"CHILDHOOD MEMORIES" - Stories about my childhood in Slippery Rock (8)

"THE FLIG STORIES" - What happened to "The Flig" on his journey (11)

" A BOYHOOD AFIELD" - Short stories about learning to hunt and fish (15)

"WHAT'S GOLF GOT TO DO WITH IT?" - The game of golf's impact on my life (3)

Monday, March 1, 2010


Fifty years ago the small college town of Slippery Rock was so much different than it is today. So is the university that bears the same name. Here’s a walk down Main Street as best I can recall from the late 1950s.

We lived at the southern edge of town on South Main Street. It was a coincidence that we lived next to the Ford dealership and the Catholic Church while my dad worked at the Chevy dealership, and we went to the Methodist Church. As I would walk north toward town I would pass the college on my right.

At that time it consisted of only about a dozen buildings (the SRU website lists 70 today). First I would pass West Gym. The neighborhood rabble that I ran with could usually find a window that had been left open at this deteriorating old brick building so we could sneak inside for a basketball game. Beside it was East Gym. It was in better shape and had a pool in the basement where I learned to swim. A hundred feet from East Gym was the chapel. The college choir sang a Christmas program there each year and they brought kids from the elementary school to hear it. My sister recalled how it had padded pews which was unique for a church in those days. Next you would come to East Hall, the only boys’ dormitory. As I recall it (like many of the buildings) was in pretty bad shape. The life there may have made “Animal House” look tame by comparison. It was a place you stayed away from. On the other hand, North Hall, the girls’ dormitory was one of the nicest buildings on campus. It also housed the dining hall. I can recall we used to hang out around North Hall on our way home from school for a possible chance meeting with one of our student teachers. I always had a crush on one of those beautiful young women. Behind North Hall was another frame building that was sort of dilapidated. It was just known as “The Hut”. I suppose it was the forerunner of the student unions of today – a hangout for the students where you could get a sandwich or a milkshake. Nearby was the Science Building that overlooked the tennis courts, the power plant and the football stadium. The stadium was smaller than many high school facilities these days. It had steep grass slopes down which we would slide on big pieces of cardboard (until the grounds crew ran us off). A stones-throw away was the college dump where we used to shoot rats and grackles (see article on Shooting Sports).

On the town side of North Hall was a cluster of buildings - the Maltby Library (the only building then that was named for someone), the president’s residence, Old Main, and West Hall (a classroom building that probably should have been condemned). Finally there was the Laboratory School. The “Lab” school for short was somewhat unique. It was a K-6th grade elementary school which my pals and I attended; however, it belonged to the college. Since Slippery Rock was founded as a state teacher’s college I guess they figured we kids were like lab rats for the student teachers. The baseball field was atop the hill behind the president’s house and where we had our last day of school picnic due to its proximity to the Lab School. That was it – the entire SRU campus in the ‘50s.

Across Main Street from the college’s entrance was Watson’s store (later to be known as Lape’s, Hines, Dunkle’s, and more – it changed hands often). It was probably no larger than 30’ x 40’ but it contained all the essentials for the “convenience” store of the day – two pinball machines, two glass penny candy cases, pop, milk, bread, lunchmeat, ice cream, cigarettes, magazines, etc. We spent many an hour trying to “beat” those pinball machines with money we got from returning pop bottles for the deposit. I can still hear that load crack that the machine made when you won a free game. There were two benches out front where we spent a lot of time “loafing.” I remember one time someone had left a pack of cigarettes there and we pounced on them with the intent of smoking them – until someone piped up that it may have been a trap and someone might have “mouthed” them all before they put them there. We threw them away.

Another block north on Main Street, past a small park with a war memorial one would come to the main business district. On the west side of the street there was the post office. It was a new facility at the time but has since been replaced with a newer one. Across the street was Joe Spitaro’s barber shop (where my buddy Bruce Gannon first worked after he got his license). Down the street was Bill Matthews’ barber shop where I got my hair cut. Dad would call Bill and tell him to give me a crew cut. Then I would ask Bill to make it longer and he would just say, “Sorry, I’ve got orders from your pap.” Ord’s Pharmacy was next. (Mrs. Ord was my 5th grade teacher and the one with whom we listed to Mazzeroski’s homer in the World Series after school.) Nearby Fred Meyer’s hardware store was next to Dale Taggart’s jewelry store (I think Dale’s daughter still runs the place). The Isaly’s restaurant/soda fountain was there as well. Isaly’s was the place to go for all the gossip going around town (and a cherry coke or chocolate malt). My sister’s friend’s father, Joe Zanhiser owned the store at the time. He was a rotund, red-faced man with thick glasses and you could always find him behind the counter. It seemed the same group of patrons (like Crankshaft West, Harry McConnell and Heavy Boyer) were there all the time. One time the Pittsburgh Steelers were having training camp at the college and Preston Carpenter struck up a conversation with my sister in Isaly’s. It was a big deal and noised all about town! Later on a high school friend Bob Allison’s dad bought the store from Zanhiser.

If you can believe it Slippery Rock supported two small groceries situated close to one another on Main Street – the A&P and Freidman’s. These were not the modern supermarkets but the old fashioned groceries that were partial self-service and partial “the grocer will get it for you” stores. There was also the Roxy theater where owner, Ed Shaffer walked the aisles to control the rowdies and couples trying to make out in the back row while his wife sold popcorn and jujubes. (The cost was a quarter for kids and 60 cents for adults.) The News Stand sold various magazines, newspapers, cigarettes and cigars. The Slippery Rock National Bank was there as well.

Across the street was one of the town’s three restaurants – Hubers – a small stone building that still houses a restaurant (now the Camelot). The Ben Franklin five and dime was next door. I spent lots of time there, mostly wishing not buying. Then there was Ubers furniture and appliance store right next to their funeral parlor.

There was a gas station on the corner and if you headed east on Franklin Street you came to the town’s second pharmacy and third restaurant (their names escape me). Across Franklin was Curley Martin’s butcher shop and then the three protestant churches right in a row – Methodist, Presbyterian and United Presbyterian. On down Franklin Street a half block was my dad’s car dealership (JW Cheeseman, Inc. at the time). Behind the dealership was the little league baseball field.

That was pretty much the town. It was such a great place to spend your childhood. There were homecoming parades, big football games, Christmas decorations, major snow storms, and so many other neat things to see and do with family and friends.


  1. Living in SR was a great experience. I often take that memory walk that you did in this piece.

    The other drug store was Knauss's and it had the best chocolate Coca-Cola for a nickel. Kids on our end of town went there after school. As I recall, it also had an amazing magazine section.

    West's Grocery Store was next door to Curly Martin's Meat Market until Curly moved across the street to his new store. West's was a great place to go with its feed bag warehouse in the back. My dad would drive up to the loading dock and we'd head up the wooden stairs to the store's back door. It smelled so good back there with the seed bags. My friends and I used to like to climb on them and Gene West never minded. Mary Lauber worked the counter and got down items from the high shelves with a longer grabber device. Gene West delivered the groceries to our homes and most of our days started with Mom calling Gene to see what was good. I'd hear, "Gene, this is Virginia. How are your peaches today? Good? OK, we'll have some." That was in the days when doors weren't locked, and Gene would bound up the back porch stairs, enter through the kitchen screen door, and leave the groceries on a kitchen chair-all while our dog, Max, barked and Mom never checked to see what all the noise was about.

    Isaly's was a favorite of mine, too. My friends and I pumped a lot of quarters into the juke box contraptions hung in each booth. That's where I first heard "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha!" My parents loved to buy chipped chopped ham (you have to be a Pittsburgher to know that) there and a Klondike somehow doesn't taste as good now as it did then.

    Parades always lined up in the church parking lot behind our house. We felt we had the best seat in town.

    You mentioned Heavy Boyer. I remember him coming to see Dad one evening, and my mother called out, "Neal, Fat Boyer's here." He never flinched. What a guy he was!

    And then there was the Roxy Theater. Despite all the times we dreaded seeing Mr. Shaffer coming, especially when we were in the back row, I experienced a different side of him, too. Mom took me to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" and no one else was in the place. She kept wanting to leave, feeling bad that the Shaffers had to work just for us. Mr. Shaffer strongly refused and ran that entire movie just for us. Mom got her Gregory Peck fix and I learned that Mr. Shaffer was gracious.

    Sometime, maybe, I'll post my memories of the Sportsmen's Club...maybe I will...because I never went fishing there!

    Slippery Rock was just about the best place a kid could live.

  2. Do you remember the bowling alley in our little town? I remember my dad, Jim Cooper, would take us (twins) there. The bowling alley was not where it is today, but down a back street, sorry I don't remember the name of that street. The building itself was small and only had a few lanes, the noise of pins being stuck was almost deafing. Pin boys were hired to set pins back in place. As you looked down each lane all you could see were legs just dangling waiting for that next ball. I was fasinated how fast those pin boys jumped down to reset pins. I wonder how much money they made each night. As young girls, we just sat and watched and dreamed of the day we would throw our first ball. But now that just brings back more memories of my dad teaching us to bowl. Today, Karen and I are both above average bowlers.

    What great memories I have of growing up in our small town. I can still recall in my minds eye the people, places, and sounds of our home town of Slippery Rock.

    1. The bowling alley was behind the Chevy Garage, my brother use to be a pin setter and I was lucky enough I would get snacks for them and get to take them down to them. I also was a substitute bowler for the bowling league my mother belong to that met on Wednesday evening at 9:00. I was lucky enough when her league went to see Chubby Checker I got to go with them.

      Mr. Bushnell owned the 5 & 10. Gress's restaurant was across the alley from Curley's Meat Market and Leaky Rennick's Appliance and the Sunoco Gas Station were also located on Franklin St.

      It was a great place to grow up, everybody knew everyone else and you always knew if you did anything wrong it would be reported to your parents by someone.

    2. What was the bowling alley called in the 1970's?

  3. The 'pin boys' were paid 9-11¢ per game bowled on their lanes. The owner was Bill Porter.

  4. I remember Dr. Vincent making house calls for my twin and me.

  5. OH DOC VINCENT! My Dad used to tease me with him, Dad thought is was funny when we drove down his street and asked me if I wanted a balloon. Doc Vincent always gave me a balloon after he gave me a shot for ear infections. SCREAM. But he was an old time doctor and you could see him anytime. The Rexall, was another safe place the pharmacist John Orr, was always there and one time I was over at the playground and fell, got a splinter, big time, off the see saw , went to John and he got it out, put something on my hand and called my Dad to come get me. You don't find that anymore, Slippery Rock was a wonderful place to grow up and should be a place to model the future.

  6. Do you have any picture of the Ben Franklin store in Slippery Rock PA. Please reply to my e-mail

  7. or do you have a picture of what was to the right of the Camelot?

  8. I grew up in Slippery Rock and went to the Lab School. I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1978 but try to get back "home" at least once a year. My mom, Millie Haag, is still with us at 91 years of age. I have many fond memories of living there, including playing jacks, hide and seek, tag, dodge ball, red rover and other games. What a shame that these generations who have come after us don't know the meaning of fun! And we got lots of sun and exercise. I don't miss picking blackberries on the mine hills just outside of town going toward Grove City. Got to go now and catch my plane for Pittsburgh!

  9. TXTommy
    Thank you for sharing your memories of growing up in Slippery Rock! I grew up in Penn Hills, Pa and went to Slippery Rock University in early 1980’s. I loved the small University town and it is sad I do not get back there much and I also live in Texas!

  10. I wish I new who all you people are that are commenting on growing up in slippery rock.
    I did too

    My name is Richard Henderson and we lived on maple street and my dad was the minister at the Methodist church from 1969-1978.

    When we moved after I completed 7th grade in 1978 to Erie. It was devastating. I tell folks to this day I am not sure if i ever recovered

    My email is