A Norman Rockwell Kind Of Community

American journalist Ellen Goodman wrote ...what the next generation will value most is not what we owned but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it's the family stories that are worth the storage."

We are able to truly celebrate our community's Centennial in 2013 because so many "story keepers" have cared enough to share what life was like in Ben Avon Heights throughout its history.

Gertrude Webb Scandrett's granddaughter, Liz Tafel-Hurley shared a memoir of her grandmother, written in 1933, where she described her first Ben Avon Heights home on 3 Briar Cliff Road. "My home is on top of a hill.. .on the outside edge of a small community of homes.... There are no houses near mine and none in front... The apple orchard on the opposite hillside blooms in all its glory of pink and white.. .. We have the attractions of the country with all the advantages of the city." Her home remained in the Scandrett family from 1922 until the mid-sixties. Two of Gertrude’s siblings (Marie Webb Neely and Donaldson Webb) also bought homes in the Heights around the same time and their children eventually became homeowners as well! Together this extended family owned 8 homes throughout the 20th century. Mary Bet (Neely) Hummel, Gertrude's niece and our former borough tax collector, lived a record 88 years of her life in Ben Avon Heights!

Harry Felix, whose family lived at 9 New Brighton Road in the late 30s, and his neighbor, Norm Ward, (a former Council President who lived in several homes in the Heights for nearly 85 years), recalled street hockey on Banbury, and pickup baseball, softball and football games with their friends at the playground. At that time "it was nothing but an open field with a three-foot stone wall toward the west end... (and,) on any given summer evening a throng ofparents and children would gather and sit on the stone wall to kibitz and watch the game."

In the 20s and 30s, many residents hard on the remembered sledding, blooms in all skiing and tobogganing on Canterbury in front of Shannopin. Some children, according to Mary Bet Hummel shedded "all the way down Perrysville to Forest Avenue in Ben Avon... and then onto the Emsworth railroad station. Once or twice a night was enough, considering the walk back up." Howard Fisher recalled sledding on a one-lane unpaved road, which is now New Brighton Road, from oxford Road to the site of the current Avalon Fire Hall.

Many of our stories and photos captured memories of multi-generations of neighbors, related and non-related, gathering together in homes for simple, wholesome fun. Nancy Stevens, youngest of the five children of Adie and Kathryn Stevens, shared her fondest memories from growing up in the 50s on One Oxford Road:

"There were plenty of kids from plenty of families, ofall ages. We played endlessly on that street. There was a nightly game of kickball or softball or Wiffle ball as long as the weather would bear. I remember huge games of tag and hide and seek. I remember not wanting to be the person who put kickball on Arthur’s well-manicured lawn.

It was a close-knit community. The Neelys always had the best Fourth of July parties. My pals, Claire Struble and Sally Neely and I were inseparable. The Neelys would allow us to watch Saturday morning cartoons and the three of us would sit in their back room and make confetti out of church bulletins and make wax hands. I remember sucking the honeysuckle bushes up by the Wallace's. Mostly I have thefondest memories of the safety and love which surrounded that bubble of Oxford Road. I thought I knew everybody but more importantly, everyone knew me. We werefree to run around the neighborhood and endlessly explore. I have such warm memories of friends andfamilies and activities."

Kathryn Boyd Stakelin recalled and shared photos of the annual Square Dance parties at Shannopin for both young and old. "This was done in the mid to late 1950s. The Behrhorsts and I think the Stevens and another family hosted the party. They had live callers and fiddlers. Everyone looked forward to this event during Christmas Holidays, and everyone in the Heights came."

One of the favorite events from the mid70s to early 80s was the annual Christmas Party held at Lucy and Ed McMillin's home on the first day of Christmas vacation. The eveningbegan with caroling throughout the neighborhood, led by Ed McMillin ringing sleigh bells, and then returning to the McMillin's festive kitchen for a high-spirited taffy pull and some kid-friendly and adult wassail. Susan McMillin Gebhard recalled "everyone's hands were buttered, and the taffy was carefully poured on the marble slabs. The designated coolers would turn the taffy with wooden spoons on the marble until it was cool enough to handle, and then folks would literally work in pairs to "pull".. . . Finally, the taffy was twisted into a rope and laid out on the marble. Right before everyone went home, it was smacked against the marble to break into bite-sized pieces, rolled in powdered sugar, and wrapped in plastic. As an aside, the McMillin household was FOREVER repainting various walls in and around that enormous kitchen to get rid of sticky buttery handprints from Christmases past!"

For years, rumor (perhaps by the borough's jokester, Bob Kiser) has it that the borough had its very own "Tooth Fairy Elf," aka Arlene Grubbs. Apparently, when children lost their baby teeth, Arlene (whose own children were much past that stage) was the go-to person, and she was responsible for getting that message to the Tooth Fairy...or was SHE the tooth fairy?

Neighborhood haunted houses cropped up in basements and garages during the next couple of decades, at the Jacksons' home at 12 Kent Road and later at the Larimers' home at 9 Oxford. For weeks, the teenagers and adults worked together to create the props and mazes that became more frightening every year! Children who survived got hot chocolate and punch outside. Entry fees were donated to Children's Hospital.

It was not unusual that many of the older residents whose families had grown and moved away acted as "rent-a-Grandparents" to their neighbors. The Radcliffe girls, whose grandparents weren't nearby, remember adopting Helen and Stephen Emery in the 80s for their school's Grandparents Day and spending afternoons in their living room. It was a treat for both generations to have their special "dates" alone.

Our neighbors have always taken care of the little ones, but one of the nicest treats for mommies of newborns is the "new baby meal train." Prepared meals are delivered by neighbors. This tradition has been going on for decades and not only keeps the family well fed for 7-10 days, but also provides a great parenting network for the new mom.

Many former neighbors returning to Ben Avon Heights in 2013 will likely notice some changes to the neighborhood where they used to live and play. What hasn't changed, though, is the wonderful sense of community that everyone remembered. It is this magic, preserved for one hundred years, that explains why both former and current residents universally describe Ben Avon Heights as a very special place to grow up and raise a family.


  1. Which house in Ben Avon Heights was originally built as a hunting camp?
  2. Which house has the remnants of a duck pin bowling alley in its basement?
  3. What property was the site of a small home known as "The Newlywed's Cottage?"
  4. Which house has a fully stocked bomb shelter in its basement?
  5. What property had an airplane observation tower in its backyard during WWII?
  6. Which home was originally built with a system of tear gas panic buttons?
  7. What two homes were designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright?
  8. What property has the remnants of the original well for the Wilson Farm in its backyard?
  9. What property had a 4 foot tall sculpture of a lion in its front yard for 47 years before it was removed in 1972?
  10. vWhich house was the home of the Senator from Utah Orrin Hatch in the 1960s?
  11. Which house has a fully restored working Frigidaire from the 1920s?


  1. 4 Perrysville Road
  2. 10 Oxford Road
  3. 11 Oxford Road
  4. 10 Wilson Drive
  5. 3 Biddeford Road
  6. 4 Kent Road
  7. 2 & 8 Canterbury Road
  8. 50 Wilson Drive
  9. 11 Penhurst Road
  10. 21 Wilson Drive
  11. Canterbury Road