Mary E. Flecknoe
GAMBIER THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD, OR AS I SAW IT
Imagine, if you will, Chase Avenue on a hot lazy summer day. Middle Path had no curbs, the grass on the outside of the trees met the dusty road, but was broken by a tow path to accommodate those whose feet could no longer take the gravel in the middle. I see two people walking and a horse with a buggy hitched at Mr. Scott’s store. The lady, one of the two, was tripping down the west tow path toward the college. She was very slender, an enormous knot of beautiful brown hair atop her head; and she walked as though she might have had a board on her back. She was dressed in a filmy, sheer white dress with a lace ruffle at the bottom, and had completed the costume with a wide, blue satin sash, with a bow in back and streamers that went to the bottom of the ruffle. When I asked later who it was, I was told it was Miss Phelena Taylor, the President’s secretary. As for the other individual on the street, she was probably seven or eight years old, a rather small tow-headed child; and you are seeing this picture through her eyes.
Now, go back to the north end of the block and you will find the Post Office on the corner where Jim Hayes’ grocery now stands. Mr. Mert Jacobs, Ed’s father, was the Postmaster and Miss Ella Parker, his assistant. Then and always after, I thought her to be a wonderful person.
Going south, and in the next building, was a butcher shop and then a tailor shop, run by Mr. Singer – Thelma Williams’ father. In this same area, at the back, Mrs. Fobes, of renown, ran a reading room. It was a place where any child could come in from the cold or heat of the day.
Perhaps I should tell you something of Mrs. Fobes — she taught the secondary, which is the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, in the public school. I didn’t go to Gambier School for those three grades, so I missed her heavy-handed instruction, but from all I’ve heard from those who didn’t miss it, many would have preferred to skip the whole thing. She was a woman of mammoth proportions, puffed out both fore and aft, grey hair tightly coiled in a knot on the top of her head, and a ruler ready to enforce any demand she chose to issue.
You will all remember, I’m sure, the Sohio service station. At the time we’re observing there was no necessity for such, but we had instead a doctor and a shoe store in that building. Dr. Blake, a tall, stooped, kindly man dispensed his pills to the best of his ability from an old roll-top desk that was so cluttered with debris that whenever he sat down to put the pills in one of the little white boxes he used, he had to push back the accumulation of dust and papers to make room to work. Dr. Blake was as slow as molasses in January, so it was frequently quite late in the evening before he completed his call schedule (doctors did make house calls once upon a time). One time, Mother was quite ill, and it was late in the evening before the doctor came to the house. He sat on the edge of the bed while he was taking her temperature, and went to sleep. When he was aroused he looked at the thermometer and said there was no fever. The next morning he called to say that he had discovered he had used a broken thermometer and that he would be back to do the job over.
Dr. Blake was an accomplished organist and, during the summer months when the college was not in session, he played for the Sunday morning service. Someone was usually stationed at the north door to see if Dr. Blake would make it to the church before the final gong of the bell. If there was a funeral, there was mounting tension lest the hearse arrived before the organist.
One more thing about Dr. Blake — he drove one of the first cars in the village. It had brass head lamps and a brass rod on either side, from the top to the radiator. Once, when he was coming into town on Route 308, he hit a tree. Later, when my Dad asked him what happened, the reply came this way, “I guess the damned thing (meaning the car) saw a nut up the tree and started after it.”
Next door was Mr. Roy Jacobs’ shoe store. His nickname was “Hummy”. I suppose because he was always humming under his breath. His one interest was the shoes you were wearing. He never looked at the passerby when he spoke, just concentrated on how soon the individual would need new shoes. Maybe there were those who bought shoes who later had to consult Dr. Blake, for I’m sure the fitting procedure was accomplished by guess and whether the shoes could be pushed on and pulled off the feet.
One summer I had picked strawberries for Mr. Sheasby, for 1 -1/4 cents per quart, and had earned enough in a week to buy myself a pair of shoes. They were, to me, beautiful — gun metal color and a perky bow, all for $1.50. Mr. Sheasby who lived in the house across the road from Quarry Chapel had an enormous strawberry patch. During the season there were several people who picked berries, but the only one I remember distinctly is Lawrence Parker, probably because it seemed to me he ate as many berries as he put in the basket. Mr. Sheasby had been injured in a mill in England before the family came to America. He had a wooden leg that had no joint at the knee, but that didn’t slow him down any at this job. He could go down the row as fast as any of the others.
Continuing down the east side of the street was Frank Vernon’s home with his small restaurant next door on the corner of the alley. Rose Vernon was a beautiful seamstress and she had the Psi U Fraternity Club. There was no Commons for the students, and each group boarded at some house.
One summer Dr. and Mrs. Allen, with Katherine and Margaret, were to take a camping trip through Yellowstone Park. I was then about eleven years old and elected to stay with Mrs. Condit, Mrs. Allen’s Mother. The evenings were hot and probably monotonous for both Mrs. Condit and me, so as a special treat she would send me down to Vernon’s Restaurant for a 1/2 pint of ice cream. Needless to say, with refrigeration what it was then, we had no trouble serving the ice cream when I returned.
The brick house on the corner of the alley (now Jim Hayes’ home) was the Doolittle family home. Miss Mary was a tyrant of long standing but I was quite fond of her. She had a library full of books and was always happy to lend them provided, and with explicit instructions, that they must be returned within a reasonable time. Dickie Doolittle’s grocery was next door to the family home. The business may have thrived at one time, but by now the family funds had dwindled and so had the shelf stock. Many times Dickie would run across the street to Mr. Scott’s store and buy an item that a customer wanted.
The butcher shop on the north side of Dickie’s store was-the kind you read about these days, but never see. In the winter, to the right as you went through the door, there was a long rod, maybe ten or twelve feet long, from which hung the quarters of beef or one or two hogs that had been slaughtered by Mr. Ed Young, east of town. Underneath the carcasses was a shallow rack always filled with fresh sawdust. On the other side were the cutting block and a small counter with the necessary scales, roll of wrapping paper and a big cone of twine suspended overhead. For use in warm weather was a walk-in cooler which was serviced by the ice man on his tri-weekly visits through town. I doubt that the temperature ever reached a very low degree, but I never heard of anyone’s having food poison from the meat.
What you will all know as the Adams house hasn’t changed much except that the big screened-in porch was removed when the college purchased and remodeled it.
Next, on the corner of Wiggin Street, was the drug store run by Mr. Jackson. Even then he carried many items which were not drugs, but he had most anything that a Kenyon student would ask for. Later, when Mr. Jackson was appointed Postmaster, the room was divided–the post office on the west side and the drugs on the east.
The Kenyon House–a hotel, maybe not a Conrad Hilton, but a fine hotel for Gambier—occupied the area just north of where Cromwell Cottage now stands. It was a long, low two-storied structure painted dark red. I always envied those who were fortunate enough at Commencement time to have a room there. They always looked so comfortable and relaxed, rocking back and forth in big wicker chairs on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze; but, as I think of it now, the road must have been mighty dusty.
The present Alumni House replaced Mr. Scott’s general store and general it was. The smell was a combination of coffee, spices, orange, kerosene, tobacco, coal smoke, and old wood. It was a long narrow room, running east and west, with a pot-bellied stove near the rear, surrounded by captain’s chairs, and a spittoon in the circle within easy reach of those who spent their evenings there. The discussions were varied, but included the weather, the current corn crop, politics and probably any neighbors who were not present.
There was everything in that store from common pins to horse collars. One could buy linen toweling for a few cents a yard, dimity for the new baby’s dress, and outing flannel for the diapers, delicious homemade orange marmalade which Mrs. Scott made from the overripe oranges, and the most wonderful cheese that was ever made. It was always in a big hoop, stood on the counter by the coffee grinder, and covered with a wooden lid-that had a knob on the top. And, nicest of all, it was possible to buy a whole bag of Schrafft’s chocolates for a nickel, if you had the nickel.
Mr. and Mrs. Scott lived in the house where George and Anna Seitz are living now. Mrs. Scott was a perfect Pouter pigeon type. She wore nose glasses for reading which were attached to a chain that could be pulled from a small button she had pinned to her bosom — this always fascinated me. Mr. Scott was, to me, a real gentleman of his day. He was always immaculately dressed, a striped shirt and stiff collar, had white hair and chewed wintergreen candy.
Gamble Hayes was Mr. Scott’s assistant and deliveryman. At first, he made rounds in a spring wagon and, later, graduated to a Model T. He walked with a rolling gait as though he might have spent two years before the mast. Always in the summer he wore a stiff straw hat, had suspenders and sleeve supports, and never wore a coat. He teased me for years about this. One day as I came through the gate at Mrs. McGugins, who lived out north, with two dozen eggs in a brown paper bag, Gamble was driving by. He asked me to ride down town, so I set the bag of eggs on the floor in the back of the wagon and rode on the high seat with the driver. When I delivered the eggs to the Newhall home, Dr. Newhall discovered that all he needed for scrambled eggs was to add the salt and pepper; I had done everything else.
Before we turn north to view the west side of Chase Avenue, may we return to a cottage which stood where the new library is? Colonel and Mrs. Lee were the occupants. I never knew whether his title was by virtue of rank in the Confederate Army or whether it had been granted by the Kenyon students. As I think about it now, I believe he though he made quite a hit with the ladies; but, at that time, I thought him a rather nice little old man. Mrs. Lee, a truly southern belle, all flutters, ribbons and ruffles, reigned supreme in the “cottage” as she called her home. She was a perfect housekeeper in a house filled with beautiful antiques. She loved to entertain with big dinner parties of sixteen to twenty people. The dinner would begin with grapefruit, with pinked edges, through six or seven courses, ending with coffee in the parlor. I can assure you there was nothing missing between the first and last courses — even the water in the finger bowls was warmed. I know, because I waited table.
Certainly we shouldn’t forget Miss Bessie Blake, whose father had originated Harcourt School for Boys. She told me that she was born in one of the rooms in McIlvane Hall — the last of the Harcourt buildings to be torn down. Miss Bessie lived in the big house on Brooklyn Street where the You family is now. Miss Bessie’s family had come from England and she had the mistaken idea that she was of English nobility and that anyone living outside her little iron fence didn’t count at all. During the last years of her life she had to have a housekeeper, and nurse. One year, during the depression, I helped take care of her. She had many beautiful things in the house, but it was somewhat of a shock to open a chest for a blanket and have moths fly out in your face–or maybe open a cupboard door for a tea cup and find instead a-curry comb or brush.
One can scarcely think of Gambier without going back to the Chase name. Miss Emma Chase, a relative of Bishop Philander Chase, lived in Mrs. Welton’s house on Brooklyn Street. She was the one person who kept Bedell Chapel serving the people of that area for many years. George Porter was one of the parishioners and, when Miss Emma called at his house one afternoon, she was greatly disturbed because he seemed so ill. She drove back to town and called Dr. Scythe, the rector, and asked him to go right out to the Porter house, which he did. When he returned, he called Miss Chase and the conversation went somewhat as follows: “I went to see poor George and he is gone.” Miss Chase’s exclamation was follows by Dr. Smythe’s explanation: “Yes, gone to the Fair.” My memory of her is rather vague — she was tall and thin with a lovely speaking voice, even though she was very outspoken. I had the distinct feeling that if you couldn’t lay claim to being an Episcopalian there wasn’t much hope for you here or hereafter.
There are many more I could mention–tiny Mrs. Benson with her shepherd’s crook a foot taller than herself; Mrs. Benson’s two sisters, Miss Tillie and Miss Clarissa White; Miss Melvina Holmes, shrouded in shawls, lying on a sofa before an open gas fire; Mrs. Fillmore, breathless and waving a fan; and sweet Miss Annie Putnam, who sat in front of a dining room window hemming dinner napkins by the dozens; Mrs. Goddard and her lovely daughter, Miss Alice who had been a librarian and was one of the first persons to make recordings of stories for children, I suppose on old Victrola records.
Returning to the west side of Chase Avenue, Dr. and Mrs. Welker were in the big house next to the Alumni House. The doctor was an M.D. and long past the age of practicing medicine, but still did.
The Elbe Johnsons lived next door when Raymond was small enough to be in a push cart, but I don’t know who was there before that time.
The old book store has had many occupants. There was a barber shop there at one time and then, about 1913 or 1914, it became the Kenyon Commons, and remained that until Pierce Hall was ready for occupancy.
On the other side of the alley was the double house, which burned and beyond that, the famed and popular “Bakery”, the favorite hangout for students and thus off-limits for us except in the summer season. I’ve no idea how big the place was, but through my eyes it was mammoth. There was a room on the south side with tables and a player piano that banged out all the popular tunes of the day. The larger room at the back had a counter that reached from one side to the other with a big mirror back of it. It was a dark, noisy place which never appealed to me.
The concrete blocks of the People’s Bank haven’t changed much—maybe a little more ivy covers the sides and that, to me, is good.
At this time there were only two or three automobiles in the village. I’ve been told that Mr. Wright, the undertaker, had the first one. To me, when I first saw it, it was a roaring red monster that frightened our old driving horse so badly that my Dad had to hold her by the bridle when it flashed by at probably twenty or twenty-five miles an hour.
There are two or three men in the picture whom I must mention. Dr. Smythe, rector of Harcourt Parish, was always ready to see things from a child’s viewpoint. One time the carpet in the parish house was badly worn and needed to be replaced, so Dr. Smythe asked us if we would like to pay for it. He figured the cost per inch and each Sunday, after the offering had been taken, he would tell us’ how many inches we had paid for and how close we were to the goal. We finally made it with our penny offerings–probably with an unknown assist from the rector.
Bishop Leonard spent his summers here at “Kokosing” the Bishop’s House. He was rather rotund, had white hair, and a smiling round face. Anyone of distinction, at that time, had a Pierce Arrow with a chauffeur. The Bishop had a beautiful collie, and he always sat on the back seat of the open car with his master, looking every bit as important and as dignified.
I’m afraid I’m not able to do justice to the last name I’ll mention–Dr. William Foster Pierce. I stood so in awe of him that I haven’t many memories. He was a big man, tall and well built, with a shock of curly brown hair. He could read like no one else I have ever known. I can still hear him reading the list of donors to the college on Founders’ Day. That was indeed a rare privilege.
Since there was no heavy traffic whenever there was snow, there was soon a beautifully packed base on the street for coasting. How would you like a bobsled ride beginning at Bexley and ending at the railroad crossing at the William Rowley farm? That was the favorite route, and it was better for all concerned if a horse drawn vehicle didn’t appear at the Meadow Lane intersection on Wiggin Street.
One of the very nice things was the custom of the Kenyon men to sing on many occasions. Each week night, following their fraternity meetings, they came down the Path, four abreast, in perfect step. On a clear cold night, with a brilliant moon shining, the snow crunching underfoot, if one stopped to listen, you could hear a voice quietly saying, “l, 2, 3, sing!”
For amusement? We never seemed to lack for something to do. In the Spring, it was a must to make at least one trip to Arbutus Hill, which as you may know is beyond Mt. Zion Church. Or the fare on the then-thriving Pennsylvania Railroad, was only a dime to Mt. Vernon and, since there were at least four trains each way every day it was no effort at all to ride the train to the City and walk the five miles back through the dust. And, too, there was always the “French Lot” now taken over by the Women’s College, where violets and bluebells grew in profusion and where we were entirely hidden from the world. Who knows a lady in town today, who having completed her housekeeping chores for the day, goes through the ritual of changing clothes and sitting on the veranda until time to prepare the evening meal? Well, that’s the way it was done. They must have been very efficient housekeepers to have had that much leisure time.
Harcourt was busy all through the year. In the winter the girls attended school. It was a private church school and one could have a fine college preparatory course or what was considered more essential perhaps, to learn all the proper etiquette of the day. If you were invited to a party on Saturday evening, it was an obligation to call on the hostess by Tuesday and at least leave a calling card in the event she was not home. None of the girls ever came outside the front gates unless properly attired with hat and gloves and the ever-present chaperone. At the beginning of the year, each girl was asked for a list of those with whom she would correspond; if a letter came addressed with an unknown postmark, she was asked to identify the writer before it was handed to her.
In the summer, Mrs. Blake, the doctor’s wife, operated a summer hotel. Ladies came from Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit to spend a quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. A Mrs. Dichant stands out vividly in my mind, perhaps because her son, Fred, attended the college. He was the only student with a car. It was a most impressive bright red Bearcat Stutz, open, two-passenger capacity, with the gas tank on a small platform at the rear. Here was where Fred loaded all the kids to give them a ride. I don’t know how fast we were moving but it seemed we were flying through space. He was the first person who ever drove up and down the hill back of Old Kenyon.
I’m afraid I’ve rambled on far beyond the allotted time and, although there were no radios or television and only one or two automobiles, it didn’t matter. We had no ideas of so-called modern living and, if someone mentioned “flying to the moon”, it was just an expression and meant absolutely nothing.
Gambier was a place of quiet and beauty. If some of the quiet is disturbed by our surroundings today, it makes no difference. It was home then and it is home now.