by Ann Angel Eberhardt
No, “Patagonia Memories” is not about memories of the geographical area spanning southern Chile and Argentina, but about a place right in our own Mercer County. The latter may not have lakes, mountains, glaciers, and deserts that the South American region is known for, but the Patagonia of Pennsylvania is remembered, with appreciation and nostalgia, by some as a pleasant and peaceful place of their childhood.
Enter Dick Hudson, this month’s author, whose portrayal of life in 1950s Patagonia, PA, brings forth memories many of us can relate to. A big welcome to our newest guest writer!
Patagonia School: A Four-Room
Schoolhouse on East Street
By Dick Hudson
The Patagonia community is on several streets going up the west hill of the Shenango Valley, with North State Line Road as the dividing line between Ohio and Pennsylvania and the towns of Brookfield, OH, and Sharon, PA. One of those streets that goes up the hill off North Water Street (the street that parallels the Shenango River) is Superior Street. A third of the way up the half-mile street, East Street runs to the right and is the street on which the Patagonia schoolhouse was located.
The Patagonia community and the school maintained a stable environment, a sense of togetherness. And the teachers at the school remained the same for quite a number of years: Miss Ebert (Principal) first grade; Mrs. Komlos, second grade; Mrs. Shollenberger, third grade; and Mrs. Wimer, fourth grade. Mrs. McGinnis was the custodian. With less than 20 students in each grade, all students were known well by the teachers. I attended Patagonia School from first grade through the fourth, 1951 to 1955.
After turning off Superior Street onto East Street, the school would be immediately on the left (west side). There were little ditches on both sides of East Street up to the school, and on the corner of the school lot stood a fairly small tree (though big enough for climbing up a bit). Facing the school front, farther up along the left border of the lot were both a large swing frame with two swings on it and a monkey-bar fixture for climbing. Farther up in that direction stood a very large (I think maple) tree out from the back corner of the first-grade classroom.
In front of the school was the entrance area, a large square 40 yards to the street by 50 yards wide (an estimate at best), was covered in gravel, sometimes too thick to ride one’s bike through it. This area led to cement steps on each of the three sides going up and into the building.
Patagonia School: Interior
Inside, there were a few more steps and then the hall (usually with drawings or other artwork of students hanging on both sides). The hall then widened into a square with the first-grade door straight ahead, that classroom being on the back left corner of the school. A small water fountain was to the right of the door. The second grade was in the back right corner of the school, and the door was farther to the right and facing across the square area. In between the second-grade door and the fountain was another door, this one leading downstairs to the basement.
On the left of this square area was the door for the third-grade room that was at the front left corner of the building, and the fourth-grade room was on the right front corner. Also, to the left of the square area were openings that led to stairs going down to one side the girls’ restroom and on the other side to the boys’ restroom.
Also, off the square area to the right was the “teachers’ room,” a room with a cot, running water, and a place for teachers to get away a bit – plus a place where a sick child would go until being picked up and taken home.
Each classroom had eight windows, four on each of the two walls that faced out, and always with one of the windows facing out from the “cloak room” that each classroom had (though not many “cloaks” were worn). These windows, very wide and tall, would be raised in the fall and spring … allowing wasps to often come into the room, hover about on the ceiling (getting the attention of each of us – or at least me!), and then sometimes dropping straight down and landing where luck and fate might have it. That image still haunts me a bit!
In the basement, where a few times we saw movies and a ping-pong table and various games were available. There were pillars that held up the upper floors, and to the right of the stairs (through a door and out of sight) was the coal furnace for heating. On the other end of the downstairs was an opening with cement steps that led out flat doors toward the back left side of the building not very far from the big maple tree. The school had an active Parent-Teacher Association and I think some of their meetings took place in the basement during the years. However, most PTA meetings were held at the fire hall on Superior Street (I think that is correct).
Patagonia School: Exterior
Again, facing the school from the street, to the right of the school and toward the front, were two basketball hoops, though it was typically too muddy (or covered with snow) to play when it was basketball season. Somewhere along that side is where the teachers parked their cars, though very few cars were ever there.
In the back of the school was a big lot where at recess running and playing and letting off energy took place, sometimes organized “Red Rover, Red Rover, let —– come over,” or kickball or dodgeball or when snow was there “fox and the geese” along the snow paths that the students made. Also in winter, snow slides were made at the front of the lot where a few more small trees were and it sloped to the street. These slides would become sheer ice at times and a bit dangerous. Back then it seemed no one much noticed that we would slide and tumble onto East Street.
At one time, while first and second grade did have their own rooms, third and fourth shared one room, and fifth and sixth shared another room – that was before I entered first grade in 1951. When I was there, just four classrooms existed in the school. This earlier doubling up had been typical in many small schools, but it ended when the student population increased and the fifth and sixth-graders went elsewhere.
Behind the school was a large playing area, and in the summers it was part of the summer playground.
The building was torn down in the 1960s, replaced by a more modern one, but it remains a warm memory in the hearts of those who spent time in that modest little schoolhouse on East Street.
About the Community of Patagonia
Patagonia is located in Hickory/Hermitage Township, and at one time was connected to the rest of the Township. In the 1800s, the borough of Sharpsville was formed, taking the land that connected Patagonia with the rest of the Township. Thus, Patagonia was isolated across the Shenango River on the west hill of the Shenango Valley, yet always remained part of the Township.
The Patagonia School was centered in a community of tight streets and that meant that most of the students walked to school. Buses did bring in students from outside of Patagonia, as from Orangeville Road (where I lived) and Myers Hill. Patagonia School was in a real way, a city school — but the “city” of Patagonia was actually quite small though an original part of Hickory/Hermitage.
North State Line was the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania and separated Brookfield, Ohio, from Patagonia, which was in Pennsylvania. At the top of West Hill, the west side of North State Line Road was in Ohio and the east side of the same street was in Pennsylvania. That meant that close neighbors and friends could easily have attended schools in different states (both Sharon, PA, and Brookfield, OH). The others out in the township did not experience that, although there would have been students living in the Pennsylvania towns of Clark, Sharpsville, Sharon, Farrell, or West Middlesex who were just across the street from their friends in Hickory.
One thing Patagonia did NOT have when I was young was a Little League organization. While other boys who liked baseball would have been able to play in the Hickory Little League, boys in Patagonia had to play in Sharon LL. We would walk across the Clark Street bridge, up through the middle of the Westinghouse plant, as Clark Street divided the big plant, turn left and walk along Sharpsville Avenue to the North Sharon Little League Field, about two miles each way. And after each game, we would take our nickel or dime and buy some candy and “pop” at Saul’s little store (I think the name was Saul?).
Other Patagonia Memories
A few more memories: catching falling leaves from the big maple tree behind the first-grade room at recess in the fall and early days of the school year; the smell of new blue jeans until they were washed a few times; our getting polio shots and all of us feeling “sick” (mostly mental) until we went outside for recess and all were fine; getting a physical exam in the back of our classroom with a few curtains blocking the view; Mrs. Shollenberger, on the last day of school, collecting marbles from the boys when they were dropped on the floor, and tossing them out the front window of her third-grade room with the idea that the boys could go and try to find them.
I remember, too, making various artwork for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Presidents in February, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, with Mrs. Lake coming by every few weeks to give us art lessons. Mrs. Tarr also coming on occasion to give us voice/phonics/enunciating practice. And Mrs. Pasin, the nurse, checking on our general health each year. Also, thinking that cleaning the erasers was a neat thing to do, despite getting chalk flown all about, or emptying the pencil sharpener; getting the Weekly Reader each week, often with a big map coming with it for the teacher, and a student getting to keep the map sometimes.
And the memories keep coming: In the first grade, singing at the beginning of each day, “Good morning dear teacher . . .”; pledging allegiance to the flag; getting in line often and standing at attention for various reasons; sitting up straight at our desks so our row could be first to do something.
An occasional “program” for the PTA when it would meet downstairs on folding chairs. A radio program on WPIC . . . “Hickory Schools are on the air” was the opening. Mrs. Wimer being out some of the time and Mrs. Dresch taking her place in my fourth-grade year. (Mrs. Wimer died here in Athens, GA, some years ago and I went to her funeral, not knowing she was here in a nursing home until she died. Her daughter, whom I met that day, told me that Mrs. Wimer had not spoken for eight years, but I don’t know what illness she must have had.)
[“Hickory Township Schools Broadcast Every Tuesday Morning at 9:05 Throughout the School Year.” Go to “An Old-Timer’s History of Sharon” for more about this program.]
At Halloween we would dress up after lunch (with most being able to go home and back) and we would then guess who each one was. It was pretty easy to tell for the most part as there were not many of us, and we also all knew each other’s shoes – which were seldom covered. And, on our birthday we would bring candy bars for the rest of the students.
The next to last day of the school year, we would go to Conneaut Lake Park for the day, then return to school the next morning for just a few hours to get our report cards. That final short day was one when we could bring a younger sibling and in fourth grade I brought my sister Judy, later being told that I had been “very protective.”
And in the summers, the school was open in the basement, with a ping-pong table set up, and various games to play (checkers, chess, jacks, dominos, and others).
All in all, it was a very fortunate beginning for us, with dedicated teachers, good fellow students, caring parents, and a feeling of being safe.
— Dick Hudson (HHS 1963), Colbert, GA, June 1, 2020.
About the Author
Dr. Richard A. (“Dick”) Hudson grew up in the Patagonia area on the Orangeville Road and graduated from Hickory High School in 1963. He attended Slippery Rock (PA) University, which placed him in their Sports Hall of Fame, as well as designated him as a Distinguished Alumni Recipient one year. (He is also in the Mercer County, PA, Sports Hall of Fame.) Later, he received his doctoral degree at the University of Georgia, where he spent most of his career in charge of the University’s 1996 Olympic involvement and a Consultant to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, served as Director of the University’s Executive Programs, and coordinated several statewide projects and initiatives. Read more in the Spring 2020 issue of Connections / What’s New magazine, pages 18-21, by clicking here:
He has been honored twice at the White House for projects he did for Georgia, and also by Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, in a ceremony in Atlanta for coordinating Sweden’s Olympic pre-Olympic training in 1995 and 1996.
Dick Hudson is a retired faculty member at the University of Georgia. His current home is in the countryside near Colbert, Georgia.