LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Christmas on The Plains

Water St., Waterville, The Plains, circa 1930. Note the trolley in the center of the photo. The trolley ceased operations on October 10, 1937. Many of the buildings in this photo are no longer there. (photo courtesy of Roland Hallee)

by Roland D. Hallee

Growing up on The Plains in the ‘50s and ‘60s saw many changes when it came to Christmas.

My early memories included going out with the family one evening to a lot and picking out a Christmas tree. My dad took it home, set it up on a homemade stand, and commenced to reconfigure Mother Nature’s creation.

That consisted of cutting some excess branches from one side, drilling a hole in the trunk in some bare areas, and inserting the cut branches. He did this until the tree was symmetrical. Then we decorated it.

That went on for several years, until my mother decided she had had enough with decorating, and my dad didn’t want to do any more spruce cosmetic work.

They bought an artificial tree. It was nothing like today. This tree was silver. Completely artificial and commercial. There was a light that would set on the floor behind, with a flood light, that had a multi-colored wheel that would rotate – blue…yellow…green…red, etc.

That tree was set up in the living room. Christmas was held on Sunday, after church, while my mother would prepare the Christmas dinner, of roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls, you get the picture. Our grandparents, who lived next door, always came, too.

As we grew older, things changed again. Now, my dad had finished a portion of the basement into a “rumpus” room. That is where the artificial tree was set up. But, come Christmas, there were more changes. My mother didn’t want the hustle and bustle of Christmas day, so it was off to midnight Mass on Christmas eve. Afterwards, mom would warm up the tourtère pies, and we would have the distributing of Christmas gifts at that time. Of course, until we were old enough to attend the midnight Mass, we had to wait at home until the adults returned. Again, the grandparents were present.

Following the holidays, when we had a real tree, my mother was meticulous in taking down the Christmas tree, making sure every last piece of tinsel was removed before it was put out to the street for the annual city Christmas tree pickup.

When I was about nine years old, my parents went out one evening and left us four boys at home – my oldest brother was old enough to babysit. While rough-housing with my younger brother, we discovered Christmas gifts “hidden” behind the couch. So much for Santa.

But, as much as Christmases are always special, especially once my wife and I raised our two children, enjoyed the day with our grandchildren, and now experiencing Christmas with our great-grandchildren, Christmases are even more special.

But the memories of Christmas on The Plains in the ‘50s and ‘60s will always have a place in my memory.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS – Entertainment: radio and early TV

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, entertainment was a little different from today. Television sets were few and far in between around The Plains.

So, what did we do?

In our household there was no television back in those late ‘40s and early ‘50s. But we had a great RCA radio, with attached record player. Our dad, who was an amateur finish carpenter by hobby, build this beautiful cabinet where all the “modern electronics” of the time were kept. During the week, we didn’t listen to much radio because after supper, it was homework and then bedtime. I was less than 10 years old.

But come the weekend, it was a different story. I have to preface this by saying our mother held all the cards in this situation. What we got to listen to, and for how long, was determine by how we had behaved during the week. I have to confess that raising four boys was not an easy task, especially when five to six years separated the two older from the two younger.

Saturday nights were the favorite. First, there was Gunsmoke. Yes, that show existed back then, but only on radio. I don’t remember who played whom, or any of the actual story lines. I just liked to hear when Marshal Dillon prevailed over the bad guys. When were they ever going to learn you couldn’t beat Marshal Dillon?

Then came the darker side. The show was called The Inner Sanctum. It was a kind of horror show, and again I don’t remember story lines. The parts that intrigued me were the beginning and end of the show, when you would hear the squeaking door open at the start of the program, and close at the conclusion. I guess I was too young to realize the horror that took place in between.

Other times, the radio was on and music was played. The “Victrola” was used a lot, playing 78 rpm LP records.

On Sunday mornings, after church, we would go to our grandfather’s place, which was next door because we shared a duplex, and listened to the radio. His favorite show was a French version where they only played Canadian songs. The show, hosted by Edgar Poulin, was called La Melodie Francais, which translate to “French Melodies”. However, my grandfather would jokingly call it La Maladie Francais, which translate to the “French Sickness.” My grandfather would sit in his chair next to the radio, and actually dance in place with his feet, without leaving his seat. Quite a show!

And finally one day – I remember the date – it was my birthday in October 1958 when I turned 11 years old, my Uncle Gil came to the house and installed an antenna on the roof. Those were starting to sprout like mushrooms around the city.

In the living room, stood a 21-inch, Sears Silvertone, black and white television floor console, with its assortment of electrical tubes to power it. How many remember when a TV repairman would actually come to the house to replace them when one burned out? On the front of the TV was the on/off switch, and the dial to select the channel – there were three available (there were only 12 numbers on the dial 2-13). Also on the front were horizontal hold and vertical hold knobs to prevent the picture from rolling up and down or side to side. On top of the television set was a box with a dial that controled the antenna on the roof, to point in the direction from which the signal was coming. Quite an ingenius marvel back in the day.

Back then, most TV stations signed off at midnight. The list of shows my parents never missed were The Milton Berle Show, The Jimmy Durante Show (“Good night, Mrs. Callabash, wherever you are.”), Lawrence Welk (my mother liked the champagne bubbles), The Honeymooners (“One of these days, Alice, pow, to the moon!”)

Later on, you would be able to watch the Red Sox doubleheaders every Sunday, with stars like Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, Frank Malzone – my favorite player – Jim Piersall, my second favorite player who I had the opportunity to meet many years later. Some football with the New York Football Giants – they were so referred to because, at the time, the New York Giants baseball team played at the Polo Grounds before moving to San Francisco. I remember Sam Huff – my favorite player – Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Roosevelt Greer, Y.A.Tittle, etc., and remember watching the “greatest football game ever played” – when the Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game in 1958.

As the years went on, we got our first color TV in 1964. Television had improved a lot by then, and the selection of channels grew to five.

Not much time was spent in front of the TV, as we were highly encouraged to play outdoors with our friends. The television was a treat, not an electronic babysitter.

Those were good years, something that will never be seen again, on The Plains.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Saturdays at the movies

by Roland D. Hallee

Well, following a brief hiatus, I am ready to continue with Life on the Plains, and how it was in the 1950s and’60s.

Let’s take a look at Saturdays.

Recently, in speaking with some “old timers” – I’m not one of them, of course. Ha!

Although I remember the Maine Theater, on Water St., I never set foot inside the building. But one gentleman was telling me of the 8-cents admission for Saturday movies for kids. I’m sure some of you out there do, also.

My recollection of Saturdays at the movies involved the State Theater, which was located on Silver St., where Cancun’s Mexican Restaurant is now, and Steve’s Restaurant, prior to that.

We’d rise on Saturday mornings, have our breakfast, do a few chores, and then our mother would give us money to go to the movies. This is where some of you younger readers will have a hard time believing. She would give each of us a quarter. For that quarter, we would pay for admission, popcorn and soda. We would arrive around 10 a.m., and pick a spot in the theater. Now, only the older kids were allowed in the balcony, I don’t remember how old, but I think it was over 12 years old. I don’t remember ever sitting in the balcony where all the “action” was.

Oh, and on occasion, there were door prizes given away. I recall them giving away bicycles from time to time.

So, it would begin with a series of cartoons, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tom & Jerry, and probably my favorite, Mighty Mouse. Following that, there would be at least two full-length films, usually Westerns – Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hoppalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Tom Mix to name a few. They would chase the bad guys across the silver screen, and Rogers and Autry would always camp out at night, and belt out a tune or two.

From time to time, they would have a “monster movie” – Godzilla, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc. – a film that would scare the daylights out of us. Now, let’s take a break and fast forward to today.

Every Saturday night, my wife and I religiously watch the MeTV show Svengoolie, who shows classic, old horror movies. Well, on two occasions recently, they have shown The Creature from the Black Lagoon. For some reason, that movie doesn’t seem so scary, anymore.


Back to Saturday mornings.

Usually, between the cartoons and the feature films, they would have News Reels, video of current events happening around the globe. None of us really cared about them. That’s when the teasing and loud shouting took place, which the ushers had to step in and take control.

Now, we need to take a look at the “action” going on in the balcony. Remember, these were the older kids. They must have had extra money to spend. Because, as sure as the day is long, sometime during the shows, popcorn and soda would come raining down on us poor shmucks down below. That is why it was important to show up early to get a seat close to the stage, which was out of their range. Occasionally, the ushers would catch someone in the act, and would be escorted out the door. That was not always a wise decision, because, if your parents were coming to pick you up, you’d have a long wait, or even worse, some explaining to do.

And, once all the shows were done, we’d leave the theater and head for home. Depending on the time of year, it was dark. A whole bunch of us would descend the Jinjine Hill, feeling comfortable being in a group.

I remember a couple of times when these were held at the Waterville Opera House.

Many years – and decades – later, I still feel as though our mother would send us off so she could enjoy a day of peace and quiet without us boys running around creating havoc.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Main St., revisited

A postcard showing Main St., in Waterville, after an ice storm with iced lines and plowed Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland trolley tracks running the middle of the street, on March 10, 1906.

by Roland D. Hallee

A couple of weeks ago we took a stroll down the west side of Main St., in Waterville, and I fore warned you there maybe a few gaps along the way I didn’t remember. Well, thanks to some readers, who obviously have a better memory than I, gave me calls to fill some of those spaces.

So, here we go again, up the west side of Main St.

There were a few stores missing after we passed Barlow’s Shoe Store, and A. W. Larsen Co., around the same area with Emery Brown Dept. Store and Dunham’s of Maine. There was Butler’s Dept. Store, more geared toward the ladies. Also in that area was Squire’s Store – don’t quite remember to whom they catered. Also in there were two specialty stores, Richard’s Women’s Clothing Store, and France’s Clothing Store, with a theme more toward teenage girls and young women.

But, the one glaring omission on my part, since this landmark enterprise has been in existence a long time, and only recently closed, is Tardif’s Jewelers. That one I can’t figure how I forgot about it since I went to school with the brother and sister who inherited the store following the death of their parents. The son, Lionel, ran the store since his sister Anne Marie, married and moved out of state.

Also, along that stretch was Dexter’s Drug Store. That one I definitely don’t remember, and I’m wondering if it was the original site of the Dex­ter’s Drug Store that moved across the Ticonic Bridge, in Winslow, near the railroad tracks? They had the same name, so it’s only an assumption.

Further down at the corner where Key Bank drive through is now, was an Army-Navy Store named Kilroy’s, which I remembered was there but couldn’t recall the name. But prior to that, it was Corey’s Music Store, before they moved across the street and a little further south on the east side of Main St.

On the opposite corner, before Diambri’s Restaurant, was Bea’s Candy Store, which featured Fanny Farmer chocolates.

Off on a side street, Silver St., actually, once you got by Atkins Printing, there was a pool hall, and then the State Theater – now Cancun’s Restaurant. Next was the “Green Front” store – another name for the state liquor store, and that was followed by the Majestic Restaurant. The last store before the Jinjine Hill was Farrar’s, which was an industrial parts store.

Across the street, on the north side of Silver St., was the Morning Sentinal Building. Now walking toward Main St., you had a bakery, a hardware store, don’t recall the names, and then Spaulding’s Bar, and another store before you were back in front of Barlow’s Shoe Store.

Lots of activity in the Main St. area in those days.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Stroll along west side of Main St.

A postcard showing Main St., in Waterville, after an ice storm with iced lines and plowed Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland trolley tracks running the middle of the street, on March 10, 1906.

by Roland D. Hallee

A couple of weeks ago we traveled out of The Plains to take a walk down the east side of Main St. This week, we’ll take a stroll down the west side. On this side, because we are talking about more than 60 years ago, there are a few gaps that this old brain can’t remember, but we’ll come close.

The west side of Main St. actually started down by the traffic circle. As you came up Water St., once you passed the Lockwood Little League baseball field, was W. A. Taylor Co., kind of an appliance store, but with other amenities. Next came Waterville Hardware Store, where I spent a lot of time, especially where I used to buy my hockey sticks, made of all wood, and cost 75-cents. The blade was straight, no curve. Nothing compared to the composite sticks today, that have no wood in them, and cost upwards of $350 and more.

After that, across a driveway, was the building that housed Atkins Printing, and photo shop. There were apartments on the other two floors. Cross Silver St., and we had Barlow’s Shoe Store, where the Paragon Shop now sits. Next to that was A. W. Larsen’s store, a shop where you could buy any kind of plastic models. That was a hobby of mine back then, and I purchased a lot of the “classic” cars to build. Also, every week, you would go in there to check out the latest rock ‘n roll, 45 rpm records that were popular at the time. Everything from Ricky Nelson, to Connie Francis, Ray Coniff Singers, Elvis, and more. I bought a lot of them, too.

The space SBS Carbon Copy now occupies was the Emery Brown’s Department Store. Mostly women’s clothing. Moving further along, we see Berry’s Stationers, followed by Dunham’s of Maine clothing store. This store was more famous because it carried the line of Hathaway shirts, which everyone knows were produced in Waterville. The mill at the time was located on Hathaway St., which runs parallel to Front St., from Appleton St.

Along that same stretch was Day’s Jewelers, which is still operating today.

After Dunham’s was McClellan’s Department Store, which later would house CVS Pharmacy, and Northern Mattress Furniture Store, until recently. That space is now occupied by the Record Connection. At McClellan’s there was a lunch counter that was very popular with downtown workers. They probably made the best milk shakes in town.

Next in line was Depositors Trust Co., a bank that is now Key Bank. This memory does not recall what was on the corner of what was the west extension of Temple St., now the entrance to the Concourse, where Key Bank drive-thru is located. For some reason, I seem to think it was an Army-Navy store.

The next stretch of buildings, where the Colby dormitory stands, is a little foggy for me. The corner building escapes me, but the next one would be Diambri’s Restaurant. That was a popular hang out for high school kids. The best french fries and brown gravy in town.

Following that was Beal’s Stationary Store, then Foxy’s Billiard Parlor, and the famous Park’s Diner, a 24/7 joint that was a converted railroad caboose. Every table had initials carved in them of what appeared to be every high school sweetheart couple that ever existed. Many lies were told in that place. Once, while my wife and I were on our way to Canada, we stumbled across the old Park’s Diner in North New Portland, to where it had been moved decades prior. Walking through the doors was like entering into a time warp. Nothing inside had changed – even the initials were still there.

After crossing the Appleton St. extension, there was J.C. Penney store, where Care & Comfort is now, followed by Giguere’s Super Market, Waterville Savings Bank, where I secured by first home mortgage, in 1970, and finally, the U.S. Post Office, at the intersection of Main and Elm streets.

As you can see, Main St. was a diverse business district with many options available to the shoppers. Again, there may be a few gaps in this stroll, but for the most part, you can see how different Main St. is today.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Sometimes, we had to leave The Plains

The Hose 3 substation of the Waterville Fire Department was located across the street from the Second Baptist Church. The building remains, but is now a residence. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

by Roland D. Hallee

Even though The Plains was a self-sustaining community of its own, there were times when we had to go downtown to get some necessities. Now, that brings up a question because people called it differently. Some people would say “I’m going downtown,” while others would say, “I’m going uptown.” I never did find out why, but I guess everyone was talking about the same place.

I remember when the stores would stay open on Friday nights until 9 p.m. The following day, Saturday, would see an influx of pedestrians crowding the sidewalks, reminiscent of scenes in movies along New York’s Manhattan streets. People, shoulder to shoulder, making their way to the merchants.

So, let’s take a walk down Main St., Waterville, in the 1950s. This week, we’ll do the east side which parallels Front St. and the Kennebec River.

The first four buildings you would come across would be the Crescent Hotel, the iconic Levine’s Store for Men and Boys, Atherton’ Furniture Store, and Federal Trust Company bank. All once occupied the space now belonging to the Lockwood Hotel.

After that, you would encounter the GHM Insurance Agency, the Chi Rho Shop – a religious store – Alvina and Delia’s Women’s Apparel Shop, Gerard’s Restaurant, and on the corner of Common St., across from Castonguay Square was Michaud’s Jewelers.

On the other side of the square was Montgomery-Ward Depart­ment Store, which later would become Stern’s Department Store, later the Center, which housed the Maine Made Shop, now the site of the Paul J. Shumpf Art Center.

Next in line was Al Corey’s Music Store, W. B. Arnold Hardware Store, and Joe’s Smoke Shop, on the corner of Temple St. down Temple Street, on the north side was Corey’s Restaurant, Bill’s Tire, Bill’s Restaurant, and the Bob-In Tavern.

Continuing up Main St., on the corner of Temple St. was Harold Labbe’s Real Estate Office, followed by the Waterville Steam Laundry – now Waterville House of Pizza and Amici’s Cucina – Harris Baking Co. – now Opa’s – and Centers Department Store – where Berry’s Stationers (and Atkins Printing Shop, in the basement) were located. The next structure was an office building (the Haines Building) with Judy’s Hairdressers on the ground floor.

We now go down Appleton St., where the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge #905 was located on the north side, with the St. Joseph Maronite School. Across the street was the office of the New England Telephone Company.

Back to Main St., on the corner of Appleton was the “Professional Building,” with LaVerdiere’s Super Drug Store on the ground flood. Our family doctor, Dr. Ovide Pomerleau, had offices on the third floor. Dr. Pomerleau’s residence was located on Silver St., an impressive brick home now occupied by Golden Pond Financial.

In the same building, adjacent to LaVerdiere’s was a hall and lobby where one could take the elevator to the floors above.

Next to the Professional Building was the Haines Theater, which burned in the 1960s, and now is a small park, with a drive through teller for TD Bank, located across the street.

The next building was occupied by Boothbay & Bartlett Insurance Agency. A modest home was next before you came to Whipper’s Pizza, the first pizza shop to locate in Waterville. Day’s Travel Agency followed next, and then a furniture store, whose name escapes me at the moment. Above the furniture store was the famous – or infamous, depending on how well you bowled – Metro-Bowl bowling alleys. I often wonder if the bowling alleys are still in place. Ken-a-Set most recently occupied the space at street level.

That brings us to the Waterville Fire Station, and then Goodhue’s Texacardium – a Texaco gas station and auto repair shop – on the corner of Union St.

As always, there may be a few gaps in here that I don’t recall.

So, as you can see, Main St., Waterville, in those days, was a busy place.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The Plains, circa 1950s; southern end

by Roland D. Hallee

Legend: 1. Intersection of Summer and Gold sts.; 2. The former Notre Dame church and school, now KVCAP; 3. South End Arena; 4. The southern tip of “the island”; 5. Site of Picher’s Furniture Store; 6. Silver St.; 7. South Grammar School, now the Muskie Center.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The Plains, circa 1950s

Legend: 1. Inter­section of Sherwin and Water Sts.; 2. The “island”; 3 – 4, the row of apartment houses overlooking the river; 5. Gray St.; 6. Univer­sal-Unitarian Church, at Elm & Silver Sts.; 7. Old Red­ington Elementary School, now site of VFW; 8. Location of Dav­i­au’s Phar­macy; 9. Autumn St.; 10. The Chez Paree.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The “in”famous downtown rotary

by Roland D. Hallee

This week we’re going to venture a little from The Plains, and go to the north end of Water St., where it intersects with lower Main St., where there once was a rotary. Pretty much where the five-way intersection of Water, Spring, Main, Front and Bridge streets come together. There was two-way traffic on both Main and Front streets, and the Spring Street connector didn’t exist. The rotary was two lanes wide, fairly easy to navigate by car, but no-man’s land for a pedestrian. It was especially challenging on Saturdays when people would go downtown to shop, many walking from The Plains.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Working for the extras

An old sawmill with a rock dam.

by Roland D. Hallee

Life on The Plains in the 1950s and ‘60s was pretty simple. World War II had ended a few years earlier, the Korean War was raging, but I was too young to remember that. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “man who defeated Hitler” was elected president in 1952, and the country was going through some kind of industrial revolution.

In Waterville, the mills were cranking out products, unemployment was down, and families were growing.

Our dad worked at Hollingsworth & Whitney Paper Mill, in Winslow, and brought home a decent pay check for those days. He worked his way up to machine tender, which means he primarily ran the paper making monstrosity of a machine.

At the Sunday dinner table, when he was able to be there since he worked shift work and had to be at the mill sometime, he would go through the process of making paper. Whether it was tissue paper, bathroom tissue, or the base paper that would later be processed into wax paper, it was relayed to us. Three of the four of us would later decide we didn’t want to spend our lives in the mill. One brother, the oldest, became a chemical engineer, specializing in the pulp and paper industry.

Even though our dad provided well for our family, there were no handouts. I don’t ever recall having an “allowance”. We were provided with the necessities, and that was it. Any frills, or “wants” we had, had to be earned. And don’t think we got paid to mow the lawn or shovel snow, those were expected.

So, we went out and got paper routes. That, in itself, was a life experience. Me at the age of 12 years.

For six days a week – no paper on Sunday – we were up at 4:30 a.m., went out the front door to fetch our bundle of papers that had been left by a Morning Sentinel delivery driver. We prepared the papers for each door we would visit. Some were folded in half, some folded into thirds, and even some we “boxed” for throwing up two or more stories in apartment buildings. No need to climb three flights of stairs when you could chuck the papers up there. We had 83 customers spread throughout our neighborhood.

We would load the papers in our wagon, and venture out the door. To steal an old slogan of the U.S. Postal Service, “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night would prevent us from our appointed rounds.” And there were days when we would rather still be in bed. On rainy days, we had to make sure the papers stayed dry, or it would affect our tips. Following snow storms, we had to trudge through mounds of snow banks, sometimes sinking up to our knees. It was always dark, because we had to complete our route by 6 a.m. We had to be ready for school by 7 a.m. School started at 8 a.m. in those days, and we walked. We couldn’t be late. And I won’t even go into the battles we had with dogs.

Clinton Clauson

I remember the night Gov. Clinton Clauson died. The papers had been delivered to our house, and we were ready to go when a truck pulled up, took away the papers, and left us in a lurch. A little while later, a new bundle was delivered with the front page story. Some of our customers still didn’t understand, and we barely made it to school on time.

Oh, but in the summer time, it was a different story. It was light early, and we didn’t have to worry about school. I can remember some mornings when, following our deliveries, we would sit on the back steps, and enjoy the aroma of doughnuts and bread in the air. Probably from Bolduc’s Bakery, on Veteran Court.

Of course, delivering the papers was only part of the job. In the evenings, we had to go collect our money from the customers. That could be a challenge, especially from those who were unemployed.

Economics played a large part in our decision to give up the routes when we were about ready for high school. The paper back then was 45-cents a week. People would give us half a dollar and tell us to “keep the change.” Well, in due time, the cost of the subscription went to 47-cents, and the customers still gave us half a dollar, and said, “keep the change.” Besides, there were other opportunities about to present themselves. Going to work at the Sentinel when we turned 16 years old.

With that job, which paid 75-cents an hour, we worked from 1 – 4 a.m., six days a week, and still had to make it to school on time. During this period of working these jobs, I missed three days of school, only because my maternal grandfather had passed away.

But, the lesson was learned. Anything you want in life, you have to go work for it.