Henderson neighborhood a special place for blue-collar kid in ’40s, ’50s


A sense of place and community are important to us all, and I suppose we are to a greater or lesser degree marked, imprinted, impacted or scarred by the time and place in which we grew up.
If you are lucky, as I consider myself to be, it had a positive influence and you feel better for having experienced it.
If you were lucky, there were people, other than your parents, that knew you looked out for you, were concerned for your welfare and expected good things for you and proper behavior of you. For me, that place was the East End.
I left the East End in the fall of 1959. While I’ve lived the majority of my aduit life in another Kentucky community, off and on over the past 40 plus years I have gone back to the area to visit triends and family.
Often I just drive through, up and down some of the streets, reliving memories, recounting who lived where and observing the changes.
Originally the area known as the “East End” was geographically defined by the intersection of Meadow at Washington Street on the North, down Washington to Atkinson Street, out Atkinson to the beltline (railroad tracks), down the beltline to Meadow Street.
Before South Heights School was built, it expanded to include the entire Audubon School district. So, while the geographical boundaries may have blurred somewhat, generally speaking, if you went to Audubon School, you are from the East End.
And if you went to Audubon School, you knew someone named Connell, Littrell, Hargis, Royster, Rednour, Griffin or Stone.
Men with great names like, “Nig” Marshall, “Snakes” Tillotson, “Knucks” Strouse, “Shocky” Davenport, “Piddle” Reid, “Chick” Williams all lived in the East End when I was a boy. Those wonderfully colorful names caused me to conjure all sorts of incredible ways a man might come to be called “Snakes” or “Knucks” and imbued him with awe and a certain mystique
In my childhood, the East End was a blue-collar enclave, a hodgepodge economy, a crazy quilt of business and private enterprise, a thriving and dynamic area of diversified commerce. The biggest employer in the area was the “Cotton Mill,” later reincarnated as “The Hosiery Mill”
There were other industrial businesses such as Atlas Tack, Osborne Brush and Period Tables. But the thing that was commonplace then, and now seems amazing to me as I recount them, was the number of small businesses that existed and thrived in such a small geographic area.
In the late 1940’s and early 1960s, there were two restaurants within easy walking distance of my house Beard’s and Buschkotter in the late ’40s and very early ‘50s) and later Fat Wilkin’s Place.
There were five or six grocery stores, four “beauty parlors” (Boots’, Alma’s, Bee’s and Delois’), Chapman’s furniture store, Troutman’s gas station, at least two barber shops, Vayden’s Variety Store, “Shocky” Davenport’s shoe store two drug stores (T & T and Eastwood’s), Craig’s hardware store, three churches and a fire “barn.”
In the late ‘30s we had our own doctor, W. B. Blue Sr. and ultimately, for a while, our own dentist. Dr. Bill Newman began his practice in the 100 block of Letcher Street.
For a long time, Dave Offutt ran a jewelry store in that same block. We also had our own cobbler, Sammy Stone, an East European Jewish immigrant who operated a shoe repair business in the 1300 block of Powell Street.
Henderson’s first and only Kaiser-Fraiser dealership was owned by Claude Sutton, who lived with his family in what at the time was the nicest house in the 1400 block of Powell Street.
A branch of the U.S. Post Office originally operated on the back porch of Blonnie and Houston Watson’s house. It was later moved to the back of Chapman’s Furniture Store, which also housed Alma’s Beauty Shop upstairs. A funeral home, Moss-Audubon, and a ranch bank opened in the early ’50s.
While all that is historically interesting and contributed to the rich fabric of the neighborhood, to me it’s not what made the East End of my youth significant in my life and the lives of all my friends from that time and area.
The East End was a special and unique place in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s and it cast a strange spell over the lives of many of us who lived and grew up there. The East End throws off a long shadow.
Being from the East End is at the same time a stigma that you spend your entire adult life trying to overcome and distance yourself from, and a badge of pride you wear as a sign of character. Being raised in the East End grants automatic admittance to an unofficial fraternity, a fraternity with no dues, no meetings and no initiation. Well, that’s not entirely true. The initiation was being raised there. And there is a kind of unofficial annual meeting each year on the Saturday before Christmas at Metzger’s Tavern. No invitations are sent.
For men and women my age and older, being from the East End keeps you from being pretentious, pompous and presumptuous.
For those of us who spent our prepubescent years in the East End during the 30s, ‘40s and ’50s, we were subconsciously indoctrinated with a strange, arrogant inferiority. Our parents and the rest of the adults out there somehow convinced us that the rest of Henderson considered us to be socially, culturally and economically inferior.
I hasten to acknowledge that not a single person in Henderson (outside of the East End) ever reminded me of that fact. But the indoctrination was complete and we never questioned or doubted it.
Now, with the perspective of 60 years, I believe it was intended to be a “Boy Named Sue” shield of protection imparted to us by that neighborhood.
Develop a thick skin boy, life is tough, hold your head up, but don’t forget where you came from, “don’t get above your raisin.” At the same time they admonished you to “amount to something.” It was intended as something to be proud of and at the same time, something to overcome.
Those of us reared in the East End during that time never outgrew or overcame that feeling. To the contrary, we nurture it and cultivate it and wear it like a badge of honor. A badge that causes us to set our jaw and bow our neck and push back hard against all the slights and indignities, real or imagined, inflicted on us by the rest of society.
Because no matter how far away you move and how successful you may become, they know – somehow they just know — you are from the East End.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is a resident of Owensboro.