Anne Leonard Hollingsworth Arfaa
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee – Anne Leonard Hollingsworth Arfaa
Interviewers – Ellen Sheehan and Frankie Jueds
Date: August 14, 2017
Place: Falls of Schuylkill Library meeting room
This is Ellen Sheehan and Frankie Jueds recording an oral history of Anne Arfaa at the Falls of Schuylkill Library on August 14, 2017.
Where were you born?
I was born in the Woman’s Medical College Hospital on Henry Avenue in 1939 on the 30th of April between 7:00 & 9:00 pm. My parents were living in a rented house across from the Wagner Free Institute of Science on North Philadelphia. We lived in that row house until my father brought a house on Timber Lane which is off School House Lane in East Falls. He brought the house in 1942 from John Wagner. The house was originally in the name of John Wagner (1824-1902). His son, my great great uncle was the founder of the Wagner Free Institute of Science. He grew up in that house and I grew up in that house. I moved there when I was 3 and I had my 4h Birthday there.
Did you have siblings?
I have a sister one year younger. Just my parents and sister and we did have folks who came in and helped. There is a ghost story about the house. It was originally a farm house I believe, built for people to go to during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. A big wing was built across the back, a big tower, and there was a closet closed off at both ends and had once been a balcony and the story was when we were little we use to say “There is some body walking in there” and the thing was, that there was so much in there – it was chock-a-block, you couldn’t get a mouse in there. We also had a guest who would say, “we could hear something.“ So the story was that it was a Prussian soldier who died there. Of course, he got buried somewhere else but my mother had a priest come, an Episcopalian priest, who came in and exorcised the room and ghost and we never heard anything again.
This house had a big porch and a mansard roof. It had many additions. The screened porch was on the side and you could sit out there even in January and if it was a hot day you could just sit out there. We used to roller skate on the front porch which unfortunately is no longer there. We would hang out in the woods under the Henry Avenue Bridge. We use to think there were mummies in there (which there are not). There was a stream in the back of our house and there was a spring house on the property across from the stream which we called “four corners” but I am not sure if that was the real name. We could walk down in the back of our house and there used to be a dam across the stream but is was no longer operational. We would sneak to the back of the house across the stream at night just a very big deal. We had a Victory Garden during the war and I remember going down and eating strawberries. I should have brought them up to the house.
Do you remember any neighbors who lived there?
If you go up towards School House Lane, my cousin, Sarah Evans, and her husband, Tom lived there in the house next to ours and the house just beyond that was John and Marjory Wagner, also cousins. That house was on School House Lane. We would visit sometimes. They were a lot older. If we went to the movies in town on the “A” bus, we could go at the age of maybe 12 or 13. We got off the bus on School House Lane and then we would go through all the backyards to get home. We would leave the bus and go through family land to get home in the dark.
Where and when did you go to school?
I went to Ravenhlll at age 5 which in the 40’s had Montessori education which everyone’s forgotten (that Montessori was there in the 1940’s) They had the Sisters of the Assumption, and they all wore beautiful plum colored habits, so I have been fixated on that color ever since. Those were the technicolor years of my schooling because we had Montessori which meant we had choices about what we did. I started piano lessons there when I was 5 in a parlor. There was a sliding door in the mansion and when you opened the door there was another parlor beyond with a tiger skin rug on the floor. (“The Tiger Parlor”) Cardinal Dougherty was a patron of the school. We were having class in the parlor in the mansion and across the hall was a beautiful dining room with gorgeous furniture and the table seemed to have crystal. There was a bathroom and you didn’t need permission to go to the bathroom and I remember the beautiful molding in the room. I must have spent a lot of time there. Some kids, my sister and I had Montessori there in that room because it was non-graded – first, second and third grade was together and I was there through 3rd grade.
I have wonderful memories of going to the Grotto and their idea of religion was to go and sit by the roses to learn about God. I remember the roses and singing in the Chapel because by 2nd grade I could read music. I remember the St. Gregory missal which was blue and chunky. I had my first Confession there which I remember was confessing about talking to my sister because I got into trouble about that.
Do you remember any students?
I remember “Bunny” with long braids. We had a Halloween party at my house and I was a black cat. Pat Mayor was a year behind us in grade but was in the same class, – I had a crush on Bunny because of her long hair. I remember Aideen O’Malley who was older. There was someone named Phyllis, who looked like my grandmother. She was a senior and I remember her. I remember Sister Rose (Agnes) was a postulant there and when I taught at Ravenhill years later she came back to be Head for a year or so. There was a glassed-in porch that went around from the big parlor, it’s gone now. There was an older girl, I think she was Scandinavian. She had blond braids all the way down to her feet.
Do you remember the Von Trapp girls who went to Ravenhill?
For all I know she could have been a Van Trapp. We all had uniforms. Mine was a dark blue with medium blue blouses. I also wore a pink tutu with I was a ca t in Peter and the Wolf. We had ballet classes there too. I did not do anything that required athletic effort except for the swings.
How long were you at Ravenhill?
I went through the 3rd grade. I loved it. I never knew why they moved me. They didn’t ask you in those days. They sent me off to Melrose Academy. Let me tell you for many, many years after Ravenhill I had what you call a “Gray” Education because those Montessori years were wonderful. Because I have learning differences I am sure that had something to do with it. I did go back to Ravenhill to get my Montessori training and I sent my children there as little people. I taught there the last three years before it closed. It is a big part of my past. I remember the beech trees. Even now when I go back it is like a home coming place for me, Ravenhill.
Do you remember a Summer House on the grounds?
The only thing I remember of the buildings was Milleret Hall, an addition were the Montessori baby classes were, when my kids went there. Another building had a stage in it and my kids had Christmas plays there. From when I was a child there, I remember lockers down in the basement right off the gym. I remember walking through the Arcade to the Chapel. Up the steps was a kitchen where we had cooked lunches there. With real chocolate pudding and whipped cream. One of the nuns was Mother Sanders who was a connection of my father’s family, not a blood relation. I use to visit her in her parlor.
After Ravenhill how long did you attend the Gray Sister at Melrose Academy?
Four years. I don’t remember much about it except in 6th grade I beat up Ralph and then I had to stop being a Tom Boy. I also got a sewing prize so I was a tom boy who could sew.
Sew up the stitches needed!
I did play the piano but I never played Bach well. So after that for 8th grade I went to Greene Street Friends. Again I don’t know why. I did have a year of Quaker Meeting. Frankie Jueds was in my class there. That’s a whole story because she lived nearby on Warden Drive and we could get together and talk.
What about High School?
I was shipped off to Scared Heart in Overbook. My father use to drive me there until I could drive. We came home by 2 buses and a trolley. My sister was with me. Finally I did drive an “Anglea” an English car that belonged to my grandmother. It used to live in a barn so it smelled of goats.
Your grandmother was still living?
My grandmother was still living. My great-grandmother died when I was 14. My grandmother was Emily Wagner Beard and my great grandmother was Ann Leonard Wagner. There is a straight line. I am the 5th Anne Leonard. We go way back. Anyway, my grandmother, I would go see her in Chester County. I had this car. The first day I drove, I was a junior, going all the way from East Falls. It was sleet, and school was closed when I got there. High school was interesting but I didn’t fit in. I fit in much better in the Montessori environment. Plus I am a city person. That was the suburbs. I did get an essay prize, I remember. I guess I played wing in the JV’s, but I didn’t like it. I sang in the choir, and that’s it.
After High School?
After High School, I went to Newton College of the Sacred Heart for a year. You had to be in your room by 10:00 unless you signed out for the community room which was a smoker (thank you very much) I did well because I couldn’t get off the place. I had A’s and B’s but I do have learning differences. After a year I didn’t like being confined. It was a very narrow environment.
I transferred to Penn and really had fun. I went to class and did plays and was a creative writing minor and an English major and didn’t know that I had a learning problem until later. My papers were late but I got A plus in my fetal pig dissection in Biology. B’s for other things except creative writing and some English courses. But I lived on campus and I got to be in musicals and writing. I had really excellent professors. In the senior courses I got to know Yeats.
I was a member of a sorority – we called them fraternities even for the girls at Penn. I got the prize – a book – given by one alum every year for the girl who was different. I guess what I liked about Penn was meeting all kinds of people. There were lots of Jewish boys. Catholic girls dated Jewish boys and life got more interesting.
After that I didn’t know what to do. I got a dumb summer job and ended up in a Master’s program in the University Museum and that was in the day when connections got you in. I never would have gotten in otherwise. I took Archology and Anthropology classes. I went for half a year and then I couldn’t hack it. That was the learning difference but I didn’t know it. I was working 20 hours in the University Museum under Bob Dyson, which was wonderful. He was a wonderful teacher. I was inking pot shard drawings from Hasanlu in Iran which means they would come back on vellum and would be in pencil and somebody with good accuracy, which I did have, would take a rapido-graph and trace everything accurately which I did. I did a few site plans. Then I decided mid-year that I really shouldn’t take this masters any more. I transferred to join the English Department. Then I met my husband in around there. Actually, he is from Iran. We got married and had 2 kids in 2 years.
How did your grandparents come to have this property?
My mother’s side – both families have been in Philadelphia for a very long time. The Hollingsworth’s’ side was a Quaker out of England to Ireland to Delaware and in this area forever. On my mother’s side where I came to have that house there was a Wagner who came over from Southern Germany. He was a preacher of some kind and his forbearers were in the University of Tubingen. Anyway he was upstate at a church but didn’t stay here. He went back to Germany but his children stayed here. That is the Wagner line that I am from. I know that my great-great uncles were in the spice trade and that is where the Wagner’s Spices came from. We do not own that now.
Originally I can say that the house I lived in was the Wagner family house. There were six kids so I would have to get out the family tree. Because they had lived in town as lawyers, merchants, people like that, they had a place out here for where the air was better. It was acquired, from I don’t know who originally, because of the Yellow Fever Epidemic. The father of the founder, William Wagner, the founder of the Wagner Free Institute and all his brothers lived in that house. My mother who was a descendant of Samuel Wagner who was a great – great nephew of William Wagner whose father owned the house I lived in.
My father and mother brought that house from John Wagner whose dates were 1863-1940 and the owner before that was another John Wagner and his dates are 1824-1902. That is what I know. There have been Wagner’s living there all that time but again I need to research that. We had these 2 cousins between our house and the Evans house and she was a Wagner connection. Right up to School House Lane.
How many acres?
Four acres. The house I grew up in. It was called Wagner’s and was off School House Lane. My mother didn’t drive so the yellow taxi knew “Hollingsworth’s house.” My mother’s married name. They knew Roger Hollingsworth lived in that house from 1942 until the house wasn’t sold in the 1970’s sometime to the Baylson’s. (Michael/Frances/Todd). The address is 4111. It didn’t have an address than it was just off School House Lane. Our telephone # was Germantown 8030.
How many houses were on Timber Lane then?
On the right there were no houses. Until you got to Berger’s house which was built after we moved in. The only house I remember there would have been the Evans house and then next to our house and behind us was a barn and the Walkers brought it. I remember looking in and seeing an old sleigh. There was a renovated chicken house in the back. The Kimmels lived there. Back across the street from us was Ben Gimble and next to him the Montgomery’s, but they built after. When I was first there it was the Milne estate foundation where Dr. Morani lived. When I was living there it was just a column and stone steps. There were very few houses there when I was little. I remember people on the left as you come in the lane. He came and shot our dog. He was not a nice man. My dog played with Ben Gimble’s dog who was large and a Great Dane. But our dog was brighter, a bull terrier, and dogs just roamed around in those days so the man Bowman just shot our dog.
What do you remember about Ben Gimble?
He had a huge record collection. For a house of that size he did not have a pool. But he had famous people stay there like Bob Hope. I went and hung out with the help, who were really nice. He was very friendly and so was his wife, Jesse, she was very nice. I left to go to college and didn’t live there after 1961.
Do you remember it as being a happy place?
I loved being in and out of the woods. I loved the sounds of nature and storms and running in the rain. During the war my cousin Sammy, who was my age lived there. We had playmates. We were in the city but it seemed like the county.
What do you remember about the village of East Falls?
The village – I remember the big hardware store on the Ridge and St. Bridget’s and passing Mifflin School. There was a movie theater down there (the Alden) and a really good mechanic who tried to fix my father’s Jag mostly it just sat there and looked at you. At first when we moved there it had just a house but then we had this big garage. I remember walking down Vaux St. and there were some things in the road that you wouldn’t want your children to be looking at. Eventually you figured out what they were. When the trains came through, I used to dream that the train would come through to the middle of our house but it didn’t climb the stairs.
Gypsy Lane had a mansion – very secluded. It was known that girls were assaulted there if a girl got in the wrong car or whatever. It was just known that it was a dark place that you didn’t go to. Gypsy Lane was a long dark road that went down to what we called Lincoln Drive which used to be Wissahickon Drive.
Did you go to playgrounds in the Falls?
No, we played in the woods at home. I would go down behind the Gimble house where there were pine woods. I loved to hang out there or looking in the streams for skunk cabbage and cat skulls. I wandered around in the woods.
Where did your mother shop for food?
She would take a taxi to Germantown which was a lovely little village when I was a girl. We went to the Orpheum movies and the Sabre Lee store and Allen’s, Dairy Queen, Rowell’s and Woolworth and it was a lovely place. The J bus stopped at Alden Park where I would see Frankie and our friend Carol and sometimes we met on the lawn at our house.
Did you swim in the summer or ice skate in the winter?
I swam at the pool at Alden Park when I was a teen ager. A lot of time in the summers I spent in Chester County because I was visiting my grandparents. They lived outside of West Chester. It was real country and they had a big pool with a stream that went in and there were crawfish and watercress in there. I saw a lot of my grandmother and great grandmother because that is mainly who we saw unless we had guest in. Franke and Carole were my friends in high school. We didn’t live on a street where there were other children to play with.
When did you lose your grandmother?
I was 14 in1953 when my great grandmother died. The one whose husband – Samuel Wagner – was 30 years older. He was head of the board of the WFIs after his great uncle, the founder died. So there is this line that goes through. My great grandmother liked to take us to the Art Museum but not the Rodin Museum because she was Victorian and all the naked statutes were there. She would take us to see the Mikado and other Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
What was her name?
Her name was Anne Leonard Harlan Wagner. Her Harlan father was a descendent of Richard Harlan, who had been a physician in Philadelphia. He went to New Orleans and died there helping with the Cholera epidemic. On the female side the women got involved in settlement houses. My great grandmother could read Greek and Latin. She was amazing – a blue stocking. My grandmother lived to be 80. She was around for my children until they were about 12 and she would come in every week. She taught kindergarten when you didn’t need a degree. I taught little kids so we had a lot to say to each other. She loved little kids. She took my kids for weekends and took them to the movies, to playgrounds, there were toys. She was great with little kids. My mother loved to read and she spoke French very well. My grandmother worked but not my mother. My great grandmother did not work. My grandmother went to Bryn Mawr College for a year but there were no eligible young men so she left and got married.
Anne, Thank you. You have given us a lot of information. We ae going to stop now and resume your story at a later date.
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