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Historic Provo

Oral History of Eleanor Prows Childs


WINN: Today is July 26, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm here with Eleanor Prows Childs. Eleanor, what are your earliest memories of Provo?

CHILDS: I think the very earliest memories is of when we first moved to Provo. I was seven years old. We lived in a big house on Fifth North and Academy Avenue it was at that time, which is University now. We had just moved to Provo and I was impressed with the street car that ran up Academy Avenue, clear up to Eighth North, which was at the end of the town by then.

My brother and I used to run out and put nails on the tracks and get them smashed. One day we went out to get them and in a few minutes the street car came back and the conductor got out and he had brought the Provo Policemen with him. He said, "If you do that again, we'll have to put you in jail." I cried and cried and cried for two or three days every time the street car would come.

I can remember so many things. I was born in old Mexico. My parents were driven out. I came out when I was five years old. We were driven out by Pancho Villa. There was a revolution down there. We lived for a few years in Eureka and then we moved to Provo. My father felt that we should go to BYU. I spent my first two years in school in Eureka, then I started BYU.

My teacher's name was Mimi Huish. She was fun. They had come from Mexico too. We had lived by her all our life. I was very lucky to have her for my first teacher in Provo.

WINN: Tell me about school. What was school like here? How was it different from Mexico?

CHILDS: I didn't go to school in Mexico. I was only five when we came out. When we went to school in Eureka my cousin, who we were living with at the time, who was a year older, was starting school. They didn't have kindergarten at that time. She went into the first grade and I wanted to go to school with her. Mother let me and thought I'd be tired of it in a few days. I never dropped out of it. I kept going, so I was all through school, I was always the youngest one in my class.

We had double seats, two students in a desk. I can't remember my teacher's name, but I thought she was the meanest woman I ever saw in my life. One day my seat mate, the girl I sat with, did something wrong, and she came down with a ruler and had her hold her hands out and slapped her hands with the ruler so hard that it made blisters on her hand. I was so frightened. I sat there and cried and cried. I didn't want to go back to school, but I did. I came to school in Provo. I have a few memories of how glad I was when I got out of that school.

I really enjoyed BYU. We put on plays and had pictures of us dressed as Indians. I hadn't ever seen an Indian until we came out of Mexico on the train. We stopped in Pueblo, Colorado and there were Indians all around sitting on the platform. We were so frightened of them. We peeked out the window, but we didn't dare get off the train.

In 1912, we had to go to Eureka. We lived there for two years. When we came from Mexico we came with absolutely nothing. We had five children and we were only allowed to bring one trunk. Mother had a three month old baby, so the trunk was mostly diapers and a change of clothes for each one of us. That's why we went to Eureka. My dad had a sister there and she invited us to come live with her until we could get a job.

We moved to Provo and he opened an insurance and real estate office. He was quite well known for many years in Provo through his real estate dealings and insurance. We later moved up to what we called Temple Hill at that time, which is now the BYU campus. We lived right straight up 400 East.

The only buildings on the hill were the Maeser building and the old wooden football stadium. All the schools had their games up there and had track meets. They had a track meet and some of the boys would bring a lot of weenies to our place and my mother would heat them on our stove. Then they would take them up there and put them in the buns and sell them.

We enjoyed living on the hill. In the winter time we had so much snow and everybody in town came to ride what we called our hill, and go down on our sleighs. We had so much fun with all the children from town coming up there to sleigh down.

There was a man with some horses and he had made a sled, only it was V shaped. It was about a foot tall and he would come early in the morning and clear all the sidewalks before we went to school, so we could get through to walk to school. We appreciated that. He did that for years and years.

WINN: How many were in your family?

CHILDS: Eight. There were five when we came out of Mexico, but mother had three more children after that. Five of us are still alive. She had eight children and we've only lost three out of that. We're in our eighties.

My sister is 87 and she went to the doctor the other day and he was talking to her about her family and she told him about me. I'm 92. Our sister just died a year ago and she was 96. My brothers are 87 and 85 and 80. We're all in our eighties and nineties now. Her doctor said, "Doesn't any of your family ever die?" She got a kick out of that.

We've been a close family. My dad used to take us to the circus. The circus would come to town down below the tracks by the First Ward pasture. People took all their cows down there. Everyone in town had a cow and a barn and chickens and most of the time a pig, but they didn't have pasture. Everyone in town would pay two or three young boys to take all their cows down to the First Ward pasture. At night they'd go down and herd them up. That's where the new mall is now, where the first ward pasture was.

That's where the circus used to come pitch their tent was down across the tracks in the First Ward pasture. They would have a parade go up First North in Provo and up Academy Avenue. My dad would come and get us. He had his office downtown. He would come get us to go see the circus parade. That was really exciting in those days. I was nine or ten years old at that time.

I'm glad that they're fixing up the BYU campus because we lived just across the road and we used to play over there in the summer. We used to go get in the fountain and get wet in the summer time.

I can remember when they first put the fountain in the middle of Center Street and University Avenue. There used to be a big fountain there. They put that there when they first took up the railroad tracks. They took all the tracks out and put pavement in. I remember when they first paved the streets. They only paved the first few blocks east and west and south.

The Orem train used to come from Springville up University Avenue to about Sixth South where they turned up Academy Avenue. Then they got to the tabernacle and First South and turned one block west and there was the Orem depot where everybody went to catch the train. They'd catch the Orem from Salt Lake to Provo. It went to American Fork and north. That's where the depot was. It turned and went down Center Street clear to about to 800 West. Then they turned and went north to Orem.

Mr. Orem lived in what we called then Provo Bench. They later decided to name the town after him. They started a little town up there. My sister and her friends would go to Orem for the summer, to Provo bench and they were fruit growers up there. They used to have little cabins and we'd stay there all week. Our parents would send food with us.

We'd pick berries and cherries all summer. We would come home every weekend. Our folks would come get us every weekend. We'd get enough money to buy a new pair of shoes for the Fourth of July. That was fun to pick berries. I pulled beets and picked cherries during the summer to earn money. In those days if we made $10 a week, we thought that was wonderful.

As I grew older I started at the telephone office. The phones had a little thing for the plug in. It was like an eye that would drop down close to your eyes and it had a number on it. It had the hole where you'd plug in right below that. We plugged them in. There would be maybe 300 of these on the switchboard. I worked there until I got married. It was fun. I loved that job.

On University Avenue there was Walgreens on the corner. There used to be a men's clothing store on the corner but they went out of business and Walgreens moved in there. There was the old Princess movie theater, a little movie house. On up the street was the Berg Mortuary, then the telephone office, then the Academy Theater. Next was a real estate office, then the old library on the corner. I worked at the telephone office.

When we got married across the street was the old post office on the corner of University and Center Street and up on the other corner was the first courthouse in Provo. It was an old white stucco buildings, what we called plaster in those days. My fiancé and I were the last ones to go there. It was the day they were going to tear things down, he got our marriage license. That's when they first built the new courthouse, which they call the old courthouse now, 75 years later.

That tree that is on the south side, on the back of the old courthouse there now, that was up in the corner of First East after they tore the old courthouse down. That tree used to be on that corner. It's a very, very rare tree. They don't know if it's the only one in the United States. It has a placque on it telling where it came from. When they started to build the new buildings for the city, they were going to chop it down. The citizens of Provo made such a fuss about it that they moved it back over where it is now. It's grown so big that it's all propped up. It lived. They didn't know whether it would live or not.

WINN: Do you recall much about World War I?

CHILDS: I was about fifteen years old and we were so afraid our dad would have to go to war. I lived up on Temple Hill and they housed a lot of the soldiers during the flu epidemic of 1918. The war lasted two or three years and they had a lot of soldiers up in the old Maeser building on campus during the flu time during the war. During the flu epidemic so many people died. We used to see them and all these soldiers down with the flu.

They closed all the meetings. There wasn't a meeting of any kind allowed in the city because there were so many people dying and down with the flu. We had to wear a cotton mask over our mouth if we went anywhere. The grocery stores were about the only thing that they would allow open. They closed up all the churches and meeting houses. All the schools were closed.

Berg's Mortuary was the only one in town at that time and they couldn't get enough caskets to bury them all. They weren't allowed any funerals. They had to store the bodies for several days until they could get caskets enough to bury everyone.

My dad and my sister were very, very ill and the rumor got out around town that they had died. I was the only one in the family at the age of 10, including mother and dad who didn't have the flu. I waited on everybody else. I can remember how scared I was. I thought Dad was going to die.

That was when the old Provo Woolen Mills was making woolen blankets for the war. It burned down and we could see the smoke from up on the hill. We had a porch that went all the way around our house. We stood on our porch and watched the smoke and the flames from the Woolen Mills burning. All of the bales were burning. All of them were coming to help fight the fire. They thought the fire was sabotage because they were making blankets for the Army. I can remember standing on that porch and watching the smoke and flames from the fire.

We were so happy when the war ended. We rang the bells and the whistles and we sat out on the porch and we could hear all the noise. People were screaming and yelling, "Hooray." Flags were flying. My dad never had to go.

WINN: You were a teenager during the twenties.

CHILDS: I graduated in 1924.

WINN: Were you a flapper girl?

CHILDS: Yes. I used to dance down on one knee. I loved to dance. I was married in 1926. My husband has been gone for 24 years. We were married in 1926. I graduated from the old Provo High School on Third West. The first year I went down there that high school wasn't finished on Third West and First South. We went to school in what we called the old Central School on the corner. We went there for about the first six months of school and then we moved into the new high school which is where the city county buildings and fire station are now. There was a brand new high school. I graduated in 1924 from there. I sure enjoyed that. We still lived up on Temple hill then and I used to walk 18 blocks home for lunch. We didn't have any cars in those days.

I can remember when we first got electricity in our house. There was a big heavy cord from across the street and it dropped down. It came through the wall and over the center and it dropped. There was a single bulb on there and we had to turn it on. There was no such thing as a wall switch in those days. How tickled I was that I didn't have to wash the dirty lamp chimneys anymore. That was always my job, to clean the smoke from the lamp chimneys. My brother had to keep them filled with oil. That was what they had.

I can remember the first radio, too, when that came to town. The first one I ever heard was in Anderson's Garage down on 200 West and Center. Everybody in town would go down there at night. You couldn't get radio in the day time in those days. They called it a crystal set. My dad took us down there one night and we put on the headphones and heard music coming out of the air. It was something wonderful.

I can remember the first cars that came to Provo, too, the old Ford and big old Buicks. One of the first cars I ever rode in was a friend of Dad's. That was before we even came out of Mexico, that I had a first ride in a big old Buick car. It was so high. The lady and the man owned it. That's what they called coats and veils over their heads, because it would be so dusty riding downtown at ten miles an hour. He was a friend of Dad's and he came one Sunday afternoon and took us all for a ride in his wonderful car.

I can remember when the cars first came to Provo. There were so many horses and buggies in those days, with a fringe on top, the surrey. The horses used to be so frightened. We'd hear a car coming and we'd run and see the car going down the street. It used to really frighten the horses. I've seen more than one runaway. The horses would run away. They would be so frightened of the cars.

WINN: When you were dating, what kind of games or activities did you do for dates?

CHILDS: The man that I married at age 26 had a car, so we used to mostly go riding, with another couple, his cousin and my girlfriend. We used to mostly ride. We danced a lot. We'd go to movies. Movies were ten cents in those days, so we didn't have to spend a lot of money which we didn't have anyway.

When I first started to work at the telephone office I made $10 a week for six days work. By the time I quit I was advanced clear to $14 a week. We thought that was really good money in those days. A lot of us would get together and go to a dance, like they do now. Movies are too expensive to go to nowadays. If we wanted to go out and eat, we could go buy a hot dog for a quarter and hamburgers came in after that. We didn't hear of hamburgers until after I was married.

We used to go for rides up Provo Canyon. We used to go to Hobble Creek a lot. There wasn't any paved roads or anything up there. It was all dirt roads. We had to cross the creek several times on the way up there. There were dredges across the creeks. One Easter we went up there and I fell in the creek. There was quite a crowd of us and I was trying to walk across on the rocks and I slipped and fell.

I can remember the old ice plant in Provo out on 1200 North. That was clear out of town. The old Mill Race used to run down 200 West. They used to deliver ice. The ice man would come and the kids would all follow his old wagon down the street. He carried ice into each house that had an old fashioned refrigerator, which was like a box that had a tin compartment on one side to put the ice in. It had a hole down through it and we had to keep a pan underneath to catch the water as it melted. We had to get ice. We made a lot of homemade ice cream and we'd get ice and chop it up and make ice cream in a hand freezer. We would chop up the ice. We'd follow the ice man as he came down and delivered ice about twice a week. He'd take these big blocks of ice and carry them on his back into each house that could afford to buy it.

I can remember the old Hoover Flour Mill that was on 500 North, about where the senior citizen place is now. It used to be a flour mill there, owned by the Hoover family. We'd go over there and buy flour.

WINN: You were married in 1926. How were you affected by the Depression and what were some of the effects on Provo?

CHILDS: I was married then and had a family. The Depression came in the thirties. It was in 1929 when they closed the banks. All through there I had three little boys. We had to get tickets for shoes. They were only allowed one pair a year unless they got terribly bad and were barefoot almost, then they'd allow us to have another pair of shoes for the children. We couldn't buy sheets or anything like that for a long time.

Just before the Depression ended I was working at Penney's at that time, part time. They got some sheets in and they let everybody that was working at Penneys buy a sheet before they put them out for the public. The women crowded the doors. They advertised before they opened the doors. They were out on the sidewalk just blocking each other to get in to buy a sheet. They made them stand in line. A lot of them would go away without a sheet.

I can remember when the first electric refrigerators came in. I was still in high school. Our home management cooking teacher took us all up town to the store. I don't remember the name of the store. It was by the old Sutton's market on Center Street between University Avenue and First West. They had electric refrigerators. We thought they were the most wonderful things.

The Depression was terrible. We had to have tickets for gas and we only had so much gas. We and our three boys lived on a farm between Springville and Spanish Fork at that time so he was allowed to get gas for the tractors and things. But gas for our cars was very much rationed, as were shoes and sheets and many things. When there were oranges in the store, everybody would fight to get an orange or a banana. They'd advertise and there would be a crowd waiting when they opened the doors.

During the war they rationed everything so bad during the second World War. We didn't have much to eat in those days. Everything went to the soldiers, unless you raised your own. The vegetables and oranges and bananas were all rationed during World War II.

There were only two doctors in Provo. My mother had one of her babies while the doctor was out on another delivery. He had to hurry with his horse and buggy as fast as he could come to Mother to deliver her baby. That was quite exciting for us.

It's such a change now. You can ride clear up to the mouth of the canyon on University Avenue. It's amazing to me. I can't believe that I'm still in Provo. It's been many years ago, but I remember when there wasn't any pavement up there. It was on First and Second North. I remember how happy my dad was. We had an old Ford car, one of the first cars in town. It used to get stuck in the mud in the streets. He was so happy there was going to be cement to ride on.

I can't remember when the old tabernacle wasn't here. That was here when we first moved to Provo when I was seven years old. It is still such a beautiful building. The park there by it has been there since I can remember. I remember when they got the first stop lights. We couldn't believe it was going to stop the cars.

WINN: When you were raising your children, what were some of the activities that you were involved in? Did you ever go to the lake? What did you do with the family?

CHILDS: When we were raising our family we would go down to the lake a lot. We were living in Springville at that time and we used to go over by Spanish Fork Lake.

When I was a little girl we had a neighbor that had a surrey with the fringe on top and a pair of nice horses and they had two girls the same age as me and my sister. They would go down to the lake and take us down there two or three times during the summer. We would take about an hour to get to the lake. They used to have a big pavilion down there and bath houses where you could change your clothes to get in the lake. We thought that was really something. We'd prepare a lunch and they would take us. We'd ride in this buggy down there and play in the sand and go swimming in the lake. We'd have our lunch and then we'd have to leave kind of early to get home before dark. That was really fun. I enjoyed that so much.

But as we got a family, there wasn't any special thing at the lake. We used to go down to the lake. They have a launch for boats. I can remember when they built the harbor down there. We used to take the two girls down there to ice skate. They loved ice skating. When they first built the skating rink down there that was really something. They used to skate on the lake. When we first came to Provo, the lake used to freeze so hard that wagons used to cross the lake from Spanish Fork to Lehi. One winter one team fell in. I can remember how sad that was.

But we don't have those kind of winters anymore. We used to have two or three feet of snow when I was a child here in Provo. When we lived in Springville, we used to have to shovel our way out of the driveway to get the kids to school. Finally they got a school bus when my oldest girl was in high school.

I was always a room mother for the children in school. I enjoyed taking them in. My son Gordon graduated in music from BYU. Then he taught music in Alamosa, Colorado for about twenty years. Then he went to Missoula, Montana and he got his doctor's degree up there. Then he taught and was head of the music department at the University of Wyoming. Now he has retired and he is a conductor. He has done that the last four or five years.

My second boy is a pianist. My older boy played violin and my second boy played piano, so they used to play at meetings and clubs. I can remember having to wash so many white shirts and ironing them so they could go play somewhere.

WINN: How have the homes changed and the population where everybody is living?

CHILDS: The homes have changed so much. What we used to think was a nice home, a three bedroom home was just fine to a family in those days. Most of us had a basement with the boys bedroom down in the basement. Nowadays, they look on those kind of homes and think, how did people ever live in such little houses. These beautiful homes that are being built now make me wonder why they want such a big house to keep clean. It takes a lot of cleaning for three and four bathrooms and six bedrooms. It's really a change to go around Provo to see what it used to be.

On University Avenue, you can't believe you're in the same town. I can't believe it's still Provo. It's changed so much and the groups of houses up on the mountainside is such a change. When the BYU campus moved up on to the hill, that was a radical change. They used to be on the south end of campus that they're just now remodeling and fixing up again. I was happy that they didn't tear the old building down. I lived in the Fifth Ward, Manavu ward. While they were building our church, we used to hold church in one of the halls. They used to have plays. We held meetings at BYU for several years while they were building the Manavu ward church. By that time my family had moved down into town, while I was still young. We moved off of Temple Hill. We lived on 6th North and 300 East on the corner. The Manavu ward was over on 400 East. It's still there, but they don't use it for a ward anymore.

WINN: What brought your family to Provo in the first place?

CHILDS: The school. We moved from Eureka. Dad thought the schools weren't good enough for us in Eureka. By that time my oldest sister was about ready to go to high school. She was in the eighth grade. He wanted her to go to the BYU. That was one of the main reasons we moved to Provo in the first place was for the schools. I was sure glad we did.

I used to go to the old Parker School on 200 North, between University and 100 East. I went there most of the time during my grade school. I went to third and fourth in the BYU, then they got the new Parker School so I went down there until eighth grade. Then the year of the flu, when they closed all the schools down, we had to go to school in the summer. They had six weeks of summer school for us to make it up, because we were out of school from the first of November until the first of March. We didn't have any school all during the flu during the war in 1918. I had to go to summer school in the eighth grade. Then I went down to the new high school when that was built. They tore that down a lot of years ago. We were happy when we moved down town off of Temple Hill. Then I got married and moved to Springville.

WINN: When did you come back to Provo from Springville?

CHILDS: After my husband died. We were there for 48 years. Then he died. I moved over here to this apartment. My sister lived in the middle apartment here and I was trying to find a place to move over here. My children didn't want me to live on the farm anymore.

How thrilled we were to get a house with a toilet in it. The toilet box used to be clear up on the ceiling and we had to pull the chain to let the water down through the pipes. I was about six or seven years old when we first got that.

The old kitchen stove used to have a reservoir on the end. We had to keep that full with a little water. The first house that we had with a furnace in was when I was in high school. It was the first house on Sixth North. That was the first house with a furnace. Before that we had a coal stove.

Interviewee: Eleanor Prows Childs
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
July 26, 1999

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