East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Jean Rowland (JR)
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) with Jean’s niece, Lois Childs (LC)
Date of Interview: March 7, 2009
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
WM: March 7, 2009. We’re in the home of Wendy and Winston Moody, 3310 West Coulter Street. We’re interviewing Jean Rowland today, who has lived in East Falls her whole life. Hi Jean.
WM: (filling out form) Jean, where do you live in East Falls?
JR: Indian Queen Lane.
WM: What number?
WM: And where did you live growing up?
JR: I lived in Scotland.
WM: Where did you live in East Falls?
JR: Laboratory Hill. Bowman, Calumet. Let’s see where else…
WM: We can go back to that later. And your date of birth?
JR: March 10, 1915
WM: And your place of birth?
JR: Dunbarton, Scotland.
WM: And your mother’s name?
WM: Maiden name?
WM: And father?
JR: James McGee.
WM: What country were they born?
JR: In Ireland.
WM: What church did you belong to here in East Falls?
JR: St Bridget’s.
WM: And you attended school there as well?
WM: Did you go to school after St. Bridget?
WM: Where was that?
JR: Germantown, St. Francis Elizabeth of Assisi.
WM: Do you know where that is in Germantown?
JR: Greene Street, I think.
WM: We’re also here with Fred and Lois Childs, who might help us with some information. Did you belong to any associations here in East Falls, any clubs?
JR: Actually we didn’t really have any that I know of, I guess.
WM: You came to East Falls at what age, Jean?
WM: And how did you happen to come here?
JR: Well my father came first, of course.
WM: And why did he come?
JR: To make a million dollars! That’s how we used to talk over in those days. We thought in America you made a lot of money, there was money on the ground.
WM: What was his occupation?
JR: He did everything.
WM: What did he do when he came here? What kind of work did he look for?
JR: Well he worked in the mills, Dobson’s Mills.
WM: Did he! What did he do there?
JR: Well, whatever they had to do, I guess. He worked in Dobson’s Mills. He had a house for us when we got here.
WM: Where was that? On Ridge?
JR: On Ridge and the corner of, what is it there, Crawford Street? Well that’s where it was, Ridge and Crawford, was the house that he had for us. Furnished and all.
WM: How long after he came did he send for your family?
JR: About a year, year and a half.
WM: And are there other children besides you?
JR: There were six of us.
WM: Really, and where were you in the birth order?
JR:I was the oldest girl.
WM: Do you remember coming here at age 10?
JR: Yes, I hated the boat ride and everything else that went with it. I wasn’t too fond of coming anyway. When I left Scotland, we went to Ireland, of course, to stay with my grandmother because we had to stay somewhere while my father was getting a job and making money and sending for us.
WM: And what was your impression of East Falls when you first got here?
JR: Well, we didn’t like it too much. We were just sitting in the house. There was an ice cream parlor across the street and they got us an ice cream but we didn’t like the taste of it. We just didn’t like it.
WM: Did your father tell you any stories about the mill? Do you remember any stories he might have mentioned?
JR: Well, I don’t quite remember anything about the mills. I know he went there. He worked there, you know.
WM: Did he seem to like it?
JR: He never complained. He had all kinds of jobs. That’s how we got to Laboratory. We lived there too, you know.
WM: Was that Powers & Weightman that had Laboratory Hill?
JR: Yeah, I think.
WM: Did he work for them as well?
JR: He worked for them. We couldn’t have gotten in there if he didn’t. We lived in the Laboratory.
WM: What was that like?
JR: It was a mess.
WM: How so?
JR: It wasn’t very nice, I didn’t think, but it was where he was supposed to put us, I guess. He had to have worked there for us to go there, in the first place, you know.
WM: So, once again, he worked at Dobson Mills but then, did he switch to Powers & Weightman or stay with Dobson Mills?
JR: I don’t know about Powers & Weightman.
WM: Before we go into specifics, do you have any special memories of growing up here? When you think of your youth here, what stands out for you?
JR: Well, just the people who lived around there. They had little stores and things, you know.
WM: What was St. Bridget like when you went there?
JR: The school you mean? It was nice.
WM: Was that on Stanton Street then?
JR: Yes, it was Stanton Street. The church was on Stanton Street.
WM: You remember the old church?
JR: Yes, I do.
WM: And the school building, what was that like?
JR: That was nice. We had nuns, of course, teaching us.
WM: What subjects were you taught?
WM: Anything special? Art? Music?
JR: Oh well, they had all that but I didn’t go in for that. Music I did. I played the violin. I learned that there.
WM: Did you go home for lunch?
JR: Yes, we did. We didn’t take our lunch or eat it there.
WM: Did they have recess? What did you do?
JR: Yes. You just, with your own little friends, same class or whatever.
WM: Who were your friends?
JR: Oh gosh, Helen Burke, Mary Burke, Veronica McCoy. You know, you forget.
WM: Do you remember any games you played on the playground?
JR: No, I don’t think we bothered that much with that.
WM: Did you play jump rope? Hopscotch?
JR: Oh yeah, we did all that.
WM: Did you ever put on any school plays? Were you ever in a production?
JR: We had a few plays but I can’t remember them now.
WM: And when did you get your report cards? Just once a year?
JR: No, once a month
WM: How did you do on your report cards?
WM: Did you have a favorite subject?
JR: When I first went there – came here and went to St. Bridget’s, of course, they used to – the nun would have me come up and talk in front of the class just because of my brough that I had at that time. I did it a few times and then I got fed up with it and I told her they made a fool out of you, you know what I mean. The kids would laugh of course, and, you know, so then I stopped that. I wouldn’t do it.
WM: Did you play with children from other schools? What other schools were here back then?
JR: Mifflin. They were like away from us. You know, we weren’t that close that we played with them, or we didn’t live real close or, you know.
WM: Do you remember Breck School or Forest School?
JR:I rememberBreck. I remember it, of course.
WM: Did you ever see it?
WM: What did that look like?
JR: It was nice. All the schools were nice. Mifflin, where it is now, that was a Kelly house.
WM: Yes, that’s right. Yes, P.H. Kelly.
JR: Yeah. And, of course, they knocked it down, of course, and built the Mifflin School.
WM: Do you remember when that happened?
JR: Yeah, I think I remember it.
WM: Did you go to the library growing up?
JR: Yes. Well, all I know is that we went in and we got the books or whatever we had to have or look for.
WM: Do you remember any of the staff there?
WM: That’s ok. Did you get books for school or just ones to enjoy after school?
WM: Did they have a security guard?
JR: No, I don’t think so.
WM: Where did your family shop when you were growing up? Where would you go for clothes?
JR: In town, to Franklin Cedars.
WM: Germantown or downtown?
WM: Where was Frank & Cedars?
JR: Market Street. We went to all of them – Wanamakers, Gimbels.
WM: How did you get downtown?
WM: Right from East Falls?
JR: Yes. We could get the train there or we could get on the trolley on Ridge Avenue there and go down.
WM: All the way into town. What was the trolley number? 23?
JR: Would it be 61?
WM: Where would you go for a hardware store?
JR: Midvale Avenue. Ridge & Midvale.
WM: Did you ever go into Germantown for shopping?
JR: Yes, we went to Germantown. We used to take the kids there.
WM: And where did you buy your food?
JR: Well, Acme or one of the markets.
WM: Was there an Acme in East Falls?
JR: Yes, there was one at Bowman & Conrad. Right on the corner. As a matter of fact my brother worked there.
WM: When you first came here, what were the roads like? Were they paved?
JR: Yes. Well they had those big blocks, you know.
WM: Which ones had the blocks?
JR: Well, most of them, really, until later and then they all got the blacktop.
WM: Do you remember how old you were when that happened, by any chance?
JR: I forget.
WM: Were there any special people you remember who contributed to life in East Falls, like the Kelly’s or the Dobson’s, or any other prominent people?
JR: Just the people who lived there on the Ridge. Across from the mill there was a lady, well it was Helen Burke’s grandmother. She used to cook for the men that worked there. They’d eat their lunch there. She’d make soup or something, and her name was Iglo.
WM: How would you spell that?
JR: I-G_L-O, I guess.
WM: She helped the workmen there?
JR:She got paid for it, of course, you know. They went there and ate their lunch. But we used to help her once in a while, cutting up the vegetables when she was making soup.
WM: How old were you when you were doing that?
JR: 12 or 13.
WM: Did you ever meet any of the Kelly family?
JR: Yes, we met them at church or different places.
WM: Do you remember any specifically that you met?
JR: John B. Kelly. We’d meet him at mass, of course, and his wife and daughters.
WM: When you were growing up, what did you do for fun?
JR: We went down to the park. Along the river there. They had the Bathey.
WM: I’ve heard about the Bathey. Tell me a little about that.
JR: Well, it was covered. It was a covered Bathey.
WM: There was a pool inside?
JR: Yes. There was a man who opened it in the morning for you to go in. We would have to – they only had 10 places to change, you know – so you wanted to get one of those to change into your bathing suit – so we would be there 6 o’clock in the morning, outside the Bathey.
WM: You’d get there early…
JR: To make sure we got a locker. Because we’d be embarrassed, I guess.
They had a lady who taught us how to swim.
WM: Do you remember her name?
JR: No, gosh.
WM: Were there certain days just for girls?
JR: Yes and certain ones for boys. And then, of course, they built the new one, you know. But that was nice, that Bathey there.
WM: Where exactly was it located?
JR: Right in back of there where the other one is now.
WM: On Ferry Road?
JR: Ferry and Ridge.
WM: Did you have to pay to go in?
WM: Was it run by the city?
WM: What else did you do for fun? Did you go to the river?
JR: We played around. We carried on, I guess.
WM: Go fishing?
WM: Ice skating?
JR: Ice skating, we went in Gustine Lake. We went swimming there too.
WM: Did you swim in the river?
JR: I swan in the river, yes.
WM: Did you! In The Schuylkill River? Here in East Falls?
JR: No, not in East Falls, up by the Canoe Club. Up there. We went there and swam out to the rock out there.
WM: What was that like?
JR: Well it was just – you thought you were real smart, you know. (laughs)
WM: Was the water clean?
JR: Well it wasn’t bad.
WM: Was there much of a current?
JR: Yeah, There was plenty of current. We really shouldn’t have been there. WM: Did your mother and father know?
JR: No, they didn’t know.
WM: Was anyone ever hurt or injured?
JR: No, they had a guard who said, no, you can’t go in but we would get in anyway. We used Gustine Lake. Of course, that was easy.
WM: Can you describe that?
JR: A little bit. It’s right in the park. It was really big. They had a real deep part and a lower part. I’d have the kids with me and you’d have to watch them.
WM: Was that a man-made lake?
WM: Would you go skating there as well?
JR: Yes in the winter months.
WM: Did you do sledding?
JR: We did that on Bowman.
WM: Let’s talk a little about – how did you meet your husband?
JR: How did I meet him I met? I met him on Midvale Avenue.
WM: How so?
JR: A friend of mine, a girlfriend, she’s the one who know him.
WM: What was his name?
JR: Frank Rowland.
WM: Was he your age?
JR: He was 7 years older than me.
WM: And what year were you married?
JR: I’m trying to think….
WM: How old were you when you got married?
WM: Any children?
WM: He was 39?
WM: What attracted you to Frank?
JR: I really don’t know
WM: Did he grow up in East Falls?
JR: He was from Connecticut originally.
WM: How long did you know him before you got married?
JR: Oh I knew him a long time. He lived with the Welsh’s who had a bar there. We would see them, different ones.
WM: What was the name of the bar?
WM: Where would you go on dates growing up?
JR: Well, you didn’t have anything money-wise, you know, so you went for walks.
WM: And where would be a place you would walk to?
JR: Up to the Wissahickon. Back the creek.
WM: Did you ever go to the movies?
JR: Oh, well, sure. We went to the Roxy, and we had a movie of our own on Midvale Avenue.
WM: Where was the Roxy?
JR: On the Ridge up there.
WM: The one in East Falls…Apparently there were two, I understand…
JR: Well one is still there at Frederick and Midvale.
WM: The rounded building. What was that one called?
JR: East Falls, I guess
WM: And the one further up?
JR: What was his name? Lois, you must remember that…
LC: The Alden Theatre.
JR: Yes, that’s it.
WM: Which one did you go to?
WM: Do you remember any movies that played here?
JR: No, I don’t.
WM: Was there a place you’d go afterwards for ice cream or something?
JR: There was a drugstore on the corner.
WM: What was the name of the drugstore?
JR: I don’t remember that.
WM: And where else would people go when they were courting?
JR: As I say, they’d go for walks; the park.
WM: Were you married at St. Bridget Church?
WM: When you were first married, where did you live?
JR: At my sister’s house on Henry Avenue.
WM: What did Frank do for as living?
JR: He worked in different places.
WM: Did he have a store?
JR: We got a store afterwards.
WM: Do you remember what he did before the store?
JR: He worked in the mills and different places.
WM: Did you work as well?
JR: Did I work before the store? Yes, I always worked. I worked for an insurance company for 18 ½ yrs.
WM: What company was that?
JR: Home Life Insurance of America.
WM: And where was that located?
JR: In town, but we had offices all different places.
WM: What did you do for them?
JR: I ran the entire office.
WM: Office manager…
JR: Yes. They had about 20 -30 men there. You had to take care of them for their work.
WM: Did you enjoy that?
WM: And how did you happen to get a store? Tell me how the store came about?
JR: I’ll tell you how that came about. Lois’ mom bought it for her husband but he didn’t like it and then Frank said, “Well I’ll take it.” So…
WM: Where was the store located?
JR: Indian queen Lane and Conrad.
WM: Right on the corner?
WM: Do you remember what the store was before it was you store?
JR: It was a little grocery store, but Frank put meat and everything in it.
WM: What was the name of your store?
LC: It was Rowland’s Market.
WM: How many years was Rowland’s Market there? When did you think you started the store?
JR: Oh gosh.
WM: You were married at age 32 and at about what age did you have the store?
JR: I don’t know, but we had it a long time.
LC: It was the early 1950’s. 1953?
WM: When it opened?
LC: When they took it over.
WM: So it was a store before?
JR: It was a grocery store but they didn’t sell fresh meats. We carried everything.
WM: Tell me about the meats. Did you sell live chickens? Was the meat packaged?
JR: No, we had to order the big steak or beef or chops.
WM: Where did you order it from?
JR: What was the name of that big beef company?
WM: Did you sell chickens as well?
JR: No, there were certain things I wouldn’t tolerate, you know.
WM: Did they deliver them to you, as far as you remember? Was the supplier downtown that you got it from? The meat, the chickens?
JR: No, the chickens were from the country.
WM: What were some of the special items that people would buy?
JR: Well, milk, eggs, lunch meats, fresh meats, ice cream.
WM: Was the ice cream the way it is now, in cartons?
WM: Did you advertise?
JR: No I don’t think so. You could see the store.
WM: Did people come to the store from other neighborhoods or was it mostly local?
JR: Well, different ones. Depending. Our own relatives…
WM: Did you know most of your customers?
WM: Did they call up and place their orders?
JR: Some of them did that. Some of them came.
WM: What were the shopping habits like? Did they shop for the week? Come in every day?
JR: It would be, half and half, you know.
WM: Did you ever have things like coupons?
JR: Yes, we had coupons.
WM: Were they in the local paper?
JR: Some of them were.
WM: What was the name of the local paper?
JR: I’m trying to think of the name of it.
WM: Not the Weekly Forecast? The Suburban Press? Germantown Courier?
JR: Yes, we got that.
WM: Did you have any competitors?
JR: No not really.
WM: Can you think of other stores that were on your street? I’m thinking about Conrad. Can you take us down one side of the street and up another and tell us what stores were there?
JR: Well, there was Clayton’s Market.
WM: What did they sell?
JR: Same as us.
WM: What year are we talking about?
JR: I don’t remember. And then there was one that sold just meats. Stubblebines, yeah, and there was another. And there was a hardware, a bakery.
WM: Do you remember the names of any of them? Who owned them?
JR:I don’t remember them.
WM: Any clothing stores?
JR:No, we didn’t have any clothing stores along there, anyway.
WM: Can you think of any other stores on the street? Doctor’s offices?
JR: They were all on Indian Queen Lane, I think, the doctors. Well, of course, Dr. Kent was on…He was there forever.
WM: What kind of doctor was he?
JR: He was an osteopath, but he was good.
WM: Did he make house calls?
WM: Was there a business community? An organization that everyone belonged to?
JR: Well, I guess there – they probably had something. I’m trying to think.
WM: You don’t remember belonging to…?
WM: Did you have a local government? Now they have the East Falls Community Council – did they have any local government or civic organization?
JR: Not that I know of. Got the Fallser.
WM: Thinking back, were you here during prohibition?
JR: When there was no booze? Well they had, what do you call them?
You could go to some house and pick it up there.
LC: Like a speakeasy?
JR: No, not really. It was like, they would just…
WM: You just knew which houses to go to, to buy liquor.
JR: Yeah, right. You knew the ones that sold it. You just went. They would even give it to the children who were going for their parents.
WM: What kind of liquor was it? Do you remember?
JR: Just plain old liquor.
WM: Do you remember when prohibition was over? Was there a celebration?
JR: Oh, I guess.
WM: Did you sell liquor in the grocery store?
WM: Where would you buy it after it was legal?
JR: Well, down on the Ridge there they had places where you could pick it up.
WM: What about the Depression in the 1930’s. Were you here then?
WM: What do you remember about those years?
JR: Laughs. Well you know I often say now it was really bad, but we didn’t seem to mind it as much, you know?
WM: Why do you think that was?
JR: I don’t know. I guess we thought, well, you know, you just have to tolerate it.
WM: Do you remember any sacrifices you had to make? Anything that you did without that you wished you had?
JR: Not really. There was a gang of us to begin with, you know. There were 10 of us so we couldn’t have everything, you know, just so or stuff that if we could get it we wouldn’t have the money to get it with.
WM: Did you have any toys?
JR: I didn’t have any toys, but the others did. We always managed to get them something. My brother worked in the Acme and he bought them ice skates for Christmas.
WM: Did you have a doll?
JR: I guess we did.
WM: Do you remember eating any differently during the Depression years?
JR: You had to eat what you liked – whatever was around that was. You ate the same really except you weren’t supposed to.
WM: Moving a little forward, what about World War II? What impact did that have on East Falls and your life? Do you remember anything from those war years?
JR: Just for the ones that were going; you felt bad.
WM: Did they do anything special to send off the soldiers?
JR: They would have a little gathering. They weren’t so crazy about having anything, I don’t think, for the war, but you know.
WM: Did you do anything here on the homefront for the soldiers? Do you remember knitting?
JR: I don’t remember. We probably did.
WM: What about holidays? Can you tell us a little bit about some of your traditions or those of the neighborhood or your family? Like what about Christmas – what would happen at your house at Christmas?
JR: Everything. We would have toys or whatever we could get for them. We always had a tree.
WM: Where did you get the tree? Was it a live tree?
JR: Yeah, in the neighborhood.
WM: Would you chop down your own tree?
JR: No, they were selling them. You could buy them then for 50 cents. Now you have to pay $50, right!
WM: Did you go to church on Christmas Eve?
JR: Oh yeah, we always made mass. We never missed mass,
WM: Was that late at night?
JR: Well, in the morning and then, well, now they have them later, 4 o’clock, 8…
WM: Did you have a special dinner on Christmas? Did your family ever go anywhere at Christmas?
JR: Not really. There were enough of us without even bothering.
WM: You had other relatives…
JR: We were all together, you know.
WM: What about Easter?
JR: We would have to get our outfits, of course, in town, like I said, you know. Wanamaker’s, and all those different places. Lit Brothers, Strawbridge.
WM: Did you have Easter baskets?
JR: Yeah, candy and hard boiled eggs. We had everything.
WM: Did you go somewhere to parade in your outfits?
JR: Down the park. (Laughs)
WM: Where exactly in the park would you go?
JR: Right down where we lived in East Falls.
WM: Along the river?
WM: And what about 4th of July?
JR: Well, they had in the park – the school would have something – they would give you coupons you could use to buy stuff. You just give them the coupons.
WM: What kinds of things could you buy?
JR: Something to eat, something to drink.
WM: Was that in McMichael Park?
WM: Would the whole neighborhood go to McMichael Park?
JR: Well, they could but it would be like, say, St. Bridget’s having theirs, but then someone else would come and take a part of it.
WM: They’d have a picnic up there?
WM: Was there a parade?
JR: Yes, they used to have a parade. The younger ones would be going….
WM: Were you ever in the parade?
JR: I guess I was. I don’t remember that. (laughs)
WM: Did they have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts?
WM: Were you in Scouting?
WM: What do you remember about different seasons of the year? Did you rake leaves in the fall? Any special traditions with the seasons?
JR: Well, not that I – I guess maybe we did.
WM: Your summers were spent at the Bathey and the river? Did you go to the shore?
JR:We went to the shore for maybe a couple of days. My mother used to take us.
WM: Do you remember where at the shore you would go?
JR: Atlantic City, I guess it was, or Wildwood.
LC: You would go to Woodside Park too.
WM: Can you describe that?
JR:Well that was quite a walk from East Falls Bridge. It was nice. They had everything. They had all kinds of amusements. They had a swimming pool there that we used to swim in. You had to pay, of course, to go there.
WM: I understand the merry-go-round is now in the new Please Touch Museum. Do you remember the merry-go-round?
JR: Yes, uh huh.
WM: Are there any special events – you’ve lived here a long time – anything that you remember happening in East Falls that was special to you, or a big event for the neighborhood?
JR: Not that I – I guess there’s a lot of things I could say.
WM: Were you involved at all in any sports?
JR: Well, I can’t think.
LC: Frank played football?
JR: Oh yeah. He was a quarterback in the East Falls Wildcats. That was a football team that we had here. I think they’re all dead now. I must have a picture somewhere – the East Falls Wildcats- and he was the quarterback in that picture there, you know.
WM: I have a special interest in nature. And I just wonder if you remember in all your years here anything about wildlife or flowers or nature.
JR: I’m trying to think.
WM: Did you ever go up to the reservoir?
JR: Oh, yes.
WM: What would make you go there?
JR: Just to be newsy, I guess, or fresh or something.
WM: What did you do there?
JR: We just looked at the water. You might see some people there with bikes or a car. They didn’t appreciate your being there.
WM: You could see the skyline of downtown Philadelphia from there?
WM: What do you remember about the transportation here? Tell me about the trolley and when that stopped.
JR: They still have trolleys don’t they? In Germantown? Didn’t they just put one there; trolley tracks? In Germantown.
WM: And you remember the tracks that went down Midvale?
WM: And where did that trolley go to?
JR: Just down Midvale. That’s where they went. Then into Germantown
That’s what I used to take to go to my job with the insurance company, on Germantown Avenue.
WM: Can you comment on what you like about East Falls?
JR:Well, the only thing that I didn’t like was when I first came here, of course. You know, which was natural I guess, like everything else it grows on you, you know.
WM: Do you think it’s a unique place? Anything special about it that youlike?
JR: Well, it’s nice, I think. I don’t think it’s as nice now as it was then. I don’t like what’s going on in the town. You know, different things, different people, they carry guns, drugs.
WM: Did you feel very safe her growing up?
JR: Yes, yes.
WM: Was there a local policemen, do you remember?
JR: Oh we used to – I did know their names, now I forget them, see.
WM: Were they on horses?
JR: No. The one that I remember – he’d be at Ridge and Midvale – in the middle – and he’d be directing traffic more or less. But he was nice. We used to go to Jersey, to a place – we used to summer away. He was a park guard that was there…
WM: Was it Caruso?
JR: No, was it Charlie Phee? Lois?
LC: I don’t know.
JR: I think that was his name. But anyway, he would direct them – they’d go down into the park and they’d go down into Jersey that way. And he would just tell them to pick us up – the different ones – so we didn’t have to worry.
WM: I guess you were here when cars became popular. You saw the transition of people beginning to buy cars?
JR: Yeah, that never had any.
WM: Do you remember the people that had the first cars?
JR: No, I don’t.
WM: Do you remember when your family got a car?
JR: Well, my brother had one as soon as possible – not a new one, of course.
WM: Are there any other comments you would like to tell us? Anything to tell future generations about East Falls that you remember?
JR: I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.
WM: Ok, Jean. Well thank you very, very much for all your information.
JR: You’re welcome. You didn’t get much!
WM: We appreciate learning about your life here in East Falls and thank you for your time.