HOMETOWN, CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND--
BY Cecil F. Catlett
On Dec. 21, l989, the memories of Cecil F. Catlett (deceased), appeared in the Cumberland Times-News. His daughter, Martha Catlett-Poling, has given permission to place his story on the website.
I was born in Cumberland in 1907 on Browning Street in South Cumberland. Although I'm 82 years old, I have many memories of the city and surrounding areas.
During my early years, we moved to the Mapleside area living on Grant & Utah Streets. At age 10, we came to live on New Hampshire Avenue with my grandmother, Cora Catlett, and my uncle and aunt, William and Frances Goldsborough.
There are vivid memories of the B&O Canal as my grandfather, also named William Goldsborough, worked for the Canal Company. He was a boss on a company boat with seven to eight men working for him. Their jobs were to maintain the tow path, keeping it clear by cutting the grass and weeds and removing any debris. This was essential so the mules could tow the boats unimpeded. Their job responsibility extended from Cumberland to Hancock, Maryland.
My grandmother had boarders on the boat for which she had to cook, bake, wash and sew. Taking care of those chores for the men and her husband was a full-time duty. Her brother, William Dodd, a carpenter, built canal boats at the proximal part of the canal or Shanty Town, as we knew the area.
Their boat docked and was tied up at Evitts Creek in the winter when the canal was frozen over with ice. Summertime found the canal boat at Oldtown, where it would dock.
While the canal was frozen in winter, my friends, Mabel, Alice, Huey Burke and I donned our ice skates and went skating up and down the slick ice.
In the summertime, my friends and I went swimming in the canal near Evitts Creek, sometime around 1917 or 1918. We swam in our birthday suits as we couldn't afford proper attire in those days. We had to hide in the surrounding bushes when boats passed by with women passengers or pilots steering them. Incidentally, the canal was used by the city and establishments nearby to dispose of raw sewage. One might figure out that we had a strong constitution to survive swimming in that.
Back in those years, children worked to help their parents, and to have spending money. When I was but 12 years old, I obtained a job at the Potomac Glass Factory, located near the Western Maryland Railroad, with the Algonquin Hotel adjacent to it. My hours of employment were five in the evening until two-thirty in the morning. This started Monday evening and ended on Saturday morning. My type of work was to gather bits as a carry-in boy. I also assisted the foot setter as the glass was processed through the different stages. The salary I received was nine dollars and twenty cents per week. Nine dollars was given to my mother and I was allowed to keep twenty cents to spend.
The only way of transportation I had was by "shanks mare" or in today's terminology - walking. The route I used was a pathway from Mapleside over the Johnson Heights area. It was through a pasture, over a hill where Memorial Hospital is presently located, down over Williams Street, and on to Western Maryland railroad crossing where I followed the tracks to the glass factory. Most of the area was an earthen trail, although I can remember Baltimore and Mechanic Streets were paved with wooden blocks.
The trip home was scary and completely in the dark as there were no street lights then. Sometimes one would stumble over sleeping cows or step in those terrible plops. It wasn't much fun to have to clean shoes at that late hour!
At age 16, I obtained the same type of job at the Maryland Glass Factory and the salary had improved to three dollars a day. That hard earned money was usually spent going to the Bellvedere Theater every Saturday afternoon. The theater was on Baltimore Street, across from the Rosenbaum building.
The movie serial I especially remember was called "William Hart and The House of Hate." It lasted for approximately fifteen episodes. The price of admission was fifteen cents, leaving five cents left over for candy. I also attended the A.G. Fields Minstrel and Burlesque shows at the Maryland Theatre when they came to town. Another exciting attraction was the P.T. Barnum and Bailey Circus. I remember attending it in tents set up in the seven hundred block of Oldtown Rd. stretching from the pre sent Brookfield Avenue down to Edgevale Avenue. One time it rained and I can still see the huge elephants pushing the circus wagon out of the mud and on down to the B&O Railroad to be loaded on the rail cars to ride piggyback to the next circus town. The circus wagons were pulled by teams of horses at that time. The elephants and horses were then loaded into cattle cars to travel.
Other times my friends, Maude and Mary Sonner, Helen and Grace Jewell, Clarence and Harold Bishop, Carl and Mr. and Mrs. James Jones, and I would attend our local Methodist Church. We were taken on outings by horse-drawn wagon through the Narrows to the Narrows Amusement Park. What enjoyment we had going on the roller coaster and other rides. The amusement park had a dance hall which also featured prize fights. I remember one local boxer, Larry Kabusky from Maple Street, who was a very good amateur. Another way of transportation at that time was the street car which also ran to the Park.
Sometimes we ventured to the race track and fairgrounds near Mary Street in South Cumberland to see the fair and sulky races. It was not always safe as the local young men claimed it as their territory. Heavens, you could never date a young lady from the area as you were in trouble again.
Times have changed, but all in all it's been a good life in Cumberland, my hometown.
NOTE; Cecil Fern Catlett was a lifelong resident of Cumberland. Employed at the B&O Railroad, he worked at Bolt and Forge and later as a train car inspector. He retired in 1973 with 48 years service.