Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our Old Town – As She Used t’ Be by William T. Martin

The book, Our Old Town – As She Used t’ Be, by William T. Martin is in the Local Authors collection of the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center. The author was born in Sandusky on November 20, 1889 to John J. and Catherine (Laughlin) Martin. William recalls his hometown in the days before television and automobiles, when corporal punishment was the norm, and children under eighteen were allowed to work at a labor-intensive job. 

Some of the local attractions that William enjoyed as a youngster in Sandusky were the County Fair, the Fourth of July celebration, the Labor Day Parade, and the resorts at Cedar Point and Johnson’s Island. He visited Nielsen’s Opera House often. He recalled the women there wearing their finest clothing and jewelry. Youngsters usually sat in the balcony, known as “Peanut Heaven.” He remembered the orchestra fondly, with E.B. Ackley as the leader, and Billy Hauser on viola. The audience praised the orchestra and the dramatic productions with loud applause, whistling, and pounding their feet on the floor.

William’s mother bought his clothing from Kronthal and Bretz, his shoes from Giedeman and Homegardner or Farrell & Rosino shoe store, and hats from Biehl’s hat store. He went to elementary school at Holy Angels at a time when each of the two large classrooms held four grades. On Saturdays he and his friends would walk the seven miles to Castalia, where they would often visit the Blue Hole, which at the time was just a hole in the ground from which water gushed continually - not yet a tourist attraction. He recalled seeing the horse drawn wagons from the Kuebeler & Stang brewery go down Tiffin Avenue with a load of empty bottles. On a snowy day, William and some of his friends hung on to the back of the beer wagon and swing from side to side in the slippery snow. The brewery reported the incident to Father Lamb, and the boys were paddled as punishment. The youngsters who lived in Sandusky enjoyed skating on Sandusky Bay. One winter day, William grabbed on to the back of an ice boat, built by Mr. Bing. He had ice skates on, and found himself traveling all across the bay from Bay Bridge to Johnson’s Island. He remembers the commercial ice businesses and large fisheries along the waterfront. William’s father was a grocery salesman for the old Hoover and Woodward Wholesale Grocery store on Water Street.

This was at a time when there were numerous neighborhood grocery stores in Sandusky, and deliveries were made by horse and buggy. Some grocery stores in Sandusky also had saloons. Male customers could go to the grocery store and order their groceries, then step into the barroom and have a five cent beer, while their groceries were delivered to their homes.

The chapter entitled “Gram” was very poignant. William’s grandmother, Ann Laughlin, had been born in Ireland. She told young William about the voyage to America, and how crossing the Atlantic was very turbulent. Shortly after Gram had arrived in Sandusky, the cholera epidemic broke out. She was available to her neighbors, showing charity to the sick, and comfort to those who were in mourning. During the time of the Underground Railroad, Gram was known to take soup and bread to the fugitive slaves who were hiding in a large barn near the B & O Railroad yards as they awaited their passage to Canada. During the Civil War, though her own son was fighting for the Union, Gram often took food to the Confederate soldiers who were awaiting the trip to Johnsons Island where they would be imprisoned. Gram doted on William, and he enjoyed her stories about days gone by. 

As new homes were being built all over Sandusky in the early 1900s, William worked as a carpenter’s apprentice for a wage of five cents an hour. As he got older, he worked for the railroad, and later he became a foreman at Union Chain.

William T. Martin retired from Union Chain in 1954, and he lived in Norwalk from about 1958 to 1964. He died at a nursing home in Norwalk in November of 1964. Mr. Martin was not famous, but he left a wealth of information about growing up in Sandusky in his bookHis remembrances seem to make the many historical photographs housed at the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center come to life. Though this book is not available for loan, it can be viewed at the Sandusky Library. Inquire at the Reference Services desk for more information. 

1 comment:

PalmsRV said...

Beautiful glimpse of life "as she used t' be." The details about the Underground Railroad as well as caring for the soldiers headed towards Johnson's Island were wonderful. Cathy