|Ice Cream Shop, Jamestown, KY, original Post Office|
When people had to travel long distances by horse and wagon some families kept a tiny one-room house in town for sleeping over. In Texas, where some of these cottages still exist they have been restored as small homes for one or two persons. Others slept in & under their wagons or bunked in with family members who lived in town.
The advent of automobiles didn't change the custom of going to town on Saturday for supplies, business affairs, recreation, and visiting. Even today though the meeting places have changed from Main Streets and school or church buildings people flock to large indoor malls with vast parking lots especially when cooler weather arrives. Saturday is the true vacation day of the week for the communities.
Going to town meant visiting with friends while one used a laundromat to the the entire family wash at one time in a few hours instead of stringing it out over an entire day one load at a time. Even thought a family had a washer and dryer at home the men of the family never understood the desire of their women folk to use those big machines in town.
Stocking up on a week or month's supplies was important for there were few country groceries near their homes where one could obtain all the goods necessary to sustain the family. The women generally shopped in chain groceries devoted to food. For clothes, sewing materials, and shoes they frequented a dry goods store. Children were delighted to view the bones of their feet in an x-ray machine, it didn't matter that there was a warning sign indicating harm from too frequent usage.
Men left their corn to be ground for feed at a mill or picked up sacks at the feed store, and tended to congregate in the courthouse, hardware store, or pool room. A haberdashery provided clothes for men and boys. Drug stores had a fountain for ice cream delights and sodas, sandwiches, magazines & newspapers, cosmetics, and coffee besides medicines.
The star of the town was the movie theater.
|Art Deco Star Theater, Russell Springs, KY|
One of the most unique small town movie houses was in Dixon, KY long before drive-in theaters. Each spring a man would paint the outside wall of his service station a fresh white. During the spring, summer, and fall on good weather Saturday nights he would use the wall as a movie screen. Patrons would bring their own treats, chairs, and cushions to watch a motion picture show.
When friends from my home town get together to travel memory lane this story always comes up. The stores stayed open until eight o'clock. For a short period of time the only television in town sat in the window of the furniture store. It had a screen about eight inches square. On Saturday night people would gather on the sidewalk outside and watch a show on this strange new luxury. I don't remember what it cost, if I ever knew, but everyone was sure it was beyond their price range. After the program people would go next door to the drug store for a soda or a hand-dipped ice cream cone before going home.
I've talked about the delights of going to town on Saturday, but there is a hidden picture behind the story. Each community had the stores I've mentioned and they provided jobs, substance for the owner, and taxes to the government. Those shops and businesses made the town. When they began to die and disappear from the scene a way of life for many Americans also vanished. Some communities are making an effort to bring back these institutions to attract tourists, but I expect it's mostly for their own benefit.