Mrs. Toth grew up on a farm in the Cuyahoga Valley near Everett, Ohio. She resided there with her family from 1920 to 1942 when she was married and moved elsewhere.
Toth, Helyn Fiedler (interviewee)
Lanese, James (interviewer)
Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Jim Lanese [00:00:02] Okay. Good morning. My name is Jim Lanese from Cleveland State University and I'm assisting with the National Park Service project here today. Today is March 9th, 2011, and I'm interviewing Helen Mae Fiedler Toth for the Cuyahoga Valley Agricultural Project. For the record, Helyn, would you please state your name and spell it and also please tell us a little something about yourself, when and where you were born and where you live now?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:00:42] Well, my name is Helen Toth and it's H-E-L-Y-N. My middle name is Mae, and I was a Fiedler, F-I-E-D-L-E-R, before I married Ernest Toth, T-O-T-H. I was born in Everett in what is now known as the Hunt Farm. This was back in 1920, and we farmed there for a while, and then I married a Cleveland man and moved to the Cleveland area and I now live in Seven Hills, Ohio.
Jim Lanese [00:01:18] And if you would, think back to your childhood and tell us, if you will, about your early days in Everett and on your family farm there. How did your parents arrive there? Give us a little bit of family background in that regard.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:01:41] Well, Everett has been the location of my great-great grandparents, my great grandparents, and my grandparents, and my mother and father were married after my dad came home from World War One, and they moved into the house in 1919 on Bolanz Road. And I was born in that particular house in 1920.
Jim Lanese [00:02:09] And are you an only child or was...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:02:15] Oh, I have a younger brother, he's five years younger and he was born in the house too.
Jim Lanese [00:02:22] And at the time, was your dad and mom, were they farming exclusively? Or tell us about your your home and the farm that it occupied.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:02:36] My family predominantly had come from farming backgrounds, and my parents started farming and it was mostly like truck farming, mostly vegetables, but I think as time went on, we started doing more because of the Depression. The Depression changed everybody's lives, and we started really farming enough so that we were able to sell vegetables to other people, including some of the stores.
Jim Lanese [00:03:10] Now, if you would, go back to truck farming, what is meant by a truck farm?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:03:17] Well, I have my own interpretation of truck farming. We farmed for mostly vegetables and did just acres and acres of sweet corn and melons and watermelon and other vegetables. But by going into the truck farming, it meant that we were selling to other people who were reselling. And also, we also had our own little stand out in front.
Jim Lanese [00:03:45] And you had mentioned that your family lineage in Everett went all the way back to your great grandfather. Did he immigrate here right to this area? Or tell us a little bit about how your family wound up in this...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:04:06] Most of my ancestors died before I was born, so I only have secondhand knowledge. But I believe that they, my grandpa, my great grandfather, I think bought the land, which is now known as the Point Farm, and it's now still being used. And he wrote... He really was mostly a dairy farmer. Think I lost my thought.
Jim Lanese [00:04:38] Your grandfather was a dairy, primarily a dairy farmer on a dairy farm?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:04:42] Yes, yes.
Jim Lanese [00:04:43] Okay. And...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:04:44] And I know he came here in the early 1800s, and before he had married, he and his brothers had gone to California in the gold rush. And then they came back and settled down, got married, and he had children. He had five daughters before he had his first son.
Jim Lanese [00:05:03] Interesting. So and the family is... Did the family remain in this area? Were they pretty much concentrated in the park area here?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:05:11] Pretty much stayed in Everett. Two of the girls married local boys, and they at one time had a store and an inn, and they sold produce and supplies and horses to the canal people.
Jim Lanese [00:05:29] Now, was the Valley area around Everett, was it pretty much exclusively farms? Were there a lot of farming families?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:05:42] Originally I think there were quite a few farms, but as time went on, there were a lot of just a lot of people that came down just to live out in the small town.
Jim Lanese [00:05:55] Tell us a little bit about how you recall as a child living on the farm a day, say, in spring versus summer versus fall, with respect to the work that had to be done and the day's activities and your mom and dad and brother, things you would be involved in.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:06:20] Our land only was around 35 acres, so we really weren't big, big farmers, but we always had things that we had to plan for. And I think this was... I'm just very happy that I was able to live in a small place. And in the spring, very early, my dad would order seeds from Burpee's seed catalog, and he ordered by the pound, not by the packet, and then he would have to start preparing the fields. Spring was the time when the wildflowers came out, and that was the most beautiful time of the year. And in the summer, of course, there would be preparing, other things to do. We'd have to haul. We'd have to plant. We'd have to pick. We had to can. But it was all fun.
Jim Lanese [00:07:08] And it sounds like it was mostly a manual operation.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:07:11] At that time it was. My dad only had a team of horses, and everything else was done by hand. We hoed by hand, we picked by hand, we packed by hand. And I think the industrial age changed. When tractors and other implements came into being, then that made a lot easier. But that was later.
Jim Lanese [00:07:35] Did your immediate family manage this all by themselves, or would you have to have help come... [crosstalk]
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:07:48] Oh, we did that ourselves. [laughs].
Jim Lanese [00:07:49] The harvest and everything.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:07:52] Mm-hmm.
Jim Lanese [00:07:53] Sounds like a lot of work.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:07:54] It was. [laughs] We didn't think it was work. We just thought it was fun.
Jim Lanese [00:08:02] Tell us a little bit more about growing up. I know you, in your book here, mentioned your school experience in Everett and also here in Peninsula, and some of the things you did with friends and so forth growing up here.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:08:24] That's a lot of questions. [laughs] School was fun. I had taught myself to read before I went to school, and we went to a one room school. And by that I mean there were eight grades and one teacher in one small room. We didn't have electricity. We didn't have running water. We had an outdoor privy, but it was great. And I had the extra special thing of having the teachers board with us. My mother didn't want boarders, but somehow she got stuck. And we had the first grade teacher who lived with us, the third grade teacher was my cousin, and she lived with us. And my fourth grade teacher lived with us, too. So at home, I would call them by their first names, and they were my friends and my cousins. But at school they were Miss So-and-so. [laughs] But we had a great time.
Jim Lanese [00:09:21] And then you went through eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:09:25] I went to four grades.
Jim Lanese [00:09:26] Oh, four.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:09:27] And then they closed the one-room school and we from then on went on the school bus to Peninsula. They changed the name of the Peninsula School to Boston Township School, and we went there from fifth grade through high school.
Jim Lanese [00:09:46] And speaking of schoolhouses, and it is kind of changing the subject, but as you mentioned, the barn that your dad got, things started out that way. Could you tell us about that?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:09:58] The barn has an interesting story and it's a little confusing to most people. It originally was a one-room school in Botzum, Ohio, about six miles to the south of our property. My dad bought it for a hundred and ten dollars. He paid cash, like he paid for everything, and he took it apart. I shouldn't say he did. We did. We all did. We pulled nails. We took things apart and we packaged them up, took them little by little down to the farm, and it was rebuilt. So, the one-room school became our barn.
Jim Lanese [00:10:35] And, in addition to the crops that you grew, you also had animals on the farm?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:10:45] My dad had a team of horses, Kit and Dick. Then he acquired a cow. Her name was Betty, and she gave us calves and usually two at a time. And we had a lot of chickens and we had a lot of pigs. And that was about it for animals. Oh, we always had a dog. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:11:06] He was in charge? Just kidding!
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:11:08] Right! [laughs].
Jim Lanese [00:11:13] So how long did you live on the farm? And...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:11:17] I lived in Everett from the time I was born, and I was born in the bedroom. When I say I was born there, I wasn't born anyplace else. And I left in 1942 when I married my husband. We moved to Cleveland.
Jim Lanese [00:11:37] Mm-hmm. And how long did your parents remain on their property on the farm?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:11:49] My mother became ill as she got older and they decided to move to Cuyahoga Falls. I think this was around 1960 or so, but they kept the farm and my dad still farmed. He commuted from the Cuyahoga Falls, and it was only because her health failed her that they left. But the farm stayed in their family. And my mother eventually died in 1969. And my dad, in the meantime, had moved back to the farm and he died in 1976. But it really had stayed in the family. And then when he died, it was left to my brother and me.
Jim Lanese [00:12:37] Mm-hmm. And all the while your dad maintained and continued to operate the farm?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:12:39] Yes, he did. Yes, he did.
Jim Lanese [00:12:46] How was that from your perspective, as far as business wise, did it provide income for the family or sufficient? Did your dad have to do other things? Or...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:12:56] Well, my parents were not greedy people. They shared everything with everybody. And my dad's idea of farming, mostly, especially when he got older, was to share with everybody. He was happy if he could sell enough as he got older to pay for his seeds and his fertilizer. When... During the Depression years, we did make some money, but we ate very, very well. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:13:27] I think you mentioned in one of your stories in the book that your dad went to work for a paper mill that started up in the Valley here?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:13:38] He worked for a time at Jaite paper mill, and then later he worked as a foreman for WPA. He helped finalize the road on Riverview Road. Then his last job was with Summit County Engineers, and he drove heavy equipment in the winter for snow plowing and he drove other equipment in the summer. He loved to be outdoors and he loved to farm. He loved to see crops grow. And he loved very much the soil. He was a down-to-earth person.
Jim Lanese [00:14:17] Sounds like he certainly had his...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:14:18] I loved him.
Jim Lanese [00:14:18] Opportunity to do that. What... Then after you and your brother inherited the farm upon your dad's death, what happened after that? Did...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:14:39] For a few years, we used to go out and cut the grass and make it look good, but we knew that we didn't really need the farm anymore. My brother had his own property. We had our own property, and so did my grandchildren, and grandchildren and my children. So we decided to approach the national park and tell them it was available if they wanted it.
Jim Lanese [00:15:04] Mm-hmm. Did they... And it was you approaching them. They didn't...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:15:06] I approached them because I knew it was in the future that was going to happen anyway. And it was a shame to leave the whole place vacant.
Jim Lanese [00:15:21] Mm-hmm. And right now, I understand your home is part of a visitor center?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:15:26] Yes, it is. And I'm happy to go visiting. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:15:31] Is it the original structure? Do they kind of...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:15:33] They just reconstructed and did some extra work on it. Probably cost them a lot of money because the house actually was vacant for over 15 years.
Jim Lanese [00:15:44] And what about the property surrounding? Is it being farmed at all now?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:15:49] I'm sorry to say that when they had the flood in 1975, I believe, it ruined some of our fields. They have now become almost a forest. And so it's not being used as a farm, but it's a good location for a visitor center because it's right on the Towpath.
Jim Lanese [00:16:13] I see, which would imply that your farm was close to the canal as well.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:16:20] It was next... It was our border. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:16:22] A-ha.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:16:25] We just paralleled the canal.
Jim Lanese [00:16:27] Now one of the brochures you showed me was the law that enabled the canal back in 1825, I think...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:16:35] That's correct.
Jim Lanese [00:16:37] Now, do you have any recollection of the canal operations from your childhood? I don't know the history of the canal so maybe you can help.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:16:48] The canal was completely dry. It was just a ditch, a big deep ditch. But I can remember referring my parents referring to the Towpath, and the Towpath became a place where my dad had a hot bed. And that's where the pigs were and also the chickens.
Jim Lanese [00:17:10] So the actual canal area area or space was pretty much abandoned while you were there... [crosstalk]
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:17:16] It was abandoned, so it was full of trees and weeds and everything just grew there wildly.
Jim Lanese [00:17:28] Mm-hmm. Has it refilled since? Because I always hear of floods related to the canal, or was that in a different area?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:17:35] It's pretty much... It's not really much noticed right in the area where I grew.
Jim Lanese [00:17:47] What... Tell us a little bit about the Point Far, which was also part of your extended family, or you had relatives that owned that.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:18:04] At the time when I was growing up. Nathanial Point Jr. and his family lived there, so I sort of grew up with them because this farm was only about less than a mile away and we could walk there and we visited there an awful lot. And this would have been my mother's Uncle Nate, and they farmed. But my Uncle Nate, I'm sorry to say, was more of a musician than he was a farmer. And he wasn't a very good farmer, and they didn't grow very many things.
Jim Lanese [00:18:53] But you had mentioned that it was around the corner or up the street. You had an opportunity to visit it often.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:18:59] On Akron-Peninsula Road, but it was nearby.
Jim Lanese [00:19:09] And as a youngster, you had mentioned in your stories especially, that you'd get together with cousins, neighbors, and things like that. Tell us some of the things you did for fun and recreation growing up.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:19:29] I think farming was like recreation to me, but we did a lot of things. We were always busy. We played in the winter card games and board games and ping pong. In the summer. We were mostly outdoors. We swam a lot in the creek. We called it "crick," and we played ball. We had a lot of neighbors for friends. We had family reunions. It was just endless what we were able to do. We used our imaginations more than children do today.
Jim Lanese [00:20:15] It certainly sounds that way. After you were married and you moved into Cleveland and lived in the suburbs, did you continue to come back and help out and work on the farm at all?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:20:34] Oh, absolutely. Nothing could keep me away. [laughs] We used to come out almost every Sunday and we traveled back and forth. I kept in touch with my mother. And because it was a family kind of line on the telephone, we didn't talk about anything personal. So we used to write letters in between and we really enjoyed coming out. And I have two sons and they both enjoyed going out to Grandma and Grandpa's.
Jim Lanese [00:21:06] Mm-hmm. And I think you mentioned to me already that your one son is pretty actively involved still in the whole farming industry.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:21:15] Absolutely. He lives in Medina County and he's very active in the Medina County Fair Board. And he, at the present time, he's raising miniature horses and pedigreed rabbits. He has a barn full of hundreds of pedigreed rabbits and he really has good memories. And we go down to visit the farm quite often.
Jim Lanese [00:21:38] Now where... Is he far, far away or nearby?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:21:41] He lives in the Medina County in Valley City. It's probably about 25 miles from my house.
Jim Lanese [00:21:49] Is there anything unique about the Valley here and where he resides as far as farming opportunities are concerned, and is there better terrain or anything like that?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:22:09] Medina County, of course, is different than Summit County, and it's a different terrain. But I think Medina County at one time had a lot of farmers and a lot of farms. And just like every place else, these farms are dwindling.
Jim Lanese [00:22:25] Mm-hmm. Does your son grow crops as well or is he...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:22:29] Now that the present time. My son is now retired.
Jim Lanese [00:22:32] Mm-hmm. And focused on the horses and the rabbits. You showed me a photo of your dad when he first got his tractor, which was probably a pretty big event.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:22:51] I think he was very excited. He had always owned a car. We always had a car from every time I can remember, so we were able to communicate. We really lived in a very, very small town, but we always went to Akron. We always went to Cleveland. And so we weren't really novices with the city life. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:23:14] Mm-hmm. And when he got the tractor, did that change the whole routine a lot?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:23:23] I think it made a lot easier. You don't have to clean up after tractors.
Jim Lanese [00:23:26] [Laughs]
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:23:28] And I think it was faster and he really, really enjoyed it.
Jim Lanese [00:23:59] You had mentioned upon harvesting that you'd spend several days and perhaps weeks canning fruits and vegetables with your mom. Was that exclusively for your family or was it enough to sustain your family and sell as well?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:24:21] My mother was a perfectionist. She did... She had just miracles in her hands. She could she played classical piano and she knitted and crochet and when she canned it was perfection. All the peaches had to be lined up and it was really beautiful. And she also showed at the Summit County Fair and won blue ribbons. I loved to pare apples and peaches and pears, loved to help growing things. And we just had really a wonderful time. It wasn't work. It was just fun.
Jim Lanese [00:24:59] Mm-hmm. Those are great stories. Okay, just a... When you sold the Fielder Farm. I'm sorry, Fiedler Farm...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:25:32] It's a German name. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:25:34] To the Park Service, did they inform you or give you any idea of what their intentions were or were they just kind of buying land wherever...?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:25:48] I think at the time that they purchased the farm, they really didn't know what they were going to do with it. They just knew it was in a strategic place. Being right on the Towpath, there aren't many houses on that side of the Towpath where it would be easy for walkers to stop or the bikers to stop. But that's why I'm saying it was vacant for so long that the house had somewhat deteriorated. But we were very pleased to know that would be a visitor center and that we could visit too.
Jim Lanese [00:26:18] Perfect way to maintain everything and visit home every so often, right? And you visit up to the present? Is that correct?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:26:28] Pardon me?
Jim Lanese [00:26:30] You visit currently?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:26:30] I visit often. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:26:31] Uh-huh. You could probably be a guide [laughs] for the Park Service. Are there any other stories that you'd like to relate, with respect to your experiences in the Valley growing up or even after?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:26:54] I have so many stories, it would take forever to tell them, but I'm just grateful that I lived in a small town and it really gave me a good basic background for what I ended up doing. I still meet with several of my friends for lunch once a month. We visit and we call all times. And that's a great pleasure. It's been so wonderful to live for nine decades.
Jim Lanese [00:27:22] That is certainly a blessing. Also, tell us a little bit about the book you put together. It's an opporunity to get that on the record as well.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:27:33] All my life, whenever people would ask me where I came from, I said, Everett, Ohio, and they never had heard of it. I had been always telling our sons about growing up and they seemed to enjoy the story, so one day I decided to just start writing and I just kept writing and writing and writing. And so it ended up in a small book. And my family have enjoyed it immensely and they've shared it with their friends and their relatives. And my grandson is in business and he has shared it with other people and he talks about his grandma and they all think it's rather strange that I grew up in such a small little place.
Jim Lanese [00:28:19] So you were able to publish the book and it's available here locally?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:28:23] Well, right now it's off the market. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:28:27] Okay. [laughs] But there are excerpts from the book on the National Park Service website, which is how I became familiar with it.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:28:38] I think a lot of people have seen it and have read it, but I think my biggest fans are my family and friends.
Jim Lanese [00:28:45] Which is ideal.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:28:47] That was the purpose. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:28:57] Okay, Carolyn, do you any...
Carolyn Conklin [00:28:58] Yes, I have a few questions for you. So I'd like to take you back. Let's go back to your time growing up on your parents' farm. Could you just give us a sense of what the farm actually looked like? The fields, the farmhouse? What did it look like?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:29:20] What does the farm look like?
Carolyn Conklin [00:29:24] Mm-hmm.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:29:24] It doesn't look like it did when I grew up there.
Carolyn Conklin [00:29:27] So what did it look like when you were growing up there?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:29:30] Well, our house really was sort of... Unique. It wasn't really a very nice house, but was a wonderful home and there's a difference. And we had a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and two bedrooms on the first floor and two bedrooms upstairs. You'll notice I didn't say anything about bathrooms. We didn't have one, but we did bathe, and we had a cistern and we had a well, also. We had a huge yard, and at one time we had planted four thousand evergreen plants. And we sold Christmas trees for a while. We used to have many, many strawberries, raspberries, so. Fortunately, I think we ate better than anybody else I know, and my mother was an excellent cook and an excellent baker, so people that think a big house is everything, it really isn't.
Carolyn Conklin [00:30:41] Did you have a favorite place on your farm growing up?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:30:45] Absolutely. I had what I called my secret little wildflower place, and we had every kind of wildflower in the book. And this was where in the spring I would go down and there were all kinds of things, just trilliums. And we had four different kinds of violets that were purple and dark purple and light purple, yellow and white. And I used to just get down on my knees and I just picked these flowers like crazy. And we used to have big bouquets and I'd take them to my mom so excited that picked all these flowers for her. It wasn't just one little dandelion, it was all these other things that we had in the woods. And this is a special, special place. And I'm afraid perhaps the flood that they had from the fact that the covered bridge went down probably eradicated many of these flowers.
Carolyn Conklin [00:31:41] And you said that your family grew vegetables? What types of vegetables?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:31:46] Almost everything that you can think of. But my dad particularly liked to plant sweet corn, and we planted in series so that it would last almost all summer. And then we had wonderful cantaloupes, and we had yellow and red watermelon and we sold them so cheaply. It was really funny. And we'd have people from the city that would come out and we would plug the watermelons to make sure they were ripe. And I remember once when I was probably about 10 years old. A family stopped and they want watermelon and they plugged it for him and they said, you know, this is really good. But we never heard of a yellow watermelon. Well, this is a yellow watermelon, and it's ripe. He said, you're such a sweet little girl. I couldn't believe you.
Carolyn Conklin [00:32:33] And what made those yellow watermelons different?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:32:38] Yellow watermelon, the skin is the same, but you go inside and the flesh is yellow and it's very sweet. It's similar to eating honey.
Carolyn Conklin [00:32:51] So what was the process for selling the vegetables? What did you have to do to prepare for that?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:33:01] We had just a little makeshift stand out in the front under a tree, and it was just strictly a couple of tables and things. It wasn't anything fancy and we were only open on weekends, but we had a sign on our tree that people could stop if they wanted other vegetables. But we sold predominantly sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, beans and a few other things. But those were the ones we sold the most of.
Carolyn Conklin [00:33:33] And what was it like interacting with those customers?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:33:36] Fun. Just fun. It was it was a great experience. We had a cigar box that held our change and we knew the prices. And this was back when I was only maybe 10 or 11 and my brother was five years younger and he helped some, too. But I enjoyed meeting all these people and we always gave more if they had—this was depression years and if they had children, we gave them extras more than what they paid for.
Carolyn Conklin [00:34:10] And so what was a typical day for for your mother? What kind of role did she have growing up?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:34:19] What kind of role did my mother have?
Carolyn Conklin [00:34:21] Yeah, I mean, well if your father was out in the field farming, what was your mother doing?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:34:29] My mother, and I'm included in this, we mostly worked indoors, although we did... All of us planted and hoed and picked. But we were the ones who took care of the house and canned and prepared meals.
Carolyn Conklin [00:34:45] Can you tell us the process for canning? I'm sure that we've never done it.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:34:53] Well, you have to remember that we didn't have a refrigerator in those days. We had no electricity until I was 11. And so we had to can everything in order to have it not spoil. My mother would even can meat. And we had our own hogs, of course, and we used to have sausage and, you know, can... We'd cook it and then can it. And canning is very tedious, but it can be fun. I mean, your jars have to be just so sterile, and you have to process them so they're completely free of bacteria and bad things.
Carolyn Conklin [00:35:36] And how do you do that?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:35:37] Well, it's been a long time since I've done this, but I'll see if I can recall some of it. For the most part, most of your fruits had to be heated and brought to a certain temperature before, and you had to add some sugar and usually something else like that was citric, citrus-type thing to keep them from turning color. And then you had to have your cans all washed and sterilized. And then you... When these fruits and vegetables were ready to put in then you packed them and then with corn, you had to cut the corn off the cob and then smash it in the pint jars, we usually used for corn, and then that had to be heated in a hot special canning container. You had to make sure these were properly sealed or they would spoil and we didn't have anything spoil.
Carolyn Conklin [00:36:39] What other specific chores did you and your siblings do growing up?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:36:48] I don't understand what you mean.
Carolyn Conklin [00:36:50] What sorts of chores, what responsibilities did you have when you were younger?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:36:56] Responsibilities? We had sort of a feeling that we had certain chores that we were supposed to do and we just did them. It was my responsibility to keep my room clean, make my bed. I also always set the table and it had to be set properly. I washed the dishes and dried the dishes. We cleaned the house on Saturdays and I was supposed to clean all the rooms except the kitchen, which my mother was always out there baking or something, and she would do the kitchen. And we always did spring and fall cleaning when we took everything apart, took most everything outdoors.
Carolyn Conklin [00:37:45] Now, you mentioned the schoolhouse. I would love to know more about what both the outside and the inside of that schoolhouse looked like.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:37:54] I have pictures of it. It's a little hard to explain. The building itself was quite plain. And as I said before, it was one room. We had some hooks in the front for our coats and the place of the shelf to put our lunch pails. In one corner was a bucket of water, and everybody was supposed to drink from a dipper. And the first day I went to school, I didn't like that so I told my mother that everybody was supposed to drink out of one dipper and she said, well, that wasn't good. So we found a container that was... that had a spigot and was covered and we could put the water in there and everybody was supposed to bring their own cup. In the front was a blackboard and a flag, our United States flag. In one little corner we had a few books that were supposed to be our library, and we had chairs and desks that were in rows. The smaller desks were to one side, and they kept getting a little bit bigger for the eighth graders because there were children there from approximately five- and six-year -olds up to probably 14. And outside, we had a privy and you... But today we have so many sanitary things. Back then we didn't have any place to wash our hands, but we survived and we kept well. It was a great experience.
Carolyn Conklin [00:39:34] And what was a typical day at school like?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:39:41] Typical day at school, the teacher would come out to front and ring her bell, and we would start having classes and she'd have first grade reading and then you'd have second grade something else and third grade something else and fourth grade math and keep going up the line. And we had classes all day and they were... We'd go up to a recitation bench and... But we learned, we learned how to read. We learned how to multiply. We learned how to divide. And we thought maybe we didn't know as much as we should. But when we went to Peninsula, we kept up with them. And even in high school, we did. And when we went on to school, I found that other kids didn't know more than we did anyway.
Carolyn Conklin [00:40:29] Do you have a favorite memory from your school days?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:40:34] They're all favorite memories. School was actually so much fun. I think my teachers were great. We had a cross-section of students. They came from every country and every different kind of races, and we just had a lot of fun.
Carolyn Conklin [00:41:00] And can you tell us more about the historic Everett? What it was Everett, like you know, before now?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:41:10] I think Everett at the present time is practically vanished. They try to call it Cuyahoga Falls. But I prefer Everett. I think originally it was called something else, and they renamed it back in the early 1800s to name it after a man had been quite popular there. I think at the time I lived in Everett, there were probably just a little over 100 residents, but before that, in the canal days, it was quite a thriving little small place because it was a place where the people would stop and get extra supplies, including horses. And my grandfather was involved with an inn and supplies and horses to the canal people. Over the years, it has just deteriorated. At one time it was a ghost town, but now they're trying to revive it a little bit.
Jim Lanese [00:42:09] It was also a railway stop?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:42:11] We had our own depot. Yes, sir.
Carolyn Conklin [00:42:16] And what kind of buildings were there? What kind of stores?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:42:22] Everett consisted of about a dozen or so houses, a depot. There was a weigh station where people would go to weigh their milk cans and their milk. We had one small store that was also a post office, and you could also buy kerosene for your lamps there. There was another store about a thousand feet away that people could buy groceries. And we had a church. Was the only church in town. It was a Protestant church, and if you were Catholic, you had to go to Peninsula. And we had a one-room school up until 1931, and that was our town.
Carolyn Conklin [00:43:16] What was it like to go to town?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:43:20] What was it like to go to town?
Carolyn Conklin [00:43:22] Yeah. When... Did you go there to get to get supplies and what did you do when you went into the town?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:43:31] Fortunately, my father always had a car and when we really, really wanted to replenish our supplies we usually went to Cuyahoga Falls or Akron. At that time in the early days, there weren't very many good roads. So that was kind of a problem. But we always managed to to get our supplies that we needed. But we used to go to the little store over the corner of Everett Road and Riverview to... We went daily to get our mail and they had wonderful, wonderful penny candy there. That was the most popular thing that they had. Their canned goods and their staples were quite expensive so we really traveled to get those.
Carolyn Conklin [00:44:26] Did Everett have any sorts of events to bring community members together?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:44:34] Because of its location, the church was rather a central place to have every event, and we used to have box socials and potluck dinners and plays and different things over there. Things changed after I left because by that time there was, of course, electricity and people were more able to get around better. But we used to do a lot at the church. It was sort of our hub.
Carolyn Conklin [00:45:10] Can you tell us some more about any other interactions you had with other other families, whether they were farming or not, around Everett?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:45:22] People were pretty much friendly and did things together. We used to get together for card games. There used to be dancers, but we were so close to Peninsula that we did a lot of things there. My dad belonged to the American Legion and we went to American Legion meetings and we belonged to Grange. But I think the most exciting things were the dances that were in Richfield and in Peninsula. That was where my husband.
Carolyn Conklin [00:45:54] So tell us about those dances.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:45:57] Oh, the dances were fun. In Peninsula, it was at the G.A.R. Hall, and my dad used to sell the tickets and my mom used to sell the soft drinks. And we used to do foxtrots and waltzes and two-steps and square dances, and we'd have cakewalks, and the cakewalks, you walked around to the time of the music. And if you stopped at a certain spot afterwards, you got this cake to take home.
Carolyn Conklin [00:46:33] And where were those held?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:46:35] Pardon me?
Carolyn Conklin [00:46:36] Where were the dances held? In what buildings?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:46:38] That was in the G.A.R. Hall at the corner of 303 and Riverview in Peninsula.
Carolyn Conklin [00:46:44] And did they decorate the inside for the dances?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:46:47] It was, it was wonderful. We used to go every Saturday night.
Carolyn Conklin [00:46:53] Tell us, if you would, about the Grange. What is the Grange?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:47:00] Well, the Grange is a farmers' organization that's still in existence, and people would just meet and have meetings, and I was young when I used to go to the Grange meetings. So we used to always have some entertainment. My mother was a musician. She was a concert pianist. And she and I used to play duets and used to have certain songs, and I think the adults talked about the farming and different things that were happening. It's a national organization.
Carolyn Conklin [00:47:39] Why do you think that your family continued to stay in farming for so many generations?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:47:50] As I mentioned before, my father just really, really liked to work with the soil and he liked to be outdoors. I think this is the reason we stayed in farming.
Carolyn Conklin [00:48:05] And what have been the changes in the Valley over time that you've noticed?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:48:16] I guess when people go down to Everett and think of changes, it's not really all that much that's changed. A lot of the houses have disappeared. Some of them have been moved. Some of them have been demolished by fire. And I know that people are surprised to go down there and think there isn't anything there and there probably isn't, but there's a lot of memories. And I think that at one time I thought it was the most beautiful place in the whole world, because you could look up at the hills, you could see all the trees and everything was just natural. And now it has sort of changed that way. I think you do find peace.
Carolyn Conklin [00:49:08] And what do you think about... What about the Valley gives you that peace?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:49:17] It's just going from one elevation to another and the fact that there are trees and for me the pieces, I think my memories that I have, I was happy.
Carolyn Conklin [00:49:31] And you said you currently meet with some friends that you had growing up?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:49:37] That's right. We meet for lunch.
Carolyn Conklin [00:49:39] And what do you talk about?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:49:41] We talk about everything. We talk about what's happening now and what didn't happen. And we're trying to recall names. And we all have our own little versions of what happened and who somebody was and what happened to them. And we're trying to correct some of the things that were said by other people that really didn't happen.
Carolyn Conklin [00:50:04] Are there some kind of legendary stories that you all love to share the most?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:50:10] Oh, we have a lot of funny little stories. We used to have a man that lived over at the corner of Riverview and Everett that made pretty little rings out of pig tails. And we were asked to bring over a pig tail if we had a butchering at our house, and then he would take these little bones out of the pig tail and make little rings. And he'd... The original ring was like just from the from the pig, but he would make little hearts and little squares and little diamonds and put on top. And almost every little girl in Everett had a pig's, pig tail ring. They looked like ivory. [laughs]
Carolyn Conklin [00:50:58] Were there any other great stories?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:51:03] Oh, you wouldn't want to know all of 'em. [laughs] We did a lot of funny things at Halloween. Christmas was special then. Everything was special.
Carolyn Conklin [00:51:18] What did you do at Christmas?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:51:20] Pardon me?
Carolyn Conklin [00:51:21] What did you do at Christmas that was so fun?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:51:23] At Christmas?
Carolyn Conklin [00:51:26] Mm-hmm.
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:51:26] Well, before we had our own Christmas trees to use, my dad would take me in his car and we go up on Oak Hill and we'd go through this big field of thousands of Christmas trees and he let me pick out the tree that would be our family tree. So this was really special. And I was very picky, but we always had a pretty tree. We didn't really celebrate with a lot of gifts, but we always had some special gift. And one year I got a little sewing machine. Another year it was a gramophone and we had records and it played Bye-bye Blackbird, and I think I played this so many times I wore the record practically out. We didn't really celebrate birthdays only with a birthday cake. It wasn't a lot of gifts and big, big parties like they have today, but we always had a Christmas tree. And before we had electricity, we had candles and candles were put on these little tin holders. And if we lit the candles, we had to stand right by the tree because it would be very easy to have a bad fire. And we always had a special dinner and my mom used to make a special pudding, date nut pudding, with real, real whipped cream. And so it was special. We shared it sometimes with other friends and other relatives. But I just enjoyed Christmas especially.
Carolyn Conklin [00:53:01] Jim, do you have any other questions?
Jim Lanese [00:53:04] I don't. I'm kind of going through my checklist, and you've covered most if not...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:53:11] We could talk for a week!
Jim Lanese [00:53:12] All of what we talked about. I was fascinated with a lot of the information you showed me prior to our thing. But it kind of complemented or illustrated a lot of what you have been talking about right now, your collections of photos...
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:53:30] You'll get a different version from my brother. My brother didn't like Everett very well. [laughs]
Jim Lanese [00:53:38] That would be interesting to compare notes.
Carolyn Conklin [00:53:42] Well, do you have anything else you'd like to share with us?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:53:53] I just wish you all could have lived there, too. [laughs]
Carolyn Conklin [00:53:57] Do you think farming or, you know, coming to a place like the Valley, is that something that is important for kids growing up nowadays? What can they learn from from that?
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:54:12] Farming was so simple when I was young, and now it's very mechanized and it's easier and people are in it only for profit, but I'm afraid a lot of farmers are going to quit because it's getting kind of cost prohibitive. Equipment is very expensive. The fuel is very expensive. And so it may be almost lost.
Carolyn Conklin [00:54:43] Well, I'm done!
Helyn Fiedler Toth [00:54:49] Amen! [laughs]
Carolyn Conklin [00:54:51] Well, thank you very much.
Cuyahoga Valley Project
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"Helyn Fiedler Toth Interview, 09 March 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 518011.