The end of an era
A recent family Facebook posting sent by my nephew Bruce had a video attachment. It was from a Philadelphia TV station. When opened, it showed a fiery scene as viewed from a helicopter, hovering over a city block in north Philly. Sadly, it was displaying the end of an era.
My first husband Don was born in Johnsonburg, Pa. in 1922, where his father Clayton, a pharmacist, owned a family drug store. However, when Rexall Drugs opened up in town, it cost Clayton more to buy drugs wholesale than Rexall could sell retail to customers. It was sometime in the mid-1920s. Perhaps this is similar to what happens in today’s economy when Walmart moves into a small town?
Unable to keep his customer base, Clayton and wife Adeline with older sons Clayton Jr., my future husband Don and then youngest brother Bob, were forced to move. They settled in a new north section of Philly called Logan. They moved into a rowhouse at 4932 North Carlisle Street. Clayton Sr. worked as a pharmacist at Rothman’s Drug, located just two blocks from their new home.
In 1932 Gene, the youngest of the four sons, was born in this new home. His bedroom was on the second floor in the rear, overlooking a small back yard, separated from the John B. White Ford dealership by a small alley. The front of the house had a three step landing, shared with the neighbor next door. The covered front porches were separated by a small iron railing.
The porch had a twin seat rocker. Great-grandma Wells, Adeline’s mother, came to live there during the Great Depression. Born sometime during the Civil War, she was already well into her 70s and suffered from Altzheimer’s Disease. My son Doug recalls as a child in the early 1950s, when visiting Grandma Hill, Great-grandma Wells would sometimes act like a young child, gently swinging Doug on that rocker, talking about “the Bluecoats” coming home from war.
Great-grandma Wells also made beautiful patchwork quilts. How I wish I had some of them today! She also had a full jar of Indian Head pennies that Doug and his older brother Don used and lost playing cards with the “City Kids.” Don and Doug rode the train from suburban Roslyn to Logan. Believe it or not, the train trip then cost less than a short phone call did between the towns.
Everything was nearby for Adeline. She walked one block to Broad Street, a wide and long stretch of roadway that dead-ended miles away downtown at City Hall. The butcher shop, bakery and vegetable vendors were there. Doug fondly recalls “shucking corn,” and opening pea pods for Adeline. Nearby was the Holy Trinty Prebyterian Church the family attended. The Logan Theater, where I met my husband Don Sr., was just a few blocks away.
The house was very well planned. Entering the front door was a small living room, then a dining room, then the kitchen, and finally a small enclosed back porch leading down to the back yard. To the right in the living room were the stairs to the second floor. There, three bedrooms and one bathroom were located. Adeline and Clayton Sr. had the front one overlooking the street; Grandma Wells occupied the middle one.
The rear bedroom was eventually Gene’s, who was about ten years younger than the older sons. I don’t recall how the older boys were bunked? I do know they only took baths on Saturday nights! Grandma Hill was a real miser on water usage. During the 1950s, my sons Don Jr. and Doug recall bathing in only two inches of water, using “red” Lifebuoy soap!
Included was a basement where Adeline did laundry, using a wringer machine most of her time there. There was a small window in the front by the street where a coal shute was located. The house converted to gas heat in the mid-1950s. Shortly afterward, in 1957, Great-grandma Wells passed away and was buried in Johnsonburg. In 1964 we moved to Southern California. The last time Doug saw his grandma’s house was 1976.
Clayton died of cancer a few years earlier. Adeline, now alone, eventually moved in with son Bob until her death a few years later. We don’t know who lived there since the 1970s. For our family, the end of an era happened when the 4900 block of rowhouses on Carlisle Street were tragically lost to fire; however, fond memories still linger.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org