Book stirs up memories of canal days

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If you’re not from the tri-county — Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana — area, you might not find this column of interest.

On the other hand, if you have a hankering to know what it was like to live in the early 1900s in a small community along the Sandy and Beaver Canal and the middle fork of Beaver Creek in Columbiana County, you may find yourself enthralled, as I did, by a slim book, Over the Counter and Under the Shelf.

It was written by the late Miss Lois Switzer, who was born in Elkton in 1903 and died at 96 at nearby Copeland Oaks of Ohio retirement community in 1999. She and her sister, Beth, had co-managed their father’s old W.A. Switzer store in Elkton for many years, and Lois had been a teacher at Beaver Local for 13 years.

As postmistress at the Elkton Post Office for more than 25 years, she knew everyone and had a keen memory of daily events in what was a close-knit and neighborly small town. She had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts cum laude from the College of Wooster in 1924 and would later do graduate work at Westminster College.

She was well into her 70s when she wrote this history and these fascinating vignettes and the book was printed in 1982 by Lyle Printing and Publishing Co. of Salem.

Mary Cole, postmistress at Elkton Post Office for the last 16 years, knew her well and knows of the delightful book which is no longer available. She says the library used to have a copy, but it has vanished. The copy I have enjoyed was rescued from an old Lisbon home whose owner has passed away.

The old Switzer store is long gone as is the 104-foot high Elkton Trestle, built between 1883 and 1888 by the Pittsburgh, Lisbon and Western Railroad. It was demolished in 1943, but not after contributing many colorful moments in Elkton’s long history. Miss Switzer tells of the child who “fell from the trestle and landed unharmed, saved by the parachute effect of the voluminous skirts of the period.”

She wrote, “The Elk Run Valley was a beautiful spot with its crystal stream of the shallow water twisting and turning through the green meadows between the wooded hills. As youngsters we spent many hours wading, hunting pretty stones and walking the lower girders of the bridge, sometimes standing way back to watch a train or freight go by.

“We watched the schools of minnows, avoided the crabs, sailed boats in the still waters. We hopped stones to cross the stream, sometimes hitting a slippery one and landing in the water.”

She tells of the arrival of electricity in 1936, changing a way of life that had depended on oil and gas lamps, noting, “The joys and conveniences of living with electricity can be only truly appreciated by those who have lived without.”

Elkton had long been plagued by floods and Miss Switzer recalls her first experience in 1912. “It was a time when the county was laying a brick pavement 12 feet in width through the village. The house across the street was filled with men who were working on the job. They spent the entire evening enjoying what seemed like their own swimming pool. They pushed each other from the steps into the water and had a hilarious time.”

Working in the family general merchandise store provided many glimpses into the people and the times. She describes the shelving, the merchandise, the counters, a small scale and a larger scale, open work space and at the end a paper rack with three widths of wrapping paper.

“I remember the first peanut butter we had came in a 25-pound tin and when we removed the lid there were several inches of oil floating on top. It was a real job to get that mixed into the solid peanut butter,” she recalled.

Here are more memories that can be imagined, and Lois Switzer would be so pleased to know how much they are appreciated and even envied today. Perhaps a few older Columbiana County residents may have a copy of this book, and I find it too bad that it is no longer in print. If I am wrong about that, do let me know!

The last chapter is titled, “We Made Our Own Fun” and how appropriate the author’s last comment is, “If we were underprivileged we didn’t know it. Yes, we made our own fun, and it was a rich heritage.”

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Earth Day is April 22. Wherever I go, I am appalled at what has been done to this planet’s earth and wonder when the day will come that there will be no earth left to celebrate. I think it will not be due to global warming, but to the daily destruction by “we the people.”

* * *

How about this: “The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth.”

— Dame Edith Sitwell

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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