Growing Up in North Adams
I was born in North Adams in 1924, one of eight children in the Windover family. We all attended Freeman School, one of eight grammar schools in the City. I was taught more grammar in Mrs. Elsie Strong’s seventh-grade English class than I learned the rest of my life. My four years at Drury High School were very happy ones, and I received a good high-school education.
We could walk to about any place in the center of the city. We walked to Freeman School, Drury High School, the North Adams Public Library, the First Baptist Church, and downtown North Adams. We felt very safe walking along the streets of North Adams. We didn’t own an automobile.
When I graduated from the Commercial (Business) Department at Drury in 1942, the economy was booming. Employers were welcoming us with open arms! I began working at Sprague Electric that year and worked for a few years in the Payroll Department, in the Office at Beaver Street. For the rest of my years at Sprague, I worked as secretary to John D. (Jack) Washburn, Director of Personnel.
On Thursday or Saturday evenings or Saturday afternoons, many of the women employees from Sprague would go “downstreet” to patronize the many stores on Main, Holden, and Eagle Streets. The ladies were dressed in their finest outfits. The streets were crowded with shoppers. My paycheck at Sprague Electric was a lot of money to an eighteen-year-old who was one of eight children. After Bill Northup and I married, my paycheck went into the bank to be used to build a house. We built our home on Stratton Road in Williamstown, and I left Sprague in 1957 to start a family.
In those days, downtown North Adams had soda fountains at Hirsch’s Drug Store, Rice’s, Liggett’s, and Apothecary Hall. The soda fountain at Apothecary Hall was a popular place because of its famous mocha sundae. Hundreds of people in the area still claim to have the secret recipe. I am really surprised that some creative entrepreneur has not tied in a promotion of the legendary mocha sundae with Mass MoCA. We also frequented Candyland and Anes’, right on Main Street. In fact, poor Mr. Avdoulas at Anes’ would become quite frustrated with us when we lingered for a couple of hours over our five-cent lemon or cherry cokes. Any event at Drury High School filled all these places to capacity.
As children, we went to the movies on Saturday afternoons at one of the three theaters on Main Street: the Mohawk, the Paramount, or the Richmond. The many churches in North Adams were all thriving. The junior choir at the Baptist Church filled the side balcony in that large sanctuary. Other groups in the Baptist Church were the Baracas Class, The Brotherhood Class, The Whatsoever Class, The Priscilla Club and Christian Endeavor. There was a mid-week prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Opening worship for the Sunday School filled the upstairs chapel and was usually led by Mr. H.B. Clark. As we walked up Eagle Street after church, parishioners from St. Francis would be crossing the street to pick up their Sunday papers at Eddie Ashkar’s Variety Store. Even though there were four girls in the Windover family, Mary Dailey would call us by the correct name as she warmly greeted us.
Many of the boys from all the churches in town sang in the boys choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church which was directed by James Morley Chambers. Mr. Chambers also very ably directed the Drury Band, which has always been a source of great pride to the people of North Adams. During the late forties and early fifties, St. Anthony’s Church, Father Russo, and a committee of teens operated a teen center on Weber Avenue. My younger sister Marcia, and our friend, June Rock, were very involved in the program at Blue Haven, as it was called. Speaking of Weber Avenue, (which was directly across from the entrance to the Marshall Street plant), the nuns from St. Anthony’s Church ran a daycare center in that area, probably in the convent.
Roberts Company was also on Weber Avenue during that era. I remember getting a back-to-school dress for eighty-seven cents in the warehouse-type building that housed their store. Old-timers will remember Billy Barber’s machine shop on Pearl Street, alongside the James Hunter Machine Company which was then on Main Street in the general area where City Hall now stands. Area men used to drop in at his shop to hear his stories, watch him at work, or pick his brain. There are many folk stories about W.J. (Billy) Barber, who was an inventor, a mechanical genius, and a practical joker. Once again, this is another story, and I have already donated audio tapes to the North Adams Historical Society of my oldest brother’s recollections of this interesting North Adams resident, the late Billy Barber.
I consider it a happy privilege to have grown up in North Adams.