Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version “REWIND”

June 1, 2017

 

 

Growing Up In Glens Falls

by Marion (Fowler) Brown Davis 1982

The following is a manuscript donated to the Crandall Public Library by the author in March of 1987.  Marion Fowler Brown Davis felt the need to write down the facts for her heirs about her early life growing up in Glens Falls.  Marion was part of the prominent Cunningham family in the city and knew many of the important families in the early part of the 20th century.  Her story is an interesting one, with much detail about life at the time.  We will excerpt parts of it here and continue it in future postings of REWIND.  Marion and her husband George are buried in the Cunningham Plot 23, Lot 158 in the Glens Falls Cemetery.

 

Marion’ Story

     This is written especially for Steve and Beth, for Andrew, Christopher, Elektra and Stephanie, and “their heirs and assigns forever,” as the lawyers say.

     As we grow older, questions about our relatives and ancestors keep cropping up in our minds, questions that we were either too young or too uncaring to ask earlier.  Suddenly it grows late; anyone who really knew them are either dead or too far away to ask what they were really like.  What was life like when they were growing up?  What happened to them?

     In going over what genealogical material we have it was brought home to me anew how very unsatisfactory the bare bones of dates and statistics are without the flesh and blood of personal characteristics and loving memories of someone who actually knew the people.  So while I am of reasonably sound mind I am going to write down for you as they come into my head some of the things I remember about our family and what it was like growing up in Glens Falls in the early 1900’s.

Ninety Ridge Street and The Family There

     My very earliest memories are of the white-pillared house at ninety Ridge Street. (The numbers on the street have since been changed). It was a child’s paradise to grow up in with its three acres of garden – almost a small farm – just three blocks from the center of town. I’ll tell you about the outside first, then we’ll go inside.

(Note:  The white pillared home she speaks of was located about where the parking lot is for the Rite Aid Drug Store on Ridge Street.)

     Grandfather presided over the flowerbeds, the vegetables, the fruit trees, the long double grape arbor, the currant and gooseberry bushes, the cold frame, and the cornfield where once as a very small child I was actually and scarily LOST.  I think Fred Eldridge must have done most of the harder work, but Grandfather was out there on his knees every day the minute he got home from the office; he did all the planning and overseeing.

     Fred’s domain was mostly the big white barn with its stalls and granary, its harness room and the big room full of carriages and sleighs and later the family Buick.  Outside was the cowshed, the barnyard and the chicken house.  Upstairs was the haymow with holes to fork the hay down to each stall.  It was a fine place to play but pretty scary for a small girl to look down the chutes and see the horses munching hay from the iron feeding cages.  It was awful to wonder what would happen if you slipped through the chute into the cage and couldn’t get out!

     The earliest horses were Prince and Molly, the team of bays that drew the two-seater with the fringed top.  Later there was a black horse, whose name I have forgotten, but he was hitched to the buggy when Fred and I drove up to the summer pasture just outside town to milk Daisy and Buttercup every evening at five.  (Mr. Dooley, the red bull, stayed at home).  It was a nice field, with a brook to explore while Fred milked.  He often dug up some sweet flag growing by the brook and sliced the root for pieces of “candy.”  That pretty field is now wall-to-wall houses on the corner of Ridge Street and Lexington Avenue.  Old Fred was a true philosopher and very patient with a little girl’s questions.  In winter, by the stove in his “office,” we had long talks about everything under the sun; he never talked down to me.

     There was usually a flock of Plymouth Rocks in the hen house, but one spring I was given a batch of 33 tiny Rhode Island Reds to raise all by myself.  The two largest I named Rough and Reddy and thought that was pretty smart.

     The tennis court was mostly my brother’s preserve.  Hubie was five years older than I and his gang was always there for tennis.  My role was confined mostly to shagging balls for them but still it’s hard to figure out how I could have grown up with a court in the yard and never learned how to play!  My only claim to fame – ever –  in the athletic department –  was a climber-of apple trees and a roller skater; with my double ball-bearings I was champion of the block.

     My parents never allowed me to have a horse of my own, which was odd when we had so much room in the barn and Fred to look after one.  (And) they did let me ride.  My best friend of the time had a darling small horse – not a pony – with shining black coat and dainty ankles.  She was aptly named Trinket and Hocker (Harriet West) was very generous about letting me ride her.  Around the corner from us the Van Wirts owned a brown-and-white Indian pony which I could rent, so we had some good rides – and some good falls.  By the time I rode at college I claimed to have gone over the ears of more horses than anybody else had, and no one challenged me.

     I remember with such love the long summer vacations in the days before kids went off to summer camp.  My family mostly stayed home and enjoyed the garden and cool porches.  My hot weather bailiwick was a seat built around an apple tree deep in the garden near a fragrant syringa bush.  There, or in the summerhouse, my twelve dolls and I played by ourselves, and I never remember being bored for one minute.

     No description of our yard would be complete without telling you about our famous elm tree.  All the streets around tree lined with elms but this one, growing between the house and garden, was very special:  ancient, perfectly symmetrical and so immense my arms reached scarcely halfway around the trunk.  The Davey tree men regularly came to fasten the branches together and feed its spreading roots.

     On hot summer nights the thing to do was take the open trolley to Fort Edward and back for the cooling breeze.  The seats went straight across the car, no aisle, and when we got to the end of the line we all got out while the conductor turned all the backs of the seats over to face front for the ride home.

     As I grew older I accumulated a good gang of neighborhood kids to play with.  There was Charley Eddy and his redheaded brother “Orange,” sons of the man who ran the grocery store across the street where we bought those wonderful chocolate bears and colored gumballs.  There was a whole family of brown-eyed, rosy-checked Italians whose father was a fine ladies’ tailor.  Vanna, the youngest, got pretty tired of always being the baby when we played house.  There were the Ackers and Mary Sullivan, and Pete and Jimmy Manos whose father had a fruit store downtown.  Jimmy was dark skinned and handsome as a Greek god, and he often stopped by to carry my books and walk me home from school.  He had beautiful manners and I was bereft when the family moved away.

     During World War One the half empty harness room in the barn became Base Hospital Number Eleven, where the girls of our gang bound up the wounds of the gallant “soldiers.”  We wore out a number of nurse and doctor kits and became quite famous in the neighborhood.

     The summer outing the whole family enjoyed most was a swim and picnic at Mrs. Russell’s.  She was a tiny wren of a woman, so gracious about sharing her lovely home at Lake George with her friends.  She even had a special picnic spot for them, with tables and chairs at the other end of the property from the house.  But first we went to the dressing rooms in the boathouse out on Diamond Point (looking for “diamonds” on the way) and got ourselves into those wonderful bathing suits!  First the bloomers and a sort of sailor suit with a big square collar, then black cotton stockings, high laced bathing shoes and the fanciest caps you could imagine.  How we ever swam I’ll never know, but swim we did, all of us, in the quiet sandy bay.  Then to the picnic grounds for a sumptuous meal and always back to the house to thank Mrs. Russell before we left.

     It is a very healthy thing to learn how happy days could be without T.V. or radio and even sometime without cars.

You have had an introduction to Ninety Ridge Street and some of the family there. Now let’s go inside and have a tour of the house, and learn more about the rest of the family.

     The parlor was the largest room; Mother called it the “reception room” and it did indeed hold many receptions.  There was a large fireplace and a bay window with cushioned seats around it where Mother loved to play her guitar and watch the people go by.  We saw lots of sights from this perch. I seem to remember drunks go staggering by daily and Mother always said, “Oh, the poor man!”  I remember thinking it strange that someone who hated liquor could be so sympathetic.  It was from these windows that we saw many horses slip and fall on the trolley tracks or the wet pavement.  They would struggle wildly to get to their feet, and sometimes break out of the harness and run away.  Fallen horses and runaways were a common sight, always scary and pitiful.

     It was from the bay window or the front yard that we watched our Company K march off to W.W. One: up Ridge Street, a sharp turn to the right down Lawrence Street to the Station, following the trolley tracks.  Trolleys always made a terrible screeching noise going around the corner, and men came often to apply grease to the tracks.

     (Seeing the soldiers march by, incidentally, is the only thing I do remember about that war; except that when it was over our next door neighbor, Sam Pruyn, came back with all sorts of souvenirs that he displayed on a big table:  German helmets, grenades, guns, etc.).

     At the end of the parlor, about 50 feet away, the whole wall was filled floor to ceiling with books. Down there was kept Mother’s guitar, Hubie’s mandolin and uke, the grand piano and the Victrola where, later, I entertained my beaus.  You will notice that none of the musical instruments belonged to me.  I did take piano lessons for three years and hated every minute, partly because my teacher had such a sarcastic tongue.  Could it possibly be because I had no talent?

     This parlor was the starting point of my world-wide travels with Father.  He came home from work, probably dead tired, poor man, but I was the apple of his eye and he never was too tired to take me piggy-back on our tour.  Because the parlor was the largest room, that was Russia.  The dining room was green so that was Ireland, and the back hall we crossed to get to it was therefore – stretching geography a little – the English Channel.  Past the fireplace, past the hideous green glass chandelier with its beaded fringe hanging over the big cherry table, on into the sitting room which was England.  More books here, mostly dictionaries and encyclopedias and reference books.  Here was Grandfather’s brown leather chair where he smoked his evil-smelling cigars (poor Mother!) and read and read.  The winter before he died at 84 he was reading straight through the Encyclopedia Britannica.  He and I were the heavy readers of the family.  Before I could read I used the big tomes for building blocks and nobody minded.  When I began to read nobody minded what I read, either.  No censorship in our house, lucky kids!

     (Well, once there was one no-no.  Hubie and I got wind of the fact that hidden on the top shelf of Mother’s closet were two books she didn’t want us to read.  So of course we did.  One day when she was safely out of the house we climbed up and retrieved “What Every Young Boy Should Know” and “What Every Young Girl Should Know” and read them.  What a come-down!  Were these boring diagrams and this scientific language sex?  No love?  No romance?  Besides, had Mother only known it we were already into a set of Grandfather’s paperbacks (Marie Stokes, DeQuincey, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde) which were much juicier and he didn’t mind our reading them at all!)

     There was also the green velvet sofa where Father had short naps every day after dinner and supper.  He bought me a little manicure set and would stretch out his hand for me to “do” his nails as he rested.

     We usually ended our tour here in the library, but if Dad was hungry we proceeded on through the pantry to the kitchen, presided over by Bridget Donovan and Katy Linehan.  There fourteen loaves of bread were baked weekly in the big black stove and the black flatirons were heated when the laundress came to work over the deep tubs in the laundry room.  Bridgie and Katy were wonderful friends of mine.  I spent hours with them and I marvel now at their patience.  The drawers at either end of the drop leaf table where they ate furnished me with the tools I needed to fix any electrical or plumbing jobs that had gone wrong since my last visit.  Egg beaters, whisks, potato mashers, strainers, apple corers all were pressed into service and when the job was done I was paid with a “cuppa tay,” always drunk from the saucer as they did.

     The wide shelves in the kitchen pantry held the shallow pans of milk Fred brought up from the barn, waiting for the cream to rise and be skimmed off for our oatmeal and whipped cream for Katy’s desserts.  (Imperial pudding surrounded by strawberries and mounds of whipped cream was standard fare for guests).  It was my sad duty to deliver any surplus milk to the neighbors.  Sad, because carrying those little tin pails around made me feel conspicuous, and to this day I hate to be conspicuous.

     Also in the pantry was a huge icebox with four compartments, one of which had a door that opened outside to the back porch.  Every few days Mr. O’Brien the iceman brought blocks of ice from his wagon with tongs and put them through that door without going into the kitchen at all.  On hot days the neighborhood kids, including me, gathered around the truck for pieces of ice to suck on.  Mr. O’B was very jolly; Father used to tease Katy about him.

     Upstairs the bedrooms were just bedrooms, few but large.  The attraction for me in our parents’ room was the double bed with intricate brass knobs which I could spin ’round and ’round very noisily.  Hubie and I shared a room at the front of the house; one window looked down on the pillared front porch and we could and often did listen to our elders’ conversations when they were enjoying warm evenings down there.  When we were older our room was partitioned down the middle with a door at the foot of our beds. This interfered somewhat with the games we made up to play before we went to sleep.  As soon as I learned the alphabet we would choose a neighboring street and see who could name the most people on it beginning with different letters.  We still managed to talk right through the partition.

     The maids’ rooms were in the rear wing of the house, and the best part of that to me was the balcony at the very back, looking over the garden. Especially I remember quiet summer evenings there, the street lights filtering through the elm and crickets chorusing.

     The attic was great for rainy days.  The trunks full of clothes to dress up in were there, and the wicker baby carriage with the beige silk parasol that Hubie used to be wheeled in, and Dapple Gray the rocking horse, loved by both of us.  Up still another flight of stairs was the cupola, a room about 12′ by 12′ from which one could admire the view in any direction.

     Down in the cellar it was nice and spooky.  Rough stone floor and walls, low beams and a big old furnace that devoured tons of coal.  When the coal truck came the men carried the coal in heavy canvas bags to the tin chute, where it went rattling noisily into the coal bin.  George’s Grandmother, by the way, had white lace curtains in her coal bin. No such elegance in ours.

     Beside the furnace was a low brick shelf where I hatched eggs in a basket of cotton.  Another room was lined with shelves for Katy’s jars of pickles and fruit and vegetables and jellies.  Years later, after Katy was married I went to her for her recipe for cider jelly, but it never tasted the same.

 

At this point we will meet the members of Marion’s immediate family:  her mother, Beth Cunningham Brown;  her father, William Andrew Brown; and her brother, Hubert Cunningham Brown.

 

Beth Cunningham Brown (1875-1944)

     Mother was a wonderful woman.  People, often strangers to me, stop me and give me their particular version of just how wonderful she was.  She was gracious and generous and natural, very hospitable and people-loving.  She had an uncanny gift for encouraging young and old alike to share their problems with her. Mother could learn more about a stranger in ten minutes than I ever could in a lifetime.

     She was always doing thoughtful, unexpected things for people.  When the little landscape gardener fresh out of Austria and very homesick came to help her with some gardening, she found out it was his birthday and sent him a birthday cake.  He still tells me about it in wonder every time I go into his flower shop.  Flowers went to everybody – her florist bills must have been enormous.  She adored children and was always giving them gifts.  New people in town weren’t strange very long, thanks to Mother.  She called on them, had parties for them and took them places.  Our house was open to everybody:  church doings, teas, parties, dances.  Each year the Tuskegee singers from the Negro college gave their concert in our “reception room” and visiting lecturers and ministers stayed at our house.

     On Sundays there was always a big roast for the people Mother brought home from church:  newcomers, people alone or just good friends.  It was on one of these occasions that I tossed my bomb.  While Mother had gone into the kitchen for a moment one of the guests said, “Marion, do you realize how fortunate you are to have such a wonderful mother?”  To which I ungraciously replied, “Huh! You don’t have to live with her!”  Never as long as I live will I forget the shock on all those faces.

     My SSW Club (Social Service Workers, but it was very secret) gave teas in the parlor, and with the proceeds bought Christmas trees and gifts for poor people, and small chairs for a daycare center.

     Mother had been justly proud of her figure as a young girl, but she loved to eat and had become quite stout; I do have lovely memories of being rocked against that comfortable bosom when something had upset me.  We have a snapshot of Beth as a baby being rocked against that same bosom at the Lake George cottage.

     Mother loved her church and her Bible and I know passed on some of her deep-routed faith to me.  God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.  She really believed it.  Even in these days it’s hard for me to argue myself out of that philosophy; I took it in with Mother’s milk and saw it lived out every day.

     In a sense, life with Mother really wasn’t all roses from the point of view of a little girl.  She was a great stickler for good manners and cleanliness.  I had a feeling sometimes that she was so busy trying to make a lady and gentleman of Hubie and me that she didn’t really relax and enjoy us, at least as much as Father did.  She sang a lot and loved to dance and play the piano, but she also had a repertoire of monologues which people were always urging her to give, much too often, I thought, for I had to suffer through them just too many times.  I also blamed her for making me walk far across town every Saturday morning for those miserable music lessons, and for calling me in from playtime when Miss Fuller came every week to give us all shampoos.  And of course there was the matter of delivering those cans of milk all over the neighborhood, and returning enormous boxes of clothes to Fowler’s store with things that Mother didn’t keep.  Conspicuous!

     My very happiest memories of Mother are from the time I was grown up and married and able to really appreciate her.  George was wonderful to her and we had many happy times together, which I will tell you about later.

 

William Andrew Brown (1868-1921)

     It is odd that I seem to have almost more memories of Father than of Mother, when you consider that he worked long hours at the mill and was taken out of my life so early.  But there were the hours when he carried me piggy-back and the hours when we played Down Went McGinty, lying flat on his back,  knees up, me sitting on them until we came to “down went McGinty to the bottom of the sea,” his knees came down hard and we both fell in a heap laughing.

    And then the hours he just cuddled me on his lap, in his green velvet Morris chair. I remember his saying when I was quite a big, gangling girl, “Manie, you will never be too big to cuddle.” And not long before he died he said to me very solemly, “You must always remember that no matter how many men you know, no one will ever love you as much as your Dad.”

     It was Father who saw to it that he had dogs when Mother wasn’t too fond of them.  There was Prince, the collie with the pure white head, and Mutt, the Boston bull terrier.  When anyone said he was homely I would say indignantly that he was beautiful; Father got a kick out of my fierce loyalty.

     He loved to tease, especially Mother, who would blush and say “Oh Yoe!” – a nickname that came from a German poem he recited in college about Little Jacob Strauss who was so fat he got caught in a barrel and couldn’t get out.  The name stuck through the years; people seldom called him Will and never Bill or William.

     In his own quiet way he was as much loved and respected as Mother was.  I remember being very impressed when he declined to run for Mayor, and I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to.  He was a Trustee of the church and on its building committee, and on the boards of the YMCA and Water Commission for many years.  He was also a member and president of the N.Y. State Lumbermans’ Association.

     He worked terribly hard, which may have accounted for the angina which killed him at 53.  Mother loved parties but he found his pleasure in being quietly at home.  When he came in from work and Mother reminded him it was the night to have dinner with the Chafing Dish Club he always moaned, but he went.  He often nodded in church until nudged by Mother.

     Often after his evening rest he and I would walk the two blocks to watch the evening drill at the fire station.  On the way we would “Yump the Yaddows” that the elm trees threw across the sidewalk.  At eight o’clock sharp, at the clang of the fire bell, the great horses would dash out to stand under the suspended harness, and down the brass pole would slide the firemen from their quarters upstairs.  With harnesses and men in their places on the truck, the bell would clang again and off they’d go for their practice drill around the block.

     He loved his business, from the trees in the woods to the houses his company built, and all the millwork in between.  He walked back and forth to his office twice a day and I often went with him, especially to watch Jerry Briggs cut glass for windows.  Once in the process of “helping” I cut a deep gash in my thumb.  I was so humiliated that I kept my hand secretly swathed in a handkerchief for days until it healed. I still have the scar.

     Father loved to go into the woods in winter with the loggers on their sleighs.  I even remember the names of the drivers and their horses.  Father would come home with icicles  hanging from his mustache so I could break them off.

     He could be stern.  Mother tended to nag but never got to the point of actually punishing us.  Instead she would corner Father when he came in from work and after a short conference I would be called on the carpet.  All he ever did was look at me with sad brown eyes and say “Marion, you have disobeyed your mother.”  That was the cardinal sin.  He would hear my side of the story and the lecture was over in a few seconds.  He always called me “Manie” except when I misbehaved, so I could tell he was upset when he called me “Marion.”

     I have always remembered a special lesson in good manners that he taught me. Kendrick & Brown was doing business with three Jewish brothers who ran three fine summer camps near Hague on Lake George.  Father spent a lot of time with the family and had a great deal of respect for them.  He would take us to the Island Harbor House for the weekends and he had business in Hague, and one day he took me along when he had to see Mr. Spelman.  When their business was completed Mr. Spelman asked us to come into his home for a glass of wine.  It was a shock to me when Father accepted, but I must have been really bug-eyed when I was allowed to have one too.  On the way home I asked him why, feeling as the family did about alcohol.  Father replied that it was a gesture of genuine friendship and hospitality on the part of Mr. Spelman and it would have been very rude not to accept.  I had my lesson.

 

Hubert Cunningham Brown (1902-1981)

     All the Browns were handsome: tall and slim, with those aristocratic noses and fine brown eyes.  Hubert was fortunate enough to inherit these, and looked very much like our father.  (The Cunningham nose went to me).  He was a good athlete as well, playing good tennis and acting as captain, or co-captain, of the basketball teams of both the G.F. Academy and Williams College.  He loved to dance and danced well.  He sailed for many years on Lake George.

     It was sad that Father died the spring before Hubie was to enter Williams.  Father had loved it there and had so looked forward to taking Hubie to his Alma Mater, where he had played baseball for four years.  Hubie went Zeta Psi, his father’s fraternity, and enjoyed everything about college except studying!

     After college Hubie worked for a time for the Glens Falls Insurance Co. as a special agent in Boston.  He soon came home and bought the Cool Insuring Agency, which he kept an interest in all his life.  He served as president of the First National Bank for twenty years and was on the Boards of the Glens Falls Hospital, the Y.M.C.A., the Community Chest, the Hyde Collection, and the G.F. Foundation.  And with all of that, nobody knows the half of quiet, thoughtful things he did for so many people.  He was indeed his Mother’s son.

     Hubie was an inveterate circus buff.  Many a June morning we would fortify ourselves with bananas from the kitchen and go out in the dark to see the circus train come in to the station.  We stayed right with it through the long parade to the West Street circus grounds, watched the clever elephants help put up the big tents, and then went back again for the main show.

     Hubie married Caroline Leavens in 1930 and had two sons:  Andrew Leavens and Philip Cheney.  The marriage was a happy one but overtaken by a series of tragedies at the end.  Phil, fresh out of Williams and married to Sue Shaffer in November, enlisted in the Naval Air Command and was killed in a training flight three months later.  In the same year, 1961, Caroline (Monk) died of lung cancer and very shortly after, the baby son of Andy and Mim (Miriam Packard) died of the mysterious Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  All of this within 16 months.

     For six years Hubie carried on alone, then in 1967 was fortunate enough to marry Mary Griffin Clark, who with her husband had been longtime friends of all of us. In 1981 Hubie died of arterial sclerosis and heart disease, and his son Andy died six months later, both after long and complicated illnesses.

 

We will continue this story in the next Rewind column where we will meet other people in Marion’s life and tune in on daily life in glens Falls.

This article was transcribed from a document on file in the subject files at the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library by Casey Cosey for the Glens Falls City Historian’s Office.  We thank the Folklife Center and the City of Glens Falls Historian Wayne Wright for sharing it with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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