Number 21

Centerboro in the 1940s

Another shot of Main Street, Centerboro

I have received some inquiries exhorting me to post a picture of the big water tower at the southwest end of Centerboro. I have no idea why anyone would be interested in seeing it, but I happen to have one from my scrapbooks, so here it is, above left. WPA workers began building the tower in 1938, and they filled it with 1.5 million gallons of water in, let's see, mid-summer 1939 it would have to have been, when I was 19. Like many other Centerboro boys, Herb and I scaled the tower together one night, and we were caught by Officer Oglethorpe (a.k.a. "Straight Arrow") on our way down. We were too big to get a thumping, and since we were about to leave for the army, Straight Arrow let us off easy. You can see the tower off to the southwest in the background of this 1940-ish snapshot of downtown Centerboro. The more recent photo on the right is just another shot of downtown Centerboro looking west right down Main at street level. I know a large number of my readers like these views of old Centerboro, so I thought I'd just throw it in.
The Centerboro Jail Here is a picture which will interest those of you fascinated by Centerboro history. It is the jail that stood on Main Street during the years between the original Main Street jail (see in Picture Page #6) and the current box-like facility for modern malefactors. What muse possessed the imagination of the architect hired to design this monstrosity can only be guessed at, but surely it was of a malevolent bent. I spent a little time in this building in 1948, 1955, and 1957 for this, that, and the other thing. Despite its forbidding exterior, the inside of this pokey was not at all unpleasant, and if one ignored the bars on the cell windows (which did not swing out, by the way), one might almost, but not quite, imagine one was in a third-rate hotel.
Jackson Street, Centerboro This is a view down Jackson Street, one of the major streets entering Main from the south. If you continued down Jackson you'd eventually cross some railroad tracks and enter the Polish, Irish, and Italian neighborhoods of Centerboro and their corner stores, parish churches, splendid vegetable and flower gardens, and occasional loud parties. Petey Muszkiski's Gramma and Grampa lived near an old elementary school and a furniture store down on South Jackson, which branched off and ran east from the south end of Jackson.
Another view of Jackson Street A long time ago if you walked down Jackson for a block, crossed Herkimer Street, and turned back around to look north to Main Street, this is what you would have seen. That building on the left in the foreground was a saloon and cheap-o hotel called Padrone's. As you perambulated up and down this block of Jackson, you'd encounter a shoe repair shop, a fish market, a little hardware store, a laundry, a notions shop, the Centerboro Guardian office and print shop, a junk store, and a couple of other little enterprises. If you headed south on Jackson from its intersection with Herkimer, you'd soon pass the infamous Edna's, a well-known house of exactly that sort. Until her death, Edna's establishment never went out of business owing to her most generous contributions to every known philanthropic organization in town, including the Ladies' Literary Society, and to her loyal (though discreet) clientele, which over the years usually included most of the important civic and commercial leaders of Centerboro.
Nice downtown Centerboro view Here you are, looking east along Main, enjoying a repeat view of old Centerboro which is on Picture Page 13. I'm posting it again with more information. If you look along the south side of the street, you'll see three people standing by a little alleyway which led eventually to the old station where Herb and I hopped a bus when we accidentally burned down his garage. (See "Running Away" for the full story.) Along this alleyway there were numerous entrances into a rat's maze of dark, dank passageways crammed with dingy apartments out of which issued most of the criminal and/or sociopathic element of Centerboro. The Albacores, for instance, lived in "the alley," as it was called, before they moved to "that house." Whenever you'd see flashing police or ambulance lights at the corner of Main or Herkimer and the alley, it was almost always best to keep right on walking.
Intersection of Main and Herkimer In this old photo, we have the Oteseraga County Courthouse, seen as one would enter Centerboro from the west on State Road 365 (which is Main Street within the city limits). The Courthouse still stands at the intersection of Main and Herkimer. I have made my share of appearances in this austere and drafty old barn, usually to conduct real estate paperwork, but sometimes to defend myself against the scurrilous and unwarranted attacks of my enemies.
The old Willow Bend Inn This is where William Bean and Martha Doty first met, the old Willow Bend Inn near the big northwest bend in the Centerboro Road as you headed out of town. If you followed the road a few miles from here, you'd pass right by the Bean Farm. The Willow Bend did not enjoy a reputation as the kind of place that "nice" folks would go, but the big Saturday night dances at the Willow Bend attracted a lot of the single farmers from all over Oteseraga County, and it was not at all unusual for some of the more daring town girls to ride out there for a night of adventure or even to troll there for prospective mates. You're probably thinking that the Beans you know from the books would never have gone to a place like the Willow Bend, but you'd be forgetting that the books rarely depict in any truthful or accurate way the reality upon which they are based. Martha Doty was a bit on the wild side (which you can see in a picture of young Martha previously published at this site), and William was known to raise a little h*** after the Saturday chores were done.
A pig weigh-in at the market Frederick Bean is not actually a pig, of course, but a genuine human being who, incapacitated by old age and the ravages of a thoroughly corrupt life, now resides in a nursing home. If any of you know the exact whereabouts of Frederick, I'd dearly like to pay the poor old fellow a visit--to reminisce about the good old days, that's all. And while we're on the subject of Freddy, here's a vintage photograph from the Beans' albums. One of Otto's offspring is being weighed at the farmer's market before sale, it says on the reverse. I have added the arrow which points to Frederick, who evidently has brought this little piggy to market, although it doesn't say so.

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