HILTON HAPPY DAYS WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG

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1 HILTON HAPPY DAYS WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG SOME PRE-TEEN REMINISCENCES BY MEMBERS OF WARWICK HIGH SCHOOL S CLASS OF 1954 In our pre-teen youth, Hilton Village was pretty much the business and cultural center of Warwick County and remained so for some time after becoming incorporated as The City of Warwick in Many of us lived in or near Hilton Village and attended this venerable, still-inuse, waterfront grammar school at the end of Main Street. Other members of our high school class attended elementary schools located elsewhere in Warwick County. In September of 1949, we all came together (largely by school bus) for the first time and became 8 th grade Rats at Warwick High School. Five years later, the Class of 1954 graduated and dispersed literally all over the world. But the memories of our Hilton Happy Days still remain strong. Going to Town meant journeying down Warwick Road (often simply referred to as Route 60) to the original city limits of Newport News, where it became Virginia Avenue (before that road was renamed Warwick Boulevard). Before we became all-knowing teenagers and liberated (i.e. got driver s licenses), we rode with parents, or took the CRT, or the more adventurous boys thumbed rides. The businesses concentrated along Washington Avenue offered many products and services, but it wasn t the same; it didn t have the relative quiet and charm of the tree-lined streets of Hilton Village s thoroughfare. Undoubtedly, at the time, we had little appreciation for the historical significance of Hilton Village. We were just kids and such things were of little interest to us, then (in spite of the best efforts of parents and teachers). It was not until we had been out of high school for over a dozen years, and this sign was erected at the southwest corner of Warwick Boulevard and Main Street; that we really began to appreciate the unique, rapidly disappearing environment in which we grew up. We now look back and realize how fortunate we were to be able to experience and thoroughly enjoy happy days there. 1

2 Going to the store, the movies, or a myriad of other business places in Hilton Village often meant walking or riding one s bike to the area bounded by Warwick Road and the James River, and between Hopkins and Post streets. Before being renumbered after consolidation of the cities of Warwick and Newport News, those two long blocks were the 200 and 300 blocks of the village. Once crowded with establishments that we frequented, but that are now mostly gone, those blocks included such venerable names and addresses as: Ledford s Gulf Service Station Do-Nut Dinette Bank of Warwick The Village Theatre Rose s 5, 10 and 25 Cent Store Hilton Pharmacy US Post Office Andy s Barber Shop Seward & Sons Grocery White s Pharmacy Emilie Bearden s School of Dance Hilton Cleaners Stamey s Bakery Tot-n Teen Shop Epes Stationary Grace Spencer Women s Clothing Dechert Fabrics Cahoon s Gift Shop Wertheimer Men s Wear Newton s Shoe Repair Shop High s Ice Cream Village Dress Shop Budanick s Shoes Grimsley Jewelers A little farther along Warwick Road, in both directions, were numerous other businesses we frequented, but it was in Hilton Village, proper, where we could congregate on the extra-wide sidewalk in the 300 block on the west side of that thoroughfare. Warwick Road, in that immediate area, in the mid-1950s consisted of four narrow lanes for traffic (including turn lanes), plus a lane for curb side, parallel parking on both sides. Even back then, crossing Warwick Road in the afternoon, after the shipyard had let out, was an adventure. A narrow island allowed pedestrians to proceed part way, and then wait for traffic to quit whizzing past at close quarters before completing their hazardous crossing. 2

3 Some times, in the midst of such traffic, some faint-hearted lady (bless her heart) would attempt to wield a chrome encrusted, great American land yacht into a parking space far too small; thereby tying up traffic for blocks. More often than not, she d have to give up, but not until she d left her mark on a tree or a fire hydrant, or the fender of some unsuspecting shopper. Interspersed amongst the establishments for commercial business were other places of more interest to our parents than to us kids (like real estate firms and lawyers offices). But there were also doctors offices, churches and numerous residences that we visited for a variety of reasons. A ride today along that part of Warwick Boulevard reveals far too few names that were in our lexicon just a few short decades ago, with the exception of the Baptist and Methodist churches that still flank Main Street. But one business establishment, in particular, remains largely untouched, albeit slightly modified in name, purpose and exterior décor The Village Theatre. On Saturday mornings, it was the center of our universe, replete with mostly western films of un-redeeming educational value, one or more cartoons, and best of all the latest chapter in a thrilling serial. For twenty-five cents someone under the age of twelve (a limit with pretty elastic bounds) could buy a full morning s entertainment and more. That would cover the cost of a 14 cent child s admission ticket, a 10 cent box of popcorn (large, usually stale, which only aided the frequent throwing of same instead of consuming) and for dessert a penny piece of bubble gum. On such occasions, the first few rows in front of the silver screen constituted a mad house of noisy, immature brats as movie stars performed above the din. Any adult brave enough to be in the theatre usually gave that no man s land a wide berth. Kids that lived in the village, proper, mostly walked to the movies on Saturday mornings. In fact they almost always walked everywhere. Children who lived a little too far to walk, rode their Schwinn and Columbia bicycles (usually on the sidewalk, and dodging irritated adults) to the movies; parking their trusty steeds in a large bike rack in front of Rose s. No one had a bike lock, and as far as can be recalled, no one ever had a bicycle stolen. The Village Theatre and Hilton Grammar School were the bookends of our pre-teen years. They both served us well, and continue to do so for additional generations. 3

4 Classmate Personal Remembrances Judy Andrews (nee Watts) lived on Rivermont Drive. As she recently recalled: My biggest memories of Hilton are the Saturday matinees, especially the serials I HAD to go every Saturday to see what happened to Tom Mix, Superman and the rest. We used to walk up to Rose s 5&10 for household items or to just look around. Until I went to WHS, just going to Hilton, proper, to the movies or Rose s was a big deal, to me. We also frequented the drug store on the corner across from Rose s. You could get a sandwich and a soda there. My sister was the soda jerk one summer. We often did food shopping at Seward s grocery a Mom and Pop enterprise in the middle of the block. The fresh vegetables were set out on the sidewalk in baskets, so you could pick out what you wanted and take it into the store to pay the clerk. I remember walking to Hilton School each day (first grade to seventh, rain or shine) and going home for lunch. In the evenings we rode our bikes around to the school and out on the original Hilton pier. In the summer, we went crabbing in the James River at the beach behind Hilton School. Joanne Foley (nee Parker) lived on James River Drive, so she often rode to Hilton with her Father when he went to get a haircut: The barber shop was next door to Seward s Market. It was very small; only wide enough to accommodate the barber chairs and a narrow aisle in front of them. Andy Anderson was the owner and haircuts were 50 cents. Since Daddy didn t have much hair, he always tried to talk Andy into cutting his hair for a quarter. Didn t work. Stamey s Bakery had the BEST store-bought Lemon Chess Pies around. I also remember the Wigwam. I think it was an early version of a fast food place. I can picture ordering through a window. I wish I could remember more, but back then we kids were not only car-less, we were sometimes clueless, as well, with respect to our surroundings. I remember occasionally going to the Village Theatre with my parents in the evening to see something other than the Saturday fare and then going to White's Pharmacy for a hot fudge sundae from the soda fountain. And, I recall buying Keds tennis shoes at Budanick's Shoes for about $3.00. That might buy the strings now. 4

5 Janie Lee (nee Slack) also remembers walking to and from Hilton to go to the movies but from a friend s home that was near the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue. Because Main Street, at that time, dead-ended on both sides of multiple rows of railroad tracks, she and her friend had to carefully pick their way over the rails. Janie further recalls: In addition to the CRT, there was a bus service in Warwick; I think it was called Parker s Bus Service. It was just an old school bus, and very uncomfortable. Even when we rode buses, we still had to walk a block or more from the nearest bus stop to our homes, often in the dark. I don t ever recall being frightened, walking home alone in the dark, nor do I recall anyone ever attempting to bother me. Meredith West lived on Shirley Road, a few blocks north of Hilton Village. Here are her memories of pre-teen years: I remember WALKING up to Hilton before we went to WHS and seeing the Saturday Serials at the Village Theatre. Then, on the way home, roaming around Roses, seeing 12-cent bottles of perfume in beautiful blue glass, smelling Spanish peanuts being roasted, poking around in Epes Stationery I always loved pretty paper and writing materials. Remember Parker and Esterbrook Pens? Then, I would spend a lot of time in Mrs. Cahoon's Gift Shop. Had to look at each little thing in there. Probably mostly junk, but to my kid's eye the store was full of intriguing artifacts. Especially remember the milk glass stuff and some painted cast iron figures. Shop was one of many with small paned windows (did I dream this or were they regular plate glass?). The whole block from Main to Post seemed to me at age or so, like some Dickens era strip. Just thought the whole place so quaint. Seems like inside a white picket fenced area back from the front line of shops, was a small store for children's clothes where I shopped with my mother. To a 10- year-old kid, the area was just like something out of some old book illustration. Grace Spencer's store had a large, beautifully paned front window and I remember enjoying the old fashioned atmosphere of her shop--pine paneling and wood finished drawer fronts and cabinets? And enjoying the hometown perk of saying charge it with no plastic involved. 5

6 Sudie Stultz (nee Jones) lived near the river on Milford Road. Sudie remembers when there was a grocery store beside the movie theater: An A&P, which later became a Colonial Store (I think). Even later, it became the original location of the Bank of Warwick. I remember complaining when I was asked to walk all the way to Seward s to get a loaf of bread, but it wasn t too far for me to walk to the Village Theatre on Saturdays. Dredging up memories from many years ago, I remember that when I was in the fifth grade we sat in the fifth row, sixth grade, sixth row - and then all of a sudden when you were in high school and had a date you sat in the back! In elementary school I remember getting a quarter and I would spent 11 cents on candy in Roses and have the fourteen cents for admission. Am sure that didn't last long - but I enjoyed the candy more than popcorn and candy was cheaper at Roses. More recently, I went with my grandchildren and son, Jim, to a movie at the Village. He offered to show me where the ladies room was located. I told him it was the same place it had been when I was a child and he was stunned! Happy to say it is still in the same place, even today, and except for artsy painting on the wall, still looks the same! Bill Lee lived on 72 nd street, a few blocks on the Warwick County side of the Newport News city limits. Nevertheless, he spent a lot of time in Hilton Village and has a host of related memories: I rode Warwick County School Bus #1 to both Hilton and Warwick, along with other kids who lived in my neighborhood. On Saturdays, we often rode our bikes to Hilton and joined in the frenetic activities at the movie theater. Other times, I rode with one or both of my parents, who preferred shopping in Hilton to going to Newport News. I recall simple pleasures; sitting in our car on cold days and eating fresh cinnamon buns from Stamey s. Going to High s in warmer weather and getting my favorite a double dip cone of lemon custard ice cream and trying to keep the drips off the car s seat covers. Remember seat covers??? The manager of the Bank of Warwick, Dick Rhodes, was a friend of my Pop, and I was warmly welcomed there as a new customer at an early age. I went all alone to the bank one day with my entire net worth (probably less than ten dollars) and deposited it as my parents watched through the window. Thinking back, one particular event really stands out. A grade teacher at Hilton, Miss Jobe, was married in the late spring of the year I was in her 3 rd grade class. All of her students were invited to attend the ceremony, which took place in the old sanctuary of the Hilton Baptist Church. 6

7 Just before the processional began, we were herded together outside the church by anxious parents (threatening dire consequences if we did not behave). When so instructed, we solemnly marched to the seats reserved for us, the girls resplendent in pretty pinafores and the boys decked out in starched shirts and Sunday-best slacks. I fear we stole the show; otherwise, why would we have been excluded from the reception? Actually, I think know why: Neither Miss Jobe nor our parents were that brave! Leaving Hilton and Our Youth Behind Obviously, our first seven years of public education in the middle of the 20 th century were influenced and enhanced by living in or near quaint Hilton homes; the design of which was inspired by English Villages. However, not too many miles farther south, the scene changed dramatically, for old Newport News was an industrial working man s environment; dominated, of course by the shipyard. But north of the village, along Route 60, it was mostly open countryside. Long stretches of open areas on both sides of what was then a two-lane highway were punctuated by widely-spaced homes and businesses. Just past Harpersville Road, stood our future destination (far off the road, or so it seemed, at the time); Warwick High School. How we longed to leave grammar school behind to become Farmers! Once we became high school students, our pre-teen happy days, eventually, inevitably, came to an end. Hilton Village and grammar school-oriented activities were left behind, replaced by wider-ranging interests and adventures. Once firmly entrenched at Warwick High and well into our teens, we were able to put walking and bike-riding and especially the ever-increasing embarrassment of parental-chauffeuring - pretty much behind us. Oh, we still went to the Village Theatre, albeit in smaller groups (i.e., couples). But on Friday and Saturday nights instead of attending Saturday morning shoot-em-up matinees. And we sought out the darker rows, and deplored the noisy, immature brats sitting far down front who often were seen throwing things, for goodness sake! After an entertaining evening, courtesy of such dramatic stars as Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne, or the comedy of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, or even some far-out sci-fi flick; we might motor down Warwick Road to the W&S Driv-In. Or even venture forth to quieter, remoter and more scenic locales 7

8 Ah, but that s the start of another, entirely different set of stories ~ Postscript ~ If this collection of childhood memories seems a bit too idyllic, that s because it is. People generally like to remember (and to hear about) the good times; not the bad. My classmates and I are no exception to that tendency. We were always told to put our best foot forward by our parents and teachers. We still try to do as told Bill Lee April,

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