Resident tells story of the way it was 'Bill' Schriefer, 73, delights listeners

March 13, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Today, some 20,000 people live in Arnold -- a 10-square-mile community with new and older homes, Anne Arundel Community College, a senior center and about a half-dozen schools and churches -- bisected by Ritchie Highway.

But when George W. "Bill" Schriefer, 73, grew up there in the 1930s and 1940s, life was different. He went to school in a four-classroom schoolhouse, traveled on gravel and oyster-shell roads in horse-drawn carriages and a Model A Ford, and considered the Arnold train station and general store the town's hub.

"I can remember electricity being put in in about 1934," said Schriefer, a modest, slow-talking man with a shy smile who is one of Arnold's oldest sons.

In his youth, kerosene lamps were the norm; an ice man sold 50-pound blocks of ice for 25 cents; the milkman sold milk for about 10 cents a quart; and water for drinking and bathing was pumped from wells, he said.

His memories from the 300 block of Fresh Fields Lane -- where he has lived since he was age 2 -- are becoming the stuff of local oral history: He has given talks about daily life in Arnold at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church and will soon speak to students at Magothy River Middle School about how his hometown has changed.

"He's quite a character -- full of character," said Lee Boynton, 43, jTC who leads adult education programs at the church. He has invited Schriefer, a retired machinist, to speak there annually since 1993 after Sunday service and coffee hour.

"My idea was to create an oral history of our parish, our region, our area. I'd invite several people, but he was the main body of it," Boynton said.

He said Schriefer's stories delight many churchgoers.

Talking for about a half-hour, Schriefer recounts his life story during these annual "monologues," as he calls them:

He was born in 1924 in Northeast Baltimore and moved to Arnold two years later. "The story goes that I was had some sickness when I was a baby, and the doctor said I should come to the country."

The eldest of his parents' two daughters and two sons, Schriefer moved in with his childless aunt and uncle, Margaret and Henry Hirsch, who farmed land once owned by John Arnold, a farmer who died in 1857 and is buried on the property.

"Used to call it a truck farm -- they grew the vegetables and trucked them to the market," Schriefer said, also recalling a yard filled with pigs, mules, cows and horses.

As a dark-haired, slender boy, Schriefer fed chickens, brought in kindling wood, cut the lawn and carried water. But when chores were done, he'd catch up with school friends and neighbors for swimming in the Magothy River.

"They were all clean, not polluted like they are today," he said of local waterways. "Or if it was polluted, we didn't know anything about it then, and I'm still living, so it couldn't have been that bad."

Transportation?

Simple. "Most of the time you walked everywhere," he said, but for longer trips, the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad -- now a trail park -- ran through Arnold every hour on the half-hour.

But an adventurous Schriefer had other ideas. When he was age 6 or 7, his uncle bought a Model A Ford with a hand brake and standard transmission but no heater or radio, and he learned to drive it by the time he was 11. "I kept pestering [my uncle] until he let me drive," he said. "I had to put a pillow on the seat so I could see out the windshield."

Shopping was done at Haneke's Store at Church and Jones Station roads. The store had a gasoline pump, kerosene tank and pickle and sauerkraut barrels. Potatoes were sold by the sack.

Schriefer's recollections mirror much of what county officials have on record.

"For the most part, this area was a very rural, farming region, up until World War II," said Donna M. Ware, Anne Arundel County historic sites planner.

In addition to the railroad, built in 1887, two churches were close enough to serve Arnold residents, and the community had a school and a post office, she said. "Just the very minimal kinds of services that would be needed for a small rural community."

The building of Ritchie Highway through Arnold brought a dose of modernity in 1939, but not at first: "I can remember when it was only two red lights between here and Baltimore," Schriefer said.

In 1942, he left Arnold for the Navy and was stationed at a submarine base in Pearl Harbor during World War II. He trained as a machinist, came back to Arnold in 1945, then after another brief Navy tour in 1950, found a job at Kennecott Copper Refinery in Pasadena.

That year, Schriefer married childhood friend Laura Grimes, and they raised two daughters and a son.

Since retiring in 1985, he fishes, volunteers at his church, and grows cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes on his 5 2/3 acres, in addition to giving an occasional talk

"When I talk about this place here, it's not my history," he said. "It's the way it was then; that's the only thing I can tell them."

Laura Schriefer, 69, said her husband is a natural oral historian.

"I've heard some of the same things time and again," she said, "But every now and then he'll slip in something I didn't know."

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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