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.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Remembering snow days in the ‘60s

188 Water St.

by Roland D. Hallee

The winter storm that blew through our area on Monday, and a story I read in the daily newspaper about eliminating snow days in lieu of remote learning, it reminded me of the days back in the 1950s and ‘60s when we would, on rare occasions, experience a snow day from school.

I have to preface this with explaining how things were done back then.

The Waterville Fire Station, which still stands at the head of downtown, was used for other things besides storing fire trucks. One of the routines was when the fire trucks were ready to leave the station, a horn would blow in a certain pattern. Let’s just say you would get two blasts, followed by three blasts, followed by one blast, people would go to the chart provided by the fire department, and the series of blasts would indicate where the fire was in the city.

Also, back in those days, every day, at 9 p.m., the fire horn would sound telling all children under a certain age – the exact age escapes me – would have to be off the streets and at home.

It would also be used to signal no school on storm days with three long blasts.

So, when the weather forecasters predicted a major storm, we would rise the following morning with the anticipation of hearing the fire horn, usually around 7 a.m. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, we all rejoiced – for a moment.

You see, we didn’t get the day off to sit in front of television, or play on our nonexistent, at the time, cell phones or other electronic devices. It was put on your flannel pants, flannel shirt, boots, and warm jacket, to go outside to shovel the driveway. As mentioned in the past, my dad didn’t believe in paying someone to plow when he had four strapping boys at home. Also, back then, no snow throwers.

Following the tedious work, which took several hours, considering our driveway was over 100 feet long, we would be allowed to do whatever was left to the day. It could mean going sledding, tobogganing, or for some of us, pick up a shovel and scourer the neighborhood in search of elderly folks who needed help shoveling, and maybe earn a couple of dollars along the way. Oh, yeah, there was also the backyard skating rink to shovel clear.

With most of the kids living within walking distance of school, we seldom had a snow day off if we had flurries or light snow, like what happens today.

I remember my grandfather saying – and he grew up in Canada – “I used to walk to and from school in bad weather, and it was uphill both ways.” A saying that is kind of worn out today.

So, as you can see, snow days off really weren’t days off.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The cuisine on The Plains

Water St. looking north. Notice the row of tenement buildings on the right. Those were built on the river bank, and were supported by stilts. They were removed in the 1960s and 1970s. (photo courtesy of
E. Roger Hallee)

by Roland D. Hallee

This week, I’ll let Peg Pellerin tell her story about the cuisine on The Plains.

Cuisine down on The Plains

by Peg Pellerin

I have found Roland Hallee’s articles about The Plains (La Plaine) in Waterville so interesting, especially since I grew up there from 1952 to 1972. His renderings have brought back so many memories and some of those memories involved the foods we ate.

Most residing in that area were mill working families. Since most of the laborers were the men of the families, the mothers did their best to make paychecks stretch, especially when it came to groceries and meals.

The majority of the people living in that part of town were of French Canadian descent, which meant French Canadian cuisine. I can still remember the aromas coming from the homes in the area, giving away what my friends were having for “souper” (pronounced soo-pey), the French terminology for supper.

A lot depended on what day it was even to what time of the year it was. The largest meal of the week was made on Sunday. What was left over was eaten during the week. I remeber my mother baking or boiling jambon (ham) (pronounced jean-bon) with carrots and potatoes. She would use the ham bone with some of the meat still on the bone and make “soupe aux pois” (pea soup). It was not a favorite of mine but I ate it because it was what my mother put in front of me. The choices of meals back then was take it or leave it, or go without. We never went without because we ate it.

Crèpes weren’t just eaten for breakfast. In fact it was more of a supper for my family than a morning meal. For those who aren’t familiar with this yummy food, it is a very thin pancake. We’d put loads of butter and
maple syrup on it. (Roland’s two cents: my mother would make them for breakfast. We’d put a line of brown sugar, roll them into a cigar-like shape, and put maple syrup on top.)

Another stretch of Sunday meal was taking leftovers of roasted chicken or turkey and making “ragout” (pronounced rag-goo). Some folks call it chicken and dumplings but it was mostly the poultry in a thick gravy with dumplings. We’d scoop it over mashed potatoes or bread.

Mom would make a roast of both beef and pork with potatoes and carrots. She’d purposely include more potatoes than she knew we’d eat because she intended to take the meat and grind it, then mash the potatoes and combine all with onions and place in a pie crust and, voila, tourtière. (Roland’s two cents: Our mother would grind the meat with the potatoes and onions and make a hash. I liked to put ketchup on mine.)

Most, including myself, usually make it around Christmas time, but mom made it often during the year. She would also take leftover pork and make creton, which is like having a pork paté, which was usually spread onto bread for a sandwich or spread over crackers.

Whatever my mother made, we’d never know that it was an inexpensive meal. It was a treat. Besides having beans and franks (Roland’s two cents: Don’t forget the pickled beets) on Saturday nights, which was primarily a Yankee tradition since the Civil War, (we also ate many non-French Canadian meals, too). Mom would cut potatoes in thick strips, fry them and pour gravy over it. Yup, that in itself was supper. Many now know it as “poutine”. We never had the curds put on it and to this day, I won’t eat it with curds. My most favorite inexpensive meal was “gallettes”, a/k/a fried dough. We would walk to Veteran Court, which was several streets away from ours and go to Bolduc’s Bakery, where anyone could go in to purchase baked bread or, in my mother’s case, uncooked dough. She’d fry pieces of it and while still warm pour maple syrup over it. YUMMY! (Roland’s two cents: One of our favorite desserts was a slice of bread dipped in molasses. Of course, mother’s “ice box cake”, for special occasions, was the best of all. Graham crackers which were placed standing, with a chocolate whipped cream filling between the crackers, then covered with the cream. Everyone fought for the end pieces because they were the best. It was to die for.)

I will end this article with a mouthwatering treat; at least it was for us back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. “Tire d’erable”, a/k/a maple taffy, but mainly it is thick maple syrup poured over fresh clean snow. It’s difficult to find clean snow, even when it’s fresh. I guess if you want something similar, make snow cones and pour maple syrup over it. It’ll be good but not as good as we had “back in the day”.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The Kennebec River on The Plains

by Roland D. Hallee

As everyone knows, The Plains, in Waterville, runs along the west shore of the Kennebec River in the South End of the city.

The river played a large part in the development of the city and contributing to high numbers of industrial jobs. Many of the residents of The Plains, the majority of which were men, worked at these locations – Hollingsworth & Whitney Paper Mill, the Wyandotte-Worsted Textile Mill, Maine Central Railroad, Waterville Iron Works – just to name a few. Of course, the female workforce was not totally omitted. Many women worked at the C. F. Hathaway Shirt Factory, and at the other industries mentioned.

But two of the occupations that are not very often mentioned were the two that primarily existed because of the Kennebec River.

There were the log drives that brought pulp wood to the mill in Winslow. They would begin in the north woods where many men worked felling trees – by hand with axes – then sawing them, also by hand. No chainsaws back then. The logs were then brought to the river on skidders usually drawn by horses or mules. Once in the river, the logs would work their way south to the mills waiting their arrival in Winslow and Augusta.

Many a man died working those logs down stream. In Winslow, there was the famous “Queen Mary,” – a platform that extended out into the river – where men, with grappling hooks, would pull the logs ashore that were destined for the Winslow mill, and threw back the ones that were designated for the Augusta mill. It was a strenuous and dangerous job. My oldest brother, and younger brother both worked on the “Queen Mary” during summer vacation while they were in college. The river log drives ended in 1972.

During the winter, the river became a source of refrigeration for area homes. Ice boxes were used in those days, and ice deliveries had to be made year round.

Again, men with hand saws would cut large cakes of ice from the frozen river, and transport them to the ice sheds, located at the Springbrook Ice and Fuel Co., on the corner of Pleasant and North streets, in Waterville. There they were covered with saw dust that kept the ice from melting well into the summer months. I remember getting ice deliveries while growing up, before our dad purchased a “real” refrigerator.

Unfortunately, the river could not be used much for recreational purposes because of the toxic discharges from the mills that polluted the water. There were two famous sayings that evolved from that: One was that the river was so polluted, you could not drown in the river because the skum on the river was so thick. Also, it was said, the river was so polluted you could walk across without getting your feet wet. Fortunately, laws were passed, in the 1980s I think, that cleaned up the river, and it is actually used today for fishing and kayaking recreation.

Actually, we used to go down to the river, and played “pirates” on the island that hugs the west shore just south of the Hathaway Creative Center. There we would spend the day exploring what is basically a swath of land that is elevated enough from the waters to form an island. It is used today as a walking trail, – there also is a tent city of homeless people – that is when the river waters are at their normal level. Access is more difficult in the spring when the waters rise due to the melting snow runoff, or following a heavy rain.

Our parents weren’t crazy about us going there, but we would manage to sneak off once in a while, until someone came home wet.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: New Year’s Eve…and day

Water St. looking north. Notice the row of tenement buildings on the right. Those were built on the river bank, and were supported by stilts. They were removed in the 1960s and 1970s. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

by Roland D. Hallee

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, New Year’s Day and following, didn’t really mean much to us kids. We would still be on Christmas vacation, although it was about to end abruptly on January 2.

Also, during those years, winters were harsher than they are now. By January 1 snow would have accumulated to relatively high levels, the ponds – and our backyard ice rink – were frozen solid and ready for winter sports, although I don’t recall snowmobiles back then. I think the Bombardier Ski-Doo was just being introduced in a rather primitive form.

Also, I would notice how the adults, every time they would run into each other – at church, the grocery store, shoe repair shops, etc. – would always greet each other with the “Happy New Year”. It would go on for weeks into late January. Didn’t they realize New Year’s was January 1, and not January 20?

Anyway, life was pretty much dull and routine during those early months of the new year. We did look forward to – in a way — going back to school to show off our new clothes we received at Christmas to our friends. Or maybe we got new skates, hockey stick, or a new sled. We really weren’t too much into showing off our new clothes.

The actual new year’s eve celebrations weren’t all that exciting to us, until we got a little older and were allowed to stay up until midnight to watch the ball go down on Times Square, in New York City. And to our parents, the crème to la crème, was the playing of Aulde Lang Syne, by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. It just seemed to put an exclamation point on the whole evening. And we couldn’t figure out why everyone went around kissing everyone. Yew!

Of course, then there was new year’s day, when my mother wouldn’t miss turning on the television set to watch the Tournament of Roses parade, from Pasadena, California. She wouldn’t miss it for the world. And, oh, what a thrill when we got a color TV, and she could watch it in all its glory. Once the parade was done, it was a day full of college football – the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and, of course, the Grand Daddy of them all, the Rose Bowl. Today, there are dozens of bowl games played from mid-December into mid-January. Not the same.

I don’t recall too many new year eves in the ‘50s, but I do remember one in particular. The night 1959 turned into 1960. Wow! we were entering into the space age and for some reason, 1960 was the beginning of something great. For one thing, while attending parochial school, we were told that in 1960 the Pope would divulge the content of a secret letter that would foretell the future. Well, 1960 came and went, and we didn’t hear anything about it.

So, times have changed, and Guy Lombardo is gone, and, unfortunately, so has his music. The midnight celebrations now just aren’t the same. I guess New Year’s Eve is for the young – or the young at heart. My wife and I, in our 70s, still stay up with friends and watch the old year go out and the new one come in.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Christmas on The Plains

by Roland D. Hallee

Christmas was a time for family gatherings on The Plains in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Of course, growing up, once you became aware of your surroundings, Santa Claus was always the big hit of the season. Our father, who worked at Hollingsworth & Whitney, later Scott Paper Co., would take us to the Community Building, on College Ave. The Community Building was actually the fieldhouse on the old Colby College Campus, which had moved to Mayflower Hill around 1952.

The mill would put on a gala children’s Christmas party, with the “Big Guy” as the feature. We would stand in line to wait your turn to sit on his lap and divulge to him your wishes for Christmas gifts. Of course, that was so your parents would hear. I can only remember one gift there – you only received a gift if you were younger than 12 years old – was a briefcase. It still boggles my mind what a 9-year-old would do with a briefcase. My dad ended up using it.

In the early days, Christmas was held in our living room. My mother would decorate a Christmas tree that our father had reworked by taking branches from one area of the tree, to fill a bare spot in another area. Christmas morning, our grandparents would come over, and we would do the gift exchange while our mother prepared dinner. Sometimes, just to prolong the anticipation, our dad would wait until our mother was ready to be with us. Which was mostly always.

As our mother grew older, she didn’t want to decorate a tree any more, and besides, there was this new invention called an artificial tree. It was silver, about four-feet tall, stood on a table, and was illuminated with a flood light that had a revolving colored wheel. Kind of cool, but so commercial.

In the meantime, our father had finished the basement into a “rumpus” room, and eventually, Christmas would be held down there so not to clutter the living room.

Our parents and grandparents would go to midnight Mass, and us children stayed home and waited – by then the two older brothers were teenagers in high school. That was when I found out there was no such thing as Santa, when I saw all the gifts piled behind the couch. I was 9-years-old. That was kind of traumatic at the time.

Upon their return from midnight Mass, my mother would put tourtière pies in the oven, and the soirée began. Until we had reached the age of 14, we would have to go to bed, – house rules – but the party continued into the early morning hours. Christmas gifts were not distributed on Christmas Eve. Technically, after midnight Mass, it was Christmas Day, but they didn’t see it that way.

That was probably one of the greatest disappointments in my young life. Classmates were always chosen to be the “angels” and the “shepherds” carrying the baby Jesus down the aisle in the church. Pretty much always at the head of my class, I figured I was a shoe-in for the task. But I was never chosen. For some reason, the nuns decided I was not worthy. I didn’t go to a midnight Mass until I was an adult, and married.

Enough about that.

I guess every family has its own Christmas tradition, we were no different. Of course, like anything else, as time moved on, and grandparents passed away, and parents grew older, then passed on, things changed. However, here in the 21st century, long passed the 1950s and ‘60s, we develop our own traditions, and can only hope they get passed down to the next generations to remember their Christmases with parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.