Growing Up in New Paltz, NY in the 1950’s
- by Bruce E. McKinney
I have written here many times about my collection, the challenges in finding the missing pieces, the joys when one place is filled and it’s on to searching for the next. All collectors will understand what I mean. My focus is on the Mid-Hudson Valley of upstate New York, and in particular, the small town of New Paltz, where I grew up. Most people don't know New Paltz, but in the 1950s, it was in many ways Anytown U.S.A.
Some of you have wondered what this community was like, and why I seem so obsessed with it. It is hard to paint a picture of your hometown in words, but fortunately, my good friend and classmate who shared the experience of growing up there has done so better than I. I hope this will help explain to outsiders why I collect this community so passionately, and for those of you who do remember New Paltz in the 1950s and 1960s, it will fill you with memories. And with that, I turn the floor over to my friend and New Paltz High Class of '64 classmate, Keith Matteson.
Growing Up in New Paltz, NY in the 1950’s
I grew up in New Paltz, NY during the 1950’s. I lived outside the village so I had to be transported to most activities; school, shopping and friends. My world at this time was fairly limited to New Paltz and 10 miles around the area. The following is what I remember about those days to my best recollection.
I moved to New Paltz in 1952 from California.
The village started at the Wallkill River, extended up Main Street to approximately the present location of the Middle School. The State College bounded its south side and J. D.’s Custard Stand and Agway bounded its north side. Main Street was the center of commerce; two banks, Zupp’s Drugstore, Carroll’s Department store, Movie theatre, Buddy’s, Pilches, P&G’s, the Library, the Homestead , a Grocery, Joe’s barber shop and Lane & Sargent’s 5 & 10 cents store. There were 2 lumber yards, New Paltz Lumber and A.P. LeFevere’s. Badami’s fruit stand lay outside of town on what is now Cherry Hill Plaza. Also two small markets; Hotaling’s and Rinaudo’s. There were maybe two or three gas stations, and four churches.
There was no Thru-way or Rte. 299. The Old New Paltz road wound its way through Ohioville, past Tantillo’s Market eventually finding its way to downtown Highland and the Mid-Hudson bridge to Poughkeepsie. Traveling to Poughkeepsie or Kingston was infrequent reserved for special occasions. Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Saugerties, Woodstock and Hurley were unknown to me.
I always wanted to ride my bike to town but was never allowed. Too dangerous and also sometimes I didn’t have a bike.
At a young age of 7 or 8 my memories centered around J. D’s for ice cream, Lane & Sargent’s for squirt guns, baseball cards, fire balls and disgusting wax figures with syrup inside. There was Carrol’s for shoes and a chance to look into the scope of the foot x-ray machine that never worked. I remember the grocery store with it’s wonderful smell of the coffee grinder and the fore-runner of the cashier’s moving belt; a wooden frame with a handle that moved your items closer to the cashier. There was a barn in back of Buddies where kids played pick-up games of basketball.
New Paltz had its own non-sanctioned Little League where Town teams would play other Town teams; Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox etc. played on the Campus School field. The field wasn’t fancy but did have a fence ; a wooden slat snow fence that leaned in and out.. There was sort of a pitching mound. Refreshments were in the form of soft drinks cooled in a kiddie swimming pool. None tasted better after the game. Sometime we would go past the Highland Little league on 9W. It was a “perfect park” which we longed for but never got. The “World Series” ended with a barbeque for the top two teams and awards such as belt buckles or tie clasps.
There was also Boy Scouts, troop 74 and troop 77. I was in troop 77, Bill Morris and Matty Fairweather the troop masters.
My grandmother lived on North Oakwood Terrace. So did Carol Bond. A lot of my friends lived on Tricor Avenue next to the Campus School; Jerry Sullivan , Al Johnston, Nancy Culver, Steve Spenser, John Gibbons and several others. Herrington Street was a subdivision of newer homes.
New Paltz had one traffic light at the intersection of Main Street and Rte. 208. Frequently the village’s only cop would park his own white Pontiac Bonneville at this intersection as a reminder to slow down. The former trolley tracks were easily seen embedded in Main St. as it extended up through the village. The hill by P& G’s was a two way street.
I went to the Campus School; grades kindergarten through 9th grade. We were real students used for practice teachers from the college. I had both Wicks sisters (Henrietta & Florence), Mrs. Tompkins, Mrs. Follette, Mrs. Hamilton, Mr. Myers, Mr. Jones, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Oakley. I was a polio pioneer. I was on the Safety Patrol. I had Mr. Archard for PT and Mr. Ottosen for music. Mr. Bolas for science, Mr. Harrison for Art, Mrs. Garland for Home Ec. and Mrs. O’Donnell for French. Mr. Bond was the principal.
Mr. Bolas used to tell us to study hard or the Russians were going to get us. Mrs. Garland taught me to bake an apple pie, still do. Miss Wicks liked to read us the morning paper. I was fascinated when she tucked her hanky into her cleavage when not in use. Occasionally we would have Bomb Attack drills. Houses with bomb shelters were not unheard of.
I have some memories of this school as one year lead into another. One of them was the day Paul Blue died. On a brighter note was the day a student teacher decided to tickle us at lunch. We were having hamburgers. My classmate Frank had polio. He told the teacher he didn’t want to be tickled. The teacher persisted. Frank scooped up a spoonful of ketchup and … let fly with a direct hit on the teacher. No more tickling but poor frank got hauled off as we continued to laugh uncontrollably. I also remember the gym dance classes, my first close contact with girls…the foxtrot. School Dances were infrequent and terrifying to me. Tormenting Mrs. Neilson, the librarian, seemed like a regular event. I remember when the Catholic kids left early to go to religious classes. I wanted to go with them, not to go to the classes but just to get out early.
We had a few field trips; Radio City Music Hall which included a movie and the Rockettes, the College camp, the Circus when one of the performers fell off his wire and a trip to a milk plant.
International night was big at the Campus School. Each class choose a country to represent and a dance to perform from that country. International Night was performed at the College Auditorium at night under the lights. A lot of fun.
There were many diversions at school. One I vividly remember is flipping baseball cards; a match game. Kids would bring their collections. Kids would face off with the first laying down as many cards as he dared risk flipping each from waist high. The card would land heads or tails. His opponent would be required to match every card on the ground, heads or tails. If the match was exact he won all the cards; if not he would lose all the cards. Kids got very skilled at flipping and each had his own technique. Three New cards cost a nickel in a pack of gum. The gum was usually thrown out. My mother threw my cards out when I was older, Urghh.
I was in the band trying to play the flute… very average quality but it was fun especially for concerts.
I rode the bus . It made one trip to pick up all the kids in my area and deliver them to the High School, the Campus school and St. Joseph’s Catholic School. The High School and Elementary School were in the same building which is now the Middle School. Discipline on the bus was swift and final. If a student misbehaved, the bus stopped and the student was escorted off the bus, left to walk home. My driver was frequently Mr. Van Gonsic who continually smoked a big cigar while he was driving. The bus route was wide. It would pick up kids along Albany-Post, Butterville, Mountain Rest Road and continue on to the Ohioville area before delivering the kids to school. Art Stegen , lived near me but choose to run to school. He always beat the bus. When the “Flats” were flooded the bus would have to detour through Gardner.
Halloween was an exciting holiday in New Paltz. I lived outside of town where there were few houses so getting candy on Halloween was not profitable. I was transported to go out trick or treating in town with my friends where there were plenty of houses and business was good. There was plenty of shaving cream, eggs and toilet paper to arm yourself against rival kids in costumes. Lots of fun. The next day one could see evidence on Main Street of the many soaped windows of store fronts; toilet paper and broken eggs all over.
Today I recognize New Paltz but I don’t know it very well. I have fond memories of what appears to me now as a very small and protected world of the time.