It isn’t every day that one has the opportunity to get a peek into our Kennett town’s history through a clear minded and bright eyed 94-year-old woman. Bob George and I were introduced to Barbara Gawthrop Hallowell by Betty Warner, both residents of Kendal Longwood Community. Betty Warner has read the book, “The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time” and instantly made the connection with Barbara, who has several journals about her early life in Kennett Square.
In the warmth of Barbara’s Kendal home with a variety of birds flocking about her outdoor bird feeders, Bob George, Betty Warner and I sat down to interview Barbara Hallowell.
Barbara lived at 231 Lafayette St., Kennett Square where she was born in the upstairs bedroom in 1924. She smiles when she thinks of her Kennett childhood home and reports that she still likes to see the special house that her father and grandfather contracted to have built. Her father managed the C G Gawthrop Company, which was a coal, lumber and feeds business on the Cedar Street at the base of Meredith. She had one older sister Nancy, and her parents Harold and Ruth Gawthrop were “the two best parents possible.” As the discussion continued, we learned that after Barbara father’s death and her mother sold the house to Penny Yeatman, our own Bob George family bought it from Penny when Bob moved back to Kennett with a Dupont assignment in the 80s’. When two people learned in that moment that they shared the same home over 50 years apart, it was difficult to move the discussion beyond the home.
After graduation from George School in Newtown, PA in 1942, Barbara received a biology degree from Swarthmore College in 1946 and then taught science and biology. She returned to Kennett for one year when she came home to recover from typhoid fever. She was married to Tom Hallowell in 1952, and they raised three children in New Jersey. She and Tom returned to the area to live at Kendal at Longwood in 1994 and this continues to be home after the death of Barbara’s husband in 2009. She has three children and twelve grandchildren.
Although we learned many interesting things about Barbara’s long and dynamic life, following are Barbara’s response to questions we asked her about her experience as a child growing up in the town of Kennett Square.
What were your favorite places in Kennett?
Barbara: Instead of going “downtown,” we went “uptown.” If you note, one has to climb the hill to town no matter which direction you enter, so it is a misnomer to call it “downtown.” My best neighbor friend, Jacque Hannum and I would walk or ride our bikes and enjoy stopping into the Kandy Kitchen, and Connors Pharmacy as well as Magnolia Grocery. We loved going to the movies for a dime (the theatre was on the SE corner of Broad and State) and we never worried about our safety walking home at dark, even down dark Chestnut Alley. I enjoyed going to the Bayard Taylor Library and especially loved checking out books about animals, no matter how heavy they were to carry home.
What was “play” like in Kennett?
Barbara: Play was games in various yards, riding bikes in the countryside, or roller-skating over the southwest end of town. On rainy days we played hide and seek indoors in the Cassel Building or wheeled ourselves on dollies around the concrete floor.
How was neighborhood life?
Barbara: We knew most of our neighbors and we looked out for each other. An image I hold is the back of my father’s office door at home. It had a whole line of hooks with keys hanging from each hook. These were labeled keys to our neighbors’ houses and when they went out of town, we would water their plants, feed their canary and watch over their homes. Of course, they did the same for us.
How did the community work together?
Barbara: We knew most family names in town, but there were certain parts of town that we did not go. I must say we didn’t know any differently. It was normal that the blacks were sent to the balcony in the movie theatre. When the Kennett School building was open for habitation on South Street in January 1931, I clearly recall walking down Broad Street in the bitter cold to that majestic state-of-the art building with its tall columns; we didn’t even question the blacks being delegated to the basement. When they allowed the blacks to come to our classes, when I was in the 7th grade, I made several good friends and wondered why we didn’t do this sooner.
Kennett is a town that comes together around parades and now festivals. I loved going to the Halloween parades, and the Memorial Day parade was always a favorite. My friend Jacque and I would wrap red, white and blue streamers in our bicycle wheel spikes. At the end of the parade, we could follow along with anyone else who wanted to be in the parade. It seems everyone comes together around parades.
Who are some key Kennett figures that stand out?
Barbara: Mary D Lang, called generally “Miss Mame,”was a first grade teacher for several generations and everyone loved her. When I went to the old Kennett school, she had already retired. People thought the world of her, so I understand why they named the kindergarten center after her.
Mr. MacCloskey, the police chief is another figure that stands out. He would stand on the north west corner of State and Union with his arms across his full abdomen and be surveying the town. I never heard of any arrests, we just knew he was watching out for the town.
The Swaynes, early mushroom growers in town were my family’s good friends. They started growing mushrooms in their greenhouse and here we are today, the “Mushroom Capital of the World.”
What stands out to you most about the community where you grew up?
Barbara: As a child, I didn’t reflect on my life in Kennett, but in retrospect, I think there was a spirit of kindness and goodness that stands out. Yes, some of it may have come from the Quaker influence. At any rate, it was a great place to grow up and it gave me a great start in my long life.
Thank you, Barbara Gawthrop Hallowell for your colorful reflections and trip down memory lane!