In February of 2008 I was enmeshed in obtaining an associates degree. A part of the effort was taking a class in Anthropology. While reading and commenting on written assignments created by other students I read a "Longitudinal Study" of Coldwater Michigan. Written by Heather and Shelley,The following is the post that I sent them.
Dear Heather and Shelley,
I read with great interest your study of Coldwater. I was born there in 1951. My parents moved from town to
when I was about 1 and moved back in town when I was 7. There wasn't such a thing as a KMart or even Kresge's then. Messenger Lake
In 1958 the big attraction in town was the Main Theatre, on
Main Street of course. Tibbits opera house was a fallen down dump of a building behind Kerr Hardware. Kerrs is gone now and Tibbits is advertised nationally. Go figure.
The big job in town was the State Home and Training School. My aunt worked there until it closed. When Florence Crane was built there wasn't going to be any expansion. They were just going to use a small unused part of the grounds for a Minimum Security womens prison. There's a whole study in anthropology right there alone. The next largest was the Midwest Foundry. The Homer Foundry burned down shortly after 1956 and Dad had moved to working at the Midwest when he had 3 boys to feed.
Literally half of Coldwater was built on the waste foundry sand and slag from the blast furnaces of the Homer and Midwest Foundry. From
Daughtery St to the Hospital all along the North side of US 12 was a swamp that was filled in with it. The industrial park on the corner of Jay Street and Industrial Ave was the city dump.
The land behind the skating rink was another swamp that was filled in with foundry sand and ash from the power plant. I hunted frogs there and built tree huts in the woods behind it.
In 1959 an enterprising group of boys could walk in the front door of the power plant and ask to ride the elevator. One of the men there would take them on a breathtaking ride 6 stories up where they could look out over the city, and spit over the side too!
There were only 2 elevators in town back then, at least that I know of, the one at the power plant and one at Northwood Coffee house. Back then it was called Branch’s and was the fancy store in town. You could buy a nice dress or yard goods to make it from. A cabinet to store the dress in and moth balls to keep the bugs out of the cabinet.
There was a toy store in the basement. I worked my tail off mowing yards to buy a cap gun there when I was 10. It was a big step, Dad had said he carried a gun all through the war and he wasn’t going to live with them the rest of his life so no guns period. He let me keep the gun but absolutely no caps!! That lasted about a year. One long winter evening he took every cap gun and threw them into the potbellied stove.
Three boys and 2 girls all in one house was quite a boil. Not having cap guns in the house didn’t stop the mayhem either. With a couple of box elder branches and a piece of string you had yourself a bow! The arrows were too crooked to fly straight but my older brother Jerry used his scout knife awl to carve a hole in a buckeye. Mounted on the end of an arrow it added just enough weight to straighten the flight without shortening the distance. As his reward I shot over the roof of the house in a game of alley aye over and hit him square in the top of the head. Dad had a leaf fire going that day. He sure did like to burn up stuff!
We didn’t stop at going over to the power plant. We would ride our bicycles clear across town. It’s unthinkable to let a kid out of your sight now, but at the age of 8 I would take off on my 20? Bicycle, with my brothers and a group of friends and ride out to Black Hawk Mills to fish at the dam. Or to the Softball diamond where we would watch for foul balls and run to be the first one to it. Panting and sweaty we would run up to the concession stand and turn it in. No reward, just bragging rights.
I’ve forgotten the name of the man who mowed the grass at the park. I think his name was Ed but I’m not sure. He would let us ride on the back step of the mower as he went around the park. Was it Dangerous? It sure must have been. Otherwise we wouldn’t have wanted to.
Swimming in the river was as normal as breathing in the summer. Fishing in every creek, river, or lake was considered the duty of every boy I knew.
But the foundry is closed. The Main theatre is a flower shop. Blackhawk Mills was torn down and the whole place is marked no trespassing. The power plant closed and has a chain link fence around it. All that cool stuff we used to climb on is too dangerous for the public now.
A kid from my childhood would frighten the public into a panic now. Walking the streets with a bow and arrows, with buckeye tips of course, a sling shot in one hip pocket and a pocket full of round stones, carefully chosen for accuracy, a scout knife for whittling out any new weapons needed, the other pocket filled with waxed matches, string, nails, shells, and maybe a frog, he or she was ready for anything.
Really there was only one girl who went around like that. I won’t mention her name here; she can probably still out run me.
Thanks for bringing back a great time in my life.