Small Town Memories

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

Tag: swimming

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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ROBISON SCHOOL I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

It’s September, the time of year that always meant back-to-school for 1950s children. The sight of today’s backpack-laden kids trudging off to school often as early as mid-August can still bring back those memories of long ago.

A song that would put anyone in a back-to-school mood is Chuck Berry’s 1957 rock ‘n’ roll version of “School Days.” As he sings about dealing with teachers, students and school subjects, he describes the high school experiences and concerns all of us can relate to then and now.

Elementary and high school occupied most of our young lives except for those three-month summer breaks each year, so it isn’t any wonder that memories abound, good and not-so-good. Join us as we recall those “dear old golden rule days” at Robison School during the early 1950s.


The Emma Robison School building sat like a stately mansion at the end of a long sidewalk that cut across the middle of the front lawn. The Y-shaped brick structure on Seventh Street had two stories, tall narrow windows, steep roofs and a sky-high chimney. At first, the building held six rooms for approximately 150 pupils, but later it grew to 10 room for 217 pupils. It was the place in which I spent my fifth and sixth grades at the ages of 10 through 12 years old.

The Beginnings

A timeline on the Mercer County Historical Society website mentions that the cornerstone of the “Sharpsville Public School” was laid on May 25, 1892. Miss Emma Robison taught there from 1900 to 1937. According to an article in the 1924 Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary Supplement to The Sharon (PA) Telegraph (page 10 ): “Miss Emma Robison has served as principal in the Seventh-st. School building for many years. She also teaches Grade Seven of that building.” 

“SEVENTH-ST SCHOOL TEACHERS.” Miss Emma Robison, 1st on left, back row. Source: Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary Supplement to The Sharon (PA) Telegraph (page 10), June 7, 1924.

At some time in the years that followed that 1924 article, the school was renamed in Emma Robison’s honor. A vintage postcard depicts the school with a woman and child sitting on concrete steps leading to the sidewalk. (See image below.) The fashion of the woman’s clothing suggests that the photo was taken in the late 1930s or early 40s, possibly after Emma Robison’s last year of teaching in 1937 and when the school adopted her name.

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“Emma Robinson (sic) Grade School, 7th Street, Sharpsville, PA.,” 1930s. Image courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

Starting the Day

During the first week of the school year, the wood floors would be extra shiny and the interior would have a pungent smell of whatever they applied to the floors. Early morning before school began, students would be standing in groups or chasing each other about on the sidewalk and grounds.

To signal the start of the school day, a teacher appeared at the massive front door, stood at the top of the steps, and rang a handbell. We immediately formed a line and entered the building two-by-two, stamping our little feet to the beat of John Sousa marches emanating from a record player, climbing the wide wooden staircase to the fourth and fifth-grade classes on the second floor. We ended our march as we entered the dark recesses of narrow cloakrooms that were adjacent to our assigned homerooms, removed our hats and coats and hung them on rows of hooks.

The School Room

sharpsville_school_chalkEntering our classroom through a doorway at the opposite end of the cloakroom, we moved on to our desks, which were assigned to us in alphabetical order by our last names. This seating arrangement continued into high school and, having the last name of Angel, I was always placed near the front of the room and always between the same students whose names came alphabetically before and after mine.

The folding seats and writing surfaces of our desks were made of varnished wood supported by wide ornate black wrought iron legs. The top of the desk, under which we would store our books, tablets, and pencil box, had a round hole for an inkwell in one corner and a groove to hold a pen or pencil along the top edge. On the wall was one of those typical school clocks with Roman numerals and a pendulum. Most likely there were the usual framed copies of paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hanging about the room.

sharpsville_image_cursive

Posters of the Palmer Method of penmanship were displayed above the blackboard and the pull-down world maps.

Good penmanship was emphasized. To keep us reminded of this, a long white narrow paper chart displayed the cursive alphabet in upper and lowercase across the top of the blackboard. During writing lessons, which were based on the Palmer method, we would dip the nibs of our wooden handled pens into the bottle of ink that was securely fixed in the desktop hole and practice our characters, perform exercises such as circles and ovals, and learn the proper way to write a letter. Cursive writing was one area in which I excelled. My work was displayed on the schoolroom wall with the others and I was awarded an A in penmanship on the report card that I carried home to my parents every six weeks. Thanks to this early training, I had at least readable handwriting for the rest of my life.

The Teachers

"Anne of Green Gables" by L.M. Montgomery. (1950s). Source: www.pinterest.com

“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. (1950s). Source: http://www.pinterest.com

There were about 20 students in each of the two fifth-grade and two sixth-grade homerooms. My homeroom teacher for both those years was Miss Allen. At the end of each day, she would read to us a chapter of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables. We enjoyed following the exploits of that spunky red-headed girl, alternatively happy for her achievements and tearful during her rough times.

Each day, several teachers moved from classroom to classroom to present their lessons. Geography was taught by Miss Genevieve Bartholomew, using colorful pull-down maps of the countries. As for music, which she also taught, we often sang melodies from our music book using the scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do) instead of words to the songs. Although I had been taking piano lessons since the second grade, this was one lesson I could never master.

According to an article in a series titled “Life Stories” in The Herald dated March 27, 2006, Miss Bartholomew taught at Robison School for 38 years and was still going strong at age 95. (See the complete article here.)

Miss Helen Bruner was our arithmetic teacher. (See photo of “Seventh-St School Teachers” above.) Because I was behind in my math education when my family moved to Sharpsville, I was required to stay after school, along with a few other hapless students, to work on my multiplication and subtraction.

The Russians are Coming!

Although my time at Robison School felt safe and peaceful, the nation was in the midst of the Cold War and feared the possibility of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. We were told that there was only one second between a flash and the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. As we practiced ducking under our desks, I tried to understand how long a second really was. I finally had to face the fact that I was doomed because there wasn’t time to do much of anything!

Other Activities

Judy Caldwell, who became my best friend, always had creative ideas for having fun. We spent many times together sketching our own fashion designs, writing to pen pals, collecting stamps, exploring Pine Hollow creek and woods, attending tap dancing lessons at Buhl Club, and swimming at the Buhl Park pool. My friend discovered that grade-schoolers could borrow books from the high school library. What a bonanza! At once I immersed myself in the lives of the impoverished but resourceful and happy Five Little Peppers, as described in a series of books about five children of the Pepper family written by Margaret Sidney.

The school provided at least one extra-curricular activity, weekly swimming lessons for sixth-graders at a pool in the basement of St. John’s Church that was located in the nearby town of Sharon. Learning how to save oneself from drowning was certainly a worthwhile endeavor, but that unheated water was very cold!

My brother Mike has the following recollections of those days:

The flagpole located in the front of the school was the center of a lot of play and ceremonial activity. I believe I was on some sort of detail assigned to raise the flag in the morning and another kid or two lowered it in the evening. When I saw the 1983 holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” in which the kid got his tongue frozen to the flagpole, I immediately thought of the flagpole at Robison School where the same thing happened to [one of my friends]. I guess it was a common occurrence back then.

At one time, a tree planting ceremony was held in the front of the school commemorating something special (don’t remember what) – I wonder if the trees are still growing. The girls’ and boys’ restrooms were located in the basement of the school adjacent to the furnace room. I remember the smell of the furnace room as I think they burned coal (it really wasn’t offensive). The janitor must have been the best in the business because I recall how impressed I was as a little boy that the school was so neat and clean.

Something I always thought of: While attending the Robison School, I was told that at one time the 7th Street hill in front of the school was used for a soap box derby race. Kids would make a soapbox racer and race them at a yearly organized event until an accident of some sort occurred and the event was discontinued. I don’t know if the story is true or there were actually any races, but as a kid, I remember I was disappointed they no longer held the event because I would have been there with my racer.

Another memory: Prior to the school being dismissed, I along with others on the safety patrol left school early to attend to our assigned posts. My post was the crossing at 7th Street and Ridge Avenue. We picked up our long bamboo poles with red flags on the end, which were stored under the outside produce stand at the corner grocery store. When the students crossed the road, we held the poles out and stopped the traffic and let the kids cross safely.

After-School Fun

Mike continues:

I can’t recall the name of the grocery store but can recall what the owner looked like. [According to Judy Caldwell Nelson, the store was called “Stewarts’ Corner Grocery,” owned by the Stewart brothers.] He was real good with the children and treated them well. I bought a lot of penny candy from him.

Also, on Fridays two Filipino men hawked Duncan Yo-Yo’s at that location. The men sold Duncan Yo-Yo’s of all price ranges and special yo-yo string that sold for 5 cents each. They held yo-yo contests weekly and at the end of the school year the yo-yo company gave away a grand prize. It was a Duncan Yo-Yo encrusted with various colors of glass that looked like diamonds and must have been worth millions of dollars! I never won anything but enjoyed the event. I think one of the kids also won a bicycle one year.

sharpsville_photo_fifth_grade

Miss Allen’s Fifth Grade Class, 1950-1951. I’m in the middle row, third from left.

Moving On

The school year came to an end in May or early June. I don’t remember whether there was any preparation or guidance for our move to the Sharpsville Junior-Senior High School for seventh grade, but I do recall how sad Miss Allen was to see us go after having us as her homeroom students for two years.

The more that time has passed, the more idyllic those early school years seem to have been, unspoiled and full of promise. We were fortunate that those dedicated grade school teachers managed to provide us with a strong basic education, and in a building of such a grand design as the Emma Robison School.

See Also:

Deeter Elementary School 

Junior High School 

Pebly & 13 Street Schools

Robison School II

Robison School Class of 1960 Part I

Senior High School Traditions

SHS Class of 1958 Celebrates Its 60th!


— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with help from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY,
and Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA. March 2012.

PINE HOLLOW

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

 

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

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

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

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

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

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

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Forest view. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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


OUR RIVER
by Irene Caldwell O’Neill

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

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

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

Camping at Pine Hollow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking in Pine Hollow

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

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

Tragedy on the Railroad Trestle

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

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

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

– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA. April 2012.

sharpsville_map_pinehollow3

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


PYMATUNING: Camping in the 1950s

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Pymatuning Lake and State Park, on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Source: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/

Pymatuning Lake and State Park, on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Source: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/

The Shenango River affected our family in two major ways, one bad, one good. The bad time was in the spring of 1948 when the river rose high enough to surround our little frame house on Third Street in Wheatland, Pennsylvania, with several feet of murky water. It was enough of a disruption in our daily lives that Mom and Dad moved to a house on higher ground a block away.

Then there were the good times our family had when we camped along the western side of the Pymatuning Reservoir, a 16-mile-long serpent-shaped reservoir of water that straddles the border between western Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was formed by a dam built in 1933 to control the errant waters of the Shenango and Beaver rivers. Not that the dam held back regular flooding in the areas of Wheatland or Sharon. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the Sharpsville Dam was built and put a stop to that.

Today, Pymatuning State Park provides programs and exhibits at the Wildlife Learning Center and a nature trail for visitors to enjoy. But the park had no such amenities in the 1950s, during the early period of the state park’s development. In those days, we often drove the approximately 20 miles on country roads from our home in Sharpsville, passing through Greenville and Jamestown, for Sunday picnics at the park. We took visitors to the spillway near Linesville, Ohio, to feed the carp. We would stand on the causeway bridge to watch what we thought was a remarkable sight: The carp were so numerous in their wide-mouthed feeding frenzy that the ducks would walk on their backs to compete for the pieces of stale bread visitors threw into the water.

It was in July 1953 when we began setting up tents at Pymatuning Campgrounds. The Korean War had just ended, the Cold War was continuing, and Dwight David Eisenhower had been recently elected to the U.S. presidency. Newspapers and radio programs informed us of these and other events at the time, but our focus was on our quiet daily lives in our small corner of the world.

Camping was originally Dad’s idea, but much of the preparation was on Mom’s shoulders as she packed food, clothing, cooking equipment, and whatever else she could predict our group would need. When our light blue 1949 Ford pickup truck was loaded with everything, we probably resembled Okies from the Dust Bowl years. Since there were five of us — Mom and Dad, Mike (age 11 in 1953), my baby brother Pat (age 4), and me (age 13), Dad surely made more than one trip to move everyone and everything.

I don’t know which of today’s three campgrounds was the one we used in the 1950s, but I do remember that it was primitive. When we first arrived at the campgrounds, Dad emphatically stated, “The only way to have a genuine camping experience is to cut our own space out of the brush and trees.” And, using a saw and an ax, he did just that. We kids weren’t much help. We were more interested in running down to the lake and jumping into its cool water.

In Mom and Dad’s thinking, it was only appropriate the campground had no electricity, phone, television, or flush toilets. (I don’t know whether the campgrounds provided shower facilities, but I do recall washing at hand pumps and in the lake.) Our parents liked to prove to themselves that they could survive any hardship. And so far, after coming of age during the Great Depression, enduring the impact on their lives by World War II, and starting from post-war scratch in Wheatland, they had done relatively well. Also, I think they were reacting against the rampant consumerism of the 1950s and wanted us children to know and appreciate the difference between having all the comforts of life and privation. At Pymatuning, however, we kids were so busy enjoying our playground we paid little attention to most discomforts.

It’s a good thing the park officials eventually designated specific spaces for tenting or the whole area would have been denuded as camping grew popular. In fact, the park’s campgrounds have many restrictions in place: no tree-cutting, no alcohol, no pets, fires only in provided fireplaces.

The plan was that Dad would stay at home on weekdays to work at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant during the daytime and at his print shop and Angel’s Casino in the evenings, then join us on weekends. Sometimes, after a week or so at camp, we would ride home with Dad for a day to shower, wash clothes and help at the record hop, then return for another week.

When Dad showed up at camp, he sometimes brought along one or more friends or relatives to join our camping adventure for a few days. Also, loaded in the truck bed were items from home, such as extra cots and food, our bicycles, a portable radio that faintly brought in stations from Sharon and Youngstown. My diary described one item that was for Mike alone — a beat-up bugle Dad bought for $8.85. Mike, a born musician, quickly learned to play the instrument but, as I wrote in my diary, “Every time Mike blows his bugle someone protests.”

Once a week, a park ranger would walk around the grounds collecting fees from the campers. It was a tradition to put the required few dollars in a glass Mason or mayonnaise jar and hang it from a tree or tent pole where the ranger could find it whether any of us were around or not.

sharpsville_photo_pymatuning camp

The Angels at Pymatuning Campgrounds near Jamestown, PA, 1953. Left to right: Susie, Ann, Patrick, Michael.

Food

One of the few concessions to civilized life was a little store on the campgrounds we called the “trading post.” Since Dad was at work during the week, we had no transportation or any way to communicate with him, so we depended on this store for camping and fishing supplies, food, ice, and firewood. When Mom sent us to the store to purchase an entree for the evening meal, we would return with the requested pork chops, hamburger, or steak selling at a price of 49 cents a pound. These cuts were not wrapped in the usual butcher paper but coated with a glossy layer of paraffin wax that Mom would peel off before grilling the meat on the campfire.

The best parts of our days at camp were eating and swimming. Mom was often working over a hot fire pit instead of a hot stove, but she seemed to enjoy our outdoor living as much as we did, perhaps because it was an escape from cleaning house and assisting Dad in the print shop and dance hall. She was an expert at jerry-rigging a little kitchen out of stumps and boards for work surfaces, scavenging rocks and twigs for the fire place, and devising a cooktop out of a sheet of metal.

There are two things about eating out-of-doors: One’s appetite is felt more acutely and food smells and tastes extra delicious. My favorite was a potato baked in the glowing embers of a dying fire. After about an hour in the fire, the potato would form a thick black crust that gave it a smoky taste. At this point, I would dig it out of the coals with a stick, slice it open, and slather melting butter on the steaming halves.

Roasting marshmallows on sticks was popular with the others, but I would have nothing to do with those gooey, overly sweet, tongue-burning little white cubes blackened by the flames. Hotdogs were much more to my taste. I haven’t eaten one in years, but my mouth still waters as I recall wrapping a bun around a juicy roasted frankfurter, pulling it off the stick, then dousing it with mustard, catsup, and sweet pickle relish to create a partly-burnt, sweet-spicy concoction for my eating pleasure.

Each evening after sunset our family and assorted friends, relatives, and neighboring campers would sit on makeshift benches around the fire pit, dodge the eye-stinging smoke, and watch the wood slowly burn down to a pile of hot ashes as we told amusing stories, playfully bantered with each other, and sang the usual camp songs as Mom cooked us a batch of popcorn over the coals.

Swimming & Fishing

“This is the life!!” – Diary entry for Tuesday, July 14, 1953

Wow, the freedom to jump into the lake whenever we wanted during the hottest months of the summer was the equivalent of being in heaven! The beach of trucked-in beige-colored sand was within a short walk from our tent, making it easy to go swimming, return to campsite to eat lunch, then swim again. And swim again after the sun went down. Among my happiest memories are those of lying on the beach in the dark, listening to the water lap against the shore, studying the sky full of stars and contemplating the vastness of the universe. The sounds of swimmers talking and splashing in the water seemed different to me at night, sort of contained, as if I were enclosed in a soundproof room.

A small island visible from the shoreline seemed to beckon to my brother and his buddy until one day they finally gathered enough courage to try to swim to it. Whether they reached their destination or not is lost to memory, and I’m not sure whether my parents were ever told of their daring venture.

One summer Dad had somehow acquired several huge inner tubes that we would stack up and use as a platform for jumping into the water or use to lie across as we lazily rode the gentle waves. Those were the only water toys we had, but we didn’t require much equipment to have fun in the water.

Exposing our fair skin to hours of the sun’s rays wasn’t very smart at a time when we didn’t use sunscreen. Coppertone was about the only suntan lotion available and I probably used it at one time or another but I didn’t like its greasy feeling. In any case, sun lotion certainly wasn’t used during our Pymatuning days and the result was a bad case of sunburn after the first day or two. My face, arms, and back were so painful, I couldn’t sleep at night and had to hold off swimming until I healed.

Besides sunburns, I wrote in my diary about other downsides of camping as well, such as having almost “froze to death” one night, discovering that our tent leaked during a downpour another night, quarreling with each other and our visiting cousins, and enduring noisy neighbors and the dusty gravel roads. However, those adverse events were easy to dismiss when we could play all day, eat and sing together in the evenings, fall asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs at night, and wake in the morning to a symphony of bird songs.

Occasionally, Mom and Mike would go fishing at the lake and bring back carp to fry over the campfire. The first time Mike caught a fish, he proudly brought it back to the campsite to show the family. I felt so sorry for it as it flapped on the ground that Mike reluctantly returned it to the lake to live out its life in its natural habitat. To this day, I have regretted that I caused Mike to give up his very first catch.

Packing Up

“Hate to leave but glad to get back home again.” – Diary entry dated July 24, 1955

Evidently, I had mixed feelings about breaking camp, but I can imagine that clean clothes and a warm shower made it worth returning home. It would take all day for Dad to move our accumulation of camping supplies back to Sharpsville.

Before I left home for college, our family had spent three summers at Pymatuning, from 1953 through 1955. To this day, the smell of wood smoke and sounds of kids splashing in water take me back to those times when we would laugh and tease and sing together. Our Pymatuning days allowed us to shed the stresses of life at home, at work, and in school. In that rustic setting, we learned to live minimally and in the moment, to be attuned to our natural surroundings, and most importantly, to sit back and soak up the joys of being with family and friends.

 Ann Angel Eberhardt, Goodyear, AZ, April 2013.

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: http://www.buhlfarmpark.com

Current map of Buhl Farm Park. Source: http://www.buhlfarmpark.com


See Also:

BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
SNAPPING THE WHIP At Buhl Park