I’ve written previously about the places I lived in the “East” and believe I saved the best for last.
After leaving Philadelphia for Roslyn, Pa., our family moved into 127 N. Spring Garden St., in Ambler in November 1957. Days after moving in I gave birth to my youngest son Dan. Our home in Roslyn, built just after WWII was a two-bedroom bungalow, and had become intolerably small for our family of seven.
Our tiny Roslyn home was new when we moved in, but our home in Ambler was entirely different. It was huge, and was built sometime during the Civil War. It had a basement, first floor with a living room, dining room, parlor, kitchen and closed in porch; a second floor with three bedrooms and one bathroom; and a third floor with two small rooms. There were bay windows, with bench seating and storage in the living room. Our “new” home had some other unexpected amenities that came as quite a surprise.
We now had oil heating, gas stove, and yes, even a gas refrigerator. It took a while for us to get used to this “old” house. The first week we were in, the heating broke down, and I had to keep my newborn in bed with my husband Don and I until we got it fixed. The interior walls were made of lath and plaster, and were covered in paint that had sand in it, much like a stucco house. We never had to ask anyone to scratch our backs after moving in, all we had to do was to back up to the walls and move around.
What I missed most was a real fireplace like we had in Roslyn. Our fireplace in Ambler had been closed off from damage, and substituted with a fake one.
As I reminisce about this home, I wonder how we ever got through those years, from 1957 to 1964 in one piece? The thick copper electrical wires were silicon coated and in some cases were bare, and consisted of two separate conductors placed on porcelain insulators. No safety grounding at all! Switches were push on and off, or in some cases, ones that had to be turned. I’ll never forget the light bulb at the top of the stairs from the basement. The glass appeared to be hand blown, with a nipple left on the tip, and had huge wiring looped around inside it. When turned on it glowed more orange than yellow. Our electrical meter was in the basement and had screw in type fuses. I have to admit to using a penny or two when we lost a fuse and had no spares, and wonder if today’s non-copper pennies would have even worked? The meter reader had to come into the basement, and a trap door off the back porch of the house was always left unlocked. Most of the time we never even locked any door.
My children’s elementary school was next door to the house, which was a plus. But the six-foot chain link fence between us was not high enough to keep errant baseballs from sometimes breaking our windows, especially the little panes in our laundry room. We soon become adept at changing them out very quickly. The boys easily found others their age to play with, and were always busy outside in the schoolyard, or going down to creek a few blocks away. Our home was always filled with a varied assortment of boys and girls. I sometimes lost count of the ones I was supposed to be feeding, especially at Christmas when I baked cookies for weeks on end and sold them to help out with finances. Everyone would hang around to get the broken ones that couldn’t be sold, and it often amazed me when so many did.
Now, regarding those unexpected amenities. A Justice of the Peace once owned our home and part of the basement, now closed off, had been used as a jail. There were still iron bars imbedded in the concrete. My children often commented about the strange feelings they had going into the basement, or up the narrow stairwell to the third floor.
It was often very cold, even in the summer, and the hair on the back of our necks would often stand on end. I still wonder, based on the house’s history, if we did indeed have a few additional people residing in 127 N. Spring Garden St.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.