Interview: June 17, 1981 Interviewers: Cherie Snyder (CS) and Ruth Emmert (RE) Interviewees: Grace Davis (GD) and Hazel Stamm (HS) Transcribed by: Frank Baseman, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Philadelphia University, as part of the Day of Service 2009. Samantha Kibler, Graphic Design Student at Philadelphia, as part of SERVE-101 (Spring 2011). Total Time: 1:03:22 (one hour, 3 minutes, 22 seconds)
Memories of two sisters growing up in East Falls, including their recollections of Dobson Mills.
CS: Okay, we’ll just start out with, um I’ll ask you your names.
GD: Well, I’m Grace Davies
HS: Hazel Stamm.
CS: And how old are you?
GD: Wanna know? 80 (heh, heh, heh).
CS: 85. And, have you, um, how many years have you lived in the Falls?
HS: All our life. Well, I was out about 17 years and I lived in West Mt. Airy, but outside of that we were born and raised here.
CS: Uh huh. In this, in this particular house?
GD: No, I was born around on Krail Street.
HS: And I was born on Hayward Street.
CS: And then when did you move to this house?
HS: 1941, in this house, we moved.
Int. And what’s the address of this house?
HS: We have it 3550 but the deed is 3548.
CS: And why’s that?
GD: Well, because this house next door is 3552 and it seems so silly…
HS: And that’s 44…
GD: And if that was 52 why would we be 48? It’s silly.
HS: And the Old Academy address is wrong too. Why didn’t they just put any number they wanted in those days.
GD: Well, no years ago, here I go. (heh, heh). Years ago when I was a little kid they started the numbers from Ridge Avenue and went down, see. Now, when we lived down next to, uh, Grills. We lived between Grills and Dr. Reyes, our number was 183. Now that house today is 3570. See. They’ve uh, since they changed the numbers they’ve got them all, you know, mixed up.
HS: And they’ve got the post office that way.
GD: Oh, it was 3550 the post office.
HS: Everything is 3550 outside of the deed on the house (laughter).
CS: Were your parents from the Falls?
GD: No, my parents were born up, uh, in Schuylkill County.
GD: But my…
CS: When did they move…to Philadelphia?
GD: Well, did Grandma move down here before Momma and them or what?
HS: Yes, well yes, I guess she did.
GD: Our Grandmother moved down here first, I guess. And then later on, my father and mother moved down here.
CS: Any idea about just approximately what year they moved?
HS: Well, I was born here in 1896. So they were here (laughter).
GD: Yeah, before that, before that they had lived up in New Ringle up in Schuylkill County.
HS: I don’t know how long they lived here before I was born; I don’t know.
CS: What…Do you know what brought them to Philadelphia?
GD: I wouldn’t know. I have no idea.
HS: I guess work maybe.
CS: It seems like, in talking to some other people in the group that there’s been people come from Hazelton…up in that area, Schuylkill County, coming down here and I just wondered whether there was any particular…
GD: No I don’t, uh…
CS: It probably was work …
HS: It was work.
GD: I guess it was work. Then Uncle Lou he came down to go to college down here to be a pharmacist.
HS: Some people like to move to a big city.
CS: Uh, huh.
HS: They think they’ll like it.…
GD: Well I guess they had to exist. For the…for work and everything, you know.
HS: Student nurses. Going into nursing in a big city rather than their hometown.
GD: See, in this house, uh, the people that lived in it…I was thinking back the other day, trying to get the connection, um.
HS: Mary and Kate were cousins to Momma. Their both names were Sauber.
GD: Sauber. Well, then there was the Potter. He lived here…
HS: Well, that was a Sauber. Kate and Mary was a Sauber (laughter).
GD: And then there was, uh, Boothroy. One of the wives must have been a, maiden name must have been Boothroy. I remember that very plain.
HS: She didn’t live here. No Boothroy ever lived here.
GD: Well, she must have been visiting because I remember (laughter).
CS: Do you know what work your parents took up when they came to Philadelphia? Where they worked?
HS: He ran a trolley car. (unintelligible) Horse-driven trolley car.
CS: For most of his working time?
HS: I don’t- well, he didn’t live too long. He died at the age of 36.
GD: He was only like 36 years old when he died.
CS: What did he die of?
GD: Typhoid fever.
HS: Was it Typhoid fever?
GD: Typhoid… an abscess had formed on his throat. They didn’t know much about those things then, you know.
CS: Did your Mother, did your Mother work?
GD: No, no, she worked to keep us (ha, ha); I mean home, you know, at home. No, she didn’t go…There was no welfare or nothing then you know, no Mothers’ assistance.
CS: Um, hum. How, did you have any brothers or sisters?
GD: Yep, I had two brothers.
CS: Um, hum.
GD: Of course…
CS: That’s right (laughter)
GD: Yeah, Lloyd and Carl.
CS: Uh-huh, Older brothers? Or younger?
GD: Older, older.
CS: Are they still alive?
CS: And they grew up in Philadelphia, too, or did they leave the area later on?
GD: Well, my older brother he left and went to Reading and lived in Reading. But Lloyd still lived here. Lloyd’s been dead how many years? Twenty?
HS: Sixteen. Sixteen in, in August.
GD: Yeah, he sang in the Falls Male Chorus…
CS: Oh, really?
GD: You know the Falls Male Chorus.
CS: Oh really?
GD: You remember that. Gladys’ father…
HS: Oh, yeah, Mr. Smith. Sure, uh huh.
GD: I don’t know when Dykes moved into this house next door to us. See, next door to us here was the undertaker, lived in here. (coughing) Those were the days when they had the horse-driven, like the cabs, you know, like. You know the funny cabs…
HS: Where’s the cat? He’s comin’ in…He’s no…I don’t know.
CS: Kitty kitty, kitty, kitty
HS: Oh lick ‘em…
CS: Yeah, what was the name of that undertaker you told me on the…
GD: Dykes. D…Y…
CS: Oh, I didn’t know the Dykes were undertakers.
HS: Charlie Dykes?
GD: Charlie Dykes? Oh, sure.
HS: Carters (?) were related to them. He was their Turner’s Uncle.
GD: He married…His wife’s maiden name is Turner. Dykes’s.
HS: No, her name was Sauber. (cat meowing) Jenny Sauber. (laughter)
CS: See, Turner…Turners were the Protestants’ funeral director in the Falls. And McIlvaines were the Catholics’. And it usually was that way.
GD: And her father…her father was a…
CS: But, before that I never knew about these other undertakers.
GD: Oh, yeah. I’m used to…you know…nothing…they were going to a funeral, but they were maybe going to, not people in it, they’d run behind it, it would be like the mermaids. Be real big and fat and go back and be real skinny.
HS: Remember how we used to run behind them? (laughter)
CS: Run behind the…
GD: Behind the cabs. Well it wouldn’t be a funeral, wouldn’t be in it, maybe it was going to go to a funeral, you know, or he was coming home or something, you know. And…oh that’s right she was a Sauber and her father was Squires (sp?), was a Squires (sp?). But that’s all written down, I told you we had…she wanted to join The Daughters of the Revolution. And she had this, I don’t know who she had look all this up. In fact we have a thing here someplace.
HS: It’s up in my room.
GD: I have a couple, I found this one out there in the dining room too.
GD: I think our relatives built the first… brick house in Germantown.
CS: Oh really? And who or what family was that?
GD: And the same with, one was a blacksmith down here in the ridge, or something.
HS: They made that iron stool.
CS: I touched that when I reached down and I went “Man…”, and I said, I was going to say, “That is marvelous.” And he made that, the blacksmith made it?
HS: Uh huh.
CS: What was his name?
HS: Sauber, I think his name was William.
CS: How do you spell it?
HS & GD: S-O…
HS: (laugher) Go ahead.
CS: Sorber, oh.
HS & GD: Uh huh.
CS: Did either of you marry?
GD: I did.
HS: I didn’t.
CS: Did you have any children?
GD: A boy, that’s my son out there (laughter), a daughter and my son has one daughter and my daughter has 3 sons. And I’m a great-grandmom. (laughter) Yeah.
CS: That’s all, you know, in terms of family questions that I wanted to ask, so. Okay well, we were interested in the, when the Old Academy building, which is next door the one to here, had a library in it.
CS: We know that the Old Academy had, every church started there and we know that…
GD: And the YWCA started there.
CS: Oh, the YWCA started there?
GD: For a while, started there then after that, wasn’t there for too awful long…
CS: And when was that, approximately? If you have any…
GD: Let me see, about 1907, 1908 I guess. I was born 1901 and I was just a little bit of a thing at the end of the line, along with the rest of them, so it would have to have been.
CS: What did they do there? The YMCA?
GD: Well just exercises and things, they didn’t have any…the, the bars or rings or nothing like that, you know?
CS: Uh huh, wow, never knew that.
GD: And afterwards they built a YWCA down the corner of Ridge Avenue and Ferry Road. (train passing) (9:35) And there we used to play basketball and they have gym and they had, oh, they used to teach millinery and sewing and all different things down there.
CS: About how many years do you think, that they were, that the Y was there?
GD: How long was it there? It wasn’t there too awful long, was it Hazel? I don’t, The Christian Association didn’t stay there too long; I don’t know what happened.
HS: I have no idea how long it stayed. I knew I played basketball down there.
CS: (laughter) Was it after the library moved or was it before the library came there?
GD: That the YW was built?
HS: Oh, before.
CS: No, No, No, that they had occupied the Old Academy building or…
HS: Oh! That was before, yeah the library, the library was still there I guess. The library was there when the church services were there.
GD: Oh, sure.
CS: What floor was the library on?
CS: Second floor? And then the churches and the Y…?
GD: Well I, I was christened there but I mean I don’t remember anything. I remember back going to Sunday School but so little I couldn’t tell you anything about it, you know?
CS: What was your church?
CS: Lutheran. Oh, Grace Lutheran, no, is it Grace?
HS: No, Redeemer.
CS: Redeemer Lutheran. They’re now at Midvale Avenue and Conrad.
HS: Uh huh.
CS: But… the library was there before 1913, we knew that, but you don’t know how many years it was in there? How far back it went from there?
HS: No, no.
CS: But it did move…
GD: Well it would…
CS: What would be your earliest memory of it in terms of…would it be 1913?
GD: Before that.
CS: 1913 is the cornerstone, the date on the cornerstone of the new library on Midvale Avenue.
HS: I don’t even know when our church was built.
CS: Do you remember what age you were when you played basketball there?
GD: Oh, around 15…
CS: So that would make it…
GD: …or 18.
CS: You were born what year?
GD: ’96. 
CS: Okay…so that would make it about, that makes it 1909 right? 1911 about then that you might have been…that the, that the library was there then, when you played basketball at the Y?
GD: I don’t, I don’t think it was, Hazel, I don’t think it was there much after 1908 or something, do you?
HS: Well it couldn’t have moved before that one was built?
CS: We know that, but we don’t know is what, how many years, what the years were it was in this building.
HS: Well it was there all the time I, I can remember.
GD: You know it was a library, it was just that the churches had no place else to start, they started there and the same with everything, just started in that building. So…
CS: Oh I see, along with the library.
GD: It must have been the library that was the library to begin with, I guess. Then these other places just were piddlies (?) to start those different things there, see.
CS: The deed says that it was, the land was donated and a building was to be built and to be used as a school to educate children, and that’s what it must have been at first.
HS: I guess maybe it was. Uh huh.
CS: A school. Now I don’t know when, do you remember the school being there?
GD: That was before our time.
CS: Because Mel Hess’s (sp?) father, grandfather was custodian, it think, when it was a school, because they had the big bell that he used to come out and ring to call the children in from recess.
GD: That was before our time.
CS: Was it?
HS: Uh huh.
GD: That was built in 1819 wasn’t it?
CS: Uh huh. Where did, where did the books come from, was it a community library? I mean it wasn’t the city library…
GD: Oh, I wouldn’t know.
CS: …or anything, it was… It says on the board in the library, in the Old Academy…
GD: Well they’d all be city libraries wouldn’t they?
CS: …it says “First Public Library”. Oh, so it would have been.
GD: Yeah, sure.
CS: So I don’t know but you know that they did move from the Old Academy over to the new one when it was built.
HS: I’m sure. Uh huh.
CS: You’re sure of that?
HS: I could be wrong now, but to my knowledge, they did.
CS: Did you ever borrow books from this library?
CS: Or go in and read or…
CS: Never did? Do you remember the librarian?
HS: Oh yes, Ella Boyd.
CS: Ella Boyd. Can you describe her for us?
HS: She had one hand off.
CS: Uh huh. One hand off.
GD: Short, heavy-set, and dark hair, (laughter) I remember that and the one hand, she always wore a black glove.
CS: That’s the one, then, then it must have moved to there because the first librarian on Midvale Avenue wore a black glove all the time.
HS: Yes, she went with them, I know that.
CS: She went with them.
GD: Uh huh.
CS: So there it is, continuous, that proves it! (laughter) That’s what we wanted to find out, if it was continuous from this first public library…
HS: Uh huh.
CS: …of Philadelphia to over there. So it was that proves it. Huh. Well then that’s great. (laughter) Well what was Ella Boyd like?
HS: She was the old-maidish type, kind of, plain person…nice.
CS: How did she run her library? Where there any stories told about her?
GD: It was…when you were angry, you kept quiet, you had enough sense; you didn’t talk. It wasn’t like it is today.
CS: Right. Uh huh.
GD: No way.
CS: Did she live in the Falls?
HS: I think she lived down the lower end, the lower end of the Falls.
HS: Around Allegheny Avenue.
GD: The lower End, the lower end, around Allegheny Avenue.
CS: What did they call that?
GD: We were just talking about the YWCA at the beginning of Ridge Avenue and what, we even forgot it was Ferry Road, it was always known as ”Cockroach Row.”
CS: Oh that’s, that’s the one where I said “Where’s Cockroach Row?” Yes, and somebody told me. Where it was, Allegheny Avenue. What was the name?
GD: No, not Allegheny, right down…
CS: There was another two roads…Bakers Crack….where was, do you know where…
HS: That’s up here.
GD: I’ve never heard of that.
HS: Yeah Division Street, I think.
CS: Yeah that’s what it was. So Bakers Crack was Division Street and Cockroach Row was Ferry.
HS: Uh huh.
GD: Ferry Road? We didn’t – we couldn’t even think of the name, who told us it was Ferry Road?
HS: Who were we talking to about…?
GD: All I knew was Cockroach Row. (laughter) How’d it get Cockroach Row? Because when you went down on the right-hand side there was about oh, 3 or 4 little shacks, you know.
GD: Little ole wooden shacks of some kind. I guess they thought they had cockroaches.
CS: Well who lived down there?
GD: Farmers of some kind, weren’t they, Italians?
HS: I don’t know. There was one that…
GD: They didn’t speak English.
HS: Yes they did…
GD: They did?
HS: Because one of, one of the girls that lived there worked with, in our place.
GD: Oh yes?
HS: Yeah, Yeah, I forget her name. She was, she wasn’t…
CS: Did you work in the Falls?
HS: I worked in Dobsons’.
CS: Uh huh. Oh! Did you? Did you know the Dobson Brothers?
HS: No, no, I knew of them but…
GD: Who, Jim and (unintelligible)…? [John?]
HS: Jim and (unintelligible)… [John?]
CS: Uh huh. What years did you work in the mills?
HS: I worked there…
CS: Or in the office? Or what, did you work in the office or in the mills?
HS: No, in the mill until…. ’29, I guess? Until it closed.
CS: Uh huh. What year did you start? Do you remember?
GD: Well I didn’t work until after I was…
HS: I have no idea what year I started.
CS: Or do you know how about, how many years you worked there?
HS: Well I went there when I was 15.
CS: Uh huh.
HS: And that would have been what, in 1909?
HS: And I worked until ’29 there.
CS: Uh huh.
HS: That would be 20 years.
CS: Uh huh. What kind of…
GD: Until they closed down Tooltops (?), shut down by putting off a lot of people out of work in the Falls.
CS: Oh yeah…
GD: Well that was really a shock.
CS: Uh huh.
GD: Our brothers were both chemists down there. See my mother, as I say, I was only 6 weeks old when my father died. Hazel was 5 years old, Willy was what? About 7 ½, probably about 9 ½ and we all had a public, grade school education. We got our diploma.
CS: Where did you go to school?
GD: Right down, at that time was our School, right at the back alley and right down the school on School Hill, course it isn’t there anymore, and then it was brick, then it was named Breck, Breck School, yeah. And then my brothers started work in the mill, they had to support my mother, she was really worn out from raising us, you know? But they went to Temple and finished their high school education and then, so they worked at Dobsons’ and they were very much interested, my brother worked in the dye house, and they were very much interested in the chemical end of it. And after high school and right on to college, they took up the course there.
CS: But they were working there while they were going…
GD: They were working there, they were going to night school; they were going to night school, Temple College. They both graduated as chemists, and they were still working, they were two of the chemists down at Dobsons’ until they closed.
CS: What kind of work do you do?
HS: I was a weaver.
CS: Uh huh.
HS: Excuse me, I have to see if the back door’s closed tight. Can I pass here? He can put the back door open (unintelligible) I never can’t tell when he’s gonna… (leaving)
CS: When she gets back, we can get back to, I wanted to hear a little bit more about the, the mills.
CS: But the other thing I was interested in, just was how you’ve seen East Falls change, let’s say even in your own street. Umm how things change, since…
GD: Well, the older move out and people take the apartments over and that is the end of it, it is a mess. East Falls was a wonderful place to live in. People who moved away always seemed to come back to it. It was a nice community, very nice, and the fellas used to go down the, they used to hang out at Ridge and Midvale at the, what they called a “Gun Boat”. Did you ever hear of the Gun Boat?
CS: Uh huh. Oh yes!
GD: Well my brothers could tell you about, funniest stories about, you know, down at the Gun Boat. Josie Gallagher, remember Josie? He never, well he was, he was wifty, you know. He used to always wear cigar bands for rings, oh he thought he was wealthy, he didn’t have a dime. (laughter) Oh sure. And they got him all dressed up one time and took his picture. They had it fixed up like Mrs. Altemus and they had the photographers with her, she got the biggest kick out of that. Oh they used to play tricks on him, they used to send him up to the Kettle to get something up in Manayunk, you know. And after he’d leave, they’d call up and say this crazy guy was coming up. Oh they used to do awful things to him.
CS: Was he an old man? Or…
GD: No, he was just around their, he was whipped age, just their age, you know but, oh it’s funny. They used to tell the funniest stories.
CS: How about Blind Bill? Umm…
GD: He is still around.
CS: He’s still around?
GD: I was just surprised, I just saw him the other day.
CS: He’s a Falls character.
HS: (returning) I guess I’ll go this way.
CS: Is he really blind?
CS: Woops. That’s okay.
HS: No I won’t, I’ll go this way.
CS: No step right over it.
HS: No I’ll go this way.
GD: He is, he can just about…
HS: Distinguish the light.
GD: …yeah and there could not be nothing done for him, because he went to the Presbyterian Church, that’s where I went at the time and so did the Dobsons, Altemus. And she had him to different surgeons, and nothing he – his sight couldn’t be restored.
CS: Well who’s he? I’ve…He wanders around the Falls but he’s a…
GD: He kept a nice family, used to live down here on the lane. Nice…
CS: I never heard anything but that his name was “Blind Bill” and he acts as though he knows me when…
GD: McClenigan, Bill McClenigan.
CS: …he talks to himself all the time.
GD: Yeah well, it’s McClenigan…he kept a nice family, but I guess, I don’t know who he lives with now, if they all died or he has a sister still living. But his mother was widowed, she had a hard time raising him too, you know.
CS: Uh huh.
GD: But as I said, Ms. Altemus used to, uh I think kind of help them out.
CS: But is there anything wrong with his mind?
GD: No, no, no.
CS: Just his blindness?
GD: Just his blindness.
CS: ‘Cause I thought there was something wrong with his mind, he talks to himself all the time.
GD: Well I guess he would, if you were like that all your life. (laughter)
CS: To go back to…I’m real interested in when you worked at the, at the Dobson Mills. You said that you were a weaver. You didn’t start out as a weaver…
HS: No, I started out in the velvet-finishing room. And we worked from 6 in the morning ‘til 6, 6 at night wasn’t it? Half an hour for lunch, or three quarters of an hour for lunch. That was about 56 hours a week and I got 4 and a quarter.
CS: Oh! Oh! Your weekly pay?
HS: My weekly pay, for 56 hours.
CS: So how long then did you work…was it velvet?
HS: Then I didn’t work there too long, ‘til they put in…what kind of machines were they? Warping machines and they were big, and the boss wanted me to go there because I was tall. So I went there and got 8 dollars a week. So then that was in the velvet. Then the plush was paying more money, I wanted to go over there. So I asked the boss if I could, if he could transfer me over to the velvet. I’d get 12 dollars a week over there. So he didn’t want to do it. But with more money, he had to, see. So I went over there and worked there awhile, when I learned to weave, then I was weaving all the rest of my life.
CS: Uh huh. And why have… did you notice a gradual decline in the mills or was this a sudden, uh thing in 1929?
HS: It was kinda…
GD: Well it was the Depression, just…
HS: It was kinda sudden. And seeing that the owners had died, both Dobson men had died. And he only had daughters, he had no sons, and they wouldn’t, they didn’t wanna take it over. They didn’t want to be bothered with it. So it just closed.
CS: Huh…they didn’t, they, it wasn’t sold, it just closed?
HS: Just closed.
CS: Do you remember the day it closed?
HS: The day? No, I just remember it was in ’29. Like month or day, I don’t know.
CS: No I meant, do you remember the last day you went to work. That’s I guess what I meant. Do you remember the last day when the mills closed?
HS: No! (laughter)
CS: No? No, not in particular. (laughter)
HS: It was, it was a party there we all had a lot of fun. (laughter)
CS: Well where’d people go to work after that? Where would they work?
HS: Well I went up to a mill in, in Roxborough. And at that time, they were changing the mills from here down south. And you’d work until your warp’d run out. And then you were done, they’d just take the machine up off the floor and ship it down south. I worked in two mills like that up in Roxborough.
CS: What mills were they?
HS: In Pierson’s. What was the other one? Up where the Salvation Army…?
GD: Was it Kenworthy?
HS: No, where the Salvation Army is. What was the name of it? Bennett’s.
HS: Bennett’s. And Pierson’s.
CS: Umm…the Dobson mills weren’t unionized were they?
HS: No, no.
GD: Didn’t have unions then.
CS: Was there any attempt to unionize?
HS: Never, no, no.
CS: Did the people generally, that worked there generally, think the Dobsons…
GD: Would never close up I guess.
HS: Would never close, you thought you were there the rest of your life.
CS: Uh huh. Did they like the Dobsons?
CS: Did they think they were good bosses?
HS: Well we never saw them.
GD: Never saw them.
HS: We never saw them. They didn’t discuss bosses in those days, you just worked! And that was it!
GD: Well it was such a big, such a big mill, my God how many employees? Couple of thousand.
HS: Yeah they had carpet and blankets, and velvet and plush.
CS: Were most of the people that worked there from East Falls?
HS: Yes. There was people from Manayunk and some from Kensington.
HS: Falls people were just…they were in town.
CS: Did…Excuse me, did he bring people over from England to work in the mills? Or, how did they…people…
GD: I think his daughters worked in the mills when they first…for a while, remember?
HS: Uh huh.
GD: So they say.
CS: Hmm. What did they do?
GD: Oh, I wouldn’t know.
CS: I was just going to ask the same thing, similar to what you were saying – were there certain ethnic groups that were more represented in the mills?
CS: Or was it pretty much a mix of…?
GD: You just went and worked, that was it. You’d think I worked there the way I’m talking. (laughter)
CS: Well you hear, you hear people talking. You get a picture.
GD: Well from Hazel and my brothers, you know.
CS: Umm, eh. I always thought the Falls was all English when I first came up here. And then I found out there were…some other people thought it was all Italian. What do you think?
HS: Most Irish.
CS: (laughter) Say mostly Irish?
HS: Uh huh, a lot of Irish in the Falls.
CS: Uh huh. Was there any particular time when you saw new groups of, ethnic groups moving in? Like when the Italians move in or was it…?
HS & GD: No, no.
HS: Now this used to be the main street in East Falls.