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Back in “the day,” when I first read Frederick Lewis Allen’s popular description of the 1920s titled “Only Yesterday,” I thought the title was somewhat farfetched.But, time has a way of making such phraseology meaningful.
In a recent conversation with a fairly young neighbor about the North Side we we began talking about the Summer Hill neighborhood. It seemed like “only yesterday” that I spent the summer of 1961 working as a substitute letter carrier out of 15214 — the Observatory Hill Post Office. Mail routes from that station, located on Perrysville Avenue directly across from Perry High School, served a number of communities now known as Perry Hilltop, Observatory Hill, East Street Valley (deceased), and Summer Hill.
There was no Northview Heights in 1961; at that location were a few farmhouses as well as a few cows. That summer was an eye-opening experience as I was sent out to the far northwest sections of the city. Every route was unique as were the letter carriers at 15214. Carriers like Christopher, Logue, Murphy, and Zelik added to the flavor of the “setting-up room” One carrier who always made sure I had work every day was Melvin Bowman.
A few years back, while shopping at Keystone. an impeccable white Chevy with the vanity plate MELBOW was parked next to my car. Seeing that plate, took me back a few decades which seemed like “only yesterday.” Within a few minutes the real Melvin Bowman appeared. I reconnected and thanked him for his generosity. In 1961 MelBow worked three jobs. before arriving at 15214 he had already delivered donuts to several hospitals and restaurants scattered throughout the city. He was always willing to set-up the mail for his route and let me deliver it while he headed home. The Bowman home, at 6 Magnet Street, was in the very center of a route that began at the corner of Perrysville and Charles and meandered down to the corner of Suffolk and East. Mel was often on the porch when I made my way down his street. At East Street, which was far below the present roadbed of I-279. Bowman’s route intersected with that of a carrier whose name was Helbling.
I was assigned Helbling’s route the during his two week vacation. This route started at Venture and Perrysville and headed down to East street. Near the bottom of that hill was Hyperion Street and the factory of the Unertle lens company. A section of East Street between Venture and Mt. Pleasant Road was filled with many mom and pop businesses. During those weeks I became a regular at the Von Arx bakery. The route continued up through the various streets and pathways of “Summer Hill.” The drop box for almost all of the remaining homes in this neighborhood was at the corner of Colby and Faber in the midst of an enclave of suburbia. The route eventually returned via Chapin and Landay to East Street. Many of those homes and streets on both sides of East Street were obliterated for the interstate. Summer Hill in those days had several “farmettes” with chickens and even a few cows. Yes there were cows, but it was the goats that surprised me on another route that passed through Nelson Run Road.
The approach to Nelson Run was simple enough. Ivory Avenue, very much like most city streets, connected Perrysville Avenue to Nelson Run. However, at some point along Nelson Run Road the route veered through a hayfield leading to the next address. While walking toward that house, a big old late 19th century manse, strange rustling sounds emerged from the high grass. Half way across this field a number of goats suddenly appeared. In a brief moment I made two discoveries: (1) all the goats were fastened by collars and ropes to stakes and (2) they were owned by one
Mr. Howard C. Gregg, who had been my Physics teachers at Oliver. Small world !!! When I got to the Gregg home with the mail I was offerd a great glass of ice water. What relief !!! Both from the heat and the goats.
That summer of ’61 at 15214 was filled with many memorial experiences, Each mail route had its own unique topographical as well as cultural characteristics. I gained a knowledge of that section of the North Side as well as a definite appreciation of the work done by letter carriers. I also learned why they all sought substitute carrier on the day water bills were to be delivered to every address on every route. half a century later it all seems like it was “only yesterday.”