Small Town Memories

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

Category: Recreation

SNAPPING THE WHIP AT BUHL PARK

As some of us face another hot, humid Pennsylvania summer or a long season of 100+ degree heat here in the Arizona desert, let’s imagine instead chilly temperatures, snow and ice skating. 

For years, the Sharon-Sharpsville area community enjoyed boating, fishing, swimming, and ice skating on Lake Julia, at Buhl Farm Park, named after Julia Forker Buhl, the wife of the park’s founder and donor, Frank H. Buhl.

Then, in 1969, a skating rink was built to the east across the road from the Buhl Park Casino, the columned two-story building that overlooks the lake. When the rink came in, skating was no longer allowed on Lake Julia. This new rink was gone by 1985.

Happily, ice skating returned to Lake Julia on February 22, 2015, and it’s again a highly popular place for people of all ages and skating skills, often along with their dogs.

Eric Bombeck kindly contributes the following remembrance which originally appeared in his senior shopper newsletter, The Way It Was. Check it out on Facebook: “The Way It Was/ Senior Shopper – Mercer County,” the companion page to the newspaper.

Enjoy the read and stay cool!


Snapping the Whip at Buhl Park:
The Shenango Valley Ice Rink

by Eric Bombeck

Ice Rink at Buhl Park, Hermitage, PA, under construction, c. 1969.

The average snowfall for the month of March in the valley is about four inches. When I was a kid in the 70s, it was my favorite “winter” month to play outside because it was snowy, at least at the beginning, but still warm. We moved to Ninth Street in Sharpsville from Wheatland in 1965 when I was four. Our house (my dad still lives there) is less than 50 yards from Buhl Park. The park was a winter wonderland, one I didn’t truly appreciate until I moved away.

In the late 60s, before they built the Shenango Valley Ice Rink in 1969, you could still skate on Buhl Park’s Lake Julia. I had double runner ice skates that went over top my of my shoes that I’m pretty sure were from the thirties, maybe even older. You couldn’t really skate in them, you had to run and then slide. It was a lot of work. Skating on the lake was the last vestige of the old days when people boated and even swam there.

Ice Skating on Lake Julia, Buhl Farm Park, Hermitage, PA. (n.d.)

Then, the new ice rink was built. (The current bathroom and maintenance shed at shelter number four is the back end of what was then the skate shack.) I remember that it always smelled the same in there, like leather and metal and hot chocolate. I can’t explain it except to say I have never experienced that smell since. I don’t remember what it cost to get in, maybe a buck and a half or two, and fifty cents to rent skates. That Christmas, after the rink opened, a pair of brand new skates appeared under the tree. I was now a citizen.

The rink was a valley melting pot, which is code for… there were girls from all over town there! The skate house had long rows of wooden benches, a place to rent skates, and machines where you could get a snack. The hot chocolate machine was very popular. There were skate guards there who wore red jackets and patrolled the ice. Dennis Racketa was one, until the place closed around 1980. He says the guards weren’t paid a dime to work at the rink; their only payment was skating free. Each night before the rink opened, the Zamboni machine would clean the ice and then the guards cleaned out the corners with shovels.

Once the doors opened, the guard’s job was to keep us kids from getting too rowdy and that included preventing us from snapping the whip. Two people held onto a long scarf and the guy in the front would whip the guy or gal in the back around really fast. I remember more than once seeing some unsuspecting skater, looking like a deer in the headlights as the guy or gal was being whipped right at them; a collision imminent. If you ran afoul of the skate guards, you could be sentenced to a “time out” off the ice, in the skate shack. Dennis says exceptionally severe winters (remember the blizzard of ’78?) and the opening of the roller rink in town doomed the rink at the park, a mere decade old.

When skating got old, you could go sled-riding down “Pork Chop Hill,” located at the top of the kite field on the top of Hazen Road. Franny Perfett and I did it all the time. I remember putting plastic sandwich bags over the first pair of socks and then putting socks over those. I’m pretty sure once snow got inside the “baggies,” it just kept the moisture in, making it worse. When the conditions were right, you could sled down the road and one time I ended up at the road in front of the park’s Casino, the longest ride ever!

The memories are endless…Kevin Frankovich and I hitting golf balls across the frozen lake, climbing trees in the park and throwing snowballs at cars (dumb because there was nowhere to run.) Dennis Racketa reports his skate guard jacket from the rink at the park still hangs in the back of his truck to this very day. It all seems like so long ago…then again maybe not.

— Eric Bombeck (Sharpsville H.S. 1979), South Pymatuning, PA. June 2017.

YouTube: Buhl Park Ice Skating 2015
Scott Brown


See Also:

BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL PARK  II: Clubs and Library


JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part II

In the previous month’s blog, my mother and I had just set out on our big journey. It was late October 1957 and we were on our way to visit several European countries thanks to the trip’s sponsors, WPIC and The Sharon Herald. And thanks to my dad, who believed that such a trip would open our world view beyond that of our hometown of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.


Passport stamps showing countries visited, 1957.

Before leaving LaGuardia Airport for Europe, we found ourselves on an unplanned bus tour of New York City. A strike in Paris delayed our flight and there was time to kill. So, our group and others from Ohio and Michigan were packed on five buses and shown the big city for two hours. We small-towners marveled at such sights as the United Nations Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, and at Rockefeller Center, the ice skaters on one of the most famous rinks in the world.

Later that afternoon, we were aboard an Air France plane and settled in for over 11 hours of flight. I wrote in my diary that we were served a fine meal of chicken, salmon and champagne, but the continuous roar of the plane and the cramped seating (what’s new?!) made for an uncomfortable night.

After a short layover at Orly Airport near Paris, we boarded another plane and flying over the mist-covered English Channel, finally arrived in London, our first destination:

I was bug-eyed as we passed through the streets of London, England. Everyone rode on bicycles, motorbikes or small black, gray or tan English cars. Saw double-decker buses and felt a bit nervous at the way they drove on the right side of the streets. And the steering wheels were on the right too!

It was at the hotel in London that I met my first of several friends on this trip, the elevator boy, Tommy W. After I had dinner and spent a few hours on homework (there was no way of escaping high school completely!), we met for a walk around the city.

Along the way, we saw “St. Somebody’s Park,” Westminster Abbey, guards at Buckingham Palace, and the Thames River. As Big Ben struck 5:00, we watched sidewalk chalk artists paint beautiful pictures and write poetry on the sidewalks. We stopped to watch a “news picture,” consisting of short subjects, news reports, and cartoons. We had fun comparing our language and his trying to make me understand him which I found difficult at times.

On another evening, after a day of sightseeing, I met with Tommy again and rode the underground with him to his hometown Southampton, “a cute little town which, like all the rest, was quiet and neat. To escape a light shower, we “stopped at a shop for fish and chips” then “walked up the dimly lit streets with their orange-yellow fog lamps and neatly arranged houses.” When the rain became heavier, we took shelter in one of those iconic red phone booths. I can still see in my mind that foggy, drizzly evening and the wet cobblestone streets and remember the time as sweet and dreamlike.

I was the youngest in a group of mostly middle-aged and retired couples who took an interest in my activities as if they were my guardians. When I was seen with the elevator boy, I was asked to write something about my time to add to the daily letters and photos that were sent back to the Herald by Mr. and Mrs. S. but I was too shy to report my personal interactions to the world!

The rest of our European trip took us sightseeing in Holland, where we visited a cheese factory and a tulip exchange and saw people wearing wooden shoes. And Lucerne, Switzerland, where Mom and I rode an aerial cablecar to the top of Mt. Pilatus. That’s where I met another friend, the son of a banker, took me out to an elegant piano bar, the first I’d ever been to. The Swiss guy, the elevator boy, and another boy in Paris (who was cute but, alas, too short for me and knew hardly a word of English) were destined to be my pen pals, a popular pastime for kids in the 1950s. We exchanged letters (the French boy’s letters were barely decipherable) for several years until each of us moved on.

Next, we traveled all day on a first-class train ride to Rome, Italy. One of the highlights in Rome was Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pieta in the Vatican Museum, not yet enclosed in the panel of bulletproof glass installed after a person attacked it with a hammer in 1972. Another special moment were blessings received from Pope Pius XII himself when he came to an open window of his summer residence to greet his admiring audience.

[Click on image to enlarge.]

Friendly soldiers at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy, November 1957.

I didn’t really mind the attentions I got, not only from my fellow tourists but the brash young guys whom we walked passed, particularly in Italy. (That was before I was enlightened by the women’s movement that came about less than a decade later.) As my diary describes it:

Every boy and man who passed would stop, then turn around for another look when he passed us. Or they would whistle or say something in Italian, smile or say something in English like “Americano! How you, How you?! And there were a million of them, especially soldiers and sailors….It’s really fun!

The last stage of our journey involved a return to Paris for several days. I remember walking along the Champs Elysees Avenue, admiring the beautiful clothing and jewelry in shop windows (and without a thought of the terrorist attacks that prevail in current times),”The women walking the streets were dressed elegantly leading their poodles!” That, and sidewalk cafes, the palm trees, and the can-can dancing we saw at Club Lido made me feel as if I were in a 1950s movie.

Receiving a welcome from the burgomaster of Amsterdam, Holland.
October 1957.

As package tours became more affordable and available, they grew in number. To this day they remain similar to our 1957 trip, but there were a few signs that were specific to the 1950s, besides those already mentioned. The Europeans are rather blase about American visitors now, but in 1957 we Americans were heartily welcomed by not only those on the street but by an official in each of the cities. Maybe they were still remembering the Yankees’ part in fighting the Axis in WWII a little over ten years earlier.

In fact, repairs of war damage repairs were still on-going: The Cologne Cathedral’s had been completed only a year before.We were often presented with little gifts. I still have a little bottle of cologne and its tin container from Cologne, Germany, and the tiny silver-plated Rolex spoon from Lucerne, Switzerland. And, as I recall, the food served on those early planes was elegantly presented and delicious!

I certainly had been on a journey, introspectively as well in fact. Having been introduced to new points of view, I returned home a little less absorbed with everyday teen activities and looking more seriously at my future, just as my dad had hoped for. After all, there was so much more out there to explore and enjoy and I wanted to find a way to do that. I feel fortunate that I did manage to “find a way” and have explored and enjoyed a variety of new places throughout the 60 years since that first visit overseas.

See also: JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part I

– Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, Arizona, May 2017. 

JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part I

“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.” ( S.J. Watson, “Before I Go to Sleep”). And so it is with many of my memories. Whether good or bad, they are made clearer with the passage of time, only then revealing their significance to my life and my place in history.


sharpsville_european_tour_departure-photo

Sixty happy tourists left Youngstown airport October 26 [1957] on a 15-day trip to Europe sponsored by The Herald and WPIC. (Ann Angel & mother, far right.] Photograph used with permission pending from The Herald, Sharon, PA.

JOURNEYS:
European Tour 1957

For a 17-year-old small-town girl in 1957, my first trip overseas was a journey of a lifetime, although only years later did I fully appreciate its impact. My chance to travel was due to a combination of my father’s foresight and the improvements in commercial airline travel since World War II.

By the late 1950s, aircraft manufacturers had introduced a new generation of large, four-engine airliners. These planes soon dominated U.S. and international air travel and helped lower fares. Lower fares meant increased numbers of passengers and unprecedented profits for the airlines. The new levels of speed, comfort and efficiency brought about tours that combined transportation and accommodations in one package, allowing ordinary people to afford travel abroad.

In my case, such an opportunity was in the form of a group tour of Europe sponsored by WPIC-AM radio and The Sharon Herald newspaper.

I have experienced many kinds of journeys in the 60 years since that first one, including packaged tours, cruises, cross-country car trips and travel-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants. But the trip I experienced in 1957 was the most life-changing. I began as a rather insular kid with the usual teenage concerns and ended with a far wider perspective on the world I lived in. Just as my dad, who financed the trip, had hoped I would.

It all began when Dad, a faithful reader of The Sharon Herald, happened to see an ad promoting a two-week visit that included sites in six European countries: England, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. Dad had been overseas during WWII and surely must have felt that his wife and daughter would benefit from the same eye-opening experiences that he had.

U.S. Passport & Letter from President Eisenhower, 1957.

A large group of average American citizens planning a visit to European countries was a novelty in those days. So much so that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent each passport recipient a signed letter from the White House, reminding us of our duties as representatives of the United States. His words resonate to this day.

…. Year after year, increasing numbers of our citizens travel to foreign countries. In most of these lands there exist a reservoir of good will for the United States and a knowledge of what we stand for. In some areas, our country and its aspirations are less well understood. To all the varied peoples of these many countries, you, the bearer of an American passport, represent the United States of America….

You represent us all in bringing assurance to the people you meet that the United States is a friendly nation and one dedicated to the search for world peace and to the promotion of the well-being and security of the community of nations.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera made by Eastman Kodak, 1949-1961.

With our passports, certificates of smallpox vaccinations, suitcases and my Brownie Hawkeye camera in hand, and arrangements made for Grandma to cook for the family left at home, we were ready to travel.

Monday, October 26, 1957, was the departure date and our first destination was the Vienna airport near Youngstown, Ohio, about 12 miles from Sharpsville. (This was possibly today’s Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township, Ohio). There, we met up with other groups who were also on the tour, each group color-coded.

There was much excitement in the air, according to my diary:

A guy from WPIC insisted on interviewing us along with others who were going. I was tongue-tied….so all I did was say “yeah” to his questions. After our baggage was weighed and checked we boarded the plane and got our pictures taken everywhere we turned. Mike [my younger brother] looked pretty sad when the plane started but everyone was waving.

This was a time, long before TSA security measures, when family and friends could stand on the tarmac not far from the plane to see the travelers off.

The initial article in the Herald’s coverage of our tour was accompanied by a photo of us boarding a red and white Capital Airlines plane. According to Wikipedia, we were about to travel in a British-made four-engine Vickers Viscount, the first passenger turboprop airliner and the first to be used in the U.S. (Capital Airlines merged with United Air Lines in 1960.)

Even as I attempted to appear as a nonchalant teen about it all, I wrote in my diary that I was “thrilled to death” at liftoff. It was my first ride in an airliner and we were finally on our way. The next stop on this grand adventure would be LaGuardia Airport, New York City.

For the rest of the story, go to JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part II.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, April 2017


A TREEHOUSE GROWS IN SHARPSVILLE

It’s a new year and a good time to review and renew our commitments. One of my missions is to record for you, and possibly for the pages of history, stories about life in the Shenango Valley of Pennsylvania throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, the 1940s through the 1970s. I will do so as long as the stories keep coming, whether from my own recollections and resources or from others who wish to share their memories of those times.

Another source of remembrances is the publication, “The Way it Was,” a senior shopper flyer that is produced by Eric Bombeck and distributed free of charge in the Mercer County area. The January 2017 issue features a compilation of articles from this blog titled “Dance Hall Days — Angel’s Casino in Sharpsville.” Be sure to check this out, as well as Bombeck’s Facebook page (The Way It Was Mercer County) and his Wednesday broadcasts, 5:00-7:00 p.m. EST on NewsTalk WPIC 790 AM (The Bombeck Show), all focusing on those days gone by.


sharpsville_pixabay_treeMy brother has always been a friend magnet. Wherever he lived, he had the ability to attract a faithful group of guys who eagerly joined with him in a variety of activities, either mischievous or quite proper, or just gathered around him to shoot the breeze. Even now in his retirement at Angel Acres in London, Kentucky, he can be found sitting at his desk in his woodworking shop holding forth with friends of all sorts. And it was the case when he was growing up Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

Mike’s following in the 1950s consisted of about 10 boys not unlike himself: looking for adventure in a small town at a time when there were few outlets for entertainment other than those which they invented for themselves. In those days, a tall tree grew in the corner of our yard where North Second Street ended at the railroad tracks. Because the tree’s branches spread out just the right way, Mike envisioned the tree as a perfect support for a treehouse. He and his friends began planning and collecting the needed building materials. According to Mike:

Dad had purchased a Heidelberg printing press [for his print shop, The Sharpsville Advertiser, also located on North Second Street] that was shipped in a large wooden container from Germany. The container was the first source of wood. The rest was scrounged from the neighborhood.

The story of how the treehouse turned out was best told in an article published on December 13, 1955, in the local newspaper, then known as The Sharon Herald:

Clipping from The Sharon Herald, December 3, 1955. (Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.)

Clipping from The Sharon Herald, December 3, 1955. [Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.]

Youngsters Build Clubhouse in Tree At Sharpsville

The Sharpsville youngsters who built a tree clubhouse in their neighborhood last summer are enjoying it even through the winter months with the help of a small electric heater which keeps it almost too warm for comfort.

They have electric lights and a radio, and now their big ambition is a television set. That and another project — buying matching shirts — are awaiting an upturn in their finances.

The 10 boys, aged eight to 13, who built the house did so on the spur of the moment last July — just to see if they could do it. Now they all enjoy it, and sometimes all ten cram into the house at once.

They hauled pieces of materials from here and there, and perched the six by eight foot house about 10 feet up in a wild cherry tree beside the August Angel home on North Second St. They installed a window, a doorway through the bottom reached by wooden steps, wrapped tar paper around the outside, and put pasteboard and [C]ongoleum on the inside. They found a bit of rug for the floor and benches for easier sitting. The house is said to contain dozens of books, although few adults ever see the interior to make sure.

A lookout perch is some 20 feet up in the tree. The electric current comes from Angel’s home.

Dues are $1 a year, and non-members can spend a day there for a nickel.

Photo used with permission from The (Sharon

 CAPTION: TREED — These Sharpsville boys are atop their tree house which they use the year round. Sitting left to right are David Heidelbach, Steve Kepics, Ford Auchter and Joseph Wasley. At the top are Mike Angel on the “lookout” and Bob Gwilt, standing. Other members not pictured are Darris Allshouse, Jack Marrie, Ronnie Greggs and Dennis McKnight. The white square on the side of the house is a storm window — it’s opened in summertime. [Arrow points to Mike.] [Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.]

The treehouse that was featured at the beginning and end of the 1986 movie “Stand By Me” had nothing on the one that Mike and his buddies built and equipped with all those modern amenities. Girls were not allowed inside the treehouse. Therefore, as Mike’s older sister, I can’t say how much the boys’ activities inside their clubhouse — away from the watchful eyes of the neighborhood — compared with those of the characters in “Stand by Me”!

More About Mike

After high school graduation, Mike and several of his friends joined the U.S. Marines. Afterward, Mike became a Kentucky State Trooper and earned a degree in Criminal Justice. This was followed by a career as a special agent with the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement organization, then within the U.S. Treasury Department and presently within the U.S. Department of Justice. Mike was a criminal investigator of bombings, firearms violations and liquor violations (moonshine) in the mountains of WV and KY. He was stationed in Charleston, WV, Cincinnati and Cleveland, OH, St. Paul, MN, and Atlanta, GA. He and his wife, Fredi (Andres), have two children and two grandchildren.

The treehouse was only the beginning of Mike’s creative accomplishments. In spite of a busy work and family life, he found time to study guitar, collect antiques, and build two log homes. Retired since 1994, Mike is the founder and owner of Red Dog & Company, specializing in hand-worked Appalachian-style furniture. Mike has become a master craftsman and he and his son (also an ATF retiree) build finely crafted items which are sold nationwide. (For more information, go to reddogchairs.com or reddogandcompany.com.) And, never one to slow down, he is presently contracted with the U.S Government to conduct background investigations for security clearances. As always, he conducts his businesses, as well as his friendships, with an easy-going congeniality.

Throughout the years, Mike has kept in touch with many of his Sharpsville gang. Sadly, some have now departed but his memories of the exploits they shared in Sharpsville during the 1950s will always be with him. 

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, with help from
Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY, February 2017.
Permission to use newspaper article and photograph given by The Sharon Herald Co., Sharon, PA.

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


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


TOM THUMB WEDDING & THE PHC

In 1946, when my brother, Michael, and I joined other children for several Saturdays at the imposing Protected Home Circle Building to practice walking down an aisle as pretend wedding participants, I don’t think we really understood what it was all about. On the day of the Tom Thumb Wedding, however, I’m sure I felt quite elegant when my mother tied matching ribbons in my hair and dressed me in a homemade pink chiffon gown adorned with flower appliques. My brother was decked out in a little tuxedo, also sewn by my mother, and probably wishing he were back home climbing trees in his front yard instead of participating in this curious ceremony.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC), which sponsored the mock wedding, was a fraternal life insurance company founded in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1886. The company not only provided insurance benefits to families, but also sponsored social, patriotic, and religious activities for young people as a deterrent against juvenile deliquency. I recall my brother and I, at a very young age, attending ballroom dancing classes and watching a puppet show during a Halloween costume party in that massive four-story white brick PHC Building.

But the Tom Thumb wedding was the big show. This elaborate event consisted of 52 little boys and girls none older than 12 years except the teenaged “cleric” and his two attendants. Looking at the photograph of this wedding party, taken 70 years ago, I can imagine once again the long trek down the aisle between chairs of proud parents and other relatives, in step with Richard Wagner’s “Wedding Chorus.”

In the lead would be the numerous bridesmaids in long dresses of a variety of pastel colors and styles escorted by groomsmen in black attire. Six of the bridesmaids, including a pair of twins, carried bouquets of flowers which must have ranked them higher than the rest of the bridesmaids.

Next were the tiniest of the tots. First the flower girl wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying her little basket of petals that she scattered on the bride’s path. She would have been accompanied by the ringbearer, distinguished by his white suit and short pants, and carrying the white satin pillow with the rings.

Then the main event: the lovely bride on her “father’s” arm, the long train of her gown held by a page, another wee boy dressed similar to the ring-bearer as they walked slowly towards the officiant and groom waiting on the “altar.”

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Fall 1946.

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Michael Angel is in top row, directly between bride and groom; Ann Angel is third from right, top row.

The bride did not hold a bouquet, at least not in the formal photograph taken afterwards. Instead, it appears that she is holding a prayer book. The photograph doesn’t give much indication that we were enjoying the occasion, so maybe Mike and I were not the only ones who were just cluelessly playing our roles as we had been trained. After “vows” were exchanged and the photograph taken, we filed out in the proper recessional order and then headed with our parents for the reception in a banquet hall.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding., sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA. Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left. Mother, Susie Angel in upper left corner.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding, sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Tom Thumb weddings were originally inspired by one of showman P.T. Barnum’s many publicity events in the late 1800s. Barnum promoted popular museum attractions that included performances by the little person Charles Stratton, an actor whom Barnum renamed “Gen. Tom Thumb” after the English fairy tale character who was no larger than his father’s thumb. Barnum arranged and funded an actual wedding of Charles Stratton to equally minute Lavinia Warren in the winter of 1863. Their sensational wedding was a welcomed diversion for the country during the dark days of the Civil War. Soon after, re-enactments of this diminutive wedding, featuring children, became popular as youth activities or fundraisers across the country and, after rising and falling in acceptance for over 150 years, continue to be held to this day.

The Protected Home Circle Building has its own story. According to John Zavinski’s article,”Fraternal Group Rose From Ashes of ’36 Sharon Fire,” in the April 2011 issue of Life & Times, an original yellow-brick castle-like building of the same height was destroyed by fire on April 21, 1936, after just 33 years of existence. Exactly a year later, on the same East State Street location on the Shenango River, a cornerstone was dedicated for the construction of today’s art deco building.

As of early 2000s, after a change to mutual life insurance and a short-lived merger, the PHC company is no longer in operation. Today the building, now known as River Walk Place, is owned and occupied by Gilbert’s Risk Solutions, a venerable local firm that also sells insurance.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC) Building, Sharon, PA. June 1993. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Michael’s little black tuxedo also had a second life. Almost ten years after the Tom Thumb wedding, it was worn by my younger brother, Patrick, in Sharpsville’s annual Halloween parade and afterwards in a costume contest that was held at Angel’s Casino. He was awarded the prize for wearing the Best Costume on Boy Under Six.

 – Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Phoenix, AZ


For more information, see:

Benjamin, Melanie. “America’s Royal Wedding: General and Mrs. Tom Thumb.” THE BLOG on Huffpost Style. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-benjamin/royal-wedding_b_850540.html (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.

Benjamin, Melanie. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. Print.

Weeks, Linton. “The Wondrous World Of Tom Thumb Weddings.” http://www.npr.org/sections/theprotojournalist/2014/11/15/363787614/the-wondrous-world-of-tom-thumb-weddings. Internet resource.

Zavinski, John. “Fraternal group rose from ashes of ’36 Sharon fire.” Life & Times, April 2011, page 22. http://www.zavinski.com/columnnowthen/pages/1104-nowthen.pdf (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.


AMUSEMENT PARKS

A mention of Conneaut Lake Park in last month’s blog by Irene Caldwell O’Neill reminded me of a couple of lively and colorful amusement parks we used to visit in the 1950s and 60s — when we had willing friends, access to a car and some money to spend.

If descriptions of these amusement parks stir up some memories of your own, please consider sharing them with us.


Conneaut Lake Park, Conneaut, Pennsylvania

Surprisingly Conneaut Lake Park is still in operation after over 120 years since it began. Like its signature Blue Streak wooden roller coaster, the park has had ups and downs throughout its history, from fires to closures to bankruptcy. It is currently overseen by a not-for-profit corporation.

Originally a boat landing, the land was purchased by the Conneaut Lake Exposition Company which created “Exposition Park” in 1892. It operated as a permanent fairground showing Western Pennsylvania’s finest livestock and latest machinery and industrial products. Beginning in 1901, new owners — the Pittsburgh & Shenango Valley Railroad — turned it into a popular resort that included several hotels and was accessed by boat, train or a trolley.

“Conneaut Lake Park,” renamed in 1920 after Pennsylvania’s largest glacier lake, featured the rides and amusements we knew in the 1950s: the Tumble Bug, Tilt-a-Whirl, Wild Mouse, Jack Rabbit, and the Blue Streak (2,900 feet long, 51 mph speed) which was added in 1938. (Source: Wikipedia.org). Most of these rides are still in operation, including the 77-foot high Blue Streak, known as the 17th oldest existing wooden rollercoaster in the United States. That the park hadn’t changed much through the years added to its charm and attraction. About 30 miles from Sharpsville, it was a favorite destination for a Saturday night double date.

In the 1950s we didn’t think much about the park’s early days when women in Gibson-girl hairstyles and flowing ankle-length dresses and men in blazers and straw hats arrived on trolleys to enjoy a day at the park. We were seeking the same pleasures, however, daring each other to try the fastest, highest or jerkiest rides or enjoying a bright red sticky candy apple or similarly sticky cotton candy and strolling the park to see and be seen.

For me, the rides were more fun to watch than actually ride, the penny arcade and the fun house being more my speed. The fun house had two fascinating mirror features: a room full of mirrors that would cause a great amount of disorientation, as well as a tall wavy mirror at the entrance that would distort your reflected body into various shapes depending on where you stood. Out in front, too, was a huge figure of a laughing lady, whose recorded laugh was loud and monotonous but definitely attention-getting.

One quaint machine in the penny arcade was called the “peep show,” albeit quite innocent in nature. Once you inserted a penny and looked into a small opening, you would see to a set of picture cards on a rotating axis. When you turned a handle the cards flipped by fast enough to suggest that the pictures were in motion. I recall scenes such as a woman dancing or a man lifting weights. Since the figures were in early 1900s attire, they were obviously a leftover from the park’s earliest days, just as the penny arcade itself was a precursor to the video arcade of more recent times.

Idora Park, Youngstown, Ohio

sharpsville_IdoraEntrance1910s

Entrance to Idora Park, Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910. [Source: Wikipedia.org]

In our day, we didn’t have just one amusement park close by, we had two. Across the Pennsylvania-Ohio border was Idora Park, located a little over 20 miles southwest of Sharpsville.

“Youngstown’s Million Dollar Playground” was built by the Youngstown Park & Falls Street Railway Company. Like Conneaut Lake Park, it was one of many amusement parks that were built at the end of trolley lines to “generate weekend revenue,” according to Wikipedia.org. Soon after opening, it became known as “Idora Park” as the result of a naming contest.

Idora Park Dance Hall, 1920. Source: Wikipedia.org

Idora Park Dance Hall, 1920. Source: Wikipedia.org

I still remember Idora Park Ballroom, a large red building with an expansive hardwood floor on which people danced to the music of big-name bands and, later, attended rock and roll acts such as the Eagles and The Monkees. When we weren’t hanging out at the ballroom, we crashed into each other with bumper cars, took a dizzying ride on the merry-go-round (which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975) or tried out the roller coasters.

This park had two wooden roller coasters. The Wild Cat was built in 1929 as a 3,000-foot state-of-the-art, three-minute ride and “was still ranked among the top ten roller coasters in the world in 1984.” Also recognized at the time as one of the best coasters in the country was the Jack Rabbit, 70 feet in height and 2,200 feet long, built in 1910. I’ve never forgotten how scared I was when the one of the rides would always end by racing down a track and splashing into a pool of water. We would leave the ride not only in an unsteady state, but dripping wet.

The park survived until the 1980s when several changes brought about its final demise: the end of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube, the city’s biggest employer, and a devastating fire in 1984. Under the mismanagement of subsequent owners, the park suffered additional fires and continuing deterioration until the remaining structures were razed by the city. Only the carousel remains to this day, purchased and restored by a couple in New York City and now on display in the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

For more about Idora Park’s early days and great vintage photos, see “The History of Idora Park (1899-1984)” by Rick Shale at Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s site.

Today, the pungeant odor of hot dogs slathered with mustard, catsup, pickle relish and onions or the cheerful music of a calliope still bring back memories of the simple enjoyment of a visit to Idora or Conneaut Lake Park.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)

PINE HOLLOW

PINE HOLLOW

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

Memories of my childhood hikes at Pine Hollow bring to mind a thick dark forest carpeted with purple and white violets and an occasional jack-in-the-pulpit…and the time my girlfriend and I dared to go skinny-dipping in the inviting cool waters of the winding stream. Of course, we were caught in the act by my brother and his entourage who were also exploring Pine Hollow that day. The group of delighted spectators included my cousin, who has never forgotten the episode and has never let me forget it. 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Source: Pixabay.com

Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Source: Pixabay.com

We unofficially called the area “Pine Hollow” although it may have actually been a part of Pine Hollow Run, which is located in one of several watershed basins that supply Sharpsville with tap water. Carrying our knapsacks filled with snacks, pencils and sketching pads, and other “emergency supplies”, we would follow the narrow creek that wandered through the woods, teetering over the flowing water as we crossed on a huge decaying log, occasionally stopping to search for crawdads, minnows, interesting stones, and frogs. My brother Pat recalls that he “accompanied Mom to Pine Hollow once on an excursion to hunt mushrooms. Fond memories of that place for all of us.” 

As the sun lowered in the sky and a towering railroad trestle came into view, we sensed that we should start back home. We did so either by walking for about a mile along the railroad tracks or backtracking to the main road (Route 518) until we returned to our small-town lives in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

pmss_image_hill house woods1

Forest view. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Irene Caldwell O’Neill, the originator of this series of Sharpsville memories, shares similar recollections of Pine Hollow during the 1940s and 1950s in the following essay.


The Shenango River was always a method of transportation and the reason several towns had grown along it. Starting in the mid-1800s a steel industry flourished along the banks, bringing jobs to the area but also polluting the air and river water. In the 1950s the river didn’t look as polluted as it certainly must have been. The PCB level had yet to be measured, so locals swam in the water and ate the fish they caught without worry.

The Shenango flowed gently most of the time, curving here and there through lush farmlands and isolated forests until the series of small steel towns appeared, beginning with Greenville in the north and ending with Farrell, Sharpsville being in the middle. In each town, tall black furnace towers spewed dark smoke in long plumes that stretched for miles across the valley.

The river had once been part of the Erie Canal system and the crumbling walls of lock number 10 are an easy walk from the edge of town. My last visit to number 10 was in 1957 with D___ M____, innocently holding hands as we looked down from the tree-shaded path.

Camping at Pine Hollow

A tributary of the Shenango River flowed through an area called Pine Hollow, where thick green woods grew along sloping hills. In the summer of 1947, my family camped in those woods. For two months we lived in a large brown canvas surplus army tent and slept on folding GI cots.

Every night we cooked over an open fire, ringed with big white rocks. Mom would set her coffee pot or frying pan on a steel rack laid atop the rocks and turn out great bacon and eggs or hamburgers. I ate a lot of hot dogs speared on sharpened sticks and cooked until the blackened skin burst and juice sizzled in the flames. Or potatoes we coated with mud and buried under the firewood until done.

Beside the tent, in the tiny pool of an icy spring, Mother submerged bottles of milk, jars of butter, eggs and other perishable food. Long yellow streamers of sticky flypaper interspersed with drying towels, bathing suits and underwear hung from the rope strung from big tree to big tree around our campsite. The flies got stuck but didn’t die and those yellow ribbons seemed alive themselves, with constant buzzing and wing-flapping as the bugs tried mightily, but fruitlessly to escape. More than once my long hair got stuck as I walked by. I still shudder at that.

We bathed, swam and played in the river the whole day wearing bathing suits even to bed if they had dried. My always bare skinny legs and arms were covered with mosquito bites that I scratched until they bled, but that was better than the poison ivy rash my brother Jack had all over his body. He had only to get within a foot of the plant, which grew everywhere in those woods, to soon have a rash. Flaking layers of pink calamine lotion coated his limbs giving him a weird splotchy appearance.

On the log dining table sat canning jars full of river water and the tadpoles we’d caught. None of them ever quite made it to full frogdom. I now realize they died because we didn’t know what to feed them.

Dad worked at the railroad yard during our campout and would ride to our campground on an outward-bound train at the end of his day. We’d hear the afternoon train coming and walk toward the tracks to meet and escort him home. He’d carry the evening paper, the day’s mail and a bag of whatever he’d been told to pick up. At night we sat around the fire watching the flames and talking about our day. Sometimes Mom and Dad would tell stories about the world of their childhood while we listened intently before falling onto our cots for a sound sleep.

On Dad’s days off he joined us in the river and would swim across, back, and then against the current in the middle. He showed us how to skip stones and look for fossils in the rocks. Mother mostly hung around the campsite, seldom walking down to the water. She had never learned to swim, and, like Jack, had a major sensitivity to poison ivy, always afraid of coming near it. I hope she was reading a lot and enjoying the freedom from housework drudgery.

Hiking in Pine Hollow

We never camped in Pine Hollow again or anywhere else for such a long period. There were a few shorter trips to Cook Forest [State Park] but never anything to compare with that wonderful summer. In later years, my brother, sister, and I would often walk through town to the river and turn into those woods for a day of peaceful adventure. We wore surplus army rucksacks filled with towels, bathing suits, sandwiches and fruit to allow for long hours in the “wilderness.” We followed the trails of many, many years and knew our way well enough to never get lost even when we strayed off the path to dig flowers for our yard. Mother loved jack-in-the-pulpits and lilies-of-the-valley, so we brought them home to plant, hoping to please her.

We weren’t the only children exploring the woods so meeting others we knew while swimming or hiking was expected, but it was sometimes nicer to enjoy the deep quiet alone.

Tragedy on the Railroad Trestle

Children moving along the river paths would sooner or later have to cross the river if they wanted to stay in the woods that were farther from town. The shortcut was via the railroad trestle bridge which had no pedestrian walkway. Walkers had to step from wooden tie to wooden tie the length of the bridge. Most were at least a little afraid and hopped across quickly trying not to look down at the drop to the river. We nervously talked about how easy it would be to slip between the ties and fall to our death, at the same time listening for the sound of approaching train whistles and planning our escape.

One June day in 1957, as two children were midway crossing the trestle, a fast and long freight train approached, whistle blowing loudly. G___ F____, a classmate of [my brother] Jack’s froze in fear and despite the urgings and tuggings of her companion could not be led from the bridge. She was finally abandoned as her friend ran for safety.

A photo of the trestle with an arrow indicating the exact spot she was struck appeared on the front page of the next day’s Sharon Herald. Jack and I stared at that photo for a long time trying numbly to absorb the reality of the event. All who knew her and all who had walked those ties were completely stunned. This tragic loss of a peer brought a terrible sadness to our river playground and many of us could never return.

– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA. April 2012 (Original title: “Our River”)

sharpsville_map_pinehollow3

Topographical map showing Shenango River’s tributary, Pine Hollow Run near Sharpsville, PA. http://www.topoquest.com