Interview with James J. McAvoy
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Mr. James S. McAvoy
Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi
Date of interview: 1 February 1978
James: I think we could pull that curtain down.
Susan: No, that's fine. Mr. McAvoy could you tell us something about your early recollections of your childhood—something about your parents?
James: Well Mother and Father lived together with six children and they're all—two of us is all that's left. I'm the second oldest one and I have a sister. She's alive yet she is 80, she lives in Binghamton. She is 80 years old. The rest of them has all passed away. My mother—my father he was 93 when he died. My mother was 90.
Susan: What kind of work did your father do?
Susan: What kind of work?
James: Ah he a well a when we were young we used to run a hotel. We run a hotel over in Four Corners for 30-40 years then after that time Prohibition that shut the hotel up so we lived on the farm there for a while and when he got some kind of work he came down here. I stayed on the farm there for a while and I lost all my dairy in the TB test. I said the TB test. My wife was sick quite a little bit that was the girls’ job so my wife she was sick an awful lot she always was such a great worker. She worked too hard on the farm so she was at Sayre Hospital, so she was up there I came up here and got a job. When she got her out we lived on the farm for about a month and I got a house up here and we moved up here that was ‘48 I think.
Susan: How much schooling did you have as a youngster?
James: How many? I had a 5 girls.
Susan: No, no, schooling—school?
James: Oh I never had too much school. We only had a country school about the ninth grade. We never got too far in school we never had money enough to go to college so of course them days the colleges were so far away. They wasn't like they are today so, we ain’t got too much education don't think that. We got away with it in the world of course we made a lot of mistakes along as everybody else as long as the graduated people does but a I often missed it but a—so then after we got up here they was better schools up there so I had five daughters and there is two of them graduated down from Meshoppen High School. The other three graduated from Johnson City High School. A—So they well was—I have one daughter who lives up in Hillcrest and I have another daughter who lives over in Endwell and then I have a daughter who lives over on Crisfield in Vestal and then I have one daughter who lives in Meshoppin, PA.
Susan: Well, can you tell me something about some of your jobs that you had?
James: Ah I—used to be a foreman on the road for a Tillion coal contractor company. I done that for about 3 years. I was Assistant Foreman. I wasn't a big hot shot but I was over all the grading work and all that kind of stuff and they were leaving town then didn't have no jobs so I didn't want to leave home to go with them because they only had about 6 months work on a job or somethin’. So then I come up here and I got a job with Felters and I worked 20 years there.
Susan: What kind of work did you do there?
James: Well, I ran a machine. I operated a carding machine.
Susan: What did they make? I knew of the Felter Co, but E-J's made shoes.
James: They made felt—felt—made all kinds of felt—made, oh, I couldn't tell you all the kinds, at that time there were 25 or 30 different kinds of felt. They made felt for the government, made felt for ink pads and anything you want they made it for shoes felt and all that stuff. They were a nice place to work for. The work wasn't hard. It was steady work. Dusty but otherwise twas a nice job to work and they were a nice company to work for so after I got through there they moved out of town when I quit. I was sixty nine years old when I—when they moved out of town, so I—well I done a little painting around, carpentering and I got tired of that and I quit and I didn't do anything ever since. Then my wife got sick and she had a stroke so we stayed home and took care of her for quite a while.
Susan: Can you recall of any of the big changes that have happened here?
James: That's right. Yeah.
Susan: —in the area since you—
James: That's true. Yeah. That of course is a lot of changes in life since we were born.
Susan: Were the trolley cars here when you first came here to—was it Lestershire or had it changed to Johnson City?
James: It was Johnson City. Yeah—yeah I used often wonder when I was a young kid I'd often wonder I'd like to go to Lestershire—ha ha ha—but when I got there and I found out it was altogether a different place—ha ha ha. Used to hear people at home out in our country about the doom down here a lot of them worked at the shoe factory they’d be telling about Lestershire and next thing we knew it was about Johnson City. Ha ha ha yeah—yeah, so I don't know.
Susan: What about some of the buildings I mean can you recall when you first came here—a what it was like?
James: Oh there was a lot of business when we first come here and was a lot of places that started business entirely. You could go most anyplace and get a job then. There was the Robinson Lumber Co. and there was the big Spool & Bobbin, the foundry over where the Philadelphia sales is and another factory right down there in Endwell—a—err—Johnson City Heel & Last ah there is a lot of them here that's gone out of business since I come here. Yeah, you could go out most anytime.
Susan: Were there any—a—important events like big fires or things that you recall when you were younger?
James: Oh well not up around here that I know of, of course no not really. Of course down in our country Pennsylvania there used to be they lumber that country over, you know, then somebody started a fire clean the brush ha ha cleared the timber off and they were big fires but there were always fires barns and houses burning one thing or another but the country there was never as big fires as you have up here you know.
Susan: We've been trying to gather information from people that have worked in the cigar factories that were here at one time.
James: The cigar factory fire—well that was before I came up here.
Susan: Oh it was.
James: That's the time it burned up all them girls but that was a few years before I moved up here.
Susan: I see.
James: Yeah. But my girls they all come up here and they all went to work they got jobs and finally all got married so I'm working now. I have one daughter she lives in Massachusetts I don't know something else what you know what happened around here.
Susan: Well is there anything you can tell us about your parents? When they were growing up or any of their customs? What were your people? What background were they?
James: What? What?
Susan: What background were they?
James: Oh they I don’t—
Susan: Well you knew that there were a lot of Polish and Russians here.
James: Oh they were just common ordinary people you know the ah—yeah—my mother and grandfather, grandmother my grandfather, Carter, he was about 94 years old when he died.
Susan: But was he born in this country?
James: He was born in a—New York State. Yeah. He was born up here someplace up here. My grandmother was born down in Auburn, Pennsylvania. Her name was Farley and—and like anything else we're scattered all over the country. What do you do live here in Binghamton?
Susan: I—I was born in Binghamton and I was brought up in Johnson City. My family is from here.
James: Yeah, well my wife she was born in Binghamton—err Pennsylvania too.
Susan: Well the McAvoys are quite—quite a well known name in this community.
James: Oh yes.
Susan: Don’t you have a some of your relatives?
James: Cousins of these McAvoys up here Tom, the judge.
Susan: The judge. When I first heard the name I said, “McAvoy, well you must know quite a few people.”
James: Yeah. Oh well I don’t know we were never too close together we were always good friends back and forth but you know yet my grandfather used to all I know is what he told me. He said there were six of them, and their parents died when they were young and they were scattered all over the country. Some of then New York, some of them in Scranton and I don't know where he was and I never knew too much about them because he'd never tell ya too much. He was grown up an orphan of some kind then he went west for quite a while when he went out on that gold hunt you know but I guess he never got too much gold.
Susan: Your grandfather did or your father did?
James: Yeah, well he was past eighty when he passed away. Yeah—yep.
Susan: What—what do you think about the changes? What do you think about the changes from a—a the radio when it first came and now television?
James: Do you like television? Well, I think I'll tell ya some that’s all right some that they've gone a little too far with. I do for a fact.
Susan: But you have lived to see a lot of changes.
James: But not when we were kids—ah we never had television, never radio. I helped build the first telephone line ever to come in our country. There used to be 52 on one line.
Susan: Fifty-two, that's interesting.
James: Yeah—ha ha yeah.
Susan: How about when you first started working for Felters? Can you remember what you earned?
James: Yeah, I started in at 80¢ an hour when I started in but I got through I was getting $1.30.
James: Yeah, but I was just as well off at the 80¢ as I was with the $1.30 because everything wasn't so high it didn't cost us any more to live at that than when we were getting $1.30 because everything went up so in prices and everything. Yeah.
Susan: Can you recall some of the things you did as a young man for entertainment socially?
James: Does what?
Susan: Can you recall what you did as a young man? I mean from the standpoint of fun, recreation?
James: Oh well we used to winter times—we of course you may think it’s funny but we used to there used to be a lot of quilting bees, tying comforter and lot of us get together if you had a quilting bee we'd tie your quilt and then we played checkers, played cards, a lot of dances. They was we had just good times as they have today at least we didn't know any better—ha. But today we didn't have no way you never got so far away from home because about all we had is a horse and wagon 8 and 10 miles was our limit today they don't mind three or four hundred miles with a car—yeah—we all got along. We was never found any fault. Used to have a lot of nice ice cream socials, oyster suppers, dances and all of that.
Susan: Did you ever go to those barn raising affairs?
James: Oh God, yes. Oh sure.
Susan: —to help one another.
James: We had that right along. Yeah. Neighbor build a barn and everybody turned out and helped him. Yeah—there ain't no more of that anymore. Now it's all done mechanically. Yeah, yet I can remember when they used to go to the woods with a broad ax and cut the frames right out in the woods. The old fellows put them together and they'd go together too.
Susan: And they lasted a long time.
James: Yeah, oh God, last a long time. Well if they used hemlock or pine they'd last for years. Hemlock or hardwood didn't last so long because the worm eat if you didn't keep the roof on it and keep it dry. Yeah most of us built—Our country there was a lot of hemlock and pine. We used that.
Susan: Well, Mr. McAvoy it's been nice talking with you.
James, Well I'm glad I talked to you too.
Susan: It's a lovely day, after all that snow we had.
James: Yeah. Talk to Lena there she's got a better record yeah.
Susan: I will, thank you very much. This is Susan Dobandi interviewer and I have been talking with James J. McAvoy who lives at 15 Park St., Johnson City, NY. The date is Feb 1st, 1978.