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Bygone memories of “Going to Town”

By Staff | Apr 29, 2014

Individuals with immediate family members connected to former Hughesville businesses include (l-r): Shirley Boatman, Mary West, Janet Kohler, Robert Webster, Judith Egly, Vincent Swartz, Sharon Hughes and Jeanne McGreagor. Webster recently spoke during the East Lycoming Historical Society's April meeting.  

HUGHESVILLE – “Saturday night was the best night of the week for townsmen and country folk to go to town,” said Robert Webster during the April meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society. During the virtual walk up and down Hughesville’s business district from Academy to Walnut Streets, Webster noted there were sixty shops with fifteen in other locations.

According to the speaker, “Hughesville had a full compliment of stores dating back into the 1800’s.” However, his remarks pinpointed the decades from 1920 through the 1950’s.

During this time period, the ease of going to town was attributed to Henry Ford’s invention of the automobile sold at a price within reach of the comman man. “Beginning in 1908 and for 19 years, Ford produced 15 million Model T’s making ‘going to town’ a more enjoyable event. At Hughesville in 1915, John Turner became the first Ford dealer selling the Model T for $440 FOB Detroit,” Webster said.

The speaker was quick to add this phenomenon was repeated in every community throughout the country coining the phrase “Saturday Night Towns.”

“Chores and meals were done a bit earlier on Saturday night. You wanted to get to town early to find a parking place on Main Street. Sidewalks and stores were crowded with people talking and laughing,” Webster said of his boyhood jaunts from the family farm at Huntersville.

“The only shops not locally owned were the A & P and Acme grocery chain stores. Compared to today, there wasn’t much of a selection. Choosing a large or small box was about the only decision which the clerk pulled from the shelf. Prices were cyphered on the paper bag in which items were packed. Webster named Car Van Horn as the quickest he’d seen at totaling purchases. Van Horn worked for Glen Waltz who managed the A & P.” Webster emphasized that, “You pulled out your wallet and paid with cash.”

“For entertainment, we went to the movies. The theater was owned by Ollie Odell then in the 1930’s Doyle Keeler became owner renaming it ‘The Community Theater.’ The films were always westerns starring Roy Rogers, Red Ryder, Hop-along Cassidy, the Cisco Kid, and others,” Webster said.

Ice cream parlors were also popular with a choice of two being Ben Walers or that of Charlie Jordan. Both served ice cream churned on site.

“You could ‘wet your whistle’ at a tavern at both ends of town with Jud Rynerson at the upper end and Jud Falls at the lower side. Rarely did anyone become too exuberant, but if so, Police Chief Harry Rogers let them sober up in the jail cell at the borough building,” the speaker said.

Webster also stated, “For our family, Saturday nights weren’t complete without stopping at one or two dance halls on the way home. Square dancing was a big thing then. My father had played the accordian at dances which is how he met my mother Dorothy Aderhold. Shady Nook was the first stop, then time permitting, a second stop at Picture Rocks where dancing was held in the park pavilion.”

Among the bevy of businesses, Webster spoke of the one true hardware store. First owned by Fague and Bugh, later Charles Bugh became sole owner until a succession of proprietors included Lewis Corson, William Grittner and lastly, James Fought.

The site of the current Post Office had been the private residence of Harley Boyer who lost his life when the home was destroyed by fire.

When the evening came to a close, persons with immediate family members connected to Hughesville businesses were invited to share. They included Judy Egly, granddaughter of meat market owner Foster Egly; Janet Kohler, granddaughter of meat market owner Earl Kohler; Sharon Hughes, daughter of Leonard ‘Spider’ and Mildred Boatman of Boatman’s Restaurant. The eatery was earlier owned by the Narbor family, after Blaine Childs and was commonly known as the corner restaurant.

During her senior high school year, Mary Smith West clerked at Haag’s Variety Store which was founded by Sherman Haag and continued in that family by son Lenonard Haag then grandson Roger Haag.

At the corner of South Main and Cedar Alley, Miss Carrie Swartz operated a ladies millinery shop. She also sold baby clothing as recalled by nephew Vincent Swartz.

Sisters Shirley Boatman and Jeanne McGreagor added their parents to the list. Kenneth Confer was employed by Raymond Hess at the Tydol Gas Station corner of Main and Water Streets, while mother Murl clerked at the grocery store of Harold ‘Fat’ Poust.

Webster concluded, “The end of the era of the masses going to town from shopping gave way to malls with giant chain stores.”