SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Saturday Night "Live" In Grantsville, Stillness Of Quiet Streets


Saturday night "live" in Grantsville

By Bob Weaver 2014

Grantsville's Main Street on Saturday night was empty and lonely, not a parked vehicle in sight in either direction, not a human being or dog sauntering down the sidewalk.

The towns population having dropped from a paltry 1,200 down to about 500. Somehow the town has managed to keep things going.

In the 1950s and through the 1960s, even on week nights, you couldn't "stir people with a stick." Coming to town, even in Arnoldsburg, it was the thing to do.

The decline of small, rural towns is not unique to Grantsville, the economic, political and social life has been driven by corporate movements like merging, centralizing, consolidating, and God help us, now globalizing.

Community and social involvement, including vital community institutions, have been further eroded by citizens glued to popular high-tech media and communication devices, not to each other.

Visiting Richwood a few weeks back, we counted about 30 vacant storefront buildings.

While some citizens blame local business people and politicians for the decline, and some blame could be due, the economic shift to urban centers is mostly to blame.

Back at that time rural population in America was about 40%, now its declining to 18% or less. The great exodus from Calhoun was to Ohio for better paying jobs, taking its toll after World War II.

See SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - "The Last Farmers - A World Close To Home"

The town at one time had many retail stores to meet every need, now dwindled to a handful.

In 1956 I got my drivers license and ask my dad if I could drive our 1954 Chevy to Grantsville. He reluctantly said yes. It was Saturday night and I picked up my friend Ron Lynch and we went to town to park in front of Pearl Kelley's store.

No sooner than being parked, an elderly man pulled beside and yelled, "You're in my place." In those days we acquiesced to our elders, and I moved the car to another spot.

Pearl would come out on the street for a breather wearing her canvass apron with some fresh stains from meat she was cutting up in the back of the store, to chat with those on the crowded street.

Pearl provided fresh fish she caught from the Little Kanawha River, long before advisories were issued to limit fish eating because of their mercury content.

Every so often, her visiting would be interrupted by a customer wanting a pint of whiskey, which she bootlegged from the back of the store.

Grantsville taxi drivers made a few extra bucks with home-delivered bootlegged whiskey.

Yet today, Calhoun does not have a liquor store, the only county without such legal spirits in West Virginia. As far as I know, bootlegging of alcohol has faded, to be replaced by the entrepreneurial skills of illicit drug traffickers.

Most visitors had their favorite business place to hang out, while many frequented the J & B Drug Store before and after the twice nightly showing of movies at the Kanawha Theater.

Imbibers hung at at Shoad Ward's pool emporium, among other beer parlors. Shoad's place was fronted by large plate glass windows, the lower part painted, leaving a small nicotine smoked opening at top for light.

Inquiring wives had to jump up to spot their beer drinking husbands.

A considerable number of people were respectfully getting drunk in cars and alleys, but a few country boys would come to town already conditioned, challenging the town's single cop, at that time, rotund Bryan Ward.

Sometimes those "ornery boys" would get the best of Bryan, but he'd regroup with his billy-club and haul them off to jail for a night to rest up.

If you got drunk and didn't want to drive home you could ride the Grantsville Taxi, or if things got really bad and you needed to leave town, you could catch the Greyhound Bus at the Terminal Restaurant.

Spavy Stump and his dog would amble through Poe Gunn's store, opening the coolers and shaving off a few bites of cheese or meat for himself and his dog, using the same knife he delivered surgical services for animal birth control. Poe didn't mind.

His sister Aunt Nettie would quietly repose on the porch of the closed Stump Hotel, likely writing poems, aware that Spavy, imbued by liquid spirits, would finish his night on the old hotel's balcony playing a few fiddle tunes, entertainment for the late night crowd.

There were at least a dozen of popular street characters, widely accepted by the citizenry. In this 21st Century, few are to be found, likely medicated somewhere and watching TV.

It was the last days for Nell Welch's place, a narrow diner with skinny booths beside the A & P store, said to have utilized one of the last riverboats from the Little Kanawha. Hot dogs were ten cents. Calhoun's wealthiest citizens ate there, holding on to a few nickels, or maybe they just liked the hot dogs.

A popular place was the Rainbow Hotel and Grille. Bruce Lowe and his bunch of waitresses greeting guests, day and night. The hotel accommodations were austere, but plenty good enough for traveling salesmen.

Hard to believe, there were a number of department stores and auto dealers where you could buy a shiny new car or truck.

For those that didn't like to hang out inside businesses, there were ample benches on the street and in front of the courthouse, while others hunkered for a spell or leaned against their car.

Some residents would bring their wives to town to enjoy the comfort of their car seats, just to watch the social action.

Grantsville Appliance had one of those TVs in the window with a speaker outside that was on a timer until 11 p.m. People would loiter there to watch fuzzy black and white entertainment.

While there were several grocery stores, the main store was the A&P, run by George and Local Lambiotte, both the most gracious of community-minded people, who would actually go get the needed items, long before self-service.

Kids would be in free form riding up and down the street on their bikes, darting in and out alleys with their dogs tagging behind.

My aunt Gladys Weaver Stump and Lonnie Oles kept their women's apparel Quality Shop open late, greeting and meeting people at the door, a store that you could purchase high-quality, name brand clothing.

Glady's always said, "When we run out of something to do, we'd go over to Stump's Funeral Home to see who's dead."

Cleo Kingsbury's Ben Franklin 5 & 10 (yes, your really could buy things for that price) was always good for a quick sweep, the toy counter was a hot attraction for kids.

The Calhoun Super Service was just that, from getting a fill-up, buying a couch or stove or purchasing a new car. You could actually buy a new car or truck from several dealers, or shop at several department stores.

Lots of people would walk to main town from south and north Grantsville, the southern part of town was referred to as "sow-side," all traveling across the steel-girdered bridge built across the Little Kanawha River about 1914.

The narrow bridge, by the 1950s, had been restricted to one-way traffic, controlled by stop lights at either end. It was the only time the town had a real stop light.

The bridge was a good hang-out, a place for fooling-around.

If got sick while in town or crashed you car going home, you'd get hauled up the steep steps to the Bowling Clinic on a Stump Funeral Home ambulance cot or Dr. Toepher would come down to his office from his upstairs apartment.

Calhoun County High School, Grantsville Grade School and the town's several churches were educational, social, cultural and religious anchors.

Gosh, there was a lot going on, from the lodge halls to the large number of men's and women's civic clubs.

Meditating on the empty street, I acknowledged those who are holding on to small town life and clinging to the quietness of the Calhoun woods.

LIFE IN A SMALL TOWN - "I could hear the crickets and tree frogs starting their night song in the small, wooded area behind us. A faint smell of lilac filled the air. There was always lilac in this part of town. Where there were grandmothers, there was always lilac." ― Laura Miller