By Steve Novotney
(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles that will include profiles on each of Wheeling’s established neighborhoods.)
This is a tough tale for me to tell, and that’s because I know my Woodsdale, but was Woodsdale the same for others as it was for me? Has it remained what it was, or has it changed along with so many other neighborhoods in the Friendly City?
Did the Woodsdale neighborhood feed you? Discipline you? Bandage you? Did it push you down, and then pick you up? Did Woodsdale tutor you? Did the residents adopt you, mold you, sponsor you, and root for you?
Were you permitted to roam under the streets and up on the hills? Allowed or not, did you jump garbage cans with your Huffy bikes, climb around construction areas, heave snowballs at the public buses, and swipe your father’s Playboys or steal your mother’s cigarettes so you could hide away in a secret shack out in the woods?
My Woodsdale existed in the 1970s through the early-1990s, and as a child I joined many others for sandlot games, backyard wiffle ball, sled riding down steep alleys, swinging on monkey vines, pool hopping, scaling the hillside to the old radio tower, hitchhiking to Oglebay, and biking as far as the downtown.
The Bauers, Kriegers, Mulherns, Bonds, Stephens, Podratskys, Gasiorowskis, Valeks, Grandstaffs, Kahles, Sleeths, Evankos, Lees, Romaneks, Fords, Hamiltons, Clarks, Hofreuters, Martins, Cerrones, Sterlings, Weimers, Hamms, Conaways, Stewarts, Kannans, Tius, Carusos, Blochs, Burkes, Wetzels, Scatterdays, and Browns all lived close to my home on Lorraine Terrace, a “private drive” along Edgwood Street.
My Woodsdale was a playground whether or not school was in session, no matter what the temperature was outside, and especially on snow days and during summer vacation. My memories are of many, and only a few I wish to forget (like when one of those Caruso boys convinced me to swallow a fuzzy dandelion).
As young adults we saw some friends move away never to return, and a few have passed away, but most of us have remained friends to this day. We have spouses and children, and we have grown older and fonder of our days as kids in Woodsdale.
Just Before My Time.
Jule Carenbauer was one of nine children with only two boys in the litter. He’s 53 years old now and was raised along Edgington Lane. He spent his first five years of grade school across the street at the former Edgington Lane School before he began bussing to Fulton for sixth grade, Woodsdale School for seventh and eighth, Triadelphia for ninth, and then he joined the first class to attend the new Wheeling Park High School for three full years.
“Back then there were a lot of big families with a lot of kids,” he recalled. “That seemed like it was normal, so growing up in a family with eight (children) wasn’t as big a deal as it is today.
“And there were kids everywhere in the neighborhood. That was normal, too,” Carenbauer continued. “But it wasn’t until I went to a school that wasn’t right across the street from my house that I realized there were a lot more people in this world because, as a kid, there was no need to leave Woodsdale to have fun.”
Soon after his last class at Edgington Lane, the school was closed in favor of consolidation, and it was soon razed in favor of a new playground – a facility that quickly became known as, “The Lane.”
“When the school was still standing, there was a smaller playground, but once the city built the new one, my neck of the woods changed forever,” Carenbauer said. “All of sudden there were kids coming into Woodsdale from the outside for the pickup basketball games. Game after game, and we had to call, ‘Winners’ if we wanted to play. It was like the rest of the world started coming to our neighborhood, and that was a good thing, and it was a bad thing.
“But before they demolished the old school, it was an adventure for us,” he admitted. “I was pretty young still, so I wasn’t one of the kids breaking in for a place to hide while drinking a 40-ounce beer or a bottle of Mad Dog, but we did go in to see what was left.
“The building was pretty empty, but it was still a hiding place,” he said. “But then the playground was built when I was 12 years old, and that’s pretty much all I did. Basketball, a little tennis, and then more basketball, every day and every night.”
He remembers using the pay phone on the corner near Gilmar’s Grocery, slurping down milkshakes at the Buch & Donovan Drug Store, and knocking down root beer floats at the Colonel’s Confectionary. He bowled at the Rose Bowl, bought candy and pop at the Minute Market, got his hair cut at Frank’s Hairquarters, played putt-putt in the apartment building, and smelled the funky stuff while walking, “The Path.”
“We didn’t have what kids have today,” Carenbauer said. “There were a lot of days when we would invent our own games, or we would sneak across National Road to go over the foot bridge to get into the gym at Wheeling College. I remember when Paul Baker was the coach there, and he wouldn’t care if we were there as long as the team wasn’t practicing.
“It was a great place to grow up, and it was a fun time that I will remember forever,” he said. “I didn’t even care if I would get grounded to my room for a day because I could see the playground right outside my bedroom window.
“But what’s weird to me is that I never remember thinking that I lived in Woodsdale. It was always, ‘The Lane,’ to me even before the playground, but that’s probably because our house was right on Edgington Lane. And when I was old enough to work, I worked in Woodsdale all the way through high school. It seemed like everything I needed at that age was only walking distance away.”
Carenbauer graduated from Wheeling Park High in 1979, and following two more years working the window at Gilmar’s, he joined the military and departed Wheeling in 1981.
“At that point, when it was time to grow up, there weren’t the good-paying jobs that there used to be,” Carenbauer said. “I guess I could have tried to get a job at the steel mill, but that’s not what I wanted to do.
“One of the first things I did when I got out of the service was drive through Woodsdale, and so many things had changed so quickly. Many of the businesses had changed, but the Alpha was still there. The Alpha has always been there.
“But it was still a great neighborhood, and it still is today,” he said. “My parents worked hard to give the eight of us what we had, and now that I am older, I’m able to appreciate that even more.”
We played “Free the Dungeon” after dark and after Little League and Dairy Queen, and we competed in tackle football in the churchyard, baseball in the school lot, wiffle ball in back yard after back yard, and basketball at “The Lane” during the days.
When the rains came, we played board games. Life, Monopoly, Family Feud, Battleship, Candyland, Connect Four, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Mouse Trap.
And we went to the Minute Market every single day, rain or shine.
I was a Woodsdale kid. I climbed the hillside to the top, played in the streams, cut through yards, ran in the alleys, biked to Burger Chef, and always (wink, wink) went home when the street lights came on.
If I got smart with an adult, I heard about it – from that adult, and then again when I returned home because Ma Bell always seemed to work when you wanted her to slumber. If I broke a window with a baseball (or a newspaper), I had to pay for it from the coins I earned taking out the garbage, washing dishes, or scrubbing Dad’s company car.
If my rambunctious behavior landed me in trouble at home, my parents soon learned that grounding me – even for a day – was far worse punishment than a good ol’ paddling, and that was because confinement kept me from the playground that was my Woodsdale.
“All I can remember is having a lot of fun, especially during the summer,” said Bob Hamilton, who, along with his sister Susan, grew up on Edgewood Street near Heiskell Ave. “I remember being all about sports during the days, and games like, ‘Hide and Seek’ at night.
“And our neighbors didn’t seem to mind if we hid on their property, or when we were loud because of an argument over a bad call during one of the games,” he said. “And I do remember my dad being furious when he came home and realized you shattered our basement window with one of your fastballs, though.”
The daily activity depended on who was involved, really, because of the diversity included, so one day building a hillside clubhouse seemed like a good idea, and the next morning maybe trash-can-jumping was cool before we took the bus to downtown Wheeling for a movie at the Victoria or a burger at the Hamburger Shop. We pretended to be, “The Fonz,” or Colonel Hogan or Captain Kirk, and when we played sports, we did so not as ourselves but as Willie Stargell, Franco Harris, or “Dr. J.”
Some days we would dare to cross Bethany Pike to dream about owning one of the big houses along Hamilton Avenue or within Hawthorne Court. The Goods, Griffiths, Hogans, Nazzaros, Tius, and Bourys resided in those palaces, and fantasies of opening retail stores, becoming a doctor, or opening a Big Boy restaurant all seemed possible.
And yes, my friends and I got into plenty of trouble, too. There was the time when the fire department found us having a camp burn on the hilltop, and apparently tossing “monkey balls” to the top of public buses wasn’t as funny as we thought it would be. There was also the day when all 14 fire alarms in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling were pulled. At the same time. It was synchronized thanks to the invention of LED watches – a most popular Christmas present before this July day.
But two kids freaked, and they squealed. And I got grounded for that, too.
Halloween was three hours long, the candy bars were full-sized, and our costumes were created from our parents’ closets, jewelry boxes, and make-up bags. Pillowcases doubled as our goody bags, and we dressed to scare instead of delight.
“You kids had a lot of fun; I know that,” said Betty Ann Stewart, my former fourth-grade teacher at St. Michael’s and mother to friends, Tom and Laura. “I don’t know how many times my children would come home, and I didn’t even want to know what that had been up to.
“I miss those days because it seemed so simple,” she said. “Parents didn’t have to hover over their children like they do today because we knew the parents were watching, too. If there were something really wrong, I would get a phone call or make one.
“There was more trust in the world back then, I guess,” Stewart added. “And if someone scraped a knee or broke a bone, no one sued anyone. We just took out the Mercurochrome and Band-Aids, or we took the injured to the emergency room. Pretty simple times, really.”
After My Time.
That was my Woodsdale. Maybe yours. Maybe something like yours.
But today’s Woodsdale, for me, has greatly changed except for the fact my parents still live in the same house, as my folks’ neighbors on Lorraine Terrace have changed completely in the past 20 years. Gone are the Friesmuths, Armbrusts, Raudmans, Hesses, Bakers, Wises, Davises, Hartmans and Saxes.
“We’ve been lucky because every time someone has left our street, good people have moved in,” said my mother, Marilyn. “Woodsdale has been a very good neighborhood for our family, but it has changed somewhat. I just don’t think parents allow their children to roam free like we did back in those days.
“When you and your brother (John) and sister (Marla) were growing up, you all had friends close to home so you guys would go there, or they would come here,” she said. “But you guys hated coming inside at the end of the day – especially you. There was always something you wanted to do next.”
David Miller grew up in Woodsdale on Echo Terrace, and today he is a resident of Maple Avenue and the neighborhood’s representative on Wheeling City Council. He believes that while the family mode of operation has altered since his childhood, the Woodsdale section of Wheeling continues to offer what I took advantage of as a child.
“There’s a reasons this area has earned the reputation as a traditional, all-American neighborhood, and that’s because it has always has been and has continued to be,” he said. “It’s a walk-around neighborhood, almost every house has a front porch, there are constantly kids riding their bikes, and most folks have a detached garage and an alley driveway.
“It’s flat for the most part, and I think that has always played a big factor. And since there are many businesses and three very popular schools, Woodsdale may be the most traveled neighborhood in the city,” he said. “Woodsdale delivers what you want it to deliver, and that’s a safe neighborhood that provides a great place to raise your children.”
Woodsdale is also home to an aging population, and an older inventory of homes that feature a plethora of different architectural designs.
“We do have some folks who are now on fixed incomes, and that makes it tough for them to maintain their homes the way they used to,” Miller said. “It’s not uncommon to see neighbors helping neighbors, though, because there’s still that, ‘We’re in this together,’ attitude.
“And we don’t see as many kids playing games like football in the streets, and that’s because there’s a lot more traffic on the streets,” he said. “That’s not because there’s more people, necessarily. It’s just a sign of the times because these days the families have more than one or two cars.”
Miller moved away from Wheeling and to Columbus after his graduation from Wheeling Park High and following his college days at the University of Pittsburgh and Wheeling Jesuit. He and his wife, Kim, though, made the decision to return for the sake of their children.
“Simply, we wanted to raise them here because of how it was for us when we were kids,” he said. “Personally, I realized what my parents gave me by raising me in Woodsdale, and I wanted to give my children the same kind of experience that I had.
“For adults, Wheeling really is a great location because of the education, the opportunities, and because of the city’s proximity to Pittsburgh and Columbus,” Miller continued. “If you really think about it, the city of Wheeling has a lot of amenities for a town of only 30,000 residents. We have things like the symphony, Oglebay and Wheeling parks, the J.B. Chambers parks in Elm Grove and East Wheeling, Wesbanco Arena, and the Capitol Theatre, and I know there are cities out there much larger that would love things like that where they live.
The gateway from the West to Woodsdale is still lined with business after business, but most of the names have changed. Augusto’s Pizza is now the 19th Hole; the Laz-Boy is T.J.’s Sportsgarden; Howard Johnsons is now the Hampton Inn and Bob Evans; Stauver’s Gas Station is a Marathon; the Eagle II Lounge is a Chinese buffet; Kroger’s is CVS; Burger Chef is Hardees; Kentucky Fried Chicken is a drive-through; Rax is Tim Horton’s; and the Baskin Robbins and Kahle’s Pharmacy were razed in favor of Sheetz.
The Minute Market was transformed into the Salsa Café and now is home to the Cilantro Latin Grill. Miklas Meat Market took over the space for the putt-putt course. Colonel’s Confectionary now houses a medical supply company; and Gilmar’s is a laundromat.
“There have been a lot changes through the years; that’s for sure,” Miller said. “We were very lucky to have had what we had in our neighborhood when we were kids, and as an adult living here today, I’m still pretty lucky because of the central location that Woodsdale offers the residents.
“I see the neighborhood’s big challenges in the future involving the housing and the next generation because many of the people living here now have seen their kids move away for opportunities elsewhere, so who’s going to buy some of these big houses that are 100 years old and in need of some maintenance and upgrades?” he said. “It has happened, though. We have seen new people move in and renovate the homes. And that could continue to happen because Woodsdale is still a very attractive and convenient place to live.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)