More than 80 years ago, Betty Humes used to get from the second floor of Hillside Home to the ground by sliding down one of the building’s downspouts.

“The other children would go out to play, and I would tell them ‘I’ll see you downstairs,’ ” she recalls.

She would then walk out of a second-floor window, across the roof of the porch, and shimmy to the ground.

“They didn’t keep too good a track of you,” said Humes of those long-ago years in that group-residential setting.

Times have changed. Humes, a former piano teacher and 92-year-old resident of the home (her second stay there), is choosing the stairs over the downspout these days, and with a caring staff and many activities, Hillside

Home is a world away from where it was then. Though the home opened more than a century ago as a child-care facility, it celebrates the 100th anniversary of its official incorporation this year, making the home just two years older than its oldest current resident.

The home began in 1886 when three Meadville women, Anna Shryock, J. Bolard and Mary Hogue, were taking a ride in the country and stumbled upon three orphaned girls standing alone in the front yard of their abandoned house. The women took the little girls in and worked to find homes for them — but their work continued past those three children and eventually formed into the Western Pennsylvania Aid Society.

The society had taken on 47 orphans by its second year, and it was obvious they had to build a facility. The first home was incorporated in 1906 on Linden Street, but it was quickly outgrown, so in 1908 Major A.C. Huidekoper presented the home with a building lot at Hillside’s current location on the corner of Poplar and Grove streets, at the bottom of Williamson Road.

Eventually, older residents were also accepted. Humes was one of the early residents of the Meadville Children’s Aid Society and Home for the Aged, coming to the home around 1920. Things were very different than they are now.

“We had tin cups and tin plates,” said Humes. “They tried to get me to drink milk out of these cups, and lordy, I wouldn’t.”

Humes was only at the home for a year before she was adopted, something she says wasn’t unusual in those days, when children would come and go.

To pass the time, one of Humes’ favorite things to do during her stay was to be punished, something that she enjoyed.

“We had a big mirror with seats on each side,” said Humes. “If you were bad you had to sit there; it was supposed to embarrass you because people would come in and out and see you there, but I wanted to be bad all the time so I could watch the people come and go.”

Dianne Rudler, vice president for residential services at Hillside and one of the facility’s many devoted staff members, believes the mirror Humes remembers is still in the home, stored under a staircase.

Humes added that being punished also saved children from the chores they had to do in the early days, including washing dishes and cleaning the home. While Humes was at the home, it was the teenagers she envied the most.

“We (the children) had one big room where we slept and there were a few teenagers on the third floor,” said Humes. “I remember thinking ‘I want to be one of them,’ because they could come and go when they wanted.”

Dorothy Grinnell, a nurse aide at the home for the past 24 years, was one of the older children who lived in the home in her youth. She had moved in for a short stay in the mid-1940s before leaving to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

“I can’t remember too much, some elderly woman wanted to take me under her wing because when I first came here I was crying all the time,” Grinnell said.

Some of her happier memories, though, involve an amateur hour the children held in the basement.

“I remember one girl, I enjoyed watching her tap dance,” said Grinnell. “It was something for us to do.”

In 1965, the building underwent an extreme make-over, when children’s homes were being closed by the government, and new Social Security and Medicare regulations changed care for the elderly.

It’s not uncommon for people like Grinnell and Humes to return after staying at the home at some point in their lives; many nurses eventually pull up a bed after working there for years. Even Rudler has a history with the home.

“My first connection was when I was a student nurse, and our choir came to entertain the ladies,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to work as an administrator in a big home, I only ever wanted to work at Hillside.”

Switzer is a junior at Allegheny College.

Hillside has a cozy atmosphere all its own

Today, Hillside Home is officially known as Wesbury Hillside Home. It has been affiliated with Wesbury United Methodist Community since Aug. 17, 1998, but each has its own board of directors.

By most residential facility standards, Hillside is small. It has a cozy atmosphere all its own, with a full-time staff of licensed nurses and nursing assistants.

It has a capacity for 37 residents, and is almost always near-full. Of today’s 30-some residents, 26 are in their 80s or 90s.

An assisted-living/personal care facility, it offers residents daily-life support but without skilled nursing care, and features a variety of daily activities.

To celebrate its anniversary, the home will host an open house celebration on May 20, featuring tours, refreshments and gifts for visitors.

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