What was it like to grow up in mid-20th century West Linn?
Editor's note: West Linn native Ken Cameron has shared some of his memories of growing up in the Willamette area, "back in the day" when West Linn was a small town with a big paper mill. We'll share the rest of his recollections of "Main Street" in the mid-20th century in an upcoming issue.
We moved to Willamette when I was 4 years old, so that must have been 1957 or so. We lived (and my mother still does) on 19th Street, halfway between Blankenship and Dollar, on the corner with Short Street, which back then was a dirt driveway leading to the Stearns' house.
Downtown Willamette was much different then, way different from the upscale bedroom community it is today. There were three grocery stores, two taverns, a drugstore, barber shop, welding shop, two gas stations, a fire station and a hardware store, all crammed into two and a half blocks. A few years later, a dentist office was added.
Back then the town started at 12th Street and walking west on the south side of Main Street (now Willamette Falls Drive) the first place you came to was Mark's Tavern. I didn't know much about it, especially in the '60s since I was in grade school, but it was there. A place where sounds of merriment or anger could be heard out on the sidewalk, depending on the state of mind of the patrons at the time.
Next to Mark's was Dave's Market. It had a small grocery store on one side and a soda fountain on the other. It was tradition back then for first or second graders at Willamette Grade School to take a field trip to the Franz Bakery in Portland and when back in the classroom you drew pictures of what you saw. The owner (Dave?) would hang the crayon masterpieces from the ceiling in the store; maybe he got some sort of credit from Franz for doing so or he was just being very nice.
The owner lived in an apartment behind the store, connected by a doorway. On Halloween he would make a maze through that door and into his home using tables and chairs and blankets. After successfully crawling though you got a full-sized candy bar, not the miniature ones most folks gave out. Needless to say, it was very popular.
Third in line was the drug store run by the McQuowns (not sure of the spelling). In grade school this was our favorite hangout. The place had a small selection of toys and model cars (lots of last-minute birthday party gifts came from here), a limited drug store, post office and a soda fountain. Poor old Mr. McQuowns could barely walk and 'round Pinewood Derby time Cub Scouts would be in there all the time having their cars weighed on the postal scale, causing him to hobble from his seat behind the fountain to the post office on the other side of the building.
Like I said, this was our grade school hangout, so there's a lot of memories about it tucked away. The soda fountain was a real one; if you wanted a Coke, a squirt of Coke syrup was put in the glass and soda water added to top it off. Our favorite was a "graveyard," consisting of a squirt of all the different syrups plus soda. If you were brave, they had a small bottle of cherry phosphate and a few drops could be added on request. Rumor had it that it rotted your stomach and was therefore dangerous. Of course, that just made it more appealing and we always had to have it. My stomach seems to have survived fairly well.
The McQuowns also made great banana splits and you could choose the flavors you wanted from their selection of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, and chocolate, marshmallow, strawberry and pineapple toppings. You could only get a banana split, however, when Dave's Market was open. The McQuowns didn't keep bananas on hand and they would have to run next door to buy one for your order.
For the very young, the center of the drug store was the glass-faced candy counter. If I remember correctly there were three shelves. The upper shelf had the dime and nickel candy bars, well beyond the financial reach of most of us. The middle and lower shelves were where we shopped. There were selections costing two cents, a penny and two for a penny.
I'd go in with my dad, Richard Cameron, and he'd give me a nickel or, if I'd been exceptionally good, a dime, and the decision making would begin. I honestly believe some kids learned how to add at that counter trying to get the most out of their money. There were tubes and spheres of wax filled with Kool-aid; they were good because you could chew the wax afterward. Root beer barrels were jawbreakers and also lasted quite a while. The really cheap ones were malt balls and miniature peanut butter cups (two for a penny). Little Tootsie Rolls, chick-o-stick and watermelon slices, and chocolate ice cubes were a penny apiece. There must have been a lot of others, but I can't dredge them up right now from my slowly curdling memory.
Nestled up against the drug store was Brim's Barber Shop, a tiny one-chair place. Back then I sported a sort of crew cut that was slightly longer in the front. I'd get a jar of Butch Wax at the shop to keep that front part sticking stylishly up straight. The barber's son, Gary, was an expert at building and painting model cars, and there were always a few on display. The models I made never came out anywhere near as good-looking as Gary's and I frequently wished I could get some pointers from him. Years later he married one of my younger sisters, Donna. I never did get those pointers.