A photo circa the late 1800s-early 1900s shows the former Limegrover’s Store on East Ohio Street decked out for the holidays.
Photo courtesy of Mary Wohleber
What Once Was
By Mary Wohleber
Published in the Christmas Edition 1985
Christmas — the most exciting time of the year was especially so in Old Allegheny.
The eastern section, which included the heavily populated East Street Valley, Spring Hill, Spring Garden and of course Troy Hill were predominately German. In these neighborhoods the German customs were closely followed and some linger on even today. For the chrildren, the Christmas season started with the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. The night before all the stockings were hung with great anticipation. What was in your stocking the next morning was very important because it told you how you rated on a scale of one to 10. Usually your treat consisted of an orange, a small toy (such as a whistle or a top) and a few pieces of candy. If, on the other hand, things didn’t look too swift for you, you got a piece of coal and onion. As the old saying goes: “A word to the wise is sufficient”, and believe me you got the message real fast. This gave you time to “shape up” before the big day. Once I was the recipient of coal and an onion and I have never forgotten it. By the time Christmas came I was so good that I was sure I could walk on water.
East Ohio Street was the Great White Way of Allegheny. I know some of you remember Funk’s, Moon’s, Kleiner Meyer’s, Krupp’s, Beckert’s, Ferenbach’s, just to name a few– you know I could go on and on with those that are gone. My spirit sags when I drive through the pitiful small part that is left to us.
I thought some of you would find this interesting.
The picture accompanying this article is of Limegrover’s Store on East Ohio Street. If one looks closely you can see that for the princely sum of $1.00, a quart of Bridgeport pure rye whiskey and a quart of Port wine was yours! Makes you want to eat your heart out. This lively, busy thorofare, all decorated with tinsel, greens and lights, led us all to the heart of the Northside–but let’s stop first at the Commons between Cedar and Union Avenues. Just writing about this makes it so vivid in my minds eye. At that time a man’s trade was a niche he alone filled. The ice man of the summer was the coal man of the winter and the tree, moss and green sawdust man at Christmas. All hiss summer customers bought their trees from their special person because they know instinctively it was the only way his family would have Christmas. People were more personally associated then. Each tree seller had a small contained fire going to keep him warm and the square was ringed with them. This added to the festive look as you walked into the big open space. On one corner would be the Salvation Army Band and on the other was the German Band, which would come out of hibernation for this best of all seasons. With the soft light of the fires, the fresh scent of all the pine trees, the music of the bands and all the people greeting each other, one know this was Christmas.
Then–on to the Market House– those of us who know it, can we ever forget it?! At Christmas it was very special. One never walked around the market but always through it. It had such a friendly feeling. Every stall was decorated, the aisles crowded with shoppers picking up their Christmas orders, the stall owners calling out ” Merry Christmas” to all that passed and you just knew they meant it. There was just no place in the world like the Market House at Christmas.
Years ago, Christmas was not strung out as it is today. Christmas merchandise was put out just a couple weeks before. For the big gift there was Boggs and Buhl’s. It was the pillar of the Allegheny commercial scene. Everyone received at least one gift at Christmas that come from the great store. If you could not find the right gift anywhere else you knew you would find it there. On the North Side of the Allegheny it was mother, apple pie and then came Boggs & Buhl’s.
Now we have it all together and its Christmas Eve on Troy Hill. The tree is trimmed, the Nativity set in the place of honor, the oldest child (me) placed Christ child in the manger and Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung by the family. I’m about 10 years old and my little sister and I are waiting for the visit of Betlsnuckel and Kriskringle (Santa Claus). A couple that had no children assumed these roles and visited homes in the neighborhood that had made previous arrangements with them. Whether you believe or not you took this very seriously.. Beltsnuckel was always a woman and so called because she carried a big black belt. Santa was primed as to your faults and would ask Beltsnuckel if a spanking was in order. She never spoke, but shook the belt, so of course you promised to do better and were spared. Then Santa distributed the gifts and while we were busy with our new toys our parents took the couple to the kitchen for a spot of schnapps. After visit more homes and the evening came to close, they could be seen winding their unsteady way into the night.
After the excitement had died down, we were off to bed with a good night kiss from our parents. We knew that in the morning we would all go to church to hear once again the familiar words that told about the Child that was born that day to bring Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all Men.
Christmas, the busiest and happiest time of the year, is almost here. Take time to enjoy the simple tings: being with loved ones, the joy of a child, song and laughter, lights shining in a window, the silent sound of falling snow, good friends. May these blessings be yours is the wish to all of us on Troy hill to all of you out there.