Column, Looking Back

Neighborhood changes over the years

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Someone asked me recently what it was like to have observed all the changes that have occurred in my neighborhood during the 70-plus years that I have lived here. The conversation led to such questions as, “Which house was built first?” and “What was Howard Avenue like back in the ’50s?”

I know I am old but I’m not old enough to know which house was constructed first!

However, the question sparked my curiosity so I went to the historical society website and looked at the Rutland directories. The first house that appears in their records can be found in the 1930 directory and appropriately its number is 1 Howard Avenue. Its location is on the north side of the street and it was the only house listed for that time period.

I found it interesting that in the 1929 directory Howard Avenue (without any houses) is referred to as “running from 2 Wallace Avenue to the woods”! There were no “woods” when I was a kid back in the ’50s but there were lots of fields in the Piedmont area. I guess it’s now safe to say that another girl and I started a couple of grass fires in those fields “back in the day”! There were no houses in the area where we lit them and let’s face it, what kid doesn’t love to hear fire trucks screeching through the city? I would have been the last one considered as a suspect but as they say, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for!”

On the south side of Howard Avenue the first house was #8. The street was developed from the west end to the east and quickly filled up in the ’30s and ’40s. An old plot plan for the street shows the lots as 5 feet by 150 feet and slightly angled. Apparently the building trend was to leave an empty lot between houses as they were constructed. In a few cases the homeowners bought those lots to avoid close neighbors.

My parents bought the lot next to our house when I was about 8 years old. The back half became a vegetable garden which my father lovingly tended. There were a few rows of corn stalks which made it a great place for the neighborhood kids to play hide and seek. The front section of the side lot became lawn and often either a badminton net or croquet set could usually be found there. There were about a dozen kids on the street and we were outside from morning until night.

The parents of my friend Betty also owned the lot next to their house and that was our baseball field. Only one ball made it through the window of her garage but the games went on and no more windows were broken — much to the relief of her parents!

As I mentioned in a former column the Goodrich family also owned an adjoining lot and that was turned into a skating rink each winter. It was flooded and groomed for our enjoyment. How lucky were we???

Exploring houses as they were built seemed to be an activity we all enjoyed. I don’t think there was a house under construction that we didn’t explore once the workmen had left for the day. Getting into the houses usually involved walking on a board, over an 8-foot drop, which was the depth of the outer basement wall. Once we navigated that we would have reached the open doorway. We checked progress on a daily basis.

When you’re a kid it’s amazing how something can seem so big when it’s really not. There was a large rock that we called Indian Rock in the area of Billings Avenue. It was where we used to have picnics. I was told that it is still behind a house on that street but it certainly isn’t the gigantic rock of “yesteryear.”

I have seen the street evolve from the time when kids were playing outside all day to the present time when it’s rare to see kids outside at all. Technology has replaced the games we took part in. We even made up some of the games we played, which showed our creative ingenuity.

There is no room for any more houses on Howard Avenue and likewise on most of the neighboring streets.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to explore the open spaces of my neighborhood. There are very few building lots left anywhere in Rutland City but that is to be expected after so many years have passed.

I am still in close touch with two of my childhood friends and our conversations almost always find us “looking back” to those days of yesteryear. I hope you have some fun memories from your own youth. They are a part of who you are today.

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