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The Emmitsburg Bowling Alley

Paul Harner

Charlie (sometimes labeled C. A.) Harner is probably remembered by most people in Emmitsburg as the owner of Edgewood Lanes on old Rt. 15 and the bowling alleys once located next to the Incarnation United Church of Christ  on West Main Street. I, being the younger of his two sons, remember him as a generous father devoted to his businesses. I mention businesses because before he built the bowling alleys he owned and operated a grocery and general store, was a huckster and, during all this time, had several rental properties.

When I say devoted, I can’t remember dad eating at home anytime except on Sundays and holidays. (Maybe it was because my grandfather, George Ohler, lived with us.) Our home, during my youngest years, was located at 30 East Main St., the brown shingled house next to the town office. Beneath those shingles is a charred wooden frame building, damaged from a fire in the late 1920’s, which destroyed dad’s first grocery store located about where the town office is situated. He then bought the Annan building on the square where the Ott House is now located and moved his business there.

On the west wall in the Ott House, the Ott’s have hung a picture from the early 30’s showing dad and some of the people who worked with him – Bernie Boyle, George Eyster, Hilda Topper and Henry Gherken.  Of course, Bernie became very successful with his own store and George Eyster was a very successful cattle dealer. I remember Hilda, primarily because she took my picture at the front of the store on my first day of school, but also because she and her sisters worked at the Mother Seton Guild, which gathered information to support the sainthood of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Henry was one of my favorite people, low key and always with a smile. When dad leased the store to American Stores in 1946, followed by Acme, Henry continued working there.

I also remember a couple of other workers, Tom Hoke and Ethel "Lightning" Long . Dad liked Ethel and always called her "Lightning" since she just flew around the store. "Lightning" Long is now Ethel Hoke, so I guess somebody else in the store liked her. An occurrence from the WW II years was brought to mind while watching a show commemorating D-Day on the Discovery channel a few years ago.

In about the middle of the show, the film showed a sign in a store window saying "Emmitsburgians at War" and then panned a small area of a window showing pictures of about a dozen service men and women, a few of whom I recognized. I taped the show later (it was shown several times during the 50th anniversary of D-Day), and asked others about it. It seems Dad had put the sign and a picture of my brother in his store window with invitations for other pictures. By the end of the war, there were over 300 pictures.

I guess my fondest memory of the store is bagging potatoes every Saturday morning at the back end of the store, where the Ott’s have the pool tables. I would dump far too many 100 pound sacks of potatoes, throw the rotten ones out (ugh) and bag the rest into pecks and ½ pecks. All the while I would be trying to carry on a conversation with "Govy" Knox who was in a corner candling eggs. To me, "Govy" seemed to be knowledgeable on any subject; but, at the same time, a man of few words.

Speaking of Charles "Govy" Knox leads us to the huckster business. Dad inherited from his father a business that consisted of buying chickens, eggs and butter from local farmers and, after killing and "dressing" the chickens, delivering these products to regular customers in the Baltimore area. This was a pretty healthy business with often over a thousand chickens being delivered in one week. It also got to the point where I dreaded the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas – way too many turkeys and too much work. "Govy" Knox acted independent of the major part of the business in that he had his own customers, usually private individuals in the wealthiest suburbs of Baltimore, whereas Dad’s customers were store owners throughout Baltimore and marketers in Lexington Market.

"Chicken killing" days were Monday and Wednesday, with Wednesday being the big one. The process included killing the chicken, scalding it in very hot water, picking it on a rubber fingered rotating drum, picking tail and wing feathers by hand, "plumping" it in nearly boiling water and then placing it in ice cold water. Afterwards, the chickens were packed in ice in barrels and transported to Baltimore the next morning.

There were usually at least eight people involved in this process and I enjoyed running around helping every one and listening to the gossip of the women plucking out pinfeathers interrupted only by my grandfather’s risqué (for that time period) jokes. In the middle of the day, I remember mother cooking a huge meal for all the workers and serving it in our dining area. The meal was usually fried chicken. (The "chicken killing" barn was directly behind our house, an older version of the building where the town now keeps its vehicles.) 

Shortly after the war, my brother took over the huckster business and dad got itchy. He had already bought the building on the square next to the VFW where Edna and Walter Crouse opened a store, which probably has the record for longevity of any business in town. But just operating a grocery store and managing rental properties was not enough. He then bought Chick Rosenteel’s business and the property next to the UCC church. Chick had a snack bar, pool tables and two bowling alleys. Dad took out the pool tables, expanded the snack bar and built four more alleys. He then rented the grocery store on the square to American Stores and the hardware end to Harold and Mary Hoke.

Between the two stores was Marty Rosensteel’s beauty shop. There was a major glitch on the opening night of the bowling alleys. Dad had not received the canvas partitions to place between the alley pits; thus the pinsetters were getting hammered by flying duckpins. The pinsetters went on strike, which was quickly settled by dad raising their take from five cents to seven cents a game. It’s amazing that no one got seriously injured! The bowling alleys and snack bar soon became the local hangout and a source of income for many youth, as waiters, waitresses and pinsetters.

As a waiter, I can still remember the ice cream crush that came after the GEM movie theater across the street left out at 9:00 and, as a pinsetter, hoping that I would get some business on my alley before league play began at 7:30. Dad and "Crousie" (Walter Crouse) used to throw friendly barbs at one another; one of which I remember quite well. "Crousie" said, "Charlie, I sell the best ice cream in town" and dad replied, "Crousie, you may sell the best, but I sell the most."

It wasn’t long before the St. Joseph’s (women only) and Mt. St. Mary’s (men only) college students were also coming in regularly and with them a desire to bowl with ten pins, the preferred bowling game outside the Baltimore/Washington area. So dad built three more alleys dedicated to ten pin bowling. A favorite ten pin customer was Father (now Monsignor) Kline who, at that time, taught at St. Joseph’s and the Mount and later became president of Mt. St. Mary’s. Among other tight regulations, St. Joseph’s had a strict no smoking regulation; so the girls would light them up when they came into the snack bar. Father Kline would usually come into the bowling alley by the back door and I can still remember dad turning off the lights on the popcorn machine, signaling the girls to put out their cigarettes.

These days I guess the popcorn machine lights would always be off. Dad was never one to watch his money and ended up writing many checks that did not show up in the checkbook. Mother tried to keep it straight but what do you do when the person who wrote the check doesn’t remember the amount or the recipient. I remember many afternoons seeing him sitting at the bowling alley end of the snack bar nervously awaiting the after-bank-hours call from either Alice Shorb or Marie Rosenteel, telling him how much he was overdrawn. Somehow, he was able to scrounge up the money from somewhere or somebody and get it to the bank before everybody left. Times have changed. 

I found him to be a hard person to work for, with always something else on his mind. He seemed to show his ire around his best workers but liked to kid around with, and verbally jostle with, problem workers or mischievous pinsetters. In general, though, he loved to sit and talk with anybody, one on one, about any subject. Some of the Mount students were his favorites; many buttering him up for a loan. I remember seeing a couple of cigar boxes full of watches and remember one Mount alumnus coming back to say hello and claim his watch.

In the late 1950’s, Dad, with very little support from the family, decided to build a new 16-lane bowling alley on Rt. 15 near Gettysburg. I remember Dick mentioning we should call it Edgewood Lanes since Edgewood was going to be the telephone exchange for that area. So, in 1959, at the age of 66, Dad was the proud new owner of Edgewood Lanes. In 1962, he finally realized that neither Dick nor I wanted to manage the alleys and with the business not able to handle the tremendous debt, sold it to some businessmen from Frederick. He then returned to manage the bowling alleys in Emmitsburg full time. 

By this time there had been a few changes at the alleys. Dad had leased the snack bar business to Bud and Kate Warthen and later to Bill and Carrie Boyd. Automatic pinsetters had been installed which eliminated the constant problem of finding reliable human pinsetters but presented other reliability problems associated with mechanical equipment. I can remember dad, in his early seventies, crawling over the pinsetters freeing jammed duckpins.

In 1965, one of the French fry machines caught fire and the bowling alleys and snack bar were gone. Dad, naturally, was pretty shaken; but what stands out in my mind is the regret that he had about the loss of "the Jack Sullivan painting". Jack Sullivan was an outstanding basketball player at the Mount in the 50’s and Pat Topper had painted a three by four-foot painting of him that hung at the west end of the alleys. In the few years that dad lived after the loss of the alleys, I heard him lament the loss of that picture several times. During his lifetime, dad was very active in the community, having been a town commissioner, a deacon in the church and a strong financial supporter of major town projects. He loved the town and the collages

When I was asked to write about my father, there was no hesitation on my part. I found it very easy and rewarding to write about him. However, I can not write about him without saying something about the one with the strength in the family – mother. When I said earlier that dad hardly ever ate at home, one of the reasons was - mother always took "supper" to him, whether it be at the grocery store or the bowling alleys. When dad took a nap, either at the store or the alleys, mother was there. When dad fouled up the checkbooks, it was mother who eventually straightened them out. His businesses caused her a lot of grief; but she, with the help of Doc Cadle’s pills, hung in there.) 

[An explosion of a deep fat fryer led to the destruction of the Emmitsburg Bowling Alley burned down on March 25, 1956.]

Read Other Articles by Paul Harner

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