Most folks probably have a soft spot for the place where they were raised, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I consider Richland, Pennsylvania, circa 1960, to have been one of the great small towns for a kid to grow up in.
With a population of just under 1,300 (according to the 1960 census) and a relatively compact area (1.6 square miles), it was a Goldilocks size, not too big, not too small, easily walkable.
There was a centrally located playground with a baseball field (one of a total of three baseball diamonds maintained by the borough); during the summer months, the borough paid for an arts and crafts teacher to be on hand to provide activities and adult supervision. My first summer there, 1957, it turned out to be the assistant art teacher from my previous school in Womelsdorf. I remember her helping me to make a lanyard, and hey, who doesn’t need a lanyard? Well, I evidently didn’t, because I don’t recall ever wearing it. But I made it!
Then there was the Neptune Movie Theatre operated by the Neptune Fire Company. It ran movies every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening and charged 20 cents admission for children under 12 or 50 cents for adults. The Wednesday flick was often a monster picture or other B movie of some sort with the higher class movies reserved for the weekends. For an especially prestigious film, say Cecil B. CeMille’s The Ten Commandments, a Thursday showing would be added. Typically two shows a night at 7:15 and 9:15 with a newsreel, short subject, and cartoon, unless the movie was too long to fit, in which case the times would be adjusted accordingly.
I saw countless movies at the Neptune. It was cheap and safe, even as an eight year old boy I could go there all by myself. The Spirit of St. Louis, Witness for the Prosecution, The Vikings, 12 Angry Men, Psycho, Li’l Abner, The Pajama Game. Of course, the Neptune didn’t get the movies until three to six months after they were released, or in the case of the high prestige movies even a year or more, but in those days, it didn’t matter. We had longer attention spans then.
For five Saturday evenings during mid-summer (mainly July), the Neptune Fire Company held the Richland Carnival, the big events of the year. There were games and food and a big band shell where the entertainment of the week might be Sally Starr or a Mummers string band or Brenda Lee. The big event of the year was the fireworks display that was set off on the Saturday nearest Independence Day. The fireworks went off at midnight, and they were always well worth waiting for.
Of course, Richland had all the usual things that a town should have: barbers, hair dressers (my mother was one for a while), piano teachers, two grocery stores (Werners and Krugers), Irvin Wolfskill’s Sugar Bowl (a soda fountain/news stand), two luncheonettes (The Snack Bar and Skippy’s), four churches, etc.
All in all, if you were going to grow up in a small town in America in the 50s and 60s, Richland was as good a place as any.
Alas, times change, and neither the carnival nor the movie theatre would survive into the 1970s. The theatre is long since gone, as is the band shell.
But the playground is still there. I don’t know whether the borough still funds an arts and crafts teacher for the summer months, but I’m sure the baseball field gets a regular workout.