4th-graders Collect History From Elders


They Interview Veteran Savage Residents

April 07, 1991|By Dolly Merritt

When it came to having fun in the 1920s, folks who lived in the small mill town of Savage flocked to the only place in their area that could accommodate a crowd -- the Carroll Baldwin Community Hall.

Thebuilding, donated to the community by the mill and named for one of its owners, once contained two bowling alleys and a pool hall downstairs. Movies, wedding receptions and weekly dances were conducted in the main hall of the building on the first floor.

It was almost like old times one day last month when 10 veteran residents of Savage gathered inside the peeling walls of the 70-year-old building.

Instead of kicking up their heels as they used to, though, they answered questions posed by 35 fourth-grade students from Bollman Bridge Elementary School.

Their school is named after the Bollman Truss Bridge, an historic landmark in Savage, and the students have been enthusiastic about learning local history.

After touring significant landmarks in Elkridge and Savage with local historian Joetta Cramm, the children conducted more research over two months. They looked up facts about local history in books, newspapers and articles from the Howard County Historical Society.

Marianne Hummel, a resource teacher for the gifted and talented program at Bollman Bridge, attributes much of the students' skills to the efforts of Ann Christina Frankowski, a parent and cultural anthropologist who volunteered her expertise for collecting oral histories. Frankowski gave the fourth-graders tips about interviewing techniques and offered them feedback during practice sessions.

On this particular day, the students arrived at the community hall early. They greeted their guests with homemade corsages and boutonnieres. Then they got down to work.

Equipped with tape recorders, notebooks and pencils, the students' mission was to learn first-hand what it was like to be born and raisedin Savage 55 or more years ago.

"It was wonderful," said Kenneth J. Gosnell, 67, whose grandfather was a manager at the Savage Mill. He himself worked there as a young person.

"We didn't have to fear people in those days. Everyone knew who you were, and you knew everyone in the community. My grandparents lived on both sides of our house. Any time I was hungry, I knew where to get a piece of jelly bread,"he said.

Another former mill employee, 67-year-old Chester Lilley, motioned toward a balcony at the other end of the community hall. He chuckled as he recalled "a kid named Roughneck Jones jumping from that balcony onto the chandeliers." The students tilted their heads back as they surveyed the four wrought-iron chandeliers.

Everett Phelps, 77, and his sister, Alice Phelps, 80, have lived in Savage all their lives and shared their memories of growing up in the community.

"Did you ever live anyplace else?" asked one student.

"No, I always lived in the same house I was born in. It's been a good house," Alice Phelps said.

The Savage residents talked about the "cotton duck" canvas fabric made at the mill for ship sails and how it created"cotton dust in the air all of the time."

They also remembered 10-hour, six-day work weeks there that yielded $35 paychecks, or less if someone was late for work.

A frozen Patuxent River enabled townspeople to ice skate and even "drive a Model-T Ford from the dam in Savage to Guilford on the ice."

And there were special childhood memories of playing marbles, tag and jump rope, and of the fights duringoutdoor recess. There were ink pens and ink wells, book bags rather than back packs, and students "failing" when they didn't make the required grades.

The children seemed especially fascinated to hear Frank Vollmerhausen, 66, talk about growing up on a farm. VollmerhausenRoad, once part of the family's property, is a familiar route in thecommunity and is down the

road from Bollman Bridge School.

No such gathering in Savage could be complete without the memories shared by Marian Mathews, 81, a former schoolteacher who began her career teaching first grade in a red

schoolhouse in 1930. Mathews recalled the days when kids didn't get allowances and when 50 cents was considered a lot of money.

When the interviews were over, refreshmentswere served as a recording of Glen Miller's Big Band provided just the right background music.

But the students' work won't really begin until they review their notes and listen to their tape recordings for interesting quotes and anecdotes to enhance the information they have compiled.

Ultimately, the children will write summaries and present them to the Howard County Historical Society and the new Savage Community Library on Gorman Road.

"So many children are turned off by history," said Hummel, their teacher. "I wanted them to know how exciting it can be."

It was plain that student Zoey Smith was far from bored with her history lesson that day.

What was the toughest part of her living-history experience?

"Trying to wait for the person to get here," she said.

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