Aspinwall, Pa
Memories & Photos
contributed by former resident
Ben Freudenreich, [email protected]

December 1944 Snowfall

Recently I came across a couple pictures from December, 1944 when we had a really significant snowfall.  We all remember the big snow of 1950, but the one in 1944 was pretty big, too, as you can see in the picture of Ruth Dodd's car on Fifth Street.  As the picture shows, the snow was still falling on Dec 12 when the picture was taken.

December 12, 1944 / Fifth Street, Aspinwall, PA

This next photo shows the picnic grove that was on the northeast corner of the Playground.  It was taken at the Fifth Street gate looking toward Sixth Street.   That is where young adults taught us little kids how to do things like make Plaster of Paris castings of Disney characters and painting them.  As I recall, the older sister of my classmate Ann Green Miller was one of the adults.


Convenience and Door-to-Door Service

How far do you drive to get to church nowadays? Our church is 4 miles away. Our nearest grocery is over a mile. My doctor is 4 miles away, and Karen’s is 10 miles. We drive everywhere. It is expensive to maintain our two cars and to buy gas for them. And when we drive, we pollute the air we breathe. In the summers, Columbus has days when older people (Who, me?) and people with asthma or other breathing problems are advised to stay indoors. It would be nice if the stores were closer and more people would walk instead of driving.

In the 1950s, our little town of Aspinwall had just about everything we residents needed within walking distance.  Groceries, prescription and over the counter drugs, hardware, doctors and dentists, barbers and hairdressers, automobile dealers and mechanics, radio and TV repair – the list goes on.  Just think about it.  All were right there.  The town was small enough that we could walk to all of these things in just a few minutes.  Well, it might have taken a little longer that that since while we walked, we saw people we knew, and we often stopped to talk to them.

In addition to the local stores, we had vendors who brought their goods and services right into our neighborhoods.  Milk and bread were delivered to our homes, and farmers and hucksters pulled into our streets and sold to us from the back of their trucks.

I won’t try to describe all of the stores we had, but maybe the following will bring back some memories of good things that are long gone by.

Until the 1960s, Aspinwall had several grocery stores and three drug stores.  The bigger groceries were the A&P at Freeport Road and Eastern Avenue, Zuccaro’s Brilliant Market at Brilliant and First Street, and Beck’s/McCafferty’s on Center Avenue.  They were supplemented by several smaller “corner stores” like Don Kahn’s at Center and Fifth, Lee Balsiger’s on Western Avenue, and Fasone’s on Third Street.  Prescription drugs were available at Erwin’s Brilliant Pharmacy, and at Towne Drug and Fehrmann’s on Commercial.  In just a few minutes’ time, we could walk to a store, buy groceries, and walk back home in time to prepare dinner.  We didn’t need to drive.  We didn’t create pollution, and we didn’t have to pay for gas.

With the exception of the A&P store, the store owners/clerks served the customers.  They would ask what we wanted and would get it for us from the shelves.  We also could call ahead, and they would have our orders ready to pick up when we came in.  Some stores, like Beck’s even delivered to our homes.

Fehrmann’s Drug Store featured an old fashioned soda fountain. It was part of Aspinwall for 57 years.  Long after the store quit dispensing prescriptions, Art Fehrmann, son of the man who founded the store, continued the soda fountain business and also did watch repairs.

Art Fehrmann draws a soda at his store
The Herald, Apr 2, 1986

Several vendors came to our homes.  Three dairy companies, Sealtest, Meadow Gold, and Aupke’s, delivered daily and picked up the empty bottles.  At least one bread company came around several times a week. 

There were two hucksters who sold fresh produce from the back of their trucks.  One was the Fasone family. The other was Zuccher from Sharpsburg.  Tony and Jim Zuccher came around twice a week.  Jim was “semi-retired” but still working the job in 1986.

The hucksters and the people with markets had to get up at 3 a.m. and go to the Strip District to get their supplies.  The Strip was an area near the Pennsylvania Railroad station downtown Pittsburgh where the trucks and rail cars carrying farm products came into the city. The Pittsburgh video called “The Strip Show” tells the story.

Jim Zuccher weighs purchase of Janet Rohrer of Aspinwall
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug 23, 1986

Farmer Joseph King also came to town a couple of times a week with chickens, farm-fresh eggs, and produce grown on his farm. The King farm still produces some of the best vegetables and does a brisk business at the Sunday “Flea Market” on Commercial Avenue, but the truck no longer comes to the neighborhoods.

Mr. King and the hucksters would pull onto our street and park their trucks.  Then they would start letting the neighbor women know they were there, and the women would go to the trucks to get the products.  Since they came on regular schedules, we knew when to expect them.

In the 1940s, some people still had “ice boxes,” rather than or in addition to electric refrigerators.  During WWII and for a short time thereafter the “ice man” would deliver big blocks of ice to private homes.  Frank Rak delivered ice and did general hauling, and in the 1940’s before everyone converted natural gas for heat, Frank delivered coal.

Nothing about the coal delivery was automated.  We would order a ton or so, and Frank would back his truck toward the front of our house where there was a window into the coal cellar.  Frank and one or two men with shovels would shovel the coal through the window into our coal cellar, the part of the house foundation under the front porch.  Of course, there was a door between the main part of the basement and the coal cellar.  Further, we put boards across the door opening to hold the coal back from the door itself.  When we had used enough of the coal, we would remove those boards.  Nevertheless, the delivery of coal made a lot of coal dust in our basement.  Also, we had to collect and somehow get rid of the ashes after the coal was burned.  Converting to a gas furnace in the 1950s was a big improvement.

Other vendors, such as the Jewel-T man and the Fuller Brush Man, rounded out the list of door-to-door vendors.  Now and then the “Scissor Grinder” would come to Fifth Street.  He would set up somewhere on the street or sidewalk, and the neighbors would take their scissors and knives
to him for sharpening.  He also would repair umbrellas.

In the 1940s when steel and many other things were in short supply, a man would come around occasionally calling out “Rags -- Old Iron.”  He had a horse and cart and slowly made his way across Sixth Street.  I don’t know if he paid for the rags and iron/steel or whether people just gave them to him.

Alas, the rag man, the hucksters, the milk men, and the bread men are long gone. Zuccaro’s Brilliant Market is the only grocery store still in town.  No vendors come to call, and no grocer delivers. 


(submitted February 5, 2011)

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