The East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: SHIRLEY SHRONK (SS)
Interviewer Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date: July 17, 2013
Place: Conducted at 3304 W. Queen Lane with Shirley and her daughter, Judy.
ES: Shirley and Judy thank you so much for coming today. The East Falls Historical Society is happy to have you here today and appreciates your time. Where were you born in East Falls?
SS: 3530 Sunnyside Avenue.
ES: What do you remember about the area at the time you lived there?
SS: I always called it “United Nations.” There were a number of various nations represented within five houses. The people next door to us were the Mulligans. Straight from Ireland; then my mother and dad, both first born here in the U.S.; Next to them were the Whittakers, from England and the people next door to them were the Stevensons, who came from Scotland. The family next door to them were the Verdones, from Italy.
ES: When were you born and what was you maiden name, Shirley?
SS: I was born in 1926. My maiden name was Warrington.
ES: Tell me about your parents. Where were they from?
SS: I am not sure where my mother was born. My father was born in New York. The Warrington side of the family came over apparently docking in Philadelphia. My grandfather lived on Indian Queen Lane, so we were residents of the Falls for a good number of years. I was born in the front bedroom of 3530 Sunnyside Ave. It was a Monday, wash day. In those days Monday was wash day, Tuesday you ironed and that type of thing. My bed was the wash basket.
ES: Where did you go to school?
SS: I went to the Breck School in the little old stone building for kindergarten and went through 2nd grade. For third grade we went to the brick building,
ES: The stone was the Forrest School and the brick was the Breck School?
SS: Yes, there were big old trees in the play yard and the roots were exposed. There were nice little seats where we would go to sit for recess and a stone bench where we could sit and chat with a friend. There was no water in the stone building. If you wanted to use the bathroom, you had to go to the brick building.
ES: Did you complete 8th grade there?
SS: No, in 5th grade we moved to the Thomas Mifflin School. I was about 11 years old in 1937 when Mifflin was opened. For the 6th grade we moved to Roxborough,
ES: Do you remember opening day at Mifflin? Any teachers?
We walked from Breck to the new school. For teachers, I forget my 5th grade teacher’s name, but can still picture her. She was a beautiful blond woman. The school was so lovely. I remember the contest beforehand to select the school colors. We finally settled on gray and maroon. Does that still hold?
ES: Probably, I have a school flag with those colors. Where did your parents shop?
SS: There was an A & P up on Conrad St., which was then 35th St. A butcher stop, Bill Hutchinson was one of the butcher’s there, he was a member of our church. We brought our meats there. My father had a vegetable garden up on Mosey Brown’s property. It was such fun going there. I was the helper. The only way I helped was to stay out of the way. There are so many memories there. There was a big tree with a low branch where we could relax and stay out of the weather. Mother would pack our lunch and we would make a picnic of the day’s work.
Judy: You told me about some of your lunches.
SS: When I would carry my lunches to school, I would have a mustard sandwich, a pickle sandwich, a butter sandwich. I often carried my lunch. My Aunt Lizzie lived on Indian Queen Lane, across the street from the Methodist Church. I would sometimes go have lunch there. The house there was the family homestead. When my grandfather arrived from England he spent his first night in this country in that house. It is the house where he died. The Warrington side was very large. Of course, I grew up knowing the Shronk family.
ES: When did you meet your husband?
I met John Malcolm Shronk after we moved to Roxborough. A friend of mine from junior high had moved to Glenside and she invited me to visit her for a weekend. She set up a blind date for that weekend. I was 13 at the time. I knew Malcolm’s Aunt Ruth and Uncle George Stubblebine, and his uncle Leroy Shronk from church, but had never met his immediate family.
Judy: His side of the family, my grandfather, had moved away to Glenside. That was John Shronk. My grandfather, John Malcolm, Sr. was the son of John Manual, who had the dry goods. John M. Senior lived on Penn St. with his family for five years before moving to Glenside. Uncle Leroy stayed in the family home on Indian Queen Lane. This is why my mother met him later-even though they lived across the street from each other.
ES: So the Shronk house on Indian Queen Lane (3584) was kept in the family even when they moved?
SS: Leroy Shronk lived there.
ES: When your grandfather moved, Leroy stayed, he was an adult.
Judy: Pop-pop was the youngest, he was the baby.
Judy: That (3584) was John Manual’s house. He had 4 or 5 children. One was Aunt Ruth, who married Stubblebine, one was Leroy who kept the house as his own to adulthood, my grandfather was John Malcolm, who moved to the suburbs and there was an Uncle Norman, he moved away. There were three boys and one girl and a couple who had died. The house started as John Manual’s who had the dry goods store. It was down on Ridge Ave. It was near the bridge, where there is a gas station now (Calumet St.)
ES: What did he sell in the Dry Goods Store?
SS: Fabrics, no clothes. That was most popular because these were depression days and everyone made their own clothes.
ES: You met your husband when you were 13?
SS: On a blind date. He was 7 years older than I. It was Leroy who brought us together years later. We had the polite thing following the blind date. The families realized they knew each other. There was a tie there, it wasn’t very strong but it was a tie. His mother and dad knew my parents and brother.
ES: What were the Shronks like?
SS: My in-laws were great. My mother in law was a saint. Her name was Marion. She was from Germantown. They moved out to Hatboro and that is where my husband was born. The family had a hard life. Her father died as a young man. Her brother became the man of the house and gave orders. It was difficult for the mother for a number of years.
ES: Did they continue the business?
Judy: That would have been my grandfather. All of the children went on and did different things. John Malcolm, Jr. was a piano turner. He was taught by a man from Manayunk or Roxborough. Dad was a very popular piano tuner in East Falls.
ES: How did you reconnect after the blind date?
SS: Christmas is coming and Uncle Leroy would chat with me at church and said it would be nice if you send Malcolm a Christmas card. Malcolm was stationed in Cape May, he was in the Navy. It was a month or two before the war. He responded and this is what happens.
ES: When were you married?
SS: We were married on February 16, 1946 at the Methodist church. The Falls Methodist United Church. Our first child, Judy, was baptized there.
ES: What do you remember about the church?
SS: The singing. My very first friend was June Drumhiller. We were glued to each other. We would sit in the second row. When Pastor Carter had completed his sermon, he put forth the invitation. I stood up and said to June “Are you going up?” So we both went up and accepted Christ the same day.
The first person to welcome me into the church was Aunt Ruth Stubblebine. Of course, I didn’t call her Aunt Ruth. I was only 11 years old when I accepted Christ. The families were connected.
We lived in Roxborough at first and then moved to Glenside. Judy is my oldest and then Ruth is my youngest.
ES: What do you remember about Indian Queen Lane and Uncle Leroy.
We would come to 3584 Indian Queen Lane and Leroy had such tales to tell. He never particularly liked children until Judy came along. He would get down on the floor and play with her. He was a different person when he was around Judy. He had purchased the house next door to him (3586) and wanted us to move there to be closer to him, so he did have a heart for children.
ES: What do you remember about holidays in East Falls?
I remember particularly the 4th of July. During the years of the war there were four men of the church each came up with an idea. The first year they were dressed as drum majorettes. The baton was a dowel stick with a ball on the end and the wives made them hats with pompoms. East year was a different theme. They would stop the parade at the Warrington house and the men would file out and take the lead of the parade and march to the grounds. We went to the Philadelphia Textile grounds and the mansion off the reservoir, the Dobson estate. I was just talking to my very first best friend the other day about tasting the ham sandwiches and the lemonade after a long march in the parade. The memories were about food and the games, for all ages. We celebrated our freedoms as well as the friendship.
ES: What do you remember about the war?
SS: We were not married but we were engaged in 1944. He served in Cape May for a number of years and his brother, Uncle Leroy served there, too.
ES: I have a picture of Leroy in his navy uniform.
Judy: That was WWI. Uncle Leroy served in WWI.
SS: It was sad, of course, as far as personal life was concerned, my dad had his vegetable garden. When Penn Charter extended onto Mosey Brown’s property, my dad had a plot of ground on the other side of the reservoir, across Henry Ave. from where we were than living on Barclay St. We lived in Roxborough for a couple of years with my grandfather and then moved back to the Falls, on Barclay Street.
ES: Do you know the address?
SS: 3434. I was around 14 and went to Roxborough High School. My dad kept his vegetable plot and sold vegetables to people. We would carry water from Barclay Street to the opposite side of the reservoir to water the plants. Can you imagine how much water was left in the bucket by the time we got there?
ES: Did other people have gardens there or just your father?
SS: Other people did, I’m sure, but who they were I don’t know. Everyone got along in the neighborhood. It was just so nice. The Italian woman down the street taught me to embroider. The Bonnassisi family lived on the corner, the children were all so nice, so friendly. The night that their house burned down, there was panic, pure panic. Mr. Bonnasissi, the father, ran up the street yelling, “Help me save my children.” One of them came to live with us for a while, while the house was being rebuilt.
ES: Which house would that have been?
SS: The corner of Sunnyside and Cresson. Being a child I don’t know what caused the fire.
ES: Were you living on Barclay St. when you got married?
SS: Yes, I was married from there.
ES: What do you remember about prohibition, if anything?
SS: Well, that would have been back when we lived on Sunnyside Ave. I had been sick with the whooping cough. I spent a lot of time in bed sitting by the window. There was a bar near the coal yard. I loved to sit at the window on Saturday night and listen to the music. One of the songs that stays in my mind is “When I grow too old to Dream.” That’s all I remember, the bar, the lights and listening to the music.
ES: What did you do when you were sick? Was there a doctor?
SS: In those days you didn’t go to a doctor. We didn’t have antibiotics. The remedy for an ear infection was to have cigar smoke blown in your ear. I guess it got better on its own.
ES: What do you remember about buildings that were here in East Falls? The library, for instance?
SS: The library was the center of activities. My mother was active in the Mother’s Club group and the meetings were at the library. The mother’s met and the children were upstairs in another room where we were given milk and delicious cookies. I enjoyed the library. We did our research at the library. We went to the card file to find just what book we were looking for and where to find it.
ES: What did you do for fun? Did you sled?
SS: When you mentioned the library, I was thinking there was a hill on the other side of the library and we would sled up there down the big hill. “The Nuts.” It was a mental institution. I had asked about it when we met before. We did a lot of sledding on the front stoop. The 3500 block of Sunnyside was cobblestones. There were very few cars, so we would start up by Conrad and come right down. If you were lucky you could turn the corner at Cresson St. and wind up on the curb by the railroad. My brother would belly flop and our dog, Lobo, would jump on his back – a sight to behold. The dog would pull the sled up the hill and ready for another ride.
ES: Did you ice skate?
SS: When I was older, I would go to Gustine Lake. Before that the yard in our backyard was slanted. My father made skates out of roller skates. He took the wheels off and the blades were runners from an old sled. As snow melted and froze I would “skate” there in the yard.
ES: What about swimming?
SS: Swimming was down at the Bathey. It was generally so crowded, you couldn’t do much swimming. There was a deep end and I wasn’t much of a swimmer. You could only stay for one hour and it was a long walk down and back home again. All that walking, you felt like swimming again when we got home.
Judy: As a young girl in the summer, did you play hopscotch and jump rope and that kind of thing?
SS: Yes, we played “jacks” and with dolls and loved sewing new outfits for them. Paper dolls were popular and fun to design clothing for them.
I loved to watch the boys play marbles in the back alley. They had a string for a circle or maybe draw a circle with a string. They would play half ball. There were games on the front street in the summertime. Anyone who wanted could join in – “Red Rover, Kick the Can”-various games, always something going on.
Judy: Was half ball a precursor to Whiffle ball?
SS: It was a half ball, 3” in diameter, it was cut in half after it split. You didn’t cut a good ball.
ES: Is there anything you would like to add to our interview? You have given us so much information.
SS: I like to collect kitchen antiques. So many of them bring back memories. The man who made snow cones had a large block of ice in the wagon, and bottles of syrup. He would scrap the ice and go around the neighborhood selling the snow cones. There was an ice crème wagon. The ice man came through with a horse and wagon, down the cobblestone streets. The huckster would come with his truck. He was there once a week. A man came with a monkey on a leash and an organ grinder. He would play music and the monkey would have a cup to collect pennies as the man played tunes. Another man would sharpen knives. It was a different life. We all got along so well together. It was a joy.
ES: Thank you so much Shirley and Judy for a wonderful interview.
Judy: Uncle Leroy’s brother, John Malcolm, Senior, as a young boy, about 10 or so was playing with a friend. It was the Hohenadel boy. His mother didn’t like this boy very much and had always told my grandfather not to play with him. Of course, my grandfather was playing with him one time and the Hohenadel boy had a gun that was loaded. The gun went off and hit my grandfather in the head, on his forehead above his nose. He somehow got home and said, “Don’t tell my mother who I was with.” He went to the hospital.
They could never remove the bullet without doing brain damage in those days, which was back in 1905. He never had any scar, but you could watch his pulse beating at this hole, which was there his whole life. In spite of this injury, he lived a long life to be 85, but he could never get life insurance. He saved his money.
ES: What happened to the Hohenadel boy? Did they press charges?
SS: No, it was an accident.
The Shronk family is one of the oldest in East Falls. Godfrey Schronk was an early resident of East Falls. He had a fishing business near the Falls Bridge in the 1700’s. His son, Robert Roberts Schronk, was a reporter during the 1800’s and a source of information for A. J. Chadwick’s papers in the 1930’s.