Fond Recollections Of Columbia

By Beverly Northup

Beverly is a life-long Columbia resident and recently submitted this essay on her memories of Columbia.

I have many fond memories of my childhood while growing up in Columbia where I was born and raised.

I was born in the front bedroom in a house that remains standing on what used to be known at that time as 722 Tandy Ave. It has now been changed to College Avenue. When I was much younger, the street was gravel and much narrower than it is today. I can vaguely remember when Providence Road was also a narrow gravel road called Third Street.

I was born shortly after the Great Depressions and while it was pretty much over, the economy was still suffering. My dad, who was a carpenter, managed to find work to feed his family when it was necessary. He packed us all up in the old Plymouth or Dodge and headed West where he and my mother worked in the shipyards. We were fortunate because we always had our home to come back to.

During my early years, we did not have television. We did not have the robot or remote controlled toys and certainly no computer. Therefore, I think we were fortunate because we had to use our imaginations. And rather than staying indoors like so many children do today, we were usually outside playing in all seasons.

We played baseball across the street in the vacant lot that is no longer there. At the front of our home stood a street light where our friends who lived up and down the street played Hide and seek and Kick the Can way after the sun went down. In those days we were not afraid to run behind our neighbors’ homes to hide in total darkness. In the winter, the bigger kids would pull their sleds to the top of the Tandy Street hill and ride down to the bottom to Hwy. 40. Then the street was mostly gravel and had little traffic. At that time there was no Interstate 70 and the Business Loop, as we know it today, was called Hwy. 40. This was the main thoroughfare through town.

At that time and well into my teen years, Columbia city limits ended about where the I-70 ramp goes to Highway 63 N. To the west, Hulen Lake was definitely out of the city limits where my friends and I would sometimes go to play in the water. (I say play because I couldn’t swim.) City limits east of Columbia pretty much ended after leaving Paris Road to get on Clark Lane, which was then a gravel road, and which became quite muddy after a rain. South of Columbia city limits ended by the time one went a short way on Route K.

I remember when the KOMU television station began. I was working for my Aunt Ruby at a drive-in restaurant called Welcome Inn. Actually I think the city limits in that direction quit after crossing the bridge close to Grindstone Park. There was the Sky Hi drive-in theater in the area, which was quite popular at the time.

The house where we lived was built before I was born by a preacher name Mr. Tate who my dad, Charlie, hired for $600. Material for the home was taken from the torn-down home of President Lincoln’s wife’s family, which used to be part log cabin. That home used to stand somewhere around the area of present day Providence and Broadway. I have many happy memories of being raised in that home until around the age of 13.

Our close relatives lived nearby and we would often go visit one another. One family lived on what is now called Wyatt’s Lane. No doubt it was named after the John Wyatt family who lived there as neighbors to my relatives, the Barnes family. I loved going there because that really was in the country and we had lots of fun.

I also spent many hours playing in the backyard in the vacant chicken coop and pretending I was a cook in a restaurant. My menu was dirt, mixed with water and sometimes some grass. Using our imaginations we could do and be whatever we wanted. I would also like to ride my stick horse and be one of heroines I had seen in one of the western movies we would go to each week. We would sometimes walk to the movie and so that meant having to walk home at night afterwards. How nice it is to think back at how relaxed time was then and not being concerned about evil lurking in the dark. It was there, but nothing like it is today. Back then, on the movie screen, we were able to see some actual views of the news that was happening in foreign countries. Now we can turn on the TV and watch the actual happenings as a war rages.

One of my fond memories concerning the movies was the popcorn that was sold by a woman who had a little popcorn store next to Varsity Theater, which was on Ninth Street. I think that was the most delicious popcorn I have ever eaten, but there was nothing to drink, and oh my one can only imagine the thirst and eagerness to get home and get a glass of water after eating all that salt.

During that time we had three neighborhood grocery stores in the area, which all stood on Wilkes Blvd. The closest one was situated on what I remember as a small hill with concrete stairs that went to the door. I can still almost remember the smell of that store when I walked into it. It had a good smell of lots of candy, which showed through the glass counters. The second store was called Ealy’s. It was okay but I personally didn’t like it as well as the first one, or the third one, which was called Heibels. Actually, that was a drug store and a grocery store was attached next door. The Heibels, who owned the drug store, had a nice two-story, brick home across the street.

I went to school at Eugene Field with Gloria, the daughter of the Heibel family. Today when I think about this store, I am reminded of Double Bubble gum and what a treat it was! During those times bubble gum was a rare commodity. When we learned that bubble gum was in the store, the kids would rush to get their pennies to get some of this delicacy. We were allowed only to buy a few pieces at a time due to the scarcity of it. I am also reminded of the soda fountain in the drug store where one could sit at the counter and get a scrumptious ice cream soda or just a fountain soda. After Heibels sold their store, it became known as March Drug Store. Although the name had changed, the same goodies remained. I remember on Sunday mornings as I walked to Sunday School. If I had some money that wasn’t to be used for a donation to church, I would go in and buy candy.

I attended Field School and I can still remember how the aroma of the school lunches managed to seep into the classroom of sixth grade. Sixth grade was located directly above the lunchroom. That is where I learned about mashed potatoes and hamburger gravy, which I still fix today. Miss Finley was the principal and although she had planned to retire the year I was to go to sixth grade (the class she taught half of the day), I do believe she stayed in order to be my teacher at my mother’s wish since she had taught the rest of my siblings. I can still remember how stern, yet jovial she was. She had white hair pulled back in a bun. She ate school lunch with the children and before we ate, she gave thanks for our food. Whenever someone would spill milk, rather than scold, she would always say, “Accidents happen to the best of people.”

Downtown then consisted of two 5 and 10 cent stores: JJ Newberry and FW Woolworths. Crown Drug stood in between the two. Down from Central Dairy at the corner of Broadway and Tenth Street was the Uptown Theater and directly across the street was the old Stephens Publishing Co., which still stands today. My mother worked there and I would often go up the stairs to where she sat sewing the books together. The Hall Theater was located where Panara Bread recently was located. Then there was the Missouri Theater and the Varsity and Boone Theaters. Later there was the Sky Hi Drive-in on Hwy. 63 and then later the Parkade Drive-in theater where the Parkade Plaza is now located. Later the Parkade Drive-in shut down and the area became known as Parkade Plaza. Before Parkade, that area also served as a place where the carnivals set up when they came to town. I might add that while I don’t remember many of the old businesses remaining still today on Broadway, I do remember that Buchroeder Jewelers was in business back then at the same location where it remains today. And the banks still remain where they were then.

Sometimes on Saturdays I would go to town with my dad to Roberts and Green Hardware Store located on Walnut. Saturday was the day the farmers came to town and it was always fun to see them sitting together along the wall next to the courthouse. I reasoned that they got caught up on all the news while the women went about their shopping.

There are many more fond memories of life in Columbia back then; too many to include in this writing. I am very grateful that I was allowed the privilege of living during that time and able to experience how nice it was then.