More Than My Hometown

Pittsburgh editor Brian Hyslop recalls what it was like to grow up in hometown of New Eagle, Washington County.

As Thornton Wilder reminds us in “Our Town,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in a small town, our hometowns are important. For many of us in western Pennsylvania, they are not only the places we grew up, but often where our parents and grandparents grew up, too. Our feature, Growing Up In allows us to reminisce about some of the places we call home.

When I tell people I grew up in New Eagle, only a Mon Valley native has any idea where it is (next to Monongahela, but don’t blink). My family was lucky to live on a dead-end street; it was called Railroad Street when I was very young but later renamed to the more apt Short Drive.

There were five houses on the block and four of them had families with kids my age. Not a bad average, but I was born at the tail end of the baby boom so having multiple kids in the house was as common as having multiple TVs is now. About 10 of us played together on a regular basis, usually because we wanted to, but sometimes just because our moms insisted we go out to play so they could “watch their stories” in peace, which at my home was “The Young and the Restless.”

Going out to play could mean a lot of things and, of course, varied by the season. But unless it was winter — when we would stay out until we were numb from the cold — playing meant running around until we had to take a break for dinner (eaten as quickly as possible, despite parental warnings) or until the street lights came on and we had to be in one of our yards.

What did we play? Things you would expect, such as kickball, Wiffle ball and endless variations of tag (including Kick the Can, flashlight tag and freeze tag). But we also played Mother May I, Statues and Red Light Green Light. And of course, we rode our bikes. Banana seats were the rage and if you got up enough speed, you could pop a wheelie on the embankment in the back yard of Riverview Baptist Church. Not only did it have the world’s best wheelie bump, but many of the people I attended church with there became my extended family.

If we neighborhood kids were feeling lazy, we would gather up 45s and listen to records, put on plays or wander across the tracks into the woods that ran along the Monongahela River. Kids would make forts (which were grander in our imagination than in reality), hunt for crab apples or scale the dropoffs that led to the riverbanks, where you could fish.

We all went to Roosevelt Elementary, which sat atop an amazingly long set of stairs. The monument to veterans who served in World War I and II sat on the school property and we would go there to find my Dad’s name. (It has since been updated and expanded but Dad’s name is still there).

In the summer, we would take a walk past the chainlink fence at Mathies Mine to the Tastee Freez on Main Street/Route 88. You could get dip cones, twist cones with jimmies, sundaes and banana splits. Extra cash that was burning a hole in your pocket (probably from a birthday) could get you a burger and fries, which you would eat at one of the booths inside like Mon Valley royalty.

New Eagle’s official website tells you that 2,184 people live in the 1.1 square mile borough. It doesn’t say how many memories it holds.

Brian can be reached at bhyslop@pittsburghmagazine.com

Categories: Editor