Sixth Street by Ben Freudenreich January 30, 2015
I suppose we have all had the experience of
coming to a familiar corner and finding a pile of rubble where a
building once stood, and we can’t recall what that building
was. If it was a building where we regularly did business or
visited, of course we would know what it was. But if there was
nothing in particular to remember about it, it would be hard to
recall just what that corner used to look like. It can be that
way with larger things. Streets, for example. Certainly,
for those Aspinwall residents who came to town after 1960, there
would be no memory of the Sixth Street that I knew.
Sixth Street doesn’t often appear in the town’s
historical books, except for the fact that it was the uphill border
of the Center Avenue School. That’s understandable.
There were no businesses on Sixth Street. There was nothing
about Sixth Street that people who didn’t live along it would
remember. But Sixth Street was an important artery that
separated the families “on the hill” from those of us on the flood
plain part of town.
Sixth Street extended from Lexington Avenue on
the east to Guyasuta Road on the west. A dirt road extended
from the intersection with Guyasuta into Scouts’ Hollow, the Camp
Guyasuta Boy Scout reservation. In the summer, boys walked
along Sixth Street on their way to the swimming pool on the
Sixth Street also was the route to the outdoor
shooting range that was located a short distance into the hill
behind the Playground. People who wanted to shoot carried
their guns – rifles and pistols – as they walked across Sixth Street
to the firing range. I’m not aware that anyone worried about
the people who were openly carrying their weapons. One kid,
however, did take a shot at me with his B-B gun, hitting me in the
leg. My mother did make an issue of that. B-B guns
posed a danger to people’s eyes.
The range was not supervised. It was just a
flat area up against a cliff that served as the backstop for the
bullets. Based on an early picture, I’ve concluded that the
range was created when the contractor for the Highland Park Bridge
dug away soil rock from the hillside to be used to support a ramp
onto the bridge. We kids used to collect the leftover brass
from the range, stuff the empty shells with the heads of kitchen
matches and then hit the shell with a hammer. Bang! It
made a wonderful loud report.
For the Fourth of July fireworks, the aerials
were launched from the shooting range. Bob McQuaid recalls
that when the Boy Scouts held a meeting in that area following a
fireworks display, one of the boys found an unexploded charge.
Scoutmaster Paul Debrunner took the 3-4 inch high bag of powder and
placed it on a 2X4 that was set in the ground to mark one of the
shooting stations. Then he rigged a fuse and moved the boys
away to a safe distance. He lit the fuse and “kapow!” It left
a 2 -3 inch hole with no wood in it.
Sixth Street marked the uphill edges of the
properties on Fifth Street. The people who lived on Sixth
Street all lived on the uphill side. Between Western Avenue
and Guyasuta Road there were just two large homes, those of the
Schade Family and the Swan Family. The Schades and Swans were
related by marriage and were relatively prosperous. Their
homes were large and their properties covered considerable ground on
the hillside. On the Schade property, there were pear trees.
Schades’ house in 1927. Sixth Street is just in front of
the bushes. Pictured are Gertrude Garrison and her niece
Swans’ House in the snow of 1944. The
corner of the Schades’ house is at the upper right.
For the Fifth Street homes between Western Avenue
and the Aspinwall Playground, Sixth Street provided a place for
garages. Eva Dillon Kunde kept her automobile in this
single-car garage behind her house. The garage floor was at
the same level as Sixth Street. The part under the garage
floor was for storage and was concealed by white wooden
lattice. Over time, the garage began pulling away from the
hillside, and for a while it looked like the garage was going to
Eva Kunde’s Garage before the repair
But Eva had it repaired and it lasted until 1960
when the state began building the Route 28 “Bypass” just above Sixth
Street. The garage for the Robbins family at #27 Fifth Street
was a more substantial building. There was space to park at
the Sixth Street level, but there also was a driveway to garage
space on a lower level.
The Robbins’ Family garage behind #27 Fifth St. The lower
entrance was behind the garbage can.
The school had an entrance from Sixth Street
directly onto the second floor of the building. The Fourth,
Fifth, and Sixth grades had their classrooms on that floor, and at
recess they exited to Sixth Street for 15 minutes of play. The
street was the playground at recess, and it was a place where
children could gather to play and talk before school opened in the
morning and at lunch time.
We walked to the grade school along Sixth Street,
and as we walked we shared stories we had heard on the after-school
radio programs from the night before. Do you remember “Jack
Armstrong, the All-American Boy?” How about “Tennessee Jed” or
“Sky King” or “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” or “Straight Arrow?”
Whatever happened in the 15-minute programs the previous evening was
something to talk about the next day.
Sixth Street is where we kids from Fifth Street
and some from up on the hill played “Release” in the evenings,
hiding in the bushes. Sixth Street was where I learned to ride
a bicycle. I don’t know how many times my grandfather trotted
down Sixth Street holding the bicycle while I learned to balance it.
Looking west on Sixth Street (c. 1950)
toward the Playground. Swans’ house was up the steep hill
And Sixth Street between Western and Center
Avenues was where a couple of mischievous third graders “bombed” the
bird bath of a Fifth Street resident with large rocks they picked up
on the way to school and got summoned to “the office” for a talk
from Dr. Jacques.
(Left) A view of Swans’ house through the
trees in 1958. (Right) The same scene taken two years later when road
construction had claimed the hillside. Sixth Street was just a memory.
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