Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, AREA from the 1940s to the 1970s, one story at a time.

Tag: Caldwell family

ROBISON SCHOOL Class of 1960 (Part II)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

By Irene Caldwell O’Neill
March 2013

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


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

Fifth Grade, 1952-1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Robison School, Grade 6, c. 1956

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

Sixth Grade, 1953-1954

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

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

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

Swimming Lessons

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

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

Restrooms, Recess, Lunch, Winter

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

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

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

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

In December, the school put on a Christmas program with each class performing a different song and any exceptionally gifted children doing a talent solo. I remember dinging my little triangle while we all sang “Silver Bells” and Allegra Duncan (SHS 1958) playing the violin. The students stood on the opposing stairways and the whole program took place in the great central hall where a tall pine had been placed decorated with construction paper chains, stars and snowflakes, all made by the students.

Safety Drills

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

See other stories about Robison School:

Robison SchooI l by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Robison School II by Judy Caldwell Nelson

Robison School Class of 1960 (Part I) by Irene Caldwell O’Neill


ROBISON SCHOOL Class of 1960 (Part I)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Robison School

By Irene Caldwell O’Neill

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

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

"Fun with Dick and Jane'' from

“Fun with Dick and Jane” from

First Grade, 1948-1949

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

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

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

Second Grade, 1949-1950

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

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


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

Third Grade, 1950-1951

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

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

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

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

Fourth Grade, 1951-1952

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Robison School Class of 1960, Part II

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

See Also:

Deeter Elementary School 

Junior High School 

Pebly & 13 Street Schools 

Robison School I by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Robison School II by Judy Caldwell Nelson

Senior High School Traditions

SHS Class of 1958 Celebrates Its 60th!

BUHL PARK II: Clubs and Library

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

In the Sharpsville of my youth, Memorial Day meant the end of the school year (by a day or two), a parade down Main Street, and best of all the opening of the swimming pool at Buhl Park. That was around 60 years ago. According to the Mercer County Historical Society, this year (2015) is the 100th anniversary of Buhl Park.

Buhl Park and other Buhl legacies are popular subjects when it comes to Sharpsville memories. Here is the second story about Buhl Park written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, SHS 1960.

Buhl Park II: Clubs and Libraries

Buhl Farm Park

I couldn’t write about my childhood in Sharpsville without mentioning Buhl Park, also known as Buhl Farm. It was once owned by the local philanthropic couple, Frank and Julia Buhl, who had donated all 300 acres to the community in 1914 to be used as a park.

When I was young my favorite feature was the park’s huge swimming pool, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I and my siblings, as well as most young white people in the valley, went there almost every summer day to escape the sweltering Pennsylvania heat. (I remember that the African-Americans or “Negro” residents were allowed to use the pool only one day a year, the day before it was drained for the winter.)

A big white colonnaded building, called the Casino dominated the park and was the focus of a lot of childhood activities. The pool was located on the building’s right while on its left and continuing around the back was the picturesque Lake Julia, itself covering eleven acres. Most winters Lake Julia froze deeply enough to provide ice skating and the Casino floors were covered over with rough wood planking so we could wear our skates inside and purchase hot chocolate. We played crack-the-whip and ice tag until our ankles couldn’t bear any more.

In the summer we would lie on the adjacent sidewalk and look down into the lake’s green and murky depths studying the moss, frogs, and fish. The Caldwell kids weren’t the only children to take home tin cans or glass jars filled with lake wildlife.

My mother’s family, the descendants of Robert and Jessie Cline Black, held a few of their family reunions at one or another of the park’s covered picnic shelters. While the children would go off to the pool, one of the playgrounds, or chase through the gardens, our dads had plenty of space for a ball game and the women would sit and talk, relaxing after all the meal preparations and planning done to get their families there.

My sister Judy and I, hoping to become respectable tennis players, chased our balls around one of the tennis courts a few times. The courts were in a sad way in the mid-1950s but usable enough for our poor game.

When my oldest sister, Bobbi, married in 1958, some of her wedding photographs were taken in the sunken garden at the park. This was a common practice at the time and I think it would be interesting to know how many years are covered in Buhl Park wedding photos.

So much has been written about the park’s Dum-Dum Golf Course that I won’t be redundant. All the same, I must mention that it was fun to walk across and that many of my male classmates caddied there in mild weather.

Buhl Clubs

My brother and other boys in the Shenango Valley attended the Boys’ Buhl Club while I went to the one Julia Buhl donated for the girls in 1936, both located in downtown Sharon. I took tap dance and ballet lessons there, as well as simply enjoying the well-equipped facility. It had a kitchen (presumably for culinary lessons), bowling alley, and a comfortable, posh in fact compared to what I was used to, common room where my cousin and I met to play with the stock of board games, jacks, and Pick-Up-Stix.

A shower room was located off the gymnasium and for a girl who had only taken baths this was a heavenly experience. I’d be ashamed to admit how long I stood under that blissful hot water. The girls’ building closed in 1987 having consolidated with the boys’ club. Sad, but probably necessary, as the endowments were almost gone.

Buhl Library

The Buhl Library (courtesy of the same pair) was located above and in the same building as the boys’ club. I frequently rode the bus (for ten cents) from Sharpsville to Sharon, spent time at the girls’ club and then visited the library where I checked out the maximum number of books I could carry home. If my cousin met me at the club we often walked up State Street to her house on the corner of Baker Avenue. I could get a ride home from there with Dad on his way from work or take another city bus.

-Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, May 2013

To this day, Buhl Park, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, serves as an “exceptional recreational, ecological, and scenic” area for the enjoyment of the community. Read more about the park’s history and its current activities here

 Click on map to enlarge image.

Current map of Buhl Farm Park. Source:

Current map of Buhl Farm Park. Source:

See Also:

BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground


by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Speaking of immunizations, as Patrick Angel did in the previous blog, here is an article on the subject written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960). See “About” for more on Irene’s dream of creating a collection of Sharpsville memories.

[Please note: The new year brings a scheduling change to Small Town Memories. Instead of publishing the blogs weekly, I will do so monthly during the first week of each month. This will provide all of us more time to collect and write about our memories of Sharpsville in the 1950s-1970s.]


Some months after we [the Caldwell family] moved to Sharpsville, I needed to be vaccinated against smallpox for the coming school term. Mother kept telling me how nice the local Dr. Bailey was and how he would only scratch my arm a little and then give me a treat.

It hurt more than any scratch I’d yet received and I cried even after being given a completely inadequate lollipop. A Band-aid stayed on my arm for several days, until the time Mother was to remove it and look for signs of the inoculation “taking.” It had to “take” or need to be repeated, a prospect I was very concerned about, sucker or no.

I needn’t have worried. The huge red swelling on my upper arm felt as big as my head and proved that it had, indeed, “taken.” In a very short time, the big bump became an ugly pustule, that seeped and wept bright yellow ooze from its edges while a crusty scab formed over the center. As the swelling went down and the ooze dried up, a great itch inserted itself under the scab.

I had been told by both doctor and Mother not to scratch. Their dire warnings promised “spreading” or even worse, “scarring” as the certain outcome. Mother’s smallpox scar was big, the size of a half dollar and looked, I thought, horrible. If that’s what scratching did, I wasn’t about to go near my scab. However, this itch was bad, worse than the worst mosquito bite. I tried not to think about it, but how could I not, when it screamed, “Please Scratch Me,” with a voice loud enough to keep me awake at night and interrupt every daytime activity? Many times throughout a day, I pulled my arm close to my face and inspected the dreadful site.

One day I noticed that the scab edge was gradually separating from my skin. The scab eventually fell off with only a little help from me and my scar never did become as big as Mother’s. That was not my last shot from Dr. Bailey.

Vaccinations at School

Periodically that good doctor would show up at Robison Elementary School with the school district nurse and a folding table. Children lined up to have their arms swabbed and stabbed with the intent of preventing some potentially fatal childhood disease such as typhoid fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, or tetanus. When my parents were young, whole families of children often died from some such ailments. While we were to experience chicken pox, measles, mumps, and rather mild forms of influenza, nothing fatal struck the Caldwell children in the 1950s.


I saw evidence of only one case of polio during my childhood (even though it was much discussed and fretted over) while attending a birthday party. A boy came wearing leg braces.

In 1957, the Jonas Salk polio vaccine came to Sharpsville and was administered free of charge to the town’s schoolchildren. Once a month, for three consecutive months we lined up to get a shot that, blessedly put an end to many parental fears and freed us to use the Buhl Park pool without worry. [My brother] Jack, hearing talk of three shots, thought all were to be administered at once and dutifully visited two of the three tables set up merely to move students through faster before he fainted.


Tuberculosis (TB) had been a huge killer in the U. S. until its origin and means of spreading were understood and addressed. The banning of public spitting alone worked miracles and with the development of streptomycin in 1943, soon followed by other antibiotics, a cure was found.

Although the disease was already rare in the 1950s we were still tested for it every year at school by the patch test. Aside from the occasional false positive due to a prior exposure, TB also dropped off the list of our mothers’ worries.


Home Cures

My family never had a prescription filled during my whole childhood. We used over-the-counter products including iodine, cod liver oil, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, calamine lotion, Fletcher’s Castoria, Vick’s VapoRub, milk of magnesia, Mercurochrome, aspirin, and carbolic drawing salve as home remedies for most illnesses, usually purchased at Uncle Clifford Caldwell’s drug store on State Street in nearby Sharon, Pennsylvania.

We didn’t own a thermometer and Mother guessed by touch at the severity of a fever, applying cold cloths to lower a temperature. Somehow we survived to adulthood as did most children in 1950s Sharpsville.


See Also Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920s, Part I and Part II.

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