This picture doesn’t do downtown 1950’s Van Wert justice! Of course, this particular picture is not from the 50’s but it’s the best I can do for now! But this was a big part of my playground. Growing up in a hotel without having other kids around to get into trouble with, you learn to find your own trouble!
My best friend (then and now!), Mary Beth, and I spent a lot of time walking Main Street, stopping after school for French fries and Green Rivers. We would occasionally switch out the Green Rivers for Cherry or Vanilla Cokes!
Directly across the street from the Hotel is the historic County courthouse. Click here for a brief history of the courthouse.
Mary Beth, and I used to hang out a lot at the courthouse. No, we weren’t in court. We were in and around the courthouse. We were just kids and we weren’t juvies. To continue. We’d roam the halls sometimes but mostly we spent time climbing around on the cannons. It’s amazing how fast those “horses” could go.
See that little white building with the green roof in the lower left hand corner of the picture? That’s a War Memorial building that houses a collection of photos of soldiers from Van Wert. Mary Beth and I used to wander through there looking at the pictures of the men and women who served this great country. We didn’t know any of them but it was fascinating. I know some of the photos went back to WWI.
Of course, at the time, neither of us ever suspected that one of our dear elementary school friends would end up on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and have his picture placed in the Memorial Building (I don’t have a copy of it or I would post that). Dead at the age of 20. So sad for so many. But I digress. William Edwin Carter, R.I.P.
Across from the Hotel is a restaurant called “Balyeat’s Coffee Shop” that has been there what seems forever.
Well, okay, forever to me is from 1922! That red neon sign can be spotted a mile away. The sign and the coffee shop are still there and they’re still serving excellent down-home cooking. Their pies are to die for. In fact, I wish I had one now. My family and I used to eat in there quite often. In fact, that’s one of the locations I was chatting with Cisco and Pancho.
In this old postcard, you can see the old movie theatre across the street from the Hotel at the end of the block.
I used to spend time in there. I suppose you could say there were some perks living in the Hotel. I’m guessing now but I’m pretty sure my Dad had made some arrangement with the theatre owner to let me in for free. Otherwise, how could you explain all the times I just walked in? I know there were a few times I would take a friend or two with me. I loved that old movie house. Some Saturday mornings they would have games and contests for the kids followed by cartoons. It was a few hours of Saturday morning freedom for lots of parents! I still remember one of the contests I entered. We were supposed to fill our mouths full of saltine crackers and then whistle. For some reason, I didn’t win. Could it be that I have trouble just whistling even without anything in my mouth? Nobody would do that today because they’d be so terrified of a kid choking and the parents suing. People didn’t think that way then. Kids actually were allowed to have fun. I can still hear the roar of the laughter from probably a hundred or more kids. Boy, it got loud in there. But fun.
When you walk a couple blocks or so the other direction from the Hotel, there was Fountain Park.
Two acres right in downtown. It was a pretty park with swings and paths. I don’t think I spent a lot of time actually in the park because there was just so much other stuff to do. I did cut through it a lot, though, on my way to friends’ houses!
Last time I was home the YWCA was still there. I think Van Wert is one of the few towns that had separate YWCA and YMCA facilities. Now, this is one place where I did spend a lot of time. Nearly every Saturday morning when I wasn’t at the movie house, I was in there roller skating. Yep. I loved it. I was never a fancy skater or anything but I had fun doing it. I remember one time, a bunch of kids formed a chain and put me on the end of it. I think it was because I was small. Boy, I never let them do that to me again! I was flying. It’s a miracle I didn’t crash through a wall or something! Of course, it might not have been as bad as my memory serves!
My Mom was such a fashionista. I remember I had a special roller skating outfit. It consisted of a red satin blouse and a short black velvet skirt with red satin trim and matching red satin pants. I had a rhinestone roller skate pin that I would always wear.
I still have the pin and, as you can see, it’s missing a few of the rhinestones so I don’t wear it anymore.
I used to go swimming a lot at the Y. It was an indoor pool and the smell of chlorine was so strong I can still conjure it up. And, of course, after all that exercise of roller skating or swimming or ping pong or checkers, etc., I always had enough money in my pocket to buy a snack. It was always the same thing no matter what.
But my absolute favorite downtown playground activity has to be The Brumback Library! There is no way I can do justice to the beauty of this library. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. Click here for a brief history of the Library. The Brumback Library stands as the first county library formed in the United States. The building was dedicated on January 1st, 1901. It’s been renovated a couple of times and expanded but they’ve done a magnificent job of maintaining the integrity of the building. I saw it a number of years ago after the expansion. They did a fabulous job of making everything match. It’s such a beautiful place.
I have such wonderful memories of this library. It has been likened to a CASTLE! That’s how I always thought of it. I spent more hours in this library when I was in elementary school. Maybe that’s why I love reading so much. Not only was it a treasure trove of books, it was a fabulous place to explore! I don’t know if they still have them, but some of the upstairs walkways were made of heavy frosted glass. They were so cool! I think they may have been removed or replaced when they remodeled. There were so many stairways and alcoves to explore. I doubt the kids today would have the run of the library like we did back then. Migosh, I miss it!
I could go on and get really detailed about all the stores and alleyways and things to explore downtown. But I’m sure you’ve read enough for now. Besides, I’ve got to save some for the third and final installment on Van Wert in the 50’s.