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By Bob Sandidge


Dr. Bass   Premier Theater       Last Picture Show      Eleven Stores
China Trees           John Appman         Grayville '61       Last Day Of School

Downtown Grayville 1961

By  W.F. (Bill) Werzner         

Sometimes I like to sit back and reminisce.  I’m told it’s something we all do with increasing frequency, as we grow older.  That was something I used to think I’d never do, “grow old?”  I think of life as a book, but one where only certain pages or chapters can be accessed by some kind of bookmark.  Such bookmarks become embedded in our consciousness because of some significant event that causes us to associate it with a particular moment in time.  I would like to share one of those pages that I marked with an indelible bookmark on year page 1961.  

It was not some spectacular historically significant event, personal triumph or tragedy, but simply a day and point in time that I vowed to remember.  That day was special because I was trying to imagine what my life and the world would be like for the next five decades if I lived that long.  I was standing next to the main sound amplifier in the projection room of Grayville’s Wabash Theater where I worked as projectionist.  It was 7 PM, Friday, May 19, 1961.  We had a double feature booked for that Friday and Saturday.  I was running the second reel of the movie “Chartreuse Caboose” and had the second feature “College Confidential” rewound and stored in the film magazines beneath the rewind table.  I walked over to check the current output meter on the main sound amplifier.  The rectifier tubes cast a warm glow from the steel cabinet above. Downstairs, the smell of fresh popcorn permeated the air as the Friday evening patrons settled in for the movie.  I watched as a sliver of bright golden sunlight from the setting sun streamed through the window above the marquee and formed a silhouette against the projection room door.  I stood there in the golden sunlight for a moment and looked out the window to North Street and up to the highway where the stoplight blinked its red beacon.  It was then that I thought about my last week of high school and graduation that would follow one week later.  A warm spring breeze blew through the open window and the tall pecan trees near the highway intersection swayed slowly, back and forth, clad in their new emerald green foliage.  It was then that I wondered where I would be, and what the world would be like during those future decades.  I vowed to remember that moment in time with a bookmark set in my seventeen-year-old mind.

Over forty years have passed since I stood there that evening, looking down on North Street.  Now I try to recall what downtown Grayville was like so many years ago as I sit before the screen of this modern computer.  Home computers, the internet, worldwide satellite communication, even affordable color television, and so many more things that today we take for granted; were almost unheard of back then.   As I begin my mental trek through downtown Grayville on that warm spring evening, I realize that time has taken a toll, but thanks to some recent help from John Camp and Bill Warmack, I’ll try to remember what it was like.  Perhaps others who read this story can add what I have forgotten, or correct errors that have crept in and eroded the lines from this page of memories.

Standing on the northwest corner of the “four way stop”, and shaded by the tall pecan trees, is the Lennox Antique Shop in a two story white frame house.  Looking east across the highway is the Carey Court Motel, the alley and the office of Dr. H.L. Bass.  Bradshaw’s Appliance Store stands on the corner with the Maytag signs and lighted window displays.  Next door is Kemper’s clothing store, the Ben Franklin “dime store”, and next to it one of Grayville’s icons; Madden’s Drug Store with the neon Rexall Drugs sign above the sidewalk.  Then Teffertiller’s Department Store in two buildings, Beggert’s book keeping office, a barbershop in the Elliott building and then the two story building housing Bowman’s Market with the red and green neon signs in the windows advertising “Bowman’s meats and groceries”.  Kepley’s TV Sales and Service is next door with their large lighted yellow Magnavox sign.  Next is Evangeline’s Ladies clothing store where mannequins dressed in stylish clothes stand in the lighted windows; and on the corner, Jordan’s Red and White Supermarket.                                      

Around the corner and in the rear of Jordan’s building is Paula Barton’s Beauty Salon.  Looking north across the alley is Matthews Ford dealership. Then east, across Middle Street is the American Legion and up to the North Street intersection, is Ramsey’s Market on the corner.  Next door is Smith Hardware to the east, then Campbell dry cleaners, and Schoenman’s Jewelry Store with a bright window display and the landmark grandfather clock against the wall.  Next to the upstairs doorway is Horste’s Market, Bender’s Pharmacy with the neon drug sign above the sidewalk, and Art’s Café and News Agency with a Coca-Cola canopy in front.  The next two buildings are vacant and then there is Flossie Mae’s Café, March’s Men’s Wear with lighted windows showing the latest styles in men’s suits.  Glenn’s Pool Hall, Gene’s Bar, and Zella Riley’s Restaurant followed by Moon’s Tavern on the corner completes the block.  East across Main Street, and going north; the corner Carey building where the post office used to be, stands vacant.  Next door is General Telephone’s Office, and then  “oilfield supply row”.  The supply houses as I remember them were Lufkin Supply, Harbisson Fisher, Franklin Supply, Roberts’ Auto, and Bethlehem Steel on the corner. There are probably one or more that I have forgotten so maybe someone can “jar my memory”.  

Across from the old two story red brick City Hall, Police Station, and Grayville Fire Department; is a vacant corner building, Ben Ramsey’s Barber Shop with its historical wall mirror display, another vacant building, then Clement Tate’s Main Street Tavern.  Crossing the alley is Robinson’s Beauty Salon,  Robinson’s Cabinet Shop, Grayville Heating and Plumbing, and the burned out remains of the Bouvaird Supply Company.   Next door is Kingdom Hall and on the corner, in a very old frame building, is the Norman Schutz Shoe Repair Shop. 

Back on the south side of North Street and going west is the Dixie Beauty Shop, Bob’s Barbershop, and John Appman’s abandoned Newsstand with the faded billboard sign above.  The two-story red brick People’s National Bank with Ivan Siekmann’s Insurance Agency upstairs stands next to the alley.  Across the alley are the Laundromat, Grayville Electric, a vacant building, then Knight’s Dry Cleaning.  Next door is Skiles’ Radio and TV Sales and Service connected by a doorway to the large two story Skiles Auto Dealership building on the corner. Orville Cooper owns an auto repair shop in the rear of the Skiles building on Middle Street adjacent to the alley.

Across Middle Street and next to the alley, is a newer building housing Dr. Wilson’s Dental Office, and the Law Office of Attorney, Joseph Scott.  On the southwest corner of North and Middle Street is a Cities Service Station; to the west is the Wabash Theater with its beautiful marquee, an empty lot, and Richards’ Furniture Store in a two story brick building.  The new Moose Lodge is next door and across the alley stands the office of Grayville’s newspaper “The Mercury – Independent”.  Back at the four way stop is Luke Taylor’s Ice Cream Shop and Rudolph’s vintage D-X  Service Station.  To the south is the Coad and Groff Garage and Clyde Mason’s Oil Well Service.  Across the highway and occupying the ground floor of a two story white house on the corner is Wells’ Restaurant.  With my mental walk around downtown Grayville on the evening of May 18, 1961 complete, I’m back in the projection room. The warning bell on projector number two just sounded, guess I had better strike the lamp house arc and get ready for the changeover on reel three. 

Well, now I‘ve returned from that time warp of some forty plus light years ago.  Perhaps someone will spot some errors in my memory trip or have some embellishments to add.  If so, I would appreciate hearing from you. Unless we take the time to put those memorable bookmarks in writing, another portion of Grayville history will be lost and forgotten.  There were other businesses outside the four-block area that I just toured.  In 1961, seven neighborhood grocery stores were still in business, there were two lumber yards, seven or eight churches, nine service stations, a number of oilfield service and supply firms, trucking firms, farm supply, feed stores, welding firms, etc.  As I walked through the deserted downtown one evening last November, remembering what it was like so many years ago; a poem came to mind that my dad, the late Art Werzner, used to recite when business was slow.  “There’ll be some splash in the old Wabash, when Grayville come alive.  Some say she’s dead to stay, but she’ll come alive some day.  And there’ll be some splash in the old Wabash when Grayville comes alive!”

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