Helyn Fiedler Toth: Memories of the 1920s and 1930s
Who Is Helyn Fiedler Toth?
Helyn Fiedler was born in the Cuyahoga Valley in 1920. She grew up on her family’s farm on Bolanz Road in the village of Everett, Ohio. Today the house is owned by the National Park Service and operated as Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center. Helyn’s mother and grandmother were also born in Everett, at the nearby property that is now called Goatfeathers Point Farm. Her great-grandfather Nathaniel Point (1826-1902) was one of the first pioneers to settle in the Cuyahoga Valley. Helyn left Everett in 1942 when she married Ernie Toth and moved to Cleveland.
In Her Own Words
Helyn Fiedler Toth worked with Winnetta Kennedy, a national park volunteer, to record her childhood memories. Helyn recalls many interesting details of daily life in the 1920s and 1930s, including the effects of changing technology and
“Children in Everett attended the small one-room schoolhouse just west of the church on Everett Road if they were in grades 1 through 8. There were no kindergarten classes then and high school students attended the Peninsula High School located on the corner of Riverview Road and Route 303 (Main Street).
We walked to school, rain or shine, and carried a packed lunch. One teacher taught all eight grades...
I was shocked on my first day at school to discover our water supply for drinking was an open bucket with a single dipper which was to be used by everyone! Naturally I told Mother that evening. Somehow she found an earthenware crock container with a spigot. This container was delivered to the school shortly afterwards and the teacher told the students to bring their own cup to use. Unfortunately, the water had to be obtained down the hill from the school at a well on the property just west of Carter’s Store! Pupils volunteered to take turns providing buckets of water…”
Students also did most of the [school] cleaning, furnace tending, and helping the lone teacher in many daily tasks. There were no janitors or cleaning crew—we, the students, were it! It took a lot of cooperation.
Our one-room school was rather ‘primitive.’ We lacked electricity, phones, and indoor plumbing, but all of us lived in homes without those facilities. We did not feel we were lacking anything. Within the four walls, with a dedicated young teacher, we did learn!...
One of the obvious advantages of attending a one-room school is that every student is exposed to what is being taught in the upper grades. As an example, if first grader, Johnny, has finished his workbook and reading assignments, he is free to watch and listen to the second or third grade classes. Thus he learns how to add, subtract, or even multiply if he is interested and attentive.”
“My family planted fields, not gardens, of vegetables. Our crops included sweet corn, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, lima beans, muskmelon (cantaloupe), watermelon (both red and yellow), beets, turnips, parsnips, and squash! More sweet corn and melons were planted than anything else. We also had a big strawberry patch and several long rows of red raspberry bushes…
My dad always kept chickens and pigs (never called hogs). He had a team of horses called Kit and Dick. Dad used the team to plow the fields, to cultivate the crops, and to do other farm work. Also making her home in our barn was a big, friendly cow. She was part Jersey and part Guernsey. She gave wonderful rich milk and usually produced twin calves. The cow had a name too. Her name was Betty.
Our little farm provided us with a wealth of good food. The chickens gave us eggs and ‘meat’; the pigs ultimately became bacon, lard (we rendered our own), ham sausage (we ground up pork loins and stuffed the casings), pork chops, and roasts. The cow produced milk and cream. Her calves were slaughtered for veal. We made our own butter and cottage cheese. In the winter months, when we could find ice, ice cream was made using heavy cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla…”
“Anyone who has never harvested potatoes in the fall has missed an exciting part of gardening. It is amazing how a single potato piece can produce so many potatoes. I enjoyed picking up the many potatoes from each hole. My dad would carefully dig with his pitch fork and I placed the bountiful crop into baskets. Before digging each plant, I often tried to guess or predict how many potatoes would be unearthed. Sometimes my dad would compete with me in my little game.
The outdoor chore I hated the most was gathering eggs. First of all, I did not LIKE chickens! Secondly, the SMELL inside the chicken coop was nauseating to me! Thirdly, if there were any ‘setting’ hens in the coop, they were very protective of their nest of eggs and quite antagonistic!...
In the summer and early fall, we canned for many days, always using freshly picked fruits and vegetables. My mother’s glass jars of fruit, vegetables, jellies, preserves, relishes, and pickles would win blue ribbons at any county fair and often did. She stored rows and rows of filled pint and quart jars every year on shelves in the cellar. We picked, pared, chopped, cooked, stirred, and packed for hours at a time for days and days. Those were wonderful mother-daughter times when we shared and enjoyed working together as a team…
The Great Depression meant everyone re-used nearly everything. We were not a disposable generation. Dad’s old shirts often were cut up for aprons, after, of course, the buttons had been removed and added to our button box. Grease was saved and later combined with lye to become laundry soap. After that mixture was blended (and smoked!) outdoors, it was poured into a large pan until it had ‘cured.’ Later, it was cut into bars for laundry soap.”
Dangers of Factory Work
“There weren’t many large employers in the ‘20s and 30s in the Valley until the Jaite Paper Mill opened. It was a real boon to many area residents who were unemployed…
My dad worked ‘piecework’ at a very mundane job: bundling large cement bags together with baling twine…unfortunately, one day a small sliver of the twine became embedded in one of his fingers and even though it was removed, enough remained to cause a bad infection…There were no ‘miracle’ drugs or prescription antibiotics to combat infections…My dad became seriously ill. The infection had traveled from his finger up his arm and was moving to his chest area… Dr. Radcliffe was summoned to the house and became alarmed when he observed Dad’s condition. Immediate action was imperative. The Doctor decided he needed to ‘lance’ or cut into an area very near by dad’s heart with the hope of releasing the infectious material.
Miraculously, the Doctor’s decision to perform this emergency surgery at home was a wise one and Dad made a fast and good recovery.”
“People who lived in larger towns or cities probably thought we were deprived, but we had room to do many things that were impossible to do in the city where they lived. How many city folks could walk to a place to swim whenever they chose or find peace and comfort in delightful woods just across the creek? Could they play a game of baseball in their front yards or slide down a hill on their sleds in the winter time. These were just a few of our varied activities…
One of my early hobbies was writing letters. I wrote to almost anyone who would ‘answer,’ including aunts, cousins, and friends. I also found pen-pals through our church newspaper, so I began corresponding with girls of similar interests and age in other states and even a few in Europe. Many of my pen-pals and I wrote back and forth for years. We finally outgrew each other and found other interests and activities as we became older…
Winter recreation usually involved sledding, building snowmen or making crazy patterns in the front yard snow. Jim enjoyed ice skating when there was enough safe ice nearby…
Going to dances was no doubt the number one favorite social event of all for people of varied ages in the Valley…
The American Legion started to hold regular Saturday night dances at the Peninsula GAR Hall in the early ‘30s. Dad sold tickets and tended the door. Mom sold soft drinks. The bands were live and mostly local people. Hazie Dewey Osborne played often, as did Bobby Shuey and his band. Dances consisted of square dances, round dances, circle two-steps, fox trots and waltzes. Usually there was also a ‘cake walk.’ In a cake walk, couples circled the floor in one direction until the music stopped. The couple closest to the predetermined spot was the winner. Cake walks were popular because the lucky couple could go home with a home-baked confection.”
“Near Christmas time, Dad always took me with him on a trip to Oak Hill. Oak Hill was the area around Scobie and Oak Hill Roads. Our destination was Noland’s Farm to select our annual Christmas tree which cost one dollar. He relied on my judgment to choose the prettiest and best—shaped tree in the field of many. Sometimes I chose one a little too tall and some of the trunk had to be sawed off after we got home. Going with my dad for a Christmas tree each year was exciting and one of my favorite memories…
Our decorations for Christmas were quite simple. We had a big box of delicate glass ornaments which were made mostly in Germany, but purchased mainly at the dime stores. Also, we had dozens of tin clip-on holders that held four inch candles. This was before electricity came in 1931. If we lit the candles, which was seldom, we had to stay with the tree in the living room, because the candles were a real fire hazard, but so beautiful. We also had little wreaths for each of our windows. They added a holiday touch.”
“We had the first telephone in our home about 1934 and it was a party line with everyone in town on the same line!! Privacy was a joke. Each family was given its own ‘code’ ring—perhaps a long and a short or a long and two shorts or two shorts and a long—whatever signal-code was assigned to each home. So much for special signals!! I believe everyone in Everett who was at home answered ALL the rings and listened into conversations. I know that when we talked on our phone, we spoke carefully, because usually someone else was ‘eavesdropping.”’
First Electric Service
“In the early 30’s, electricity came to Everett! Six or seven families agreed to each pay two hundred dollars to help defray the cost of installing the necessary poles by Ohio Edison. What a difference electricity made in our lives! For the first time, we had better lighting to see and read by. We could have a real refrigerator to keep food longer and colder. We always had a radio which was powered by a very large battery. Now we could have a radio powered by electricity and easier to move around.”
Horse and Buggy
“In today’s world, nearly every adult owns a car, but in the ‘30s some families out in the country were still traveling by horse and buggy. I can remember there was a special open shed north of the Everett church where horses could be tied up during services and I recall Uncle Nate Point going past our house with milk cans in his open wagon hitched to a team of horses on his way to the depot.”
“[In the 1930s,] A car was not essential for everyday transportation…My mother did not learn to drive until about 1934. She practiced by going in circles in our front yard before driving all the way to visit her aunt in Botzum, about four miles away. Early cars did not have power brakes or power steering and had a gearshift using a clutch pedal, so driving was a little more difficult at that time.
My Uncle Joe Fiedler worked for a car dealership in Cleveland and found an unusually nice 1929 dark green Chrysler available for the affordable price of seventy-five dollars. So that is how the heavy, clumsy, beautiful car became my mother’s. We nicknamed it ‘Queen Mary’s Chariot.’”
“Our family always looked forward to receiving the new Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues, along with the Burpee’s Seed Catalogues and could hardly wait to open them when they arrived regularly at the post office. Even though we shopped often in Akron for clothing and other necessities, the catalogues were a way of ‘dreaming’ about future purchases or learning about prices and new fashion trends. Catalogues provided a vast assortment of items from clothing to furniture from linens to homes!!...
We usually drove to Acme’s in Akron or one of the other large grocery stores several times a month to re-stock our supplies. For five or six dollars, we came home with five or six bags filled with flour, sugar, coffee, cereals and other items on our list.
Shopping then was not like shopping today. People went to stores with a list that they read to the clerk who pulled the items from the shelves, put them on the counter and later bagged them for customers. Self-serve was not an option, but time was saved and service was friendly and helpful…
The Nickle’s Bakery truck made its rounds of Everett too. Each home had a special card about 12 inches square with a string attached that we hung in the front kitchen window if we wanted the truck to drive in our driveway…”
Day Trips to Akron by Train
“…Mother would take Jim and me regularly on the B&O passenger train from the Everett depot to Akron for a day’s “excursion.” The train was scheduled to go south to Akron early in the day and return towards evening the same day. It was a day dictated time-wise by the train’s schedule.
I always looked forward to these short trips, because we always “dressed up” and the train was “fun” and the conductors always friendly and helpful.
A typical day in the city included a little shopping in the Department Stores…We also enjoyed window shopping because the displays were always so beautiful…
After some browsing and shopping, it was time for a quick and inexpensive lunch which we usually ate at one of the store’s lunch counters. If there was time, we stopped for a brief period to rest at one of the store’s big customer lounges.
A matinee show at one of the downtown theatres usually was next. The shows were a special treat and usually included a feature film, one or two cartoons, the news, a preview of coming attractions and, quite frequently, live vaudeville acts. These acts were usually comedians, dancers, big bands or singers. We saw some special people who later became nationally famous.”
Helyn Fiedler Toth. Reminiscences of My Days in Everett, Ohio: A Few of My Memories of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Seven Hills, Ohio: self-published, 2007.