High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Home Sweet Dell - Chapter Five of Kathleen's In-Dell-ible Memories Series

I am pleased to welcome back my friend and guest blogger Kathleen Mae Schneider who is here with the latest chapter of
In-Dell-ible Memories, a chronicle of her mother Margaret's childhood at the Shady Dell in the early years of the 20th century.

Chapter Five 


Sweet Dell

Kathleen Mae 

The other day as sunlight streamed through the window I noticed a small scar on Mother’s forehead – a reminder, she said, of a childhood mishap at the Shady Dell. I thought about her long life that began there and the stories she’s told me over the years that usually start with, “Things were so different then…”

That’s quite an understatement, because the world into which my mother was born is hard for us to imagine. Back then, a loaf of bread cost $.04 and
a gallon of milk $.35. $3,395.00 bought a fine
new house and $650.00 a new car. A typical yearly income was $1,209 and the Dow Jones average was 93. Life expectancy in 1912 was only 50 years old.

My grandparents’ newspaper showed headlines about Ty Cobb capturing the batting crown with a record .420, the politics of President William Howard Taft, and after the next election, Woodrow Wilson. George and Allie kept a keen eye on the trouble brewing in the Balkans. Since they had able-bodied sons, they worried about the implications of America being drawn into “the war to end all wars”, but they also foresaw opportunities.

Horses and wagons passing by the Dell were common-
place. Not so the few automobiles traveling to and from Baltimore. So when George and his sons heard about recently mass-produced cars with “30 horse power” engines, it must have seemed incredible.
I can imagine them at the supper table discussing the latest Indianapolis 500-mile race where the fastest cars averaged a top speed of 78.7 miles
per hour. One account of an early automobile race tells of spectators getting frustrated with the many stalled engines and breakdowns. “Get a horse!” they shouted.

The neighbors knew the place not as the Shady Dell (a nearby valley and woods) but as a noisy kennel and automobile business. Its address was simply York, RD 2., and on a typical day in 1918, the property bustled with activity – full of life and ambition, teeming with animals, children, hired help and automobiles.

My grandparents, George and Allie Brown, were
of the enterprising sort. They kept current with trends, followed the latest news, and became wealthy by applying their talents to the market’s demand for products and services. My energetic and optimistic grandfather made a sizeable fortune through three such businesses.

Seeing the emerging popularity of automobiles, he started a dealership for some of the first Cadillac and REO cars in the nation and hired mechanics to repair them in a garage added to his barn.

George raised dogs all his life and was a skilled hunter, so he easily gained wide respect nationally for his purebred and expertly trained hounds and terriers. Other animals soon were added for sale
as pets and for various uses at the turn-of-the-century. Medicine was still in its infancy, so bottling and selling tonics and cures from recipes given him by “an old Indian lady” added to his reputation as a healer and an honest businessman.

George, second from right with a hunting party 
that includes four of his sons, circa 1921

The older sons and daughters helped with the businesses and the younger Brown children had chores to do. Mother and her sisters climbed up onto slatted shelves in the dark basement to “sprout” Allie’s homegrown potatoes. In the fall, the girls tied paper bags around bunches of grapes ripening on the arbor to keep the birds from feasting on them before their mother could make jelly from them. They also helped to mow the lawn with a hand-pushed rotary mower and kept a large hedge by the driveway neatly trimmed.

The Dell’s arbor and a rose bed in 1914.

The Brown family was not ‘all work and no play’ however. They relaxed on weekends, particularly on Sundays when, according to Mother, “Pop would take us on trips”. They would ride the trolley to visit George’s parents at his birthplace in Manchester, with open trolley cars in summer and closed ones in winter. George would also load them up into one of his trucks and drive to Hershey Park or other amusement parks in Maryland.

A Brown family outing: hatless George in the center, 
Allie on the running board and 
Mother to the left of the smallest child.

Early on, there were many toys for the children, but Mother only remembers having to share every-
thing. Her older brother Austin (in dark coat above) had roller skates she adored. I once commented that it was nice of him to share them with her. She surprised me with her petulant reply: “He wouldn’t share them with me – so I stole them!” That got her into big trouble, as did climbing on rows of milk cans and knocking them over, cutting herself badly on her forehead. She clearly was a typical child and was sometimes naughty!

The animals at the Dell were important to the family’s livelihood so most were not pets. There were ponies that gave rides at the York fair and a horse still used for pulling carriages and wagons. A cow provided fresh milk. Reaching ground to roof on the side of the barn where the dance hall would be built many years later, there was a large enclosure that held dozens of homing pigeons. George raised and sold them for use during the First World War, since two-way electronic voice devices had not been perfected. Pigeons were one
of the few reliable ways soldiers could communicate with their commanders during battle. Some birds became war heroes by saving the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers, a fascinating bit of military history that I just discovered online.

Soldiers in a World War I trench preparing to release homing pigeons with important messages attached to their feet.

In addition to pigeons, there were pheasants (whose feathers were in great demand for ladies’ hats), angora rabbits whose fur was used for soft knitting yarn, ferrets that specialized in keeping houses and barns rat-free, monkeys for pets, and most plentiful – hunting dogs of all kinds. There were 100 to 200 of them on hand at any given time.
My grandfather made a large part of his fortune selling them to soldiers returning from the Great War in 1918 who wanted to relax by going out to hunt in the familiar fields of home.

As a child in the midst of all this activity, Mother saw only “Home Sweet Home”, but unbeknownst to her, and in reality, a storm was building that would change her life and that of her family forever. Ironically, the very things that built
my grandfather’s success would in a few short years contribute to his downfall.

Next time:

In-Dell-ible Memories Chapter 6 

The Dream Becomes a Nightmare

With love to Mother and to All,

Chapter 4: Allie's Rats, Pt 2: Margaret's Pig Tale
Chapter 4: Allie's Rats, Pt 1: Hill and Dell
Chapter 3: The House on the Hill 
Chapter 2: Margaret is Born...and So Is the Dell 
Chapter 1: The Beauty and the Butcher
Introduction: My Shady Dell "Roots"
Margaret's Birthday


  1. Dear Kathleen,
    Your chapters/stories have been missed. Seems like it's been ages since the last!
    Your Grandfather was quite the entrepreneur. So many businesses going on at the same time. A car dealership would have been enough to keep most busy and overwhelmed. Add to the mix hunting dogs, carrier pigeons, pheasants , monkeys (MONKEYS????) tonics and all the rest makes all work and no play for George.
    I keep looking at that old pic of the dell barn with the hanging deer and thinking how I used to slide that very same heavy door open so many times. What an interesting picture!
    I think of how much work it was to live back in those days without all the modern conveniences. Makes me feel fortunate to live in today's times (for the most part!)
    I'm happy to read that all those children were able to enjoy fun times, too, with their outings. It's hard to believe that Hershey Park existed way back then!
    Although I know somewhat how the story goes with all it's hardships, I can't wait to read them in your words in the next chapters to come! Always a fan and friend,
    Toni Deroche

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 14, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      Hi Toni!
      It's great to hear from you and read your comments about the Dell's past. Thanks for being patient between chapters. I'm a slow writer to begin with, and being out of town taking care of Mother nearly half of every week means even less productivity, but of course that's where the stories come from!

      I also wonder how George Brown did it all. From what Mother tells me and the history proves, he was super confident he could do anything he put his mind to doing. He also must have had abundant energy and stamina, and he always owned his own businesses. No career coaching necessary!

      When you opened those big sliding doors to the garage for Bob and me the first time and we stepped into the dusty, dark stillness inside, I remember thinking how it must have sounded with all those mechanics at work on the cars a century ago and imagined my grandfather vigorously overseeing it all — a picture of competence and success.

      I need to thank you again for allowing me to visit that place so special to my family. It can never happen again, so that makes your kindness doubly important. Much of this narrative has grown out of those visits to the Dell before it sold - such a fertile environment for documenting Mother's stories. It was so fascinating to see and spend time where they actually took place and to sense the ghosts of my ancestors all around!

      1912 contrasted with 2013 is wild isn't it? It does make us appreciate technology and how "easy" we have it in some regards. As far as the Sunday trips, Mother said she and her dad always got motion sick, but that didn't stop them! That old photo of the truck packed with people looks a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies to me. They were quite a gang, my family!

      Concerning the monkeys, remember there was one that lived for a short time in the attic playroom. Mother says he wasn't very friendly and would bite them if they weren't careful.

      A sad story follows this chapter, but survival is a big part of it, which I think makes it interesting and instructive to us as well. Hope you will be back for that one.

  2. It's so interesting to hear stories about life in a time long gone. I remember my great grandmother telling us stories of how they traveled from place to place in a covered wagon in the early years. They finally settled in Mesa, AZ in a time when there was no A/C or modern conveniences. They would often sleep outside, as the house was too hot in the summer. I am enjoying these little history excursions into the history of the Dell and it's people!

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 14, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      Hi, Karen!
      When we learn how our ancestors were part of history as it happened, it comes alive in a way not easily found in the classroom. World War I was boring to me in school. If only I knew my grandfather's pigeons were possibly part of the victory, I'm sure I would have paid much more attention!

      Your great-grandmother's stories are priceless - a covered wagon - wow! She must have lived to be quite old. I hope someone in your family is writing this down for future generations.

      The only air-conditioning at the Dell house Mother and her family knew came from opening windows and doors. They also slept on the balcony of the Dell on sweltering nights. (I bet the mosquitoes had a feast!) I also often think of my grandmother cooking on a wood-fired stove for her big family and guests on hot summer days and nights. No microwave, no convection oven, no takeout! Did I mention that she was also pregnant most of the time she lived there? Allie was one tough, tough lady!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading Chapter Five, and for your kind comments. See you next time for more "dell-ectible" history in Chapter Six.

  3. Hallo again Kathleen. I agree with one of the commentators above, it's been too long since we last heard from you. I love reading your stories, so beautifully written and described, of your mother as a young girl, and her family. It's amazing how your grandfather had all those businesses on the go - he was obviously a very astute man, although I can see that not so good times are a-coming! Fancy your mum still having that scar on her forehead from her childhood days. What lovely vintage photographs you have shown us today. As you quite rightly said, it really was such a different world back then. A much simpler world in so many ways. Dear Kathleen, thank you (as always) for sharing this story with us. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying it! Warmest wishes to you and to your mum.

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 14, 2013 at 4:41 PM

      Welcome dear Diane!
      Your compliments are gratifying and I'm glad you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoy writing them.

      I'm sorry for the long wait between chapters, but I must be honest. My writing comes from a very deep place in my soul and it doesn't come easily or quickly. There are hours and days of careful and sometimes frustrating research into old documents and letters. Long conversations and email correspondence with cousins (dead ends and cul-de-sacs abound...) take more up-front time. That's just to collect the facts, but it's how I acquired many of the anecdotes and old photos you see and could authenticate the things I wrote.

      This is followed by my time- and labor-intensive composition style when setting the stories down, usually late at night, agonizing over the best words and dozens of rewrites, with many false starts in between. Without this process, justice would not be done to the stories and I fear you and the other readers would not enjoy them as much.

      Then too, I must carve out my writing time from that spent with Mother and my husband and daughter. I won't even go into balancing housework at two places and trying to take care of myself, but they are important considerations too. At 66, I don't think I've inherited my grandfather's vigor!

      For my ancestors, as for most us, there were clouds as well as sunshine, and the occasional tornado. Hopefully it won't be as long before you can read about that part of the saga.

      Thank you for your kind wishes for Mother and me. She is doing very well for being nearly 101 years old, I must say. She is anticipating the warmer weather of spring, (me too!) and eagerly watching the crocus, daffodils and tulips that are pushing up in her flower beds. I hope you and your family find the same in your garden and are in good health and spirits.

  4. What an interesting story of life in those days and on the property. Your grandfather was an enterprising man! I used to wonder where the term, "Get a horse," came from. It is fun to imagine all the animals roaming around and contributing to the family. I didn't know ferrets were kept to kill rodents. I'll bet they did a better job than cats. I'm surely interested to hear the rest of the story of your grandfather. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 15, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Thank you for your comment, Belle. Researching my family's history has been a real education for me too. I have more questions than answers at this point, but that supposedly helps to keep us young!

      Mother mostly remembers the animals as just part of her father's business; she wasn't included in much of the rationale for selling them because she was so young. However I remember my childhood and she always had very caring ways with all my pets. She even remained the family pet sitter until just a few years ago.

      I hope the next chapter brings more learning your way. See you then!

  5. I was so glad to see another chapter forthcoming here, and in fact waited to read it until I had a little time to fully enjoy it.

    You did not disappoint. I will be thinking all day of how different things are. To think that life expectancy was only 50 in 1912? Wow. That's just mind boggling.

    I learned so many things by reading this, and I eagerly anticipate your next installment in this riveting account!

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 15, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      It's good to hear from you, Shelly! What I thought would be an easy endeavor (sharing my Mother's stories on Tom's blog) soon became something else entirely. Now I know how difficult writing for many to see can be.

      I generally focus on our own time in history, so I find seeing things through the lens of the past 100 years to be alternately shocking, funny and tragic. Part of my trouble is deciding which interesting facts, accounts and photographs to eliminate because of space considerations.

      Thanks for reading Chapter 5. Chapter 6 is presently going through the winnowing process. As we prepare for Mother's 101st birthday in a few weeks, writing time is at a premium. It's funny how helping to care for her often competes with getting her stories down in a publishable form.

      I look forward to your return here for the next chapter. Thanks for taking the time to read and your kind comment.

  6. Kathleen I am sorry to be late writing,I have been so down and heart broken over the loss of my best friend Harley dog,she gave me so much love and joy the past 13 years. I had no idea I would miss the love she showed me so much.Your story reminded me of my grandfather, he to was a businessman back in that time, he was one of the first to sell pianos in the area.He also was into something to do with horses, numbers and book keeping,he to loved keeping pigeons. It seems like just yesterday we were all at the Dell for Margarets 100th. The Dell holds so many good memories and they will all ways be a part of me. I so enjoy your stories about the Shady Dell and its early times. Please give Margaret my best and you take of your self. With love A Dell Rat All Ways Greg

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 15, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Oh my, Greg! I'm so sorry to hear about losing your good friend Harley. People who have not ever loved or been loved by a pet cannot understand how upset we are when they are gone from our lives.

      We've grieved the losses of many wonderful furry companions and know that the sadness you feel is very real and profound. The depth of that sadness is equal to the love you shared with Harley. Animal friends are sometimes easier to live with than humans - they ask little of us that we can't give and are just happy to be at our side. May you find peace and healing to know that you gave sweet Harley the best life possible and she will live forever right there in your heart.

      It sounds like your grandfather also wore many "hats". I'm told there was a player piano in the living room of the Dell house when Mother was a girl. Wouldn't you just love to know if George and Allie bought it from your grandfather?! Or how about him buying pigeons from George? We'll of course never know, but it's fun to think about, isn't it?

      Thank you for reading In-Dell-ible Memories, Greg, and for your comment. I will be sure to give Mother your message. Better yet, you live close by - you are welcome to visit her in person!

      Take good care.

  7. Hi Kathleen, it's great to see you back again. I know your mother's family worked so hard to accomplish their goals, and meet their needs. They were so motivated, and, willing to test the waters, auto dealership, selling tonic, hunting dogs and various other animals-a busy family!

    Your photos are amazing...just to have them at hand to be able to share them with us. That's why we feel that we know your family, and, we're right there in the life! I really like the 'Brown Family Outing' photo, and, thank you telling us who some of the family members are so we can follow along better. Haha, I can just see brother Austin running around looking for his skates now!

    This is a colorful chapter, outlining so many events that were typical of your family. And, 'home sweet home' for your mother that inevitably had to change. I envy and adore her wonderful memory, and, it's great that you're able to record her journey. I'm sorry I got over here late...sometimes I run behind! I hope this finds you and your mother well. Thank you for this lovely chapter.♥

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 16, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      Hello, Suzanne! No worries about when you got here; it's just great that you made it before the post is changed. Thank you for your encouraging response to this chapter.

      We are indeed fortunate to have these old pictures. It amazes me even more to realize that cameras were first available for the mass market in 1901, and that Mother's family had one and used it. It must have seemed like a magic toy to them.

      There are several other family outing photos I hope to share in future chapters that reveal quite a lot about Mother and her siblings when they were young. Since I came along late in my family, I only ever knew my mother as middle-aged, my aunts and uncles as elderly, and I never even met my grandfather, so these pictures are very valuable to me. When I look at them, their stories beg to be written.

      Sometimes I am wary of going into too much detail for fear it will not be interesting to others, so I'm happy to hear that you are not bored with descriptions of the "characters" in this story. The things I'm discovering about this group of people and their lives would supply the writers of any popular soap opera with plenty of material!

      You will encounter more personalities in future chapters. Although the next is largely tragic, I hope it will not dampen your enthusiasm for the series. In many ways, what happened to Mother's family is comparable to that of many people today. Only the setting is changed.

      You are most certainly welcome for this chapter - and all the rest to come! Thanks again for your compliments.

  8. Kathleen thank you for your kind words for Harley and I, its good to know that there are people who understand. Greg

    1. Kathleen Mae SchneiderMarch 17, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      Our thoughts are with you as you find ways to honor Harley's memory. May time heal; may peace come.

  9. thanks for share.


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