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.
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.
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.)
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.
Coming Up: Traveling Carnival, Professor King, Bicycles, Roller Skates and Cherry Trees
Read more about the 1985 Ohio/Pennsylvania Tornado Outbreak here.