The following is a letter from my great-grandmother, Clarissa Camnitz, written to me in my junior year of high school for an unremembered project. I reckon she was in her mid- to late-80s at the time.
Friday, February 2, 1979
San Clemente, California
You and a rainy cold day have given me an opportunity to reminisce a bit for my earlier days. You can screen my thoughts for that which will help you in your report.
My first year in school was in Cumminsville so where I was broken of using my left hand in writing. It was not permitted at that time. Was there one year when I went to Covington, KY to school where I lived with an Uncle and Aunt, then to Winton Place until I was in the 4th grade. Mother and my stepfather bought a home in Madisonville in 1906 at the corner of Roanoke, then Charles Street, Grancola, then George Street and the counry road named after the Settle Coal and Builders Supply Company family.
The school I attended there was one mile from our home which we walked in attending school which was and is at the corner of Prentice, Mathis and Ward streets fenced in but up to the B&B railroad tracks on the fourth side. The high schools across, the Ward Street side of it. The old grade school was replaced about 1909 with the present one. In the old one, the high school chemistry and physics laboratory, housed a “paddler” which was a seat with a paddle, operated by the teacher and a foot treadle operating the paddle. No sore and red hands for them! This was not placed in the new school. At the time the black population lived mainly on the hillside above the creek which paralleled Camargo Road between Madisonville and Madeira and on Red Bank Road between Erie and now Madison Road. They attended (students) our school without a thought of being integrated.
We had two rooms for each grade in grammar school (eight grades,) where we had spelling, arithmetic, reading, geography and history with special art and penmanship classes. Our physical ed were twice a week.
There are two courses to choose from in high school (4 years), that of classics or domestic. The first, taught English, French, Latin, German, algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, a choice of the last two or both, and the domestic one gave classes are home making, sewing and cooking. I had two years of this. The grade school is now used for the sixth grade and high school building is now the junior high. The present high school is now Withrow.
At that time, 1910, when I entered high school, the Madeira H.S. students walked from Madeira to our high school as they had none. About eight of us in my area met them and it was a jolly group that walked another mile from there, winter and early summer to school.
Our classrooms had desks with benches, what different than those today, a place to put our paper, pencils etc. rather than carry them home. Our books were furnished without cost and before the summer vacation, the students repaired any torn pages and if needed, put new covers on them to protect the hardbacks of the books.
The new school had a very nice gymnasium but only one set of bars, rings etc., so you waited your turn to use them. Our instructor would stay for an hour after school (Fridays 3 PM) and teaches ballroom dancing, each student paying 10¢. It was fun.
We didn’t have field trips as offered in school today so after our work or going to Sunday school on Saturdays and Sundays friends would gather and take walks to Bramble Woods now Mariemont, Madera and in the winter time go ice skating on Hasebrooks Pond in Madera. Yes, we walked! Also bobsledding down Indian Hill where there was little traffic as of today. In the summertime (vacation) a number of us would walk up Indian Hill and 2 miles beyond to the Fisher’s farm where we picked berries for them to sell. The tray held for court baskets for which we were paid eight cents. But we aren’t about 50¢ for the day which we thought was tops, plus the fun together.
After two years of high school, the superintendent help me in securing a job working for a dressmaker in Walnut Hills where I learned quite a lot and finishing fancy dresses and suits, that which, we did not get in school. From there, I went to two other shops in Cincinnati before he married in 1916.
Our first home, a five room flat which we called our train, was on 419-8th Ave., Dayton, KY. Betty was born in 1917, and that winter it was so cold we lived in two rooms of it that could be closed off and used a coal burning laundry stove for heat and cooking. Gas pressure at that time would go so low one could not use it. The Ohio River froze over that year and when it finally opened, the broken ice cakes were hazardous for boats and barges that plied the river and left huge cakes of ice on the shore for a couple of months.
Grandpa was working for the American Oak and Leather Company at that time and from there went to the Fair Department store, then at 6th and Race in Cincinnati, as an electrical repairman, later working for the B&B railroad, doing electrical work, traveling from Cincinnati to St. Louis, Missouri. We move from Dayton Kentucky after 2 years, 7 months to Price Hill, renting an apartment from his railroad foreman, living there six months when we bought our home on Rose Street in Madisonville, 1919, living there for 20 years.
Shortly after Grandpa was let out of work, 1920, and as Madison Place was being developed, did house wiring and repair (electrical) work. Collections were poor, so I did the collecting. One family paid me 50¢ per week on a $6.00 bill, but we needed it and I stayed with it and others.
In 1922 he went to the Suburban Bell Telephone company in the cable department, where he worked until retiring in 1952. Remembering how they repaired cables, climbing poles to put their cables cars on to ride from one pole to another, winter and summer, and see the modern equipment used today, it is unbelievable. This he did not live to see.
Betty went to grade school in Madisonville, having many of the teachers I had had their and some having gone to Withrow when the high school became a junior high.
I attended the PTA at this time and it was then the depression and seemed to strike for with the nurses and doctors, we made many things that were given to needy children, about 1922-23.
Then came or worked at a welfare depot which was opened in Madisonville and food was brought in for families.
Grandpa salary with the phone company was reduced $11 per week but we managed and as Betty said she never realized there was a depression for her dad had a job while others friends’ fathers did not.
This went on for a number of years but gradually became better. Grandma Smith (Mary Louise, passed away 1932) and Grandma Camnitz (Anna Veronica, died 1942) who came to live with us (Camnitz) in 1923 worked at Wardman’s Dry Cleaning plant on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills, one taking off buttons trimmings etc. the other sewing them on after being cleaned. Each gave us five dollars per week which helped us in buying food for all. My work was looking after the home and occasionally making dresses for outsiders when my family sewing was finished as I made dresses for Grandma Camnitz as well. My mother could sew and made her own.
My neighbor and I walked down Rue Street to Settle Road and on the Madison Road, then Plainville Pike, where the B&B railroad bridge crossed over and the streetcar line made its loop, to return to Cincinnati, to buy our staple groceries and meat, carrying it home in two half0bushel baskets with handles. We spent around six dollars once a week there, buying bread, milk eggs and small items at a small store at Rue Street and Plainville Pike, and also one of Plainville and _______ Street one block towards Mariemont. We often said if we had at a car we would give anyone a lift who was going our way.
Our first car was a used Chevrolet touring car with side curtains which had plastic windows and had to be fastened on when it rained and in the winter. Grandpa and his dad repaired it and got it into running condition. A bad feature was that the spring bolts would break when you hit a bump, and there were plenty of them in the streets, it would let the front end of the car rest on an axle until a new one was put in.
Our first radio was made in a walnut shell, having earphones. The antenna was tied to a chicken wire which supported a Clementine vine on the front porch. To amplify sound, the set was laid in a bowl.
Coming home from a party one night, I was listening to a program and heard the announcer say “Monterey, California”. In writing to the newspaper editor, I learned it was a “ham” station in the radio shop there.
Movies were not the best then, although we did have a theater in Madisonville. The films would break and the “one minute please” sign would be flash in the screen in which there were a lot of “boos” from the audience.
Admittance was 10¢ for adults and 5¢ per children under 12. They also had a children’s film on Saturday afternoon 5¢.
We were there one evening when we heard the fire department go out on a call. It brought me to my senses, that I had left the fire burning under a pan of eggs I was hard boiling. Grandpa had to practically crawl inside the house, the smoke was so dense, and cold as it was, we had to leave the doors opened to air it out.
Churches had recreational programs for young people, such as taffy pulls, making popcorn balls, and sing fests which were enjoyed so much. The Methodist church we attended had a room for basketball and games, and a tennis court and the yard. The Masonic Lodge permitted groups to have dances in their large hall on Wetzel Avenue between Main St., Van which was Madison Road and Prentice Street.
The PTA gave plays put on by members to raise money for new draperies on the stage and other needed equipment. Then as now, all proceeds must go to the school. Grandpa directed a minstrel show for four consecutive years and as he loved to sing (tenor), took part also some members made costumes for the for those performing, so was fun for all.
All of us sang in the choir, Betty with the junior, and Grandpa and I, the regular choir for Sunday Service. We also had a united one with both choirs and senior citizens. Mrs. Simmonde, the minister’s wife, was the director for the seven years we served there then Bud Mozingo, Lucille Meyer, and before we left Walt Brownsmen. Biblical dramas were directed by Paul Haskell. At the time Mrs. Simmonde was director of the choir and the combined choirs of the district churches sang the “Messiah” at the Taft Auditorium in Cincinnati and Marauder’s Bethlehem at Music Hall.
In 1939, we moved to Silverton but still attended the Methodist Church but having a gasoline rationing for a few years later we put our membership in the Kennedy Heights community church within walking distance. There was a monster massive bill and rationing of gas to not permit two trips a week we sang on the Kennedy Heights church choir then.
We also had meat rationing, being given stamps. This was one time we were fortunate, for with the side meets, it did not take as many stamps as chops, steaks and roasts.
Other sources of entertainment while in Madisonville were home card parties and instead of serving dinner as we did not at one time, it was cinnamon toast and tea, yet we had the pleasure of gathering together with our friends.
In 1937, Cincinnati had the worst flood known in years. It covered 2/5 of Cincinnati and 3/5 of the county. With all the phone problems Grandpa stayed at the office at the phone building at seventh and Elm Street for one week as did other employees in the building. Newtown was one of the county communities that were that was really flooded. A friend who often sang for the Madisonville Monday club, of which I was a member, had just finished paying for her grand piano by her music engagements, and her home in Newtown was flooded. She said they kept raising it on blocks until they could not get it any higher. It was completely wrecked. We asked how they felt about the cleaning after the flood receded and she said, We swept and cried and when this did not help, we swore and swept harder. ”
Business had begun to pick up and the property we had bought and sold to 1939 had doubled when we sold in 1952.
This is as far as I could read .. there’s another half page, but it’s stuck to the page of my 40-year-old sticky-paged scrapbook (no glue needed).