Times Have Changed
PARKERSBURG – Friday Night Smokers at the armory, ice cream at Angelos Brothers, Yielkys Hamburgers, the infamous Monroe Hotel and the Princess Shop.
The face of downtown Parkersburg has undergone changes over the years.
Charlie Rush recalled the heyday when downtown was the heart of it all.
“There used to be so many people in Court Square on the weekends you couldn’t even walk,” he said.
Rush, 89, had a newspaper route that covered most of downtown. He is a long-time part owner of McHenry Electric and, as an adult, often worked at some of the downtown businesses as part of the company.
“When I was a newspaper boy, I delivered 150 papers. I started when I was 10 and delivered up until I graduated from high school. That job was great back then; we used to fight over the routes. I knew all those folks who used to stand on the street corners by name. There were preachers and one blind man used to sing the Wabash Cannonball and people would drop coins in his cup,” Rush said.
He also admitted he knew some of the ladies by name in what used to be known as the “Red Light District.”
“But that was only because I had to hand-deliver their newspaper to them. They weren’t allowed to go out until after 6 p.m.,” he said. “I think there was some kind of ordinance; the respectable ladies didn’t want them out mingling until after 6. But anyway I had to take the paper to them,” he said.
All the farmers would come into town, said Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society.
“I remember, as a kid, coming downtown with my dad and getting coal and feed; there was a feed store down there,” Enoch said.
Downtown was filled with clothing shops, hardware, feed stores, variety shops, bars, and many restaurants back in those days, Rush said.
Among those were Divine’s Department store, Stern Brothers, Presto Lunch, the Darling Shop and the Princess Shop, he said.
Then there was that machine at Wunder Shoe store, Enoch said.
“They were at the corner of Sixth and Market streets, and they had this machine that could X-ray your foot right through your shoe. As a kid I used to go in there all the time; it was really neat; you could see all the bones and everything,” Enoch said. “All the kids used to go in there all the time; guess that’s why they took it out.”
Rush said Earl “Buck” Starr owned a bar on Market Street in the 1940s.
“He was a rather large fellow who also played baseball,” he said.
Starr, who was an athlete at Marietta College in his younger days, also played semi-professional baseball for the Parkersburg Independents.
Rush also was an athlete. He was a member of the high school’s boxing team at the time and recalled boxing and wrestling matches at the armory, which used to be on Seventh Street.
“They called them Friday Night or Saturday Night Smokers where they had boxing and wrestling matches,” Rush said.
Rush and his friends were among the amateur fighters.
“There was me and a couple other friends, Irish boys, and they were tough,” he said. “We were friends and we didn’t want to hurt each other. The rounds weren’t very long. The professional ones were real fighters. They drew blood.”
A man, called “Speedy,” at the armory would leave some money in the amateur’s shoes while they were taking a shower, Rush said. He wasn’t allowed to pay them, but he occasionally would leave $5, sometimes $20 if there was a good crowd that night, Rush said.
“We’d take the money and go straight over to Angelos Brothers to get a banana split or a milkshake,” Rush said. “Those were the days.”
Rush Angelos Brothers Confectionery had a big marble table there where they made Easter candy, he said.
I “just liked to go in there and smell the candy,” he said. “My favorite was the chocolate-covered peanuts and chocolate-covered marshmallows.”
The armory was on Seventh Street right across from the Louis Thomas Subaru dealership is today, Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, said. A quarry was located on the other side of the street, he said.
The Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History, at the corner of Second and Juliana streets, opened its doors in the spring of 1988, but that building began life as the Starr Grocer Company. The firm had its offices and warehouses there in 1902.
In the 1920s the company doubled the building’s size. It made it through the Great Depression, then went out of business in the 1940s. Purchased in 1947 by the Guthrie-Morris Campbell Company of Charleston, the structure was sold by them in 1983 to the Blennerhassett Historical Park Commission, which renovated it in 1985 and1986 through a Federal EDA grant.
Rush recalled the high waters that invaded downtown on several occasions.
“We didn’t call them floods, we just called them high waters. But I couldn’t deliver all my papers when that happened, and someone from the business (McHenry) would have to go down to pull out all the elevator motors so they didn’t get wet. And I remember the feed store had to raise all their feed up,” Rush said.
Enoch recalled when he was a teen, as a lark, the boys would walk by the Monroe Hotel.
“We’d look up and see the girls of ill repute looking out the windows and we’d yell at them,” he said.
The street names of downtown have also undergone changes.
After the resurvey of downtown was completed in December 1810, downtown was laid out in 20 squares, each with eight lots of one-third acre, except for those on either side of courthouse square, which had only six lots each and an irregular square between Avery and Green streets created by a bend in the Little Kanawha River, which had only four lots, a total of 152 lots, according to “A River to Cross,” written by Philip Sturm.
There were 18 large out-lots of varying sizes along the Ohio River, north of Washington (later Sixth) Street, and along the Little Kanawha River.
Ohio Street, running north along the Ohio River from the Point, was 30 feet wide and beyond the town limits continued as “the river road” to Williamstown and Marietta.
North/south streets were named as they are today: Ann, Juliana, Market, Avery.
Streets running east/west were named Kanawha (First); Neal (Second); Court (Third); Harriet (Fourth); Littleton (Fifth), and Washington (Sixth).
Each square was separated by alleys running from Kanawha to Washington streets, with four lots on either side of the alley. Parallel to Ann Street and from Ann to Green, the alleys were named St. James, Williams, Philips and St. Cloud.
“There was Divine’s; they had the finest men’s clothing around. All the boys would go in there to get sweaters and shirts; they were really nice; of course, you had to pay for nice,” he said.