in the flatland of the Borough of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, before the community was gone forever.

Wheatland Flats III - Once Upon A Time

Sawhill Memorial with this message: “Dedicated to the memory of those who suffered the death and destruction caused by the tornado which crossed this site on May 21, 1985. Wheatland PA.” Location: Corner of Clinton and Main streets, Wheatland, PA. [Date of photo: June 1993]


Residents of the Borough of Wheatland who lost everything, and in some cases their lives, in the tornado are memorialized by a monument on the corner of Main and Clinton streets. The word “SAWHILL” etched in the granite refers to the two plants of Sawhill Tubular Products which were among the buildings that suffered the greatest losses in lives and property. [See the Memorial as of August 2014 on Google Street View here.]

Tom Hoovler, FHS 1976, Buffalo, NY
Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ
December 1, 2016


See Also:

WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street
WHEATLAND FLATS III: Elementary School & Pony Pictures


WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures

When I started writing about 1940s Wheatland, I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did. As my dad said about writing his memoir, “Once I started, the memories just kept coming.” This is the third of four installments about the “Flats” of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, describing a thriving little community that existed over thirty-five years before the entire village was destroyed by an exceptionally violent tornado on May 31, 1985.


WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures

By the turn of the decade to the 1950s, my family was living in a remodeled barn on Second Street, my new baby brother joined the postwar baby boom, the town endured the Big Snow, and we kids were attending Wheatland Public School.

First Grade, Wheatland Public School, c. 1946. [Ann Angel, back row, fourth from left.]

First Grade, Wheatland (PA) Public School, c. 1946. Teacher: Mrs. Juanita Lloyd. [Ann Angel, back row, fifth from left.]

Wheatland Public School – “Uphill Both Ways!”

I wish I could remember the first day of my first grade in 1946, but it’s just too long ago. At that time, there was no opportunity for most pre-schoolers to attend nursery school or kindergarten. I vaguely recall that a Catholic church in Sharon, PA, had a kindergarten, but it charged a tuition that my parents probably could not afford. 

Wheatland’s public school building, located on Mercer Street, was a typical two-story brick schoolhouse topped by a large bell that rang at the start of the school day. First through fourth grades, the only grades I attended in this building, were on the lower floor. Every hour, I could hear the shuffling feet of students changing classes overhead. However, I never saw the upstairs fifth through eighth-grade rooms because my family was living in Sharpsville by then. When Wheatland students finished eighth grade, they were then bussed to Farrell, PA, to attend senior high school.

I performed well enough in Wheatland School, but getting to and from the school was quite a trek for me. Google Maps shows the distance as only six-tenths of a mile one way but that’s not how it felt. The distance between my home and school seemed like miles, particularly during those cold, snowy Western Pennsylvania winters. Initially, I walked alone or with friends, but in two years my brother, Mike, was walking with me to his first and second grades.

The Flats of Wheatland, PA, in the 1940s.

The Flats of Wheatland, PA, in the 1940s.

From Second Street we walked to Church Street and continued north past the little white steepled Methodist Church where my brother and I attended Sunday School, a few houses, and a lumber mill until we got to the railroad tracks. If we were lucky there would be no freight train sitting there immobile and blocking our way. Waiting for a stopped train to move seemed interminable and, if my memory of school kids actually crawling under the cars to get across is only in my imagination, we did consider it in our desperation. After crossing Broadway, the main street in town that led west to Farrell and Sharon, we trudged up the hill another block or so to our school.

I still remember the names of some of my classmates. as well as those of my first through fourth-grade teachers: Mrs. Juanita Lloyd, a well-liked grandmotherly lady, then kindly Miss Patton, Miss Davidson who had the best-decorated room, and finally Miss Garrity. And I remember the sweet smell of the white paste in glass jars that we used to stick strips of paper with sentences on them onto the appropriate pictures. I think these were supplemental workbooks that accompanied our reading books about “Dick and Jane,” characters so well-known to schoolchildren from the 1930s to the 1970s.

On the return trip from school, we often stopped at the Wheatland Post Office on Broadway to pick up our parents’ mail. It was customary for us schoolchildren to crowd around the postmaster’s window, call out our family’s last name, and our mail would be handed to us. I’ve always wondered why our parents trusted little kids to bring home all their mail in one piece, but I guess we did so most of the time. Today’s Wheatland Post Office is located on Council Street, a block away from its former Broadway location.

Almost 50 years later in 1993, I visited Wheatland and searched for my elementary school, only to find that the building was gone. All that remained was a concrete pedestal holding the school’s cast iron bell and a plaque indicating the bell’s original source, the Wheatland Public School. Currently, Buchanan Manor, a home for senior citizens has been built on the site. That big school bell is now on display (as of 2014) in the front yard of the Manor next to a World War I memorial. (See it on Google Street View here.) My school building was gone, but I greatly appreciate that the little town saved the bell.

(It’s probably no coincidence that the retirement home’s name is “Buchanan.” Pennsylvania’s other “Wheatland” is the former home of James Buchanan, the 15th president of the U.S. He purchased the large Federal style house, located outside of Lancaster, PA, in 1848 and lived there off and on until he died in 1868. The estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.)

“Howdy, Partner!”

Click on photograph for an enlarged view. Photos courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

“Ma, they’re selling pony pictures! Can we buy one, please, please, please?!” My mother would often tell of our running home and breathlessly bursting in the front door with this exciting news and urgent request. A traveling photographer with a pony was all the country’s rage in the 1940s and Wheatland kids weren’t left out. Movies and comic books featuring cowboys (and cowgirls) and Indians were popular at the time, so sitting on a pony dressed in a cowboy hat, vest and chaps was a child’s dream come true. The resulting black-and-white photos, taken on Church Street and probably costing only a few coins each, are displayed to this day in my brother Mike’s home.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ. 
November 2016.

Coming Up: Traveling Carnival, Professor King, Bicycles, Roller Skates and Cherry Trees


See Also:

WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street
WHEATLAND FLATS IV: Once Upon A Time

Read more about the 1985 Ohio/Pennsylvania Tornado Outbreak here.


WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street

This is the second in a series chronicling my memories of 1940s Wheatland, Pennsylvania, a tiny village in the flatlands that was totally destroyed by a tornado in 1985.

In this installment you can read about my family’s move to a barn, our neighbors and playmates, grocery stores big and small and one on wheels, the first television I ever saw, my dad’s cow, and the dumping of the slag.


Wheatland Flats II: Second Street

Thinking about our family’s 1945 move from 199 Third Street to 32 Second Street in Wheatland, PA, reminds me of The Jeffersons’ theme song, “Movin’ On Up.” We had not only moved to higher land to avoid the periodic flooding from the nearby Shenango River. We were moving upward financially as well, just as many families were able to do following World War II.

A year after my dad returned from the war, he decided he didn’t have much of a future in subsistence farming and accepted a position with Sharon Steel Company as a draftsman. Later, with the printing training and experience he had gained before the war, he secured a position in the composing room for the local newspaper, The Sharon Herald.

The Shack and the Barn

Having sold the Third Street house and now earning a regular income, Dad was able to remodel my grandfather’s barn into a home for our family. During the year this went on, our family stayed in a small three-room house adjacent to the barn. It had been my grandfather’s home since the 1930s. By 1946, Grandpa was tired of Pennsylvania’s cold winters which he felt contributed to his arthritic aches and pains. So, at the age of 62, he rode the Greyhound bus from Sharon across the United States to a small town in California where he contentedly lived out the rest of his life.

We called Grandpa Angel’s house “the shack” since it was roughly built with board-and-batten and tarpaper and didn’t have much in the way of modern conveniences. I remember bathing in a galvanized tub on the table in a very chilly kitchen. In place of an electric refrigerator, my mother would store food on a shelf outside the kitchen window in the winter and used an icebox that contained a huge block of ice in the summer.

I don’t recall the actual move to the remodeled barn, but it must have been a big occasion for my parents. We could now enjoy the marvels of a telephone, a modern refrigerator, a hot water tank, an indoor bathroom and lots of space! The only reminder that it was once a barn was the sliding barn door on one end of the building. It led into a hayloft, still full of sweet-smelling hay.

I visited Wheatland several years after the devastating tornado of 1985, only to find fields of weeds scattered with debris. No landmarks were left to help with orientation, except the street signs. All I could find of my childhood home was its stone foundation.

Click on images to enlarge.

Neighbors and Playmates

After the move to the remodeled barn, which involved using a horse and wagon to haul our household belongings, my memories begin in earnest. After almost 70 years, I can still name some of the families in the area of this short section of the unpaved cinder-covered Second Street, most of whom provided one or two playmates for my brother and me.

At the very end of the street on our side were two families, the Papadics with a son named Murrell and a mother and her daughter, Beverly, whose last name was Blosz. Our house was the third one from the end of the street and was across the road from Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs. They were a kindly African-American couple in their 60s from whom my grandfather and mother sometimes bought home-made herbal medicine for our aches and pains. In his memoir, my father wrote:

Mr. Dobbs was an herbalist who had a big following of “patients”…. He was well-liked and held in high esteem as a professional throughout the immediate area. Mr. Dobbs was not hesitant to show his knowledge of which greens to pick and prepare for medicinal purposes. Mr. Dobbs was literate, a good conversationalist, and a non-active member of the Masonic Order. …Mrs. Dobbs, a slender, small person, was also liked by all the neighbors. She doted on our children as if a grandmother. …We were welcomed in her home, as she was in ours.

The Billobocky (Bielobockie?) family lived next to the Dobbs and included a little curly-haired girl named Simone. Farther down Second Street, on the corner of Second and Church streets, was the Behr (Bayer?) family. Kathleen Behr, who introduced herself as “Kitsy,” was my very first friend, whom I met when we first arrived in Wheatland. Her house was a mansion in my mind. It was a tall two-story wood frame structure and had not one, but two bathrooms upstairs. At the edge of the road in front of the house was a once-ornate but now weathered stone step. I was told this step was used to step down from horse-drawn carriages in the days before autos.

Other names are a bit fuzzy now, but studying the U.S. Census of 1940, I’m reminded of the Ludus and the Radus, who were among our Romanian friends. And I recall the Roach family, whose little girl Judy was another buddy of mine. They lived a block away on First Street, next to a little mom-and-pop grocery store. 

Grocery Stores Big and Small and One on Wheels

The little corner store in Wheatland Flats must have had a name but I don’t recall it. The steps up to the store’s front door seemed high and steep to a little girl, but the climb was worth it when I had a penny for a piece of candy. In case one’s preference was on the sour side, the store had a barrel of pickles in front of the candy counter. For most of the items you wished to purchase, you told the grocer what you wanted and he retrieved it from the shelves behind the counter. On the left was a meat counter and behind it was the butcher working at a thick wooden table set on a sawdust-covered floor. The store served as our “mini-mart” between the family’s weekly visits to Wheatland’s Golden Dawn Supermarket on Broadway or the A&P in Farrell.

Occasionally, our house was visited by the driver of a brown and yellow Jewel Tea Company truck. This little door-to-door “Home Shopping Service” on wheels sold pots and pans, dishes, cleaning supplies, groceries, and dry goods. And a Hopalong Cassidy coloring book that my mother purchased for me and which I treasured for years.

My First Ever TV Experience

Wheatland Flats: Second Street

Indian Head Television Test Pattern by RCA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


I watched my very first television at the home of another playmate, Emile, who lived on what was probably West First Street. TV programs would only be aired in the evening and while we anxiously waited for them to begin we would stare at a test pattern featuring an American Indian. I’m not sure what we watched in those early days, but I do know the pictures were black and white and rather snowy. Sometimes the picture would start moving up or down as if a film projector malfunctioned, but there was a “horizontal”  button on the TV set to fix that. There was also a “vertical” button and a dial to lighten or darken the screen. To change a channel, the father in the family would pull on cables that ran from the TV through the floor and to the antenna on the roof. I remember the ghostly figures of nearby residents politely standing outside of the living room windows also watching this amazing combination of radio and a moving picture.

The Cow and the Pasture

Even after Dad left farming to become a wage-earner, he kept his cow. She was a docile orange/red and white spotted cow, whom we simply called “the Guernsey.” Every morning and evening, before and after work, Dad would walk to the end of Second Street and down into the pasture with a milk bucket and stool, followed by several of us kids after school, and a cat or two. Our job was to use small thin tree limbs to switch at any flies pestering the cow. The cow produced enough milk to share not only with the cats, but with neighbors. Mom turned the cream into butter, using a wooden paddle churn that was operated by turning a handle. Although we children enjoyed these gifts from our cow, the best part of all was the pastureland itself, an acreage of thick green grass which we could romp in and explore as we pleased.

The Slag Dump

Wheatland Flats: Third Street

Hot slag pours from smelter. (Wikipedia Commons)

“They’re pouring the slag!” was the call to run outside and watch one of the most spectacular night-time sights of our childhood. Along the top ridge of a hill about a half-mile from our house, a switcher engine pulled a string of huge pots into place. Then each pot would tilt two by two, pouring parallel rivers of hot molten slag down the slope. The slag was the byproduct of steelmaking by the local steel mill and in those days was discarded as waste. We marveled at the brilliant orange-yellow-red colors of the slag lighting up the sky, as thousands of sparks and huge plumes of smoke rose upward, accompanied by the odor of burning metal. It was as thrilling an event as any fireworks display and it occurred for our viewing pleasure several times a month.

Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1962, Goodyear, AZ. October 2016.

More to come: Professor King, Wheatland Public School, the traveling carnival and pony photos.


See Also:
WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures
WHEATLAND FLATS IV: Once Upon A Time


WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

This is the first in a collection of stories about living in the flatlands of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, where a diverse community once thrived but no longer exists. One of the fiercest tornadoes in history wiped away this tiny village in 1985, but it did not erase my memories of the place where I lived as a child in the late 1940s.

In order to write about my knowledge of Wheatland in those post-WWII days, it is necessary to also include the history of my family, as the memories are intertwined. With these stories and those that others have sent me, I hope we can preserve some of Wheatland’s history before the memories are gone forever.

If you, too, lived in the flatland of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, before its destruction, I hope you will please contribute to this account.


WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

To describe my family’s presence in Wheatland in the 1940s, I must begin with my immigrant grandfather, Augustine Anghel. Enticed by flyers advertising jobs in U.S. steel mills and on railroads, he came to America in 1906 with a plan to earn and save money, then return to his home in Romania to continue working on his sheep farm.

Instead, he stayed in the U.S. for the rest of his life (for which I am most grateful!), only returning to Romania to bring my grandmother to the “New World.” They had two children, my father (1908) and my uncle (1910). After my grandparents’ eventual divorce, my grandfather settled in western Pennsylvania, where he found comfort in the community of the many other European immigrants, as well as in the area’s lush green rolling hills so much like his native Transylvania.

In the spring of 1945, after almost a year of Army training and five months before WWII ended, my father, August Angel, was sent to Germany to serve as a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment.

While August was overseas, my mother, with us two children in tow, ended up on my grandfather’s doorstep needing a place to live. By that time Augustine had purchased land in Wheatland, part of which he farmed. As my father explains in his memoir:

My father had bought an old abandoned subdivision. Lots measuring only 25 feet wide had been laid out for small houses for steel mill factory workers. However, because of the 1929 Depression, the building of factories in Wheatland was no longer feasible and the real estate company declared bankruptcy. My father, a believer in owning land, bought the entire tract [75 acres] that included a good section of Wheatland.

For a while, my mother shared living quarters with my grandfather’s Romanian friends, but she soon tired of that arrangement. She had saved enough money from her wartime allotment and part of my father’s military income to purchase a two-story wood frame house on Third Street. She paid $3,000 for the house, which had running water, electricity, and an outhouse.

Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.

Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.

My earliest memories are of the Third Street house and that of my father returning from two years as a soldier, wearing his dark olive green Army uniform and carrying a huge stuffed duffel bag of the same color on his shoulder. My mother, brother and I were in the house anxiously watching for him to appear on the narrow sidewalk that led to our side porch. When we heard a familiar whistle – a certain melodic phrase that I can still hear today – we knew he was home.

Wheatland may have been a very small town (population 1,421 in 1940) but it did have a proper annual Memorial Day parade. On April 5, 1946, a month after my father’s return, The Sharon Herald printed a front-page story about my father’s participation in CIC’s capture of a Nazi leader while in Germany. From then on my dad was considered a local war hero. For several years afterward, he was invited to tell of his wartime activities before various civic organizations and to join the leaders of Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade.

The parade was complete with majorettes and a marching band, which were probably from Farrell High School since Wheatland had no high school. Also included were lines of school children, myself among them, from the Wheatland Elementary School, dressed in our Sunday best and following behind our respective teachers.

The procession ended at the American Legion (#432) Home, where Dad and others gave patriotic speeches on the porch. I recall that the Home was located on the top of a steep hillside and we would join other townspeople gathered below to listen to the speech. The frame building had several floors filled with lots of old furniture that my brother and I loved to explore while our dad called out the numbers at the Legion’s weekly Bingo games.

It seemed to us children as if we were standing for hours as we waited for the speeches and ceremonies to end. Then the best part came! We were rewarded with Dixie Cups of cool, creamy ice cream that we heartily dug into with our tiny wooden spoons.

Photos: Memorial Day Parade, Mercer and Broadway avenues, Wheatland, PA, May 29, 1947
Click on image for larger view.
wheatland_house_front view

Flooded house, 199 Third Street, Wheatland, PA. May 1946.

As delighted as my parents were in owning a home, they were to find out that its location near the Shenango River was a problem. When the river overflowed its banks in the Spring of 1946 and flooded a wide area that included our house. To us kids, living in the middle of a temporary lake was quite an adventure. But to my parents it was time to move to higher ground (and to a smaller house with lower taxes), that is, Second Street. The house was sold to the Splitstones, with whom my family became friends.

In November of 2015, I received this surprising email about the Third Street house:

My name is Tom Hoovler and have I got a story for you!

I was reading through some of the stories on your blog recently and became interested in your brief side notes about your grandfather’s farm on 3rd Street in Wheatland, Pa. Your short but telling descriptions led me to one interesting but tentative conclusion, but I needed to call my mother in order to verify it.

She had always told us that her father had purchased his house at 199 3rd St. from a family named Angel. After discussing it with her, I discovered that, apparently, it was your family. Her name in those days was Agnes Audrene Splitstone and her father’s name was George. On top of it all, she says she knew you from the days that you lived on 2nd street, even though you were a few years younger than her….

Photos: Tom Hoovler and his mother, Agnes Audrene Splitstone, Third Street, Wheatland, PA, 1959
Click on image for larger view.

I live near Buffalo, NY, now. But I lived in that house at 199 3rd St for the first three years of my life. My parents lived in that house with my grandparents for a few years after they got married. We moved to Farrell and I graduated from FHS in ’76. But I have very fond memories about that house and that property. In my growing years, I probably spent more time there than I actually did at the house I called home up over the hill in Farrell.

My grandmother died in 1970 and my grandfather went into a nursing home a couple of years later. That was when the house was sold off, and we lost track of it. Eventually, the house, as well as the entire Wheatland flats were totally destroyed in the massive tornado of 1985. Everything south of Broadway was re-zoned light industrial afterward and it was truly the end of an era.

In later emails, Tom wrote about the Shenango River floods…

[My grandparents’ house flooded] at least twice that I’m aware of, and maybe more. My mom has a photo of herself pregnant with me, sitting on the porch surrounded by water, so that would have been ’58. I only saw one of them and that was when I was four, in ’63. And that was definitely the very last time since the [Sharpsville] dam went into full operation a couple of years later.

…and about Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade:

When I was living down there, and even for a few years afterward, we used to go up and watch the parade on Memorial Day. I can remember my mother and Aunt Louise used to decorate my tricycle with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Then, we’d walk up Church St., past the old church and across all the railroad tracks to get to Broadway, where the parade would be. Great memories.

There was indeed something about living on Third Street, Wheatland, Pennsylvania, that made for happy memories. Maybe it was the post-WWII relief and hope for a better life that we children could sense in our parents. And maybe it was the semi-rural setting that allowed us to play in the surrounding fields and on the unpaved streets of this small town freely and safely, without a care in the world.

To be continued…

Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ
Tom Hoovler, FHS 1976, Buffalo, NY


See Also: Wheatland Flats II: Second Street



SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL TRADITIONS

Much has been written on the pros and cons of following traditions. Some see traditions as stifling growth and creativity. But traditions can also be seen as helping us to connect with the past and giving us guidance and comfort as we go forward. Here are some of the traditions that led us Seniors toward graduation in the 1950s. They are the same traditions, with only slight variations, that helped many others before and after our time to get through those final years of high school.


Senior High School Traditions

Ann Angel, dressed for the prom.

Ann Angel, dressed for the prom, 1958.

The Junior-Senior Prom

The Class of 1958 was responsible for planning and setting up the Junior-Senior Prom that was held in 1957. The following year we attended the Spring Fantasy Dance designed by the then Junior Class.

In 1957, the subject was “Calypso,” inspired by the popularity of Jamaican influence at the time in music and film. Remember Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” or “Day-O”?

After much hard work by most of our class members, the ordinarily mundane gymnasium interior magically became a tropical Caribbean island, complete with two young boys in island garb sitting in an open-sided straw hut. It was a dreamlike time for all — the guys in their rented white-coat tuxedos and the girls in floor-length or quarter-length gowns of several layers of pastel tulle — as we dined and danced to the music of Joe Cann and His Orchestra.

Sharpsville High School Yearbook, "Devil's Log," 1958.

Sharpsville High School Yearbook, “Devil’s Log,” 1958.

Yearbooks

It’s surprising how longstanding some high school traditions can be! Leafing through my mother’s 1935 yearbook, my daughters’ from the 1980s, and my own in 1958, I’m reminded of the French saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” These three generations of yearbooks recorded similar subjects: student photographs, of course, and those of students participating in sports, activities in the arts and many of the same types of clubs.

And there were the handwritten autographs by fellow students in each book expressing the same kind wishes and remembrances: “Don’t forget all of our good times…,” “To a real swell friend and classmate…,” “Remember those trig classes and how we suffered,” “Wishing you the best in your future” and so forth.

 Class Rings

The class ring was a big deal in the 1950s, particularly if you had a sweetheart who would then wear it on a chain around the neck (or wrapped in tape to fit his or her finger) to signal that the two of you were “going steady.” I don’t think I ever actually wore my own ring, but it does show the wear and tear of having been in the possession of my then one-and-only.

Today, a teenager can price-check rings in an assortment of stores, including Walmart, but Jostens Inc. was our sole provider in the 1950s and 1960s. (Jostens started the class ring tradition over 100 years ago!) I don’t recall the exact price of my blue-stone, 1o-karat, gold 1958 SHS ring, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even close to the 3-digit prices of today’s rings! (Read about a “found” class ring below.)

(Click on above photos to enlarge.)

…And All Those Other Senior Traditions

Then it was October and time for the school homecoming game (alas, the Blue Devils lost to Meadville), followed by the homecoming dance. These activities were reigned over by the Pigskin Queen and her two attendants who were voted for by students from a group of six that had been pre-selected by the football squad.

Along with attending proms, assembling yearbooks, and getting our class rings, the Sharpsville High School Class of 1958 continued to slog through the usual senior-year schoolwork, such as taking exams and writing our theses. Many of us attended a class trip to Washington, DC, others put on fundraising events to pay for these activities, and we all paid our various fees, ordered commencement invitations, acquired caps and gowns and practiced the graduation ceremony.

And on the designated Class Day, we celebrated our achievements by acting as wild and carefree as we knew how, 1950s style. First, we dressed alike in the obligatory class outfit: blue and white striped sailor blouse and hat for girls and white pants or shorts. The boys dressed similarly, except for their striped shirts. Then, (I read this in the 1958 Devil’s Log yearbook but don’t recall it), we presented a Class Day Program for the Juniors that featured “dancing, singing and jokes.” And lastly, we noisily cruised Sharpsville streets in decorated cars for the rest of the day looking for something else to do. As I recall, I don’t think we were very successful in the latter activity. In any case, we tried hard to make it a day to remember and I guess, in that, we were successful.

Despite the passage of time and changes in styles and technology, these high-school traditions live on. We’d love to read about your memories of this special time in our lives, when we were preparing to bravely leave our teen years behind and take on whatever adulthood would bring.


Found Class Ring

In the days of Angel’s Casino, someone in our family found a class ring while cleaning up the dance hall after a record hop. My father, originally intending to find the owner, put it in a box and apparently forgot about it. Recently, the ring was found again among his possessions by my brother, Mike Angel. It features the letter “H” (possibly Hickory High School?] on a red stone and the date 1962. Three-letter initials are engraved on the inside of the band. If you think it belongs to you or someone you know, please let us know in Comments.

“H” Found Ring, 1962.

"H" Found Ring, 1962. Side view.

“H” Found Ring, 1962. Side view.


ROBISON SCHOOL CLASS OF 1960 – Part 2

Welcome to the second part of Irene Caldwell’s story, Robison School Class of 1960. This blog picks up where it left off last month. Here you’ll read about the fifth and sixth grade students, still mostly the same kids of course, but a tiny bit older and taller. Irene also reminds us of those extra-curricular aspects of our education: swimming lessons, restrooms, recess, lunch, winters, safety drills, and the playground.


sharpsville_robison_grade5

Fifth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1952.

Fifth Grade, 1952-1953

"Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees" by Johnny Gruelle. (1960). Source: www.etsy.com

“Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees” by Johnny Gruelle. (1960). Source: http://www.etsy.com

Miss Helen Bruner, an older woman with quiet but firm control was our fifth grade teacher. In spite of her small stature and soft voice, she often sent unruly boys to the cloakroom where she would soon follow with her wooden paddle. A good run around the playground would have been a kinder option, but those were different times. I liked Miss Bruner because she was fair, never raised her voice and read to us from Raggedy Ann and Andy.

I learned to write in cursive with pen and ink that year. Dipping our pen points into ink pots, we practiced row upon row of circles which formed tunnels between the lines on cheap yellowish paper and then the letter of the day with our arms held high for the necessary free flowing arm movement. Most of us had black writer’s bumps on the second finger of our right hands and a very few on their left hands.

Mrs. Bruner was often seen wearing a double layer fox stole which fascinated me. Who would want to wear dead animals around their shoulders, each head biting the tail of the animal in front of it? She died in 1968 at age 79.

Patty Coyne, Dorothy Davenport and I were adopted as friends by Carol Crosier in fifth grade. Carol was very pretty and lived in the more affluent part of town, close to Buhl Park. She was the organizer of any outside activity and we followed her lead unquestioningly.

That year’s class photo has me, of tiny stature, standing as usual, in the front row. This time it’s Bobby Gault on my left. Just below Miss Bruner is Kathleen Hanley, another freckled redhead. My last year at Robison was taught by the principal, Ralph Kelly, and his co-teacher Edna Allen. Miss Allen was a good teacher with impeccable carriage.

Duane Carbon sat in front of me that year. Once every week he wore a black and white pinto-patterned flannel shirt. When bored I’d stare at the pattern, first making the black sections stand forward and then the white shapes.

Emma Robison School, Grade 6, c. 1956

Grade 6, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1953

Sixth Grade, 1953-1954

In sixth grade we made a lot of maps and finding large enough paper was a challenge. I made my South America map from butcher paper given free by the meat cutter at (Warren) Stewart’s Market. My youngest sister had just been born and was drinking formula made from canned milk with paper labels covered with cows. I cut out those cows and pasted them on my map to indicate the cattle industry of Argentina and Brazil.

Our class photo that year is taken with Mr. Kelly. I’m wearing a neck scarf and a plaid skirt, again in the front row, flanked by ever happy Roy Yeager and ever serious Georgeanne.

My brother had different teachers than I; Miss Grimes, Mrs. Myers and Miss Bartholomew were some of them, but the other names are lost to me. Our music teacher, Mrs. Armstrong, died of cancer during one of those six years and the school planted a small pine near the long front walk in her memory.

Swimming Lessons

Every Friday morning we were bused to St. John’s Church in Sharon for swimming lessons in their indoor pool. The chlorine content of the water was so high that everyone’s eyes were red for the rest of the day. I learned to swim only because if I hadn’t I would have drowned. The instruction we received was minimal. At the end of the course, an evening program was put on for parents to appreciate their water babes’ expertise. Our task was to dive in, swim the length of the pool and climb out at the far end. How I made it, I’ll never know; carried by the angels of St John, maybe.

On those Friday mornings the girls were allowed to wear pants, even jeans, but had to go home and change into a skirt or dress at lunch time. My jeans were lined with warm blue plaid flannel and one cold winter day I rebelled at changing. Upon returning to school, two female classmates jumped me with dire predictions of Mr. Kelly’s paddle. I hate to admit running home to don an acceptable dress.

Restrooms, Recess, Lunch, Winter

Student restrooms were in the basement to which twice daily visits were as strictly regimented as all other activities. Rarely was a student allowed to take a bathroom break on his or her own, but some teachers were more considerate about this than others.

At recess we played closely supervised and organized games, guaranteed to make some students feel inferior as the appointed team captains chose sides for “red rover” or dodge ball. Being small, I was always among the last to be picked.

At lunch time everyone walked home, to eat or not, depending on their circumstances. My siblings and I had only to cross Pierce Avenue and run down a short alley to our house where we hunted in the refrigerator and cupboards for something appealing.

Winter was difficult for girls because to be warm we had to wear two piece snow suits, put on and removed three times each day. The leggings were held up by suspenders and our mandatory skirts had to be stuffed inside like shirts, creating a wrinkled appearance for the whole day. Usually, a girl would rather have frozen legs than deal with those leggings. I can still smell the wet wool mittens, hats and scarves drying on the cloakroom radiator, see the snowsuits hanging on iron hooks and my fellow students rummaging through the pile of rubber boots that had to be pulled on over our bulky unfashionable shoes.

In December, the school put on a Christmas program with each class performing a different song and any exceptionally gifted children doing a talent solo. I remember dinging my little triangle while we all sang “Silver Bells” and Allegra Duncan playing the violin. The students stood on the opposing stairways and the whole program took place in the great central hall where a tall pine had been placed decorated with construction paper chains, stars and snowflakes, all made by the students.

Safety Drills

With milder weather, an occasional fire drill was prearranged and someone timed how quickly the school was evacuated. The first floor students simply walked out the front door. On the upper floors the teachers opened the tall windows which students exited through to the fire escapes.

Sometimes we had atom bomb drills. The town air raid siren would sound and all of us ducked under our desks assuming the “bomb” position, forehead resting in the crook of one arm while the other covered the back of our necks. A few years later we had to exit the building and lay in the grass along Seventh Street, again in the bomb position. WWII wasn’t very far in the past, the Cold War was on everyone’s minds and there was an intense fear of Soviet Russia and “Commies.”

Playground

During the summer holiday a program called “Playground” took place behind Robison. Miss Allen and another woman ran it with none of the normal classroom discipline. No one had to attend and you were free to arrive or walk away at any time during the day. We sat at picnic tables and were assisted in making potholders, lanyards, cork paintings and plaster of Paris figurines which we later painted and proudly bestowed on our parents. There were song fests where the girls and boys shouted stanzas of “Rueben, Rueben” at each other and foot races with no prizes. One of the proudest moments of my life was winning the girls’ foot race, beating an older, stronger and heavier girl. She was as surprised as I was. I loved those summer programs and appreciated seeing Miss Allen as a regular and relaxed woman in jeans and untucked shirts, as well as her frequent smiles.

Occasionally, even Mr. Kelly would drop by. During school days he always wore gray suits, white shirts and ties and, tall and lean, actually looked quite handsome for an older man. It was strange to see him in casual clothes and listen to him talk of everyday matters. One day he explained how the school board, against his superior advice, had allowed Shenango Furnace to dump a few tons of “red dog,” a steel byproduct on the farthest areas of the playground. The once huge and lovely trees that lined that edge soon died and their ugly bare skeletons still remained in reproach of that decision. (Ralph Leland Kelly was born in 1907 and died in 1959.)

Near the picnic tables were a few pieces of play equipment, swing sets, a sliding board, a low merry-go-round and monkey bars. The playground was near a small hill with a creek running along the bottom. This wide hill had no trees and tall grass waved gently in the spring breezes. We called it Goat Hill because it was said that a neighboring family had grazed their animals there. We loved that hill for its height, lack of power lines and trees which made it the perfect place to fly kites. The height achieved by a kite was only limited by the number of balls of string one could tie on. Most of the kites and string had been purchased at Stewart’s Market. Near the top of the hill were two large dugouts of unknown origin, but put to great use in many childhood games.

— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013


Such were the memories of Irene’s five years at the Emma Robison Elementary School in the early 1950s. If only all our memories of times past were as pleasant as these! It was a simpler world and possibly a safer one, long gone but not forgotten by those of us who lived it.

See also other stories about Robison School:

Robison School I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Robison School III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Robison School Class of 1960 – Part 1 by Irene Caldwell O’Neill


ROBISON SCHOOL CLASS OF 1960 – Part 1

Like many children in small towns of yesteryear, the same Sharpsville kids attended school together for 12 years – from the first grade until graduation from high school. How well we came to know each other during that time! Which is probably why our earliest classmates have stayed in our memories longer and more clearly than many of our more recent acquaintances. And they seemed to never age in our minds, remaining the same little kids we knew then! 

The following is the first half of a description of Robison Elementary School written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, a member of the class of 1960. The second half, covering fifth and sixth grades as well as extra-curricular activities, will be published next month.

Irene, who wanted to record her memories of 1950s-1960s Sharpsville, started writing about them several years ago with dreams of a future publication. You can read more about Irene and this blog’s beginnings here

This narrative wouldn’t be complete without the actual names of the people involved. However, if you feel that your name should be kept private, please let us know and we’ll remove them from this blog.

And, as always, your comments (and corrections!) are welcome. 


Emma Robison School

Today Robison Elementary exists only in old photographs and the memories of former students. I’m looking at one such photo [see vintage postcard on eBay] and it looks exactly as I remember it, imposingly large, dark and beautiful.

All Robison School class photos were taken on its front steps with the big double entry doors in the background. Those doors were opened by the janitor about a half hour before school started and the inner doors twenty-five minutes later when he or a teacher stood just outside and rang a wooden-handled bell. Between those two sets of doors, an entryway that could hold only a fourth of the student body comfortably was filled beyond capacity on frigid winter mornings with children compressed like sardines and hardly able to breathe, but glad to be out of the biting cold weather.

"Fun with Dick and Jane'' from rarebookschool.org.

“Fun with Dick and Jane” from rarebookschool.org.

First Grade, 1948-1949

My older sister, Judy, delivered me at age 5 to Mrs. Mae Bloss, my first grade teacher at Robison. Her room and all the lower grades were on the first floor, opening off a large and lofty wood paneled central hallway. On either side of this hall, wide banistered oak stairways led to the upper floors and higher grades. Our first grade room had a ceiling at least fifteen feet high and way up on the front wall, one on each side of the teacher’s desk hung impressive framed prints of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I stared at those same stern faces in every classroom at Robison School and it was years before I knew who those men were.

Every school day began the same: We clasped our hands, bowed our heads on the hinged and scarred desktops and recited the Lord’s Prayer, then we stood with right hands on hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance (minus the “Under God” phrase) to a flag with forty-eight stars. In first grade I learned to read the Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot books, to print my name and simple sentences as well as addition and subtraction.

Mrs. Bloss and her two daughters attended our First Methodist Church. She always smelled strongly of perfume and wore much makeup and flowery dresses. Most of the time she was nice.

Second Grade, 1949-1950

My second grade experience was happier with Mrs. Martha Kennedy, an older and very kind widow, as our teacher. She gave us love and the class multiplication tables and told us to eat our carrots.

Every day after school, a relative arrived in a gleaming vintage automobile to pick up Mrs. Kennedy. One of my favorite memories is of her hatted, gloved, and finely shod form being helped into that lovely old sedan. She and I exchanged Christmas cards for several years after I moved on to higher grades. She died in 1971 at age 81.

sharpsville_robison_grade3

Third Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1950.

Third Grade, 1950-1951

Third grade was taught by Mrs. Florence McKean, a quiet middle-aged woman who received respect simply because she was a good teacher who rarely lost her temper and never administered corporal punishment. Mr. Joe McKean ran a small automobile garage at the corner of Tenth Street and Ridge Avenue. Their home sat directly across the street from the garage. Mrs. McKean’s gravestone states 1909-1975.

That year my best friend was Babsy Brooks, a dimpled cherub with a personality to match. In our class photo, she is sitting beside me in the front row and Jimmy Bains slouching on the other side. Behind him is Mike Angel and on Mike’s left is Georgeanne Achenbach, looking solemnly beautiful. At the far right of the second row, red-haired and freckled Roy Yeager looking quite happy in his plaid shirt. There’s Maryann Karsonovich in the back row, already almost as tall as Mrs. McKean. Her father, Walter was Sharpsville’s chief of police.

Fourth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1951.

Fourth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1951.

Fourth Grade, 1951-1952

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Betty Imbrie and she ruled with much different and far sterner methods than Mrs. McKean.

Mrs. Imbrie’s daughter was a sweet girl, the same age as my sister Judy and for a year the mother and daughter rented rooms from our neighbor, Helen Bolton. She had a carpenter divide her house into a duplex and rented half her house to a long string of Sharpsville teachers.

I remember reciting the names of all the U. S. presidents, from George Washington to then president, Harry Truman, learning Pennsylvania history, and doing long division and fractions on the blackboards, but mostly I remember being nervous and afraid.

In that class photo, I’m standing directly in front of Mrs. Imbrie. Nancy Hay is beside me and Carla Deal behind her. At the extreme right of the fourth row is my dear friend Dorothy Davenport, and next to her is Carol Crosier, looking lovely. Next to her is Virginia Berkos, already an accomplished tap dancer.

Mrs. Betty Riddle Imbrie died in Dec. of 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 83. A memorial service was held at our First Methodist Church in Sharpsville. (To be continued.)

— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013
Photographs courtesy of Irene Caldwell O’Neill


Check in next month for more about the Robison School’s Class of 1960.

See also other stories about Robison School:

Robison School I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Robison School III by Judy Caldwell Nelson


CANTEEN

A hearty welcome to all of you newcomers to the “Small Town Memories” community. I hope the stories on this site inspire you to share your own memories of living in the Sharpsville area in or around the 1950s through 1970s, whether in a short comment or a longer narrative. Corrections to existing stories are also welcome. Just use the Comment box at the end of any blog or attach your writing to an email to bissella9@hotmail.com.

A comment from Toni E. Nackino, a descendent of the original owner of Isaly’s, asked for certain information about that small dairy store on Sharpsville’s Main Street. If you have the answer, please let us know. You can respond in the Comment box at the end of the “Isaly’s” blog. Here’s her question:

I was looking for information on when the store burned down. Which I always thought was so odd, since the fire station was next door! lol…
…I would love to have someone respond to my query about the Isaly store in Sharpsville burning down. Thank you


THE CANTEEN

On the far side of Sharpsville, PA, children attended an elementary school in a large red-brick building with the name of Deeter. On one side of Deeter was a narrow two-story wood frame structure that we called the Canteen. In the early 1950s the Canteen was one of the few places that we Sharpsville teens could gather for fun and games with others our own age.

sharpsville_image_canteen

Theater poster. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_Canteen_(film)]

Although “canteen” is a word that can be used to denote a container for water while hiking, the focus here is on “canteen” as a gathering place. Borrowed from the French cantine and the Italian cantina meaning “wine cellar,” a canteen in the mid-18th century was a type of shop in a barracks or garrison town, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. By late in the next century, the word had evolved to mean “refreshment room at a military base, school, etc.”

Teenage canteens of the 1950s were likely holdovers from the previous wars, when canteens were places that provided soldiers a recreational break from their duties. The Hollywood Canteen in the 1944 movie of the same name, also provided a venue to cavort with famous movie stars of the day. Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) wrote that she “somehow came to believe the canteen in Sharpsville may have been used by soldiers from nearby Camp Reynolds during World War II.”

"Life on the Home Front." [http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/exhibits/ww2/life/youth.htm]

“Life on the Home Front: Keeping Them Straight and Narrow: Youth Strategies.” [http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/exhibits/ww2/life/youth.htm]

Canteens for young people in the community, as well as for soldiers, evidently existed during the war years when restless teens had little to do outside of school and faced an uncertain future. According to a 1944 guide for setting up a youth center, prepared by the Associated Youth-Serving Organizations, Inc, “Youth likes to feel that it has a place similar to that of the soldier or sailor and with the same type of activities” and therefore encouraged such amenities as a game room, juke box, snack bar, and dancing in a co-ed atmosphere.

By the 1950s, however, teen troubles were viewed somewhat differently. Juvenile delinquency was in the news and communities were seeking ways to assure that their young people weren’t among those who fell into such antisocial behavior as vandalism or violence.

Thus, like many communities across the country, Sharpsville’s Canteen, later know as the Youth Center, came into being. I don’t recall who the sponsors were, or whether a fee was charged, or whether it resembled a soldier’s canteen. And I don’t think that any famous movie stars were ever present! I do remember that 1950s rock-and-roll records were played and that we mostly sat on chairs along the walls, boys in one group and girls across the dance floor in another group, too shy in those early awkward years to do much mingling. Irene Caldwell O’Neill remembered these details:

Here on Friday nights, parents volunteered to chaperone seventh and eighth graders as they danced to music from a jukebox (upstairs) or played ping-pong or table-top shuffleboard (downstairs). The girls tended to congregate upstairs and usually jitter-bugged together to Fats Domino or Chuck Berry and the Comets songs or sat at the little tables drinking cokes and eating chips. The boys massed downstairs around the shuffleboard table or played ping-pong. Never once do I remember a boy dancing at the canteen. In spite of this gender separation, it was here that courtship rituals began that would last until graduation. We were all very carefully checking each other out.

Teen canteens exist to this day, such as the aptly named CanTeen, a current program in Cicero, New York. It is interesting to note that CanTeen’s focus is “to keep youth safe and entertained during their out of school time.” During the past seven decades, the purpose of canteens seems to have evolved from keeping youth busy in the 1940s, to keeping them out of trouble in the 50s, to keeping them safe in today’s even more worrisome times. But all such organized social programs have tried to create an environment that would mold young people into responsible and upstanding adults. Not an easy job and not 100 percent effective, but it has been worth the try.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ


THE DAY THE CANADIANS CAME TO TOWN

There must be something deep in the primordial souls of girls in their early teens to be drawn like a magnet to certain individuals of similar age, whether a rock star or movie idol or perhaps just someone who looks and acts very cool.

This story, originally described in detail in my 1955 diary, tells of such an encounter by several of us Sharpsville girlfriends with a group of Canadian boys, how it affected us at the time, and how – and maybe why – those feelings are still remembered over sixty years later. (Actual names of the Sharpsville individuals mentioned in this story have been replaced by initials unless permissions have been granted to use full names.)


Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay.com

November 11, 1955. We still called it Armistice Day, although this national holiday was renamed Veterans’ Day just the year before. On that day, Sharpsville, like many other towns and cities across the country, commemorated the World War I peace agreement with an Armistice Day Parade down Main Street.

My girlfriend JC and I, were just happy for a day away from school. Shivering in the brisk cold air of a Friday afternoon, we joined other onlookers next to a judge’s stand set up in front of the Gordon Ward Appliances store.

The usual flag-waving and baton-twirling groups, veterans’ clubs, and civic organizations stepped smartly past us, including the Sharpsville High School band and a marching unit from George Junior Republic, a nearby boys-only institution. Then one particular group grabbed our attention. To us, there was nothing “usual” about this regiment of approximately 40 young guys in uniforms nor their name and origin. As their banner told us, they were cadets affiliated with Governor General’s Horse Guards in Toronto, Ontario. I learned much later that the Horse Guards had a long history of active service in the defense of Canada. Since WWII, the organization volunteers its service on United Nations missions augmenting Canada’s Regular Army. The boys in this parade weren’t riding horses, but their red and blue uniforms and soldierly bearing were quite enough to impress us.

When the last of the parade passed by, JC and I headed for the football stadium to watch a special marching exhibition by the cadets scheduled for later in the evening. On the way, we kept our eye on those Canadian boys who were milling about, their brightly-colored uniforms standing out on the wintry gray streets and sidewalks — and who were also watching us. We soon came upon two other school friends, JW and JG, who shared our interest in these visitors from another planet. JW, the more brazen of the four of us, summoned enough nerve to call out to several of the cadets complimenting them on their marching. This was all that was needed for several of the boys to cross the street and join us. Then the fun really began.

sharpsville_canadian2

Ann Angel & Larry, a Horse Guard cadet, Sharpsville, PA, November 1955.

For the next several hours, we walked around town, talking and laughing and joking and teasing, until we ended up at JG’s house, tired but too engrossed in each other to give up yet. One of the boys had a camera that was passed to JG’s mother to record our get-together in black-and-white photos, which served forever after as confirmations of this momentous occasion.

But all good times have an ending, and, like Cinderella’s, ours ended at midnight when the boys courteously walked us to our respective homes. My house was located next door to a dance hall that my Dad owned. There, a reception was being held for the parade participants, complete with food and dancing. Larry, the guy I found myself paired with by that time, and I stopped in and he introduced me to even more of his cadet buddies. When one of the boys asked me to dance, I felt as if I were in a Disney movie.

When Larry and I finally arrived at my door he asked for my pink chiffon scarf “‘cause in Canada that’s what the girls give to the boys.” He gave me his address and said “so long” instead of goodbye because “saying goodbye would mean forever” and he planned to return in a few months. What lines! But I soaked them up like a brand new sponge.

In my next diary entry, dated Monday, November 13, 1955, I gushed, “All us kids do now is talk about those Canadians. And no wonder! They beat Sharpsville boys by a mile.” Of course, the cadets had the advantages of being exotic “foreigners,” looking smart, and, above all, they had paid flattering attention to us. We never tired of going over each detail of that night — as we met at Sandy’s over pizza or at Crick’s Drug Store over phosphate sodas and a shared bag of Wise potato chips. In the process of reliving the fun we had together and the hopes of capturing it again in the future, we became close friends, probably the best overall outcome of the whole experience.

But seeing those young guys ever again was not to be. As fervently as they had promised in their letters, even telegrams, that they would return and as much as we hoped it would be true, time stretched into months, then a year, without so much as a glimpse of them again. The number of letters and photographs we exchanged dwindled along with our initial excitement until the memories moved into the background of our minds. When I finally realized this was the case, I asked my diary, “Now what will we do?” In hindsight, I can answer that. We can –and did– live out the rest of our lives in even more compelling ways and in far different places than we young and innocent girls could ever imagine.

EPILOGUE

In 1992, I traveled through Pennsylvania with my daughter and husband, stopping at the places I had lived long ago: Wheatland, Sharpsville, and Cleveland. In Sharpsville, I had a delightful reunion with two friends from my school days, one of whom was featured in this story. My friend and I reminisced about the Canadian Boys Event of 1955 and the range of emotions we felt at the time. Not only did those and many more shared memories reignite that long-ago friendship but they also indicated to us how much we have — and haven’t — changed in the sixty years since that time.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Phoenix, AZ, March 2016