LeRaysville at 150
Still a place of memories, friendship, small-town life
Published: April 28, 2013
Look at that! A golden-red fox romps in the grass, right here in the April sunlight, near the “Welcome to LeRaysville” sign.
But no surprise. This is LeRaysville, after all. It’s a small, country town. There’s plenty of nature around.
And maybe in some way he’s celebrating early.
Soon the little town will mark its 150th anniversary of becoming a borough; of becoming the town it is today, with all its people, places, history, good times, bad times, foxes and all.
Indeed: welcome to LeRaysville.
This is “downtown.”
The LeRaysville United Church of Christ stands tall east of Main Street, gazing off into the western sunlight. A wide green lawn, growing with the fresh, starry-eyed enthusiasm of young April grass, sprawls between the building and road. Many a young bride and groom have taken vows in that church, and it has said goodbye to many a friend at funerals. Many a Christmas tree has gleamed from the green and white gazebo on the corner. Many a Labor Day parade has marched, rolled and putt-putted past both.
This afternoon, a Northeast school bus drives by, and many a vehicle trail along behind — gosh, at least six. That’s LeRaysville’s version of rush hour.
Up ahead stands First Citizens Community Bank. That’s the third or fourth or maybe fifth or more name the bank’s had through the years; it started over 100 years ago. But to folks here, it’s still simply “the bank.”
One day last week Deb Donnelly, a supervisor, looked at the old deed for the property. The date? 1902. It involved some people named Baldwin and Chaffee. The amount? Just $156.
Some papers hung from the counter. Little children at Bright Beginnings preschool (down the street in the Parish House, owned by the church) had drawn themselves as grown-ups, telling what they want to do someday. “When I grow up I want to be a...” read words on the papers, and the kids filled in blanks after. You had “country singer.” “Detective and a mom.” “Fireman.” “Logger.”
The past met the future.
Yes, it’s a small town. And it’s OK.
“There isn’t even a red light in town!” Mayor Chris Young pointed out a few days ago. He even offered his observations on the number of horses the town has — and it’s less than two.
But LeRaysville’s a good place “just ‘cause it’s small,” Chris insisted. “We don’t have the big-town things,” like movie theaters, where people might loiter and make trouble. It can handle its own problems, he hopes.
Being mayor isn’t hard. Just answer a few calls once in awhile and sign some papers, he said.
More people see him when he’s driving a tractor and pulling a float in the Labor Day parade, rather than doing mayor stuff.
He likes to know what’s happening in town. “If you can help somebody do something ... it’s nice to be able to help.”
These are the old school grounds. And if memories are grains of sand, this land is a seashore.
The LeRaysville School once stood here. It was an elementary and secondary school until 1955, when Northeast Bradford High School opened, and an elementary school until about 1970.
Page 3 of the 1951 “Lesonian” yearbook shows an aerial photo of the school: a two-story, box-shaped brick building with large windows, a chimney and a shorter wing to the north.
The alma mater is typed below the photo: “Hail, alma mater, you are best; Hail, alma mater, LHS; Hail, alma mater, fairest maid, Never shall thy beauty fade.” The chorus ends: “Fill the cup and lift it up to the fame of LHS.” The school had 15 faculty members, including the principal. It graduated 14.
Just recently Florence Brister Webb, who taught music in Northeast as well as LeRaysville and the local schools before they consolidated, shared some memories. She recalled carrying music books from school to school, the band marching here on Labor Day and in Towanda at Halloween, concerts for the new schools’ dedications. Once, parents and the town helped raise money at dinners to buy new band uniforms.
“And that was quite expensive!” she said. But they got them. That called for another parade.
She talked about her drum majors Olynda Chaffee Smith and Don Allis, and also Guy Coleman: “And he was a whiz of a basketball player!” She remembered Jim Davis playing clarinet. “Boy, could he play clarinet!” He made it to district, state and national bands. “He was good, I’ll tell you!”
Today, the school is gone. A brick memorial stands beside the driveway, a picture of the school etched into stone on its front.
Now, the fields are home to the big, red LeRaysville fire station, carnival grounds and ballfield.
A little white building stands at the edge of the carnival area. Locals will tell you it was the one-room schoolhouse in nearby Neath. Someone moved it here to use as a home ec building.
Midway booths stand painted up in red, green, white and brown, and the ballfield shows off its new fences. They’re waiting for Labor Day.
At the firemen’s celebration then, you can buy ice cream from the red booth on the south end of the little midway. You get hot sausages down at the other. And you have to take a turn through the Chinese auction in the fire hall, stuffing little pieces of paper and all your hopes into plastic jugs by prizes. And everywhere you turn, you see someone you know.
How can the memories here not be thick, and soft, like sand?
A little boy in a red jacket picks up a ball. He drops it, picks it up again and throws it to a young woman. She kicks it.
The day is ending at the new Happy Days for Kids day care on South Main Street, but several children still play in the back yard. This big house with little porch pillars used to be the Morgan home, and once even held a doctor’s office.
“It’s going very well! It’s going very well!” says Twyla Bullock, an adult employee. On Jan. 2, they had seven kids. “We now have ... 32,” she reports. “So that’s awesome!” They’re already taking summer enrollments.
The location’s worked well. “It seems to be conveniently located,” she says. Parents going to Cargill or the Northeast schools can drop off their children on the way.
Gospel Light Bookstore and More is another new business, up by the town’s intersection. The bookstore’s little white building was an insurance office for decades and at one time even held a barber shop.
“It’s getting too small,” owner Steven Kauffman says. He’d have more inventory if he had more space. “Presently, it’s nice. ... It’s a starter.”
He reports good days and slow days in the store, and some heavy traffic outside. Although he doesn’t believe LeRaysville sees as much through-traffic as some areas, “gas workers are strong in this road here,” he notes. A lot of vehicles come down Main Street and head out on East, he says, although that’s slowed just lately.
Indeed, in a few minutes a big truck goes by, hauling a huge piece of gas rig equipment.
Change rolls on.
Up the sidewalk is the LeRaysville Market. And outside it hangs a staple of small towns: the announcement board.
What’s going on around here?
Well, there’s the 150th anniversary open house; a little flier in the middle tells all about it. And on another, you read about a benefit for house-fire victims. Someone has firewood for sale; someone else, tires. VFW Post 6824 and Cargill are having their spring turkey shoots. Someone wants work on a dairy farm. Want to buy some old Aggravation games? Or take your dog to a pet groomer?
Some guy lost a work glove. It hangs on the board.
Daffodils bloom with all their might outside the post office. Next door, Traci Rice has her upstairs apartment windows open, and her son, Mike, tosses a basketball in the spring evening air.
Traci and her four kids used to live in a larger town in New York, but she’s glad to be home in LeRaysville. It’s “nice and quiet” here, she says. Peaceful. A better place to raise kids.
Behind the counter at the Dandy Mini Mart, Tabby Bukowski reports lots of business these days from gas workers. They come in for lunch, for gas, “for everything,” she says. “We’re the only gas station in town.”
She knows the folks. “I know quite a few people ‘cause I work here.”
Brett Travis comes in to order a sub.
“You’re not allowed!” Tabby jokes. She gives him an order pad, and he fills it out. She looks at it. Is that all? Didn’t need a paper just for that! She goes off to make his ham and turkey.
Brett stops at the Dandy “pretty much every night,” he says, although usually it’s for three slices of pepperoni pizza.
Another man walks in. “How’s contracting treating you?” Travis asks. Then a woman and little girl come in. “Miss Maddie!” Tabby calls out to the child. Alyssa Nester, another Dandy employee, walks out around the counter to hug her.
LeRaysville’s a “nice town, nice people,” Tabby says. “I like small towns.”
She rings up a Coke and other stuff for a man in muck boots. It’s “$4.78 darling,” she says. “You want a bag?”
John Alderson, a firefighter, stops in on his way to bowling. He thinks like Tabby. LeRaysville’s a “small town,” he says. “You know most everybody.”
The evening goes on. There’s another customer, and another. Hot pots steam on the blue coffee island, in front of aisles of soup, candy, Doritos, green beans. A radio announcer talks about storms and 70 degrees tomorrow, then Brooks and Dunn sing about rural life, “down that red dirt road.”
Outside, two people (the most that can fit in at one time) pump gas. At the house next door, a flag shakes its head back and forth on its pole, as if flirting with the evening sun.
Soon, a horse pulls an Amish buggy down Main Street.
The day goes on.
And then you have the homes.
Many residents live here and work elsewhere, Mayor Chris explains, such as teachers and factory workers.
The homes stretch along South Main, East and Second streets, old and newer, big and small. Like lace on an 1890s lady’s white neck, gingerbread woodwork loops around peaks in the house on the corner of East and Main. (It’s the Taylor home now; older people remember it as the Ernest Brown place.) The Victorians up the street stand tall and graceful, as if politely calling on one another this pleasant evening.
Two girls ride scooters. Lawnmowers stand for sale in a yard. Someone’s putting in a new sidewalk at a house on East.
Far out that street, Jennifer and Jeff Olmstead work in their yard. They live in the former Gibbs home, which was the former Joe Davis home. Joe ran an egg hatchery and orchard; John and Joan Gibbs continued the orchard and had a perennial flower business.
Tonight, Jeff shovels soil. Jennifer paints a gazebo.
“We like it!” she says of her new hometown. She enjoys the market, the bookstore, knowing the bank women.
Eagerly, she shows off their new house, with its hardwood floors and bay-windowed living room glowing with sunlight.
Will this be a good town to raise their 1-year-old, Isaac? “We’re new at the ‘raising kids’ part!” she says. But they have good neighbors, she notes, and she’s glad to have a babysitter nearby who shares their values.
“It just kind of fell in our lap,” she says of the house. “We really enjoy it here.”
It’s evening. A man and girl shoot hoops behind the Parish House, a UPS truck drives down East Street and honks at someone at Taylors’.
The moon looks down on it all. His big dark eyes have watched over this little town 150 years, and they’ll keep right on. Foxes, buggies, ornate old houses, Labor Day, joking neighbors — he must like it all. He must like LeRaysville.
Lots of folks do.