By DAVID GREEN
Other than the fact that 30 years have passed since then, 1972 doesn’t seem like such a long time ago. I was just finishing up college, and that’s still pretty fresh in my mind.
And since it was such recent history, I was really surprised to read that local Saturday night shopping ended in 1972.
I discovered that fact when I was doing the “Morenci Through the Decades” feature that appears on page 2 each week. It gets a little time consuming to come up with those 16 items each week (especially in the weeks past when there wasn’t much going on), but I would never choose to give up that part of this newspaper job.
It’s good to keep watch on local history (even though it’s only the past 50 years that I cover), and it’s a good source of entertainment and amusement.
When I found the store closing item, I thought I might write something about it later. I went back to the story over the weekend and couldn’t find it. Very puzzling. It was just here a couple of days ago.
The problem is that I went back to 1962. I don’t remember stores staying open until 9 p.m. in 1962, but they did and I was 10 years off. On July 27, 1972, Winzeler’s 5¢ to $1 Store, Western Auto, Gillen’s Hardware, Allen’s Jewelry, Gamble Store and Brink’s Shoe Repair announced they would join several other local businesses that had already started to close on Saturday nights. Meyer’s Department Store was a hold-out. They would keep their late hours.
Those six stores would continue with their 9 p.m. Friday closing schedule, but I don’t even remember “everybody” staying open until 9 p.m. on Fridays in 1972.
Time flies when you’re having an odd time.
I recall hearing stories about Saturday nights in earlier decades when the farmers would all come to town and shop and spit tobacco into the street. That’s what I was told. They would gather on the downtown sidewalk to talk (while the wives did the shopping) and they would spit their tobacco in a lovely arc over the sidewalk and into the street. Of course that was a highly illegal activity just as it is today.
Back in former times, Morenci didn’t have the steps along West Main Street like we have today. Those were constructed in 1953. Up until that time, there was sort of a wall of concrete at the edge of the sidewalk down to the street, but that was a relic of horse and buggy days.
City council members decided to add the steps because when drivers parallel parked on Main Street, the passenger door couldn’t be opened. By cutting back three feet from the road, one or two steps could be built.
Those are the same steps that are soon to be removed in the Main Street reconstruction project. City clerk/administrator Renée Schroeder says the state highway department is giving the city a hard time about removing those historic steps. Now she can let them know that the step era goes back less than 50 years.
New sidewalks were installed along the entire south side of Main Street in 1953 and those, too, will soon be replaced.
I suppose all this stuff reads as history to my kids, but I like to go further back in time via the old Maude Chase columns. Now that’s Morenci history.
Maude covered a wide range of information in a typical column. I have one here from 1952 where she started out writing about the Red Ribbon Temperance movement in 1912. More than 1,100 people “signed the pledge”—presumably to stay away from alcohol.
By the second paragraph, she’s jumped back to 1871 when, as she put it, Morenci moved out of the stage coach era due to the arrival of the Canada Southern railroad. There was a big celebration when North Street was broken for the rail crossing. The orator of the day, Rev. O.J. Perrin, presented “a brilliant vision of the future greatness of our village.”
Maude wrote that there was a hive of industry here in the 1860s and Morenci appeared to have a great industrial future. Part of that vision was the Canada Southern. The rail line was projected to run from Buffalo to Chicago. It made it to Morenci and crossed over the Bean behind Kellogg & Buck roller mill, then headed west out of town to Fayette.
But did it get much farther? Competition among rail lines was fierce in those days, and not too many years passed until Morenci’s line merged with the New York Central. Passenger service ended here in 1938 and freight service dwindled in the next 40 years.
Maude then went on to praise the town’s pioneers for all they did, and she suggests that people might want to commune with them at Oak Grove Cemetery. She finishes with a poem for Morenci that’s excerpted here: “In our heart of hearts there’s no fairer town, with pride and cheer we hail thy good renown. May all thy future years be those of thrift. From the way of progress may thou ne’er drift, thus greet at other times with welcome tongue, thy sons still boys, thy daughters always young.”– July 24, 2002