Growing Up In Waterford, PA


The "Four Corners" of Waterford
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

Having been born and raised in Waterford, I always think of the old town as being much larger than it actually is. That is, it seems Waterford extends way beyond the business district, the quiet tree-lined streets, and the borough boundaries. Things are different now than in the 1940s and 1950s. Back then, following any of the four major roads out of town brought one various points of interest.

North - High Street, the main highway running though Waterford, is U.S. Route 19 and Pennsylvania Route 97. About one mile north of town, the two routes split, forming a "Y" with both branches headed for Erie. Route 19 goes up and over the hills. Everyone always called it the "High Road." Route 97 keeps to the valleys, and therefore (you guessed it), it was known as the "Low Road." When I was a little boy, I thought the old song was about going to Erie, not Scotland. Near the "Y" on the High Road side was the fox farm. It was called "LeBoeuf Silver Foxes" and was owned and operated by Joe Edman. It was quite a large business before man-made furs came on the market. Lawrence Burdick also raised foxes, but his location was on Cherry Street, just beyond the water tank. That area was practically "out in the country" in the 1940s.

East - Traveling east on East Third Street, the first place of interest, then and now, is the Waterford Cemetery. Cemeteries are fascinating places to visit - on a bright, sunny afternoon. At night, well, that's a little different. I've always been a little scared of the dark anyway. Nowadays, I know many, many more folks residing in the cemetery than I know living in town. Scores of my relatives are buried there, the oldest being my great-great-great grandparents. The original cemetery was located at the end of West Second Street. But due to construction or erosion, it was moved to the present location many years ago. The oldest part of the cemetery lies along East Street, although there are many very old markers throughout the grounds. The most celebrated gravesite is that of Michael Hare, who died in 1843 at the age of 115! He served during the French and Indian War and survived, the Revolutionary War and survived, and other Indian wars in which he was wounded, but survived. Then he taught school in Waterford before he died. Just shows you what a tough job teaching is! We always called East Third Street the "Depot Road," and for good reason: The Waterford Train Station was located at the railroad tracks about one mile from town. When the railroad came through in the 1800s, Waterford's town fathers would not allow it to pass through the borough. They didn't want the noise disturbing the serenity of the town. So the tracks were laid one mile east. At least, that's the story I was always told. After the railroad was up and running, a fair-sized community called East Waterford grew up around the station. It was mostly gone by the time I was around. Only Heard's Store and Coal Yard, the G.L.F. Feed Mill, and a few houses remained. The depot was there when I was a kid, but it is gone and so is the old Depot School, which was located between the railroad and Hood's Corner. It's too bad they couldn't have been saved.

South - Just south of the town bridge and behind the present supermarket is the site of the Washington Sentinel. It was a very old and very large hemlock tree which, legend has it, George Washington climbed to get a view of Fort LeBoeuf. There is no mention of this in Washington's journal, but it makes a good story. Lightning had destroyed the top half of the hemlock by the time I was around. Now the tree is gone altogether. A little farther south brings us to "The Y" where Routes 97 and 19 split, with 97 going to Union City and 19 to Hughes corners and Cambridge Springs and beyond. When anyone spoke of "The Y", it was understood that this southern split was the one being referred to, not the northern one. Right at "The Y," a replica of the Fort LeBoeuf blockhouse served as a gas station. It was moved down Route 97 to its present location many years ago. Before my time, there was a small zoo at "The Y." When I was a little kid, all that was left was a cage with some raccoons in it. Stanley Boarts had his auto repair garage at "The Y" for many years. Just south of "The Y" on Route 19 is Lake LeBoeuf and its outlet, LeBoeuf Creek. The old roller-skating rink, which burned several years ago, and the Showboat, a dance hall/night club, stood along the lake shore.

West - About a mile west of town on West Third Street were the pump houses that supplied Waterford with water. I came to know those two pump houses very well. Between grocery stores, Dad worked for the water company in the late 1940s. It might be better to say that Dad was the water company. He was the only full-time employee, and to him fell the jobs of running the pumps, repairing water mains, installing new water lines, reading meters, and collecting water bills. I was only around 12, but I helped as much as I could. There were times when Dad would be busy on some emergency repair, and Mom would take me down to the pump house to take care of the pumps. That meant shutting the pump down, re-filling the chlorine tanks, checking a dozen or so things to make sure they were working properly, and then starting up the pump again. It was quite a job, and I felt very important in doing it. I also helped in typing the monthly water bills, and Mom helped in collecting them at the water company office (next to the old Civil War recruiting station). It was a family affair. I went meter-reading with Dad a couple of times. Therefore, I have the distinction of being one of the few people who has been in almost every basement in pre-1950 Waterford.

So ends the tour of the perimeter of old Waterford. I've had a number of people around here say, "Since you write and talk so much about Waterford, why don't you move back there?" Some have even said it in a kindly way. I would if I could, but I can't. The Waterford I knew isn't there anymore. Many years ago, author Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again." You know, he was right!

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