Small Town Memories

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

Category: Sharpsville, PA, Area 1940s – 1970s

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part I)

Now showing! Memories of the drive-in theater, featuring Reynolds, a local hot spot during the 1950s and 60s for family, friends, and dates. Part I gives a brief history of Reynolds, the name’s origin, and the reason why it’s in this blog’s spotlight.

Reynolds Drive-in Theatre in its heyday, Transfer, PA, c. 1950s. Photo submitted to cinematreasures.org by Chris1982.

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE

The year that the Reynolds Drive-In died was 2014. This drive-in theater on Route 18 in Transfer, Pennsylvania, lived for over six decades, experienced a brief comeback, now is no more.

Open air cinemas had existed in crude forms, showing silent movies, as early as 1915-1916 in Mexico and 1921 in Texas. The drive-in theater as we know it opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, by chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. after he did much experimentation to get it right. His ideas took hold and drive-ins grew in popularity in the 1930s.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the number of drive-ins peaked at around 4,000 and were mostly found in the United States, Canada and Australia. In the Sharpsville, PA, area alone there were the Hickory Drive-in (Sharon), Larkfield and Guthrie (Grove City), Penn (New Castle), Lakeside (Conneaut Lake), Moonlight (Brookville) and Reynolds (Transfer). Just across the border in Ohio were the Howland (Niles) and four more in the Youngstown area (Northside, Ski Hi, Southside, and Westside). A few are still in operation. Pennsylvania was known to have the greatest number of drive-in theaters in the U.S., mostly due to two advantages: cheap land and lots of it.

During the 1970s the number of drive-ins was declining for a variety of reasons. The societal and technical developments that adversely affected drive-ins are well-explained on the “History” page of www.driveinmovie.com: Daylight Savings Time, video rentals, urban sprawl, and finally the push to convert from 35mm film to expensive digital projectors in the early 2000s. Drive-in theaters made a brief comeback recently, as owners found creative ways to fund their existence, such as combining them with flea markets or serving higher-quality food at the concession stand, but it’s been a struggle.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre: History & Memories

The story of Reynolds closely follows the course of drive-in theater history. The exact date that the Reynolds Drive-In originally opened is apparently unknown, with various websites estimating 1945, 1947, and as late as 1955.

However, the theater was already in existence for several years by 1953 as evidenced by an ad that appeared in the Record-Argus, a Greenville newspaper, featuring this message from Carl T. McKnight, Reynolds Owner and Manager:

A MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC From REYNOLDS Drive-in Theatre

A few years ago we at REYNOLDS THEATRE decided we would like to keep our theatre alive during the winter months by having our marquee greet you with a friendly thought as you pass by. … We really appreciate hearing from you and would be happy to use any quotations or bit of philosophy you would care to send us, providing they are of a length we can use in our limited amount of space. …. LET US HEAR FROM YOU – CARL T. MCKNIGHT Owner and Manager

1967 AMC Ambassador with a front bench seat offering room and seat belts for three adults. Source: Wikimedia.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was the place to be during its summers-only seasons in the 1950s and 60s, whether it was a date night (remember when drive-ins were called “passion pits”?) or family night.

Spread across approximately 10 acres, Reynolds had the capacity for 550 cars, an average size for a drive-in then, and one large sheet metal screen tower that rested on a thick base of 75% stone masonry. There was a rise in the ground where you parked that tilted your car towards the screen. Because it was unpaved, the ground was sometimes dotted with puddles of water after a rain. At such a time, where the car was parked could be an important consideration! The spaciousness of cars in those days, along with their large windshields, made it easier see the movie from the both front and back seats. And those upholstered bench seats were much more comfortable than the hard seats of an indoor theater.

“Reynolds”: Whence the Name?

The name “Reynolds” has an intriguing history that dates back to the Civil War.

During World War II, “Reynolds” designated a Military Personnel Replacement Depot that existed in Pymatuning Township, Mercer County. What was once 26 farms on nearly 3,300-acres of rich land where potatoes grew, became in the span of only six months in 1942 the location of the largest military installation of its kind in the U.S. First known as Camp Shenango for the nearby village of Shenango, this self-sufficient “town” consisted of barracks, gymnasiums, chapels, libraries, theaters, a 100-bed hospital, fire stations, warehouses, mess halls, a rifle range, post exchanges, guest facilities, and much more.

http://www.greenvillereynolds.com/uploads/misc/IMG_1620.png

“Welcome to Reynolds Industrial Park.” 1949-present. Source: http://www.greenvillereynolds.com

All this was to temporarily accommodate officers and enlisted men before they were sent to war in Europe. In 1943, the War Department changed the name to U.S. Army Camp Reynolds in honor of General John F. Reynolds, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Camp Reynolds also served as a holding place for German prisoners-of-war from April 1944 until January 1946. Camp Reynolds as a military personnel replacement depot was closed in 1945.

From 1949 to the present day, 1,200 acres of the area have been the location of three parks (industrial, warehouse and business), owned and operated by the non-profit Greenville-Reynolds Development Corporation.

Reynolds Drive-In: A Family Connection

”The Ten Commandments” 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic from Paramount Pictures. Source: Wikipedia.

I have special memories of this drive-in. My father, a printer and a friend of Carl T. McKnight, then owner of the drive-in, used to print programs for Reynolds in the 1950s. The programs, handed out to each car at the ticket booth, advertised upcoming movies and probably other information that I don’t recall. Usually, my brother or I (when we learned to drive) would deliver the programs, along with a few friends. We could stay for the movie without charge and sometimes we did.

My dad hardly ever attended movies, indoors or out, but I do remember the time he took the family to see Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic film depicting the life of Moses, “The Ten Commandments,” some time after its release in October 1956. That this one interested him was a mystery to us kids. It couldn’t have been the subject matter as he wasn’t a church-goer. In order to get the actors’ names and movie titles right, Dad subscribed to film industry magazines, such as BOXOFFICE Magazine. Maybe he had read about the movie’s reputation as the most expensive and the most financially successful film ever made at the time, its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and 6 other categories, and its spectacular special effects. After all, Moses turns the river Nile to blood and parts the Red Sea right before your eyes!

To Be Continued…

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School 1958), Phoenix, AZ. August 2017.

Sources

“Camp Reynolds.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Reynolds

“Drive-In Theater.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater

“Message to the Public from Reynolds Drive-in Theatre.” The Record-Argus, Greenville, PA. November 23, 1953, p. 4.  Newspapers.com.
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/12091556/

“Reynolds Drive-In.” Cinema Treasures, LLC.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10365

See Also: 

Irwin, Dan. “Movie Memories Part 3: Technology takes movie theater projectionists from distinction to extinction.” New Castle News, July 3, 2013. http://www.ncnewsonline.com/news/local_news/movie-memories-part-technology-takes-movie-theater-projectionists-from-distinction/article_b7f0ac78-d930-54b2-ba80-a99761928056.html

COMING SOON:
Part II – Speakers, Concession Stands
& Reynolds’ Final Days



SHARPSVILLE AND THE RITZ RE-DISCOVERED

Good news! A guest writer has kindly agreed to share her story of reconstructing the history of Sharpsville’s landmarks, including the Ritz Theater. Having been the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years (2004-2014), Gail Nitch Hanes painstakingly assembled a PowerPoint presentation as a 50th reunion gift to her class. Now her gift and the tale of its creation are available here for the enjoyment of all of us who wish to keep Sharpsville’s history alive.

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This wonderful photo comes to us from the Mahaney Family collection. …A throng of Sharpsvillites had come out on August 26, 1950, for the Northwest Firemen’s Association parade. In the background is Walder’s Tavern, famous for its steak sandwiches (now the Marigold II), and the much-missed Ritz Theatre. As a second-run movie house then, it was showing the World War II comedy, “When Willie Comes Marching Home,” and the Joel McCrea-Veronica Lake western, “Ramrod.” [Photo courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes, Ralph Mehler, and the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered

Have you ever thought about doing something special which would require research? In the process, have you discovered far more information than you ever imagined? And was your curiosity piqued enough to explore every avenue which opened yet another door?

Well, that’s precisely what happened to me in 2012 when I was trying to determine that “something special” which would serve as the perfect gift for the classmates of Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at our 50th reunion scheduled for September 2014.

The original plan was to create a brief pictorial “Then and Now” PowerPoint presentation of our hometown- Sharpsville, but the project took on an entirely new scope when my need-to-know kicked in and it became apparent that there is far more to our little town than most of us ever really considered. Why not include the history of Sharpsville along with the photos? Now the fun began!

With the generous assistance of classmates, their families and friends, and especially Ralph Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, I was able to collect photos of “Then” Sharpsville as it was when our class was growing up through the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s…the businesses/buildings along the main arteries in town- Shenango Street, Walnut Street, Main Street, Mercer Avenue- and more. Using these photos, I set upon a three-day “Now” photo shoot of those same locations, taking most shots from the same angles.

When I arrived at one particular empty lot on Main Street, it became painfully obvious that a very important old photo was missing from all the rest…that of our beloved Ritz Theater. In my historical research of various sources, I found articles written by Ann Angel Eberhardt and other Sharpsville-ites as well as bits and pieces of speeches made by Pete Joyce referencing the Ritz. The history of the theater was as complete as it could possibly get. However, a photo did not seem to exist, although classmates “picked” the memories and photo albums of older relatives and friends. Alas,…my PowerPoint would be completed without that one very important piece…one held so near and dear by all of us. All I had to show was the now empty lot on which the theater once stood.

It wasn’t until late last year one of our classmates sent me a copy of a photo [which was eventually printed in the March 2017 issue of Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, having been part of the Mahaney family collection]. It was of a Northwest Firemen’s Association parade down Main Street on August 26, 1950.  In the background stands the Ritz Theater- EUREKA!!  Finally,…we had that elusive photo.  Of course, I immediately relayed the photo to our classmates to a fantastic response by all.

I must admit that the “Sharpsville: Then and Now” project renewed my deep interest in the history of our little town and just how important it was to the overall history of our county, state, country, and even the world [e.g. the pig iron industry via Shenango Furnaces…John Jackson’s oiler, and much more]. It has given gave me a new appreciation of just how much of an impact even a small town like ours can have, and the immense pride in having grown up in the middle of it all.

And to think it all started with one man’s dream. Thank you, General James Pierce!

– Gail Nitch Hanes, Southington, OH – Sharpsville High School 1964


Click on the following link to view the PowerPoint presentation of
“Sharpsville, Our Home Town – Then and Now”: SHPVL – THEN & NOW

SEE ALSO:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960)
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958)



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


PAPERBOYS AND PINSETTERS

While writing about my brother, Mike, and his treehouse, I was reminded of two typical 1950s jobs he had while in high school: paperboys and pinsetters. Traditionally for boys only, those jobs put a little extra change in their pockets and taught them the fundamentals of the working world, whether they liked them or not.


sharpsville_sharon-herald-logo-3

Logo used pending permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.

PAPERBOYS: “Read all about it!”

In the later half of the 1950s, my brother Mike delivered “The Sharon Herald” daily newspaper door to door in Sharpsville, PA. Our dad described Mike’s work in his memoir, Trivia & Me as follows:

Mike was an industrious and outgoing teenager. Shortly after we moved to Sharpsville [c. 1950], he helped a friend with a 50 to 75-customer Sharon Herald newspaper route, learned all the addresses, and took it over when his friend gave it up for a bigger route. At first, the papers were too heavy to carry in a shoulder bag, so Mike pulled them in a wagon. The Thursday edition was the heaviest because it was often printed on 24 to 36 pages or 48 to 56 pages for special sale editions on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, and the Fourth of July. [The Herald was then an afternoon publication.]

At first, each paper was delivered from the sidewalk to the porch on foot, a time-consuming effort involving much running back and forth. In time, Mike became adept enough to fold the paper into itself and throw it accurately to the porch door.

In the summertime, I often accompanied him on the route. When the weather was pleasant and doors were open we would listen to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” [a weekly situation comedy] and other radio programs uninterrupted as we moved from one house to the other. In wintertime, during the cold and snow, we were only interested in getting the papers delivered as quickly as we could.

sharpsville_pixabay_newsboySaturday was customer pay-up day. Unless a person has ever tried to collect monies for service, he would not believe the number of excuses some customers offered to avoid or delay paying the paperboy his dues. However, Mike was such a good businessman that he encountered only a few non-payers, mostly [those] customers who had moved out-of-town.

Dad was likely very proud of Mike’s newspaper job, remembering his own experience as a young boy in the early 1900s when he peddled papers on a street corner in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper, “The Plain Dealer,” which still exists to this day, sold for 3 cents each, of which 1 penny was his. Hopefully, his son Mike brought home a bit more than that!

PINSETTERS: Beware the Flying Pins!

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Pinsetting required even more exertion and dexterity than newspaper delivery. Several evenings a week, Mike could be found at the Thornton Hall, working as the pinboy at the receiving end of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball hit the pins, he cleared the fallen pins, and rolled the bowling ball back to the player. At the end of turn player’s turn, he would return all ten pins to their proper places, ready for the next player.

Mike has this incisive memory of his pinboy job:”We were paid 13 cents per line for pin setting. The experience taught me that there must be an easier way to make money.”

One of the pinsetter’s main concerns was to avoid getting smashed by the oncoming bowling ball or flying pins. This was what I remember most from the days that I too reset pins, not as a teenager but as an Allegheny College student taking a women’s physical education course in bowling. The school rented lanes at a local Meadville, PA, bowling alley, and we students were pressed into service as pingirls. In order to set up all the pins for the next player, we used a treadle that we pushed with our foot, causing 10 pins to raise up. We would then set the bowling pins down on the pins, release the treadle, and the pins were in position for the next player. When that bowling ball came roaring toward us, we were sure to jump up and perch on a platform on either side of the lane, out of the way of the collision below.

The introduction of the mechanical bowling pinsetters and their prevalence in bowling alleys by the 1960s did away with the job of pinsetting. In this case, automation was a godsend. Not only did automatic pinsetters allow for faster games, but more importantly, they eliminated the dangers inherent in pinsetting by teenage boys and sometimes girls!


“The Sharon Herald” has been known as “The Herald” since 1970, having dropped “Sharon” from its nameplate to reflect wider distribution in the Shenango Valley, Mercer County, and several adjacent towns. The newspaper, still going strong in print and now online, has been a morning paper since 2002 and is published every day except Christmas Day.

Thornton Hall still stands on the corner of Thornton Street and Hall Avenue, just across the border between Sharpsville and Sharon, PA. According to its Facebook page, Thornton Hall still has a bowling alley. (The drug store and roller-skating rink in the same building that we 1950s-60s teenagers would frequent appear to no longer exist.) Although the alley still hands out paper score sheets on which players do their own scoring, I doubt that it still has human pinsetters. And I’m pretty sure that, if bowling classes were still offered at Allegheny College, pinsetting duty would no longer be required.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), March 2017, with help from Mike Angel (SHS 1960).
Excerpt from “Trivia & Me,” page 118, an autobiography written by August Angel.

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.

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.