Growing Up In Waterford, PA
Waterford's heritage: people and placesFort LeBoeuf Class of 1956
I spent the 1940s being a kid. Not just any kid, mind you but a kid growing up in Waterford.
Now that we're all celebrating the 50th anniversary of -- uh -- 1949, I thought it might be fitting to share some of my memories of Waterford's business district.
I remember stores that lined High Street in the '40s, and a few others off the main thoroughfare.
For instance, there were five grocery stores along the west side, Laing's, Irwin & Cross, Patten's, Phelps' (which later became Doolittle's), and the Red and White.
My father's brother, Vic Walden, owned the Red & White at the corner of High Street and West South Park Row, and my dad, Bill, worked for him.
Mr. Patten's store at the corner of West 2nd and High Streets wasn't exactly a fully stocked grocery, but in addition to the foods he did have, there were also boots and shoes. Mr. Patten didn't have a cash register; he kept the money in a drawer under the counter.
There were two hardware stores, and my purchases back then were often paints for toys, bikes, bird houses, and such. The brands were "BPS" at Myers' Hardware and "Lucas" at Bowersox Hardware. These were real paints, not the watercolors we have today. Oh, sure, they were probably full of lead, but as long as a kid didn't lick his fingers clean, he was fairly safe.
Some time in the late '40s, Sam Myers moved his hardware to the building now occupied by the Stancliff Hose Company and expanded his farm supply business. I still half-expect to see Farmall tractors sitting in front of the building whenever I'm in Waterford.
Mr. Brown's Variety Store, or 5 & 10s, as those stores were called, had just about everything. There were toys and hats and greeting cards and toothpaste -- sort of a miniature K-Mark with prices that even a kid could afford.
Mr. Brown started his business in a store between 1st Street and the 2nd Alley. About 1944 or so, he moved up to the next block to the former Lindsley Hardware, just two doors from our Red and White. Waha's Restaurant took over Mr. Brown's old store and they were succeeded by Holman's Clothing.
Hewitt's "Park Pharmacy" was between our store and the 5 and 10, and Coon's Drugstore was down in the next block. When Mr. Hewitt retired, Eaton's moved in for a time, followed by Pizzo's and then Parke Phillips took over. Most drug stores had soda fountains back then, and Parke's was the place to get the best marshmallow sundaes with chocolate ice cream!
When Mr. Coon retired, the post office from the Masonic Building into his store.
Beyond Coon's was Kingen's Dry Goods, well-stocked with bolts of material and all kinds of sewing needs. The store was operated by Mrs. Stinson and her sister, Mrs. Gates. I liked going in there with my mother or grandmother because of the slippery bent-wood bench and tilting stools, both entertaining things for a little kid.
These were the days of restaurant/dairy bars.
Merle Heard's "Sugar Bowl" at the corner of High Street and 2nd Alley was a favorite stop. I think single-dip cones were a nickel, and double-dips were a dime.
At Roberts' Dairy Bar, Fred and Eleanor Roberts made their own ice cream. They started in business in the little building next to the Waterford Hotel. (The old Civil War recruiting station). They soon moved into the Masonic Building when the post office moved out. Robert's cold fudge sundaes were the best ever made -- plenty of delicious vanilla ice cream with enough fudge in which to lose your spoon. All that for 20 cents.
Once in a while during the summer, Freddie would make what he called "Frosted Malteds." That was my introduction to soft ice cream, and it was a thousand times better than anything you can find nowadays.
The Gem Restaurant, owned by Mr. Twitchell, was my supplier of Fudgesicles and Choco-Pops (chocolate-covered ice cream bars). Sometimes after finishing off a Fudgesicle, I'd find the word "Free" stamped on the stick. This meant that I could redeem the stick for a free Fudgesicle. And I did!
When Mr. Twitchell went out, Baker's Restaurant moved in. Eventually, Dave Doolittle took over the restaurant and tore out a partition to enlarge his grocery store.
There were four automobile dealerships in town: Delavern's "Central Motors" at West 2nd and High Streets sold Fords along with John Deere farm equipment. Moore's Chevrolet was on the corner of East 1st and High Streets, were the Post Office is now located. Humes DeSota-Plymouth was on East South Park Row, across from the baseball diamond. Humes also sold Case farm equipment. You could buy a Pontiac at Cross' Garage on High Street.
The dealerships did auto repairs, and so did Lawrence Burdick at the "Pioneer Garage" on the northern outskirts of the borough.
Gas stations (or filling stations, as we called them) were not numerous. In the midst of downtown was Lockhart's Kendall, where the bank now stands. Humes' Keystone was just beyond the baseball diamond, and right across High Street was the Mobile Station operated by my uncle, Ronnie Walker. Way up High Street, just beyond 6th Street, was Cap Mauer's Gulf Station, taken over later by Mr. and Mrs. Cook.
My uncle's Mobile Station burned down in 1943 and was replaced by a new Atlantic Station operated by Jim Breon.
The big building across West 1st Street from the Eagle Hotel was Lyn Phelp's furniture store. Lyn was also the undertaker and had caskets for sale in the back. I didn't care much about going in there!
Mr. Mike's shoe repair shop was a busy place because this was still the era of leather soles and rubber heels, both of which usually wore out before the uppers and cold be repaired or replaced. Remember heel plates?
Dr. Elmer Coop's office was on High Street and Dr. V.K. Worster's office was on West 1st Street, just behind the furniture store.
Doc Worster delivered me and did his best to keep me healthy all the way through my college years. Doc was a big, strapping man with a big, booming personality. The word "robust" may have been coined specifically to describe Doc Worster. When I was sick, I always felt better immediately when Doc came in. I viewed Doc as a celebrity. It seemed like everyone in the world knew him.
When I graduated, I received an envelope in the mail from Dr. Worster. Scrawled on it was the address: "Herbie Walden, City" -- no number, no street, no town, no state. Evidently, Doc was in a hurry that day.
In the envelope was a congratulatory note, hand-written on a prescription blank. He couldn't have sent me a better gift. It is one of my most-treasured mementos.
Dr. Hood, our dentist, moved his office into the "Civil War Building" when Fred and Eleanor Roberts moved out.
Two barber shops were on the main street - Art Babbitt's and Guy Doud's. Haircuts were 50 cents.
The bank was locally owned by Mr. Ensworth, while Mrs. Waltz owned the Waterford Electric Light Company.
Two feed mills served the many farmers of the area: Burger and O'Brien on East 3rd Street, and the G.L.F., located a mile beyond and next to the railroad depot. EL. Heard's store and coal yard was across the road from the G.L.F.
To serve the alcoholic needs of the locally gentry, there were bars in the Eagle Hotel, the Waterford Hotel, and Curley Ober's Cafe.
Gordon Marsh's Sales and Service was located on Walnut Street at the end of West South Park Row. Gordon dealt in home appliances as well as Surge milking equipment.
Business hours were the about the same for everyone, except bars (ice cream and otherwise, which seemed to be open all the time). Everyone else closed at 6:00 p.m., except on Wednesdays when closing time was noon, and Saturdays when the stores stayed open until 9:00 p.m. At least, that was the plan. In reality, most places didn't get their doors locked until 30 minutes or more after closing. As long as there were customers, the stores stayed open. On Sundays, everything closed except the ice cream/restaurant places -- "Blue Laws," you know.
On Saturday nights, especially in the summer, the downtown was a gathering place for everyone in the area. Some came to shop, but many came just to sit in front of the stores or in their cars and visit with everyone who came by. It was a good social time and welcome break for farm families who worked so hard the rest of the week.
Waterford's "downtown" district has changed a lot over the past 50 years, thanks in large part to the shopping plazas, malls and super-giant stores of Summit and Millcreek Townships.
Oh, I know, there are still many small shops and stores, but as someone once said, "It ain't the way it used to be."
I think it was me.