David T. Portman: Part II

Part II. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted in 2008 by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

Westward Ho! We moved to 1217 North 15th Street, a tenement house which housed about eight to ten families, some facing 15th Street, others facing the alley. Our whole family ate and slept in the three rooms, doing the laundry in wash tubs and hanging it to dry on a rope pulley that was connected to the walls between the front and rear buildings. For ironing or pressing, irons were heated on top of a coal stove in the kitchen.

There was a grocery store on almost every block, Kosher butcher shops every few blocks and a neighborhood shopping center on Biddle Street from 12th to 18th Streets, where you could buy anything from a herring to a horse! Food stores, butcher shops, shoe stores, peddlers showing their piece goods, men’s and women’s clothing, children’s wearing apparel, fruit, novelties and anything you could want. It was all there. This was the start of specialty shops and many department stores. Komen had a bakery at 14th & Biddle; Jefferson Wohl (Sheenie Ike) had a shoe store for the complete family; the Reiters had a millinery shop for women; Krams were selling fish on Biddle Street. This was Biddle Market, where the farmers brought in their chickens, fruit, vegetables, etc. Some of the merchants who sold their wares to these farmers and to one another became affluent people and many of their offspring later became merchants, wholesalers, manufacturers and are established in businesses today. 

The population kept on growing and our people kept on going westwards to 16th Street, 17th Street and 18th Street. We moved to 18th and Division which was known as Kerry Patch. The ethnic background of this area consisted of Irish, Germans, Poles and a small number of Eastern European Jews; the area was truly a melting pot. We went to O’Fallon School at 15th and O’Fallon Streets, and when we grew a little older, walked a few blocks eastward to the Jewish Educational Alliance, a forerunner of the YMHA and YWHA. Settlement workers helped all underprivileged young and old to become oriented to living in this country. At that time, the Jewish Educational Alliance was headed by a young man named Oscar Leonard, who had trained a staff of workers.

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