Small Town Memories

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

Tag: playground

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.


sharpsville_robison_grade5

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: www.etsy.com

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

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.”

Playground

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


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DEETER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

During the 1950s and 1960s, Sharpsville, like other towns across the United States, was experiencing an increase in the number of school-age children due to the post-World War II baby boom. Consequently, the Emma Robison School wasn’t the only elementary school in Sharpsville at that time.

This story covers Deeter Elementary School, but later we’ll also revisit Pebly and 13th Street elementary schools. If you attended any of these or others in the area as a child, please consider sharing your recollections and any photos you may have.

From the Class History in the 1958 Devil’s Log, the Sharpsville (PA) High School yearbook (page 94):

Way back in the year 1946 about 200 eager, aspiring little toddlers left their Mommie’s arms and ventured forth into a strange and curious world…

Some of these fearless little ones ventured into the inner and sinister recesses of the Deeter Building. Others roamed boldly into the unknown at the 13th Street School…. [T]he Robison Building at 7th Street was greedily gobbling up the young innocents who wandered trustingly into the big doors. Still, in other sections, Clark and South Pymatuning to be specific, future and then unknown friends of ours were suffering fates at equally strange and unknown establishments.


Deeter Elementary School

sharpsville_cent plate_deeter

“Emma Deeter School – 1869” depicted on a plate commemorating Sharpsville’s centennial year. (Source: Ebay)

All I knew about Deeter Elementary School was this: If you were of elementary school age in the 1950s, you either went to Deeter School or Robison School. (Beginning in seventh grade, students from all the elementary schools attended Sharpsville Junior-Senior High School.)

Deeter Elementary School: Miss Emma Deeter

According to the March 2014 issue of Sharpsville Area Historical Society newsletter, Deeter School was named for Miss Emma Deeter, who was a student during the early 1880s and later became a teacher.

Emma C. Deeter was born around 1861 and, according to the 1880 United States Census, lived with her family on Main Street. At age 19, she was working as an instrumental music teacher. Her father, Simon Deeter, age 61, was a “laborer” and her mother, Kate (Thomas) Deeter, age 58), kept house. Emma Deeter had one sister, Mary Deeter (age 17) and a brother, James L.M. (age 28) who was a blast furnace clerk. Kate’s sister, Margrett Thomas (single, age 39), was also living with the family.

Emma Deeter began as a teacher in the Sharpsville School District in 1882, having received her degree from the Northwest State Normal School, later known as the Edinboro (PA) State Teacher’s College and is currently the Edinboro University.

As of the 1910 United States Census, Miss Emma Deeter was a teacher of English and the head of a household which she shared with her widowed sister, Mary (Deeter) Jones, Mary’s daughter, Kathryne Florence (Jones) Beck, age 22, and her husband, Daniel H. Beck, age 32, who was a druggist.

In 1924, an article on page 7 of the Sharpsville Golden Jubilee Supplement to The Sharon (PA) Telegraph pays homage to her many years as a teacher.

MISS EMMA DEETER HAS LIVED LIFE OF REAL SERVICE

Miss Emma Deeter, loved by all, is one of Sharpsville’s oldest residents.

Miss Deeter’s father ran a boat on the canal and moved his family here in 1862 by boat. At that time there were no railroads, no postoffice and only about 14 homes in Sharpsville. Miss Deeter declares Clarksville was like the metropolis of Mercer Co. at that time.

Miss Deeter has taught constantly in the Sharpsville school since 1882 with the exception of one year. She has endeared herself to all. Many of the children taught by her can say they have the same teacher their mothers and fathers had when they went to school. Besides teaching school she also instructs a private class in piano at home.

Four years after this article was published, the school, previously known as the “Second Ward School” was named the Emma Deeter Elementary School in her honor.

Deeter Elementary School: The Building

The first part of the  brick building, located on the corner of East Main and Mercer Avenue, was built sometime after 1870 and before 1876, according to the Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s walking tour of the town (or constructed in 1869 according to other sources):

[In] 1870, General Pierce swapped [a frame building used as the first schoolhouse in Sharpsville] for a parcel uptown as well as donation of $2,000 toward a new school building. The new building (upon the site now occupied by the Mertz Towers at 52 S. Mercer Ave.),…expanded twice in 1876 and 1883, was later named the Deeter Building.

A photo taken in the 1930s of Sharpsville from the top of the Shenango Furnace Company’s #1 Furnace, includes a distant view of Deeter School “with its belfry.” This photo can be seen in the March 2013 issue of Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter.

I don’t know if the school that we attended was based on geographical boundaries or not. My older brother and I attended Robison, across town on Seventh Street, in the early 1950s. Later (1955-1956), although we still lived on Second Street, my younger brother went to Deeter, which was closer to our home. According to my 1955 diary, Pat’s first-grade teacher at Deeter was Mrs. Kenton. Here are his recollections:

I went to Deeter in the first grade and then to Pebly elementary school for the second (1956-57) to sixth grade (1960-61). I was 6 years old when I started Deeter in September 1955 but soon turned 7 years old in October 1955….. There was a flight of stairs and halfway up the stairs, there was a reproduction of a painting of boys in a field flying kites on a windy day. There was a pretty big playground and during the summer there was a program that engaged children in arts and crafts activities to keep them out of trouble during the idle summer months I suppose. My chosen craft was casting plaster of paris figurines and painting them. 

I  remember the ‘canteen‘ – an outbuilding on the school grounds where there was a weekly (Saturday night?) ‘dance’ or ‘record hop’. That’s where I first heard the pop song, ‘Rock around the Clock.’

I also remember all of the children in the entire school being marched single file from the school down the hill (Walnut Street?) to Dr. [James A.] Biggins office where we all got polio shots. That would have been in the 1955-56 school year… Those of us who received the polio shot in our left arms back then earned a little round scar which remains visible on my arm to this day. My children didn’t get a polio shot but rather an oral dose, so the scar dates the children of the 1950s and 60s.  

Click on image to enlarge.

An excellent photo of the Deeter Building accompanies the following article, published in the May 2015 Newsletter for the Sharpsville Area Historical Society and written by Ralph C. Mehler, SAHS board member and 1980 graduate of SHS:

Deeter Building, c. 1907. Source: SAHS Newsletter, May 2015.

This view of the Mercer Avenue school dates from about 1907. Of course, those who remember it know it as the Deeter Building so named in 1949 in honor of long-time teacher Emma Deeter.

The structure was built in three stages. The first in 1869, with a matching section alongside in 1876. The rear section with the bell tower and a connection between the two wings was erected in 1883. Sidney W. Foulk of Greenville and New Castle (who also designed the First Universalist Church here) was the architect of that third addition.

The building was closed in 1964 and demolished in 1973. The Mertz Towers now occupy this lot, with School Street the only reminder of what once stood here.


Most of those elementary schools are no longer around, but our memories do live on. The Class History in the 1958 Devil’s Log goes on to say:

[We] survived the beginning stages of adjusting to a brand new life…with the kindness and consideration of our grade school teachers to help us over the rough spots, we soon passed over those carefree, wonderful days of skipping rope, playing marbles, dusting erasers, washing boards, playing kick-the-can, prisoners base, [and] mumblety peg….

See Also:
Canteen
Junior High School
Pebly & 13 Street Schools
Robison School I
Robison School Class of 1960 Part I
Robison School Class of 1960 Part II
Senior High School Traditions
SHS Class of 1958 Celebrates Its 60th!

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ
— Pat Angel (SHS 1968), London, KY
— Ralph Mehler (SHS 1980), Sharpsville, PA