Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Plymouth Place

A Wonderful Neighborhood

My first East Cleveland neighborhood was centered on Plymouth Place.  We lived on the corner of Shaw Avenue and Plymouth Place.  My friends lived mostly on Plymouth, although a few also lived on Shaw, Taylor Road and other nearby streets.  Most of our activities occurred on Plymouth Place and in the large field at the end of that street.  Plymouth was a dead end street with only nine two family houses on each side of the street.  At the end of the street was a large field stretching from the railroad at the North end almost to Euclid Avenue on the South end.  There were two houses between my house and the railroad on Shaw.  All the houses on the North side of Plymouth backed up to railroad property.  The houses on the South side of Plymouth backed up to the large back yards of houses on Welton Drive.   The far side of the field was bounded by the back yards of houses on Taylor Road.  A dirt path through the field provided access to Taylor Road and the shopping area at Taylor and Euclid.  Plymouth Place, the railroad tracks, the field, and the shopping area at Taylor and Euclid provided an ideal neighborhood in which to grow up.

My Plymouth Place Neighborhood 1940 - 1953

As might be expected, my early memories of the neighborhood are limited to my house and the area close to it.  That includes my front and back yards and some of the close neighbors’ houses.  My friends at that stage included some of the neighbor kids, who came to my birthday parties and stopped by when I was outside with my parents.  I didn’t go very far on my own until I was about four years old.  I can remember a specific occasion when I wandered as far as the field at the end of the street.  I was clearly alone at the time.  That trip expanded my horizon and gave me an important life lesson.

Robert Dreifort and Friend May 1942 - A view down Plymouth Place

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The patriarch of the Morris family, who lived in the last house on the street, was known as Grandpa Morris.  He lived there with his married son and grandchildren.  At that time he had a victory garden in a large section of the field next to his house.  I’m not sure who owned the land in the field.  All of us in the neighborhood used it as a sort of common property.  The houses that backed up to the railroad embankment had a strip of land between their property and the embankment, which some used for a garden.  No one seemed to mind this informal share cropping in an urban setting.  Grandpa Morris kept his garden for several years.  I guess old age eventually forced him to give it up and nobody else ever planted one there.  

On this occasion I walked to the end of the street and Grandpa Morris was working in his garden.  He noticed me on the path and asked if I would like to see his garden.  It must have been midsummer, because there was a lot of stuff growing there.  I don’t think I ever saw a garden that close before.  Then an amazing thing happened.  Grandpa Morris reached down, grabbed a handful of leaves and pulled.  Imagine my surprise when a bunch of large red radishes appeared in his hand.  He told me to take them to my mother, which I quickly did.  From that day forward I had an appreciation of where some of our food comes from.  That probably helps explain why to this day I plant a vegetable garden each year.  I love growing things you can eat as well as things that look nice.

As I grew older and bolder the field became an important place in my life.  It was big enough that it had several distinct sections.  Cutting through the middle of the field was a path that was used by children and adults to travel from Plymouth to Taylor and on to the shopping area at Taylor and Euclid.  The path was just dirt that had been packed down by many feet and bicycle tires.  Just south of the path was a section that we used as a baseball field in summer and a football field in fall.  The sports field had been developed over time by generations of neighborhood kids.  The baseball area had a dirt infield and a homemade backstop.  When kids became old enough to play ball, they also assumed the responsibility for maintaining the field.  That included cutting the grass and fixing the backstop.  

Robert Dreifort and Grandfather on Ball Field - 1949

North of the path was mostly open field with two or three clumps of trees.  This area was used for hiking, playing war or cowboys and Indians or just hiding out.  This area and the area south of the ball field were used by successive generations of kids to build forts.  Some of these became quite elaborate.  Many of the kids were quite handy with various tools and were able to get building material from home.  A common building material was railroad ties, which were sometimes found on the embankment.  One of our more imaginative forts was a small shed that we built over a utility manhole cover.  We covered the manhole with a rug and would escape down the manhole, when we wanted to disappear.  That ended soon after one of our parents got wind of it.  

It wasn’t long before we extended our explorations to the railroad embankment.  This led to adventures on the tracks and bridges as well.  In addition to the strip of land between the rear of Plymouth houses and the embankment, there was a large section of land on top of the embankment.  The reason that embankment was over 100 feet wide on average was that the Railroad at one time thought they would need a siding there.  The embankment stretched from Shaw to Coit Road and was quite wide the whole way.  It included clumps of trees and bushes, which were ideal for hiding and playing.   

The Shaw Avenue Bridge

There were bridges for the trains to cross over Shaw Avenue and Coit Road.  Our adventures soon took us over those bridges.  Across the Shaw Bridge was a siding for the East Cleveland Lumber company.  There was often a boxcar parked there waiting to be unloaded.  The boxcar and the lumber yard were great places to play war or cowboys and Indians.  Across the Coit Bridge was the Goff Kirby concrete company.  This included trestles at railroad level from which railroad cars dumped piles of sand and stones used in making concrete.  You can imagine what fun it was to jump from the trestle into those piles.  

Across the railroad from Plymouth was a large open area used by Carmen Bill’s Golf Driving Range.  I would sometimes watch the golfers practice there, although I never took up the game.  The area was also used by Shaw High School as a football practice field.  Kids from our neighborhood often watched the team practice.  In the winter the golf range was vacant and became another great place to play.  Each Christmas they would sell trees there.  After I moved, the Golf Range was turned into a City of East Cleveland skating rink.

Janet Dreifort on Plymouth Place 1950

The Plymouth neighborhood had other venues for childhood play.  Believe it or not, one of them was the street.  Plymouth was a dead end street.  It did not get a lot of traffic and very few people parked cars in the street.  I’m pretty sure that many people didn’t own cars and those who did used the driveways or garages.  We often played ball in the street, if we didn’t feel like going down to the field. That included baseball and touch football or just games of catch.  Another popular game was “kick the can”.  We would put a can in the middle of the street and the one who was “it” covered his or her eyes and counted to ten or twenty.  The length of the count and other things were somewhat flexible.  We often made up rules as we went along.  While “it” was counting, all the others ran and hid.  The object was for each kid to try to kick the can before being seen by “it”.  If you were seen trying to kick the can before actually kicking it, you were “it”.  That was just one variation of many hiding and chasing games we played.  We also played in the yards.  Running from yard to yard was yet another great way to play hide and seek or cowboys and Indians.  

Robert Dreifort playing ball in the street 1950

Another favorite hangout was the second floor of one of our garages.  We were able to set up the single room above a two car garage as a sort of club house.  We would spend hours hanging out playing cards or plotting mayhem of one sort or another.  Most of our plots were fantasy and never materialized.  We always imagined that someone would be after us, so we devised elaborate escape routes, many of which involved going out the second floor windows to the yard below and through the back yards of the Welton Drive houses.  We became adept at scaling fences and knowing the openings, which we could get through. We assumed that we knew the neighborhood well enough that nobody could catch us if we didn’t want to be caught.  Although we practiced those maneuvers many times, I don’t believe any of us ever actually had to use them. 

Another venue for kids play in our neighborhood was inside the houses.  Some of the kids’ houses had finished attics above the second floor suite.  Remember these were all two family houses.  These were great places to hang out or to have parties.  That included birthday and Halloween parties as well as just getting together to listen to records and dance.  In my house, I fixed up the basement for these parties.  The basement workshops of our fathers were also handy for building our projects such as soapbox cars and repairing our bicycles.  The front porches of our houses were also great places to gather.  We would put two lawn chairs against the railing and play Tom Corbett Space Cadet.  Each kid would take the part of one of the characters on that TV show.  We also had endless games of cards and Sorry on one of the Kids’ porches.

Party in My Basement - 1951
Row 1 Ken Barton, John Murphy, Ricky Probst, Bob Dreifort, Midge Grahling; Row 2 Margaret Heron, Margie O'Hair, Mary Hartley, Mom, Bob Barbey; Row 3 Earl Pratt, Virginia Richter, Janet Dreifort, Bruce Macmillan, Dick Barbey

As we got older, our activities took us farther away from Plymouth.  It was an easy walk to the city park just north of the railroad at Shaw and Allegheny.  That park included the Shaw High football stadium, tennis and basketball courts, a baseball field, a large playground, a concession stand and a first class swimming pool.  Kids often went alone or in groups to the park.  A little farther away was Forest Hill Park.  The main reason to go there was the sledding hill on the area that had been John D. Rockefeller’s front lawn.  

Another area that we learned about from our older peers was a place called Owl’s Nest.  That was a private estate South of Terrace Road and behind Shaw High School.  The entrance was a continuation of Shaw Avenue.  We discovered that an area behind the Owl’s Nest was a ravine, which was a section of a creek, which was open from Terrace Road on the north end to Northvale Road at the south end.  The ravine was deep and the creek had formed interesting patterns on the shale walls.  Once inside that ravine you felt as if you had left the city behind.  We would often walk the entire length of the ravine.  The creek had cut a path from the high end at Northvale to the low end at Terrace Road.  It emptied from and into culvert pipes at each end.  We would sometimes see how far we could go into those pipes.  Years later, after I moved to Nela View Road more than a mile south of the Owl’s Nest, I found that the kids up there had also discovered that ravine. 

It was a great neighborhood and a great life. Many of the things we did had established rules such as baseball and football.  Other things we learned from our peers, who were a little bit older than us and much of what we did, we just made up.  Yes we did some silly things back in the day.  I sometimes wonder how I survived my childhood.  Compared to the sheltered life of kids today, climbing down manholes, playing on the tracks and bridges, jumping off of trestles and playing chicken with locomotives, etc. seems a little dangerous.  However, most of us survived and did pretty well for ourselves.  Our lives were not planned or organized except as we organized them ourselves.  Most of the things we did occurred outside and we had a rich variety of places in which to use our imaginations.  Our parents told us to go out and play.  They knew roughly where we were and who we were with. We knew that we should be home when the streetlights came on.   What they didn’t know didn’t hurt them, or for the most part us, as it turns out. 


  1. Mr. Dreifort --

    Ken Barton is my dad! I loved reading your blog this morning and passed the link on to him.

    1. Ken and I were best friends back in the day. He, Tony Gildone, Bruce MacMillan and I were inseparable. Ken and I reconnected lately at the Shaw High Lunch Bunch. I am writing this blog for many reasons. A major purpose is to share my memories with others, who lived there and their families. It has been a great kick to hear from you and others, who enjoyed reading this.