Growing Up in Wheeling: Woodsdale Homes

If you lived in a castle in modern times you would wonder what all the things in the castle used to be used for.  Growing up in a house built in 1914 on Poplar Ave in Woodsdale you would notice the artifacts of the past.  When the house was built there was a gas fireplace in just about every room. That is how the house was heated.  The wood work in the old homes was elaborate and would cost a fortune to duplicate today.  Labor and wood were cheap in 1914.

One thing people would notice about the houses in Woodsdale was that there must have had a live-in maid or servant of some sort living there. Many young women were pouring into our country and they needed jobs. Once again it was probably not that expensive to have some live-in help in the 20’s and 30’s. The houses had a back set of stairs so the help could make it to the attic without disturbing the home owners.  Attics were where the servants lived.  Many attics had sinks and perhaps a bathroom for the help.  Some homes had living quarters above the garage.  Relics of that time are still in a lot of the houses. There were speaking tubes.  Brass tubes you could speak into and have your voice carried from one part of the house to another to serve as an intercom.  Another appliance that may still be on a lot of the homes was an ice box on the back porch.  The iceman would deliver the ice into a box on the back porch.  As a kid I remember discovering an old gasoline tank in the yard.  Some homes had a supply of gasoline and a rudimentary pump in the garage.

Even in the 1950’s there were the old fashioned fire alarm boxes on the telephone poles.  To send an alarm, there was some contraption you manipulated.

The houses were built for the time.  With electricity sparse, people did not have so many lights for the interior of the home.  To provide both light and ventilation the answer was very large double hung windows.  Slate roofs were standard on those houses.

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A bad habit we had as children was playing on the roof.  It is amazing no one got killed.  The roofs were high and it would be about a three story fall if you went off.  One day in the early spring I was on the roof enjoying the view.  The slate I was sitting on came lose and I headed toward the gutter.  Certain death seemed approaching. What saved me was the wide gutters built on those houses. The gutter was almost two feet wide.  I would be dead if it was a modern flimsy gutter.

A special feature of the old homes was the clothes chute.  At a young age I could get in and out of the chute on the second floor.  The chute enabled the home owner to throw dirty linens and clothes directly down to a catch bin in the basement.  One day I decided to show Stephen Leibold how I could get into the chute.  I must have grown a little since my last try.   I got into the chute through the little door, but once in the chute cold not get out.  My knee had me jammed in there.  I could go down but not up. Steve somehow found my sister Amy.  Amy held my arm to keep me from dropping to the basement floor.  All my siblings were in the basement piling up soft things for me to land on.  In my head I imagined the fire department coming and tearing the wall apart to get me out.  My father would go crazy when he got home an found out about this adventure.

Amy was straining to hold me so I figured I could start sliding down to the basement.  Now by good fortune there happened to be a little door in the kitchen to access the chute.  When I got to the chute where part of my homemade rescue crew was peering in, I was able to rearrange my knee and get out without having to parachute into the basement.  Very relieved I remember going to the basement and seeing the huge pile of clothes awaiting the quasi-Santa Clause to drop down the clothes chute.