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Aspinwall’s 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 reservation.

    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 Ann Garrigan.

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 collapse.

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. 

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(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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