Memories: An Eastside Hill Family
by Jennifer Napp
The rushing of the river… the hum of Uniroyal, kids laughing and playing in Boyd park, and the train whistling in the distance … these are the sounds I hear when I close my eyes on the East Hill.
These sounds bring back many memories of my childhood. My family has been on the East hill since 1930. My great grandfather bought a home on East Grand Avenue that my grandmother, uncle, and mother grew up in. My sister and myself also spent many years in the family home, overlooking the south bank of the Eau Claire river, before my grandfather sold it in 1985.
My grandfather met my grandmother around 1943 at Lee’s grocery (store kitty corner from the current “Speed of Sound” aka: Falstad’s Grocery) on Main and Talmadge. His family lived on Main Street since the early 1900’s also.
I asked some of my family on their memories about growing up on Grand Ave. Here are their stories.
My uncle remembers as a young boy growing up in the 50s and 60s that the East side hill was packed with working families, most of them tire plant workers. And that there were LOTS of kids.
He said that when the milk man came on a hot summer he and his friends would run along the truck and holler “Ice!” at the driver, and if they were lucky, he would stop and break a block of ice in the street, and pass out napkins to the kids. Then they would sit on the curb sucking on a hunk of ice and feeling like a million.
My uncle reminisces: “At Falstads you could walk in the back door and they would open the big walk in cooler for you. You could go inside and grab a bottle of pop, open it on the opener conveniently located about 2 feet from the floor on the inside and drink it in the cool confines of the walk-in cooler. If you were lucky Old man Falstad would open the door and pass out cold wieners to the kids. That was about as good as it could get in the summer.”
“Our time was spent at Boyd Park making bracelets or playing ball in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Riding bikes or playing “Kick the can” with 20 other kids. Building forts, push carts or just watching the stars. Leaning against a tree in the shade reading comics or playing ‘Mumblety Peg’ with your buddies.”
My mother remembers riding her tricycle with her grandfather around Forest Hill cemetery. Or walking downtown to Woolworth’s with her grandfather, and walking to Sears to get her brand new blue Huffy bike. Then the family would have supper and walk to Boyd Park to play. She played marbles at Boyd School with her friends, worked in the lunchroom, and listened while Miss. Peterson read “The Secret Garden” to the class.
She reminisces “On Monday in the winter time, you couldn’t see in the windows because mother used to wash clothes and she would put the on the oil burner to dry and then onto the drying rack.”
She remembers waking up on night and the whole house was lit up: it was the White Machine company on fire directly across the river.
My sister and I remember the 1970s as walking with my grandmother to meet my grandfather after work at Uniroyal. It was so much fun to cross the cable footbridge with all the workers – you could almost bounce all the way to the other side as the workers weary footstep set up waves on the deck.
Grandma would take my sister or I on a walk to Falstad’s for groceries, or get penny candy or ice cream at Timm’s Dairy (corner of Margaret and Hogeboom Ave.) or even for fresh French cruller doughnuts at Hoepners Bakery (by Boyd park). Our three generations went to school at Boyd. And also spent many happy days at Boyd park making plastic and leather bracelets and ice skating at the rink.
I also spent winter days sledding on the hill at my grandparent’s house. It was a great hill: A fast steep drop from Grand Avenue through the back yard, ending at a fence that prevented you (hopefully!) from a 40 foot plunge into the river In the summer they would have a little ‘fair’ at Boyd park where you could win soda and candy. I was pretty good at getting the ring around the soda bottle! Of course under the footbridge there were trails and many fun adventures to take.
At night on East Grand Ave, I would look across the river and see Uniroyal all lit up with lights, and see the steam billowing out of the stacks, then my grandmother would tuck me in my bed and open the window and I would fall asleep to the hum of Uniroyal.
My husband an I now live on Lyndale Ave. and in the summer, when the windows are open I can still hear the faint sound of Banbury humming. It is not nearly as loud as it once was, but it takes me back to a time when I had pigtails and not a care in the world.