Joe Conlon remembers growing up on Dutch Hill in Altoona, walking over the 12th Street Bridge to get downtown or to Cricket Field.
Sometimes it'd be with his family, other times it'd be on a walk home from a Friday night football game. But either way, Conlon, 88, of Roaring Spring, remembers being fascinated by what was going on down in the 10th Avenue station.
"I'd get onto the bridge, and it'd be dark and I just couldn't understand all of the activity," Conlon said. "All the people getting on and off trains. Freight trains going under the bridge. Smoke coming up between the boards on the bridge. I thought, what's going on? Where are these people going? Who are they?"
This drawing illustrating the Logan House and the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot along 10th?Avenue in Altoona appears in Joe Conlon’s book.
Though his earliest recollection of that area comes from when he was about 9 years old in 1934, Colon didn't do anything with his fascination with 10th Avenue until much later in life.
The result is his newly published book, compiling articles and miscellaneous facts about what the title suggests is "Altoona's Storied Street."
Conlon spent eight years putting the book together, which recounts the street's history from 1849 to 1938. Conlon did most of the research at the Blair County Genealogical Society in Hollidaysburg.
Jim Snyder, recording secretary for the genealogical society, said Conlon's ability to access the historical information he needed is evidence that the society is "more than just genealogy."
"I can remember him coming in evening after evening, just sitting at those readers and grinding away," Snyder said.
Conlon's first aim with creating the book was just to give it away to friends and family, but the genealogical society took interest in it. What he put together is its full history, from Railroad Street to Main Street, 10th Avenue to how it acquired the nickname "Whiskey Row" - another part of the street's story that piqued Conlon's interest.
"The Depression really did a number on Altoona and Altoona's economy," he said. "It was a place where a lot of bad things happened, on that alley. There was a lot of booze illegally made. There were places making whiskey, there were bootleggers. ...
"I just got interested and thought, 'Boy, what a lot of life.' I knew that place had to have been different [in the past]."
The storyline of the book is carried by the way Conlon pulled various newspaper articles - chronicling such events as the first advertisement of land for sale in Altoona, how the first streets were named for the city manager's girlfriends, and the incline system that prefaced the building of the Horseshoe Curve. Maps of present-day Altoona and how it sizes up with the purchase of the Robeson farm, on which the city was built, accompany the articles, along with other pictures and old "Sanford" maps, which were made in case of fires for insurance purposes.
Despite the book's credibility, there is a story about Altoona's early history inserted by Conlon that is fictitious - a necessary addition due to his beliefs.
"I think history is bunk," Conlon said. "I don't think any of us can know exactly what happened at any point in time."
Conlon did try to come as close as he could to retelling the history of Altoona as possible through its most "storied street."
"Everything that happened in the history of our county went down that railroad," Conlon said of how the 10th Avenue station of the connection between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, then down South or out West. "Civil War troop trains went through. There was a special train called the immigrant train that came through from New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Millions of them went through going west to get free land. Circuses went through. You name an event in history. ... It's Altoona's storied street. Here are all the stories."
An indexed version of book is on sale for $30 at the Blair County Genealogical Society, 431 Scotch Valley Road, Hollidaysburg. All proceeds benefit the genealogical society. For more information, call 696-3492.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.