All On Georgia-Floyd is honored to have Mike Ragland contributing to our website. Mike is known for his ability of storytelling. Please enjoy his first column with us.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
A friend sent me an e-mail the other day, saying he hadn’t been in Rome in several years, and he was sad to see the ‘hippies’ had taken over Broad Street.
I thought he stereotyped his age and decade with the use of the term ‘hippies,’ but I knew what he meant. It’s hard to get a parking place on Broad in the evenings, it is a vibrant place, and has a lot going on. He was correct on one score. It attracts a lot of young people and a lot of older ones, too.
I noticed last week, one restaurant announced its closing, and renovation to another style. This followed the opening of ‘Sellers’ a few weeks back. It continues to grow and expand.
I begin to think about Broad Street as far back as I could remember. In the fifties it was the economic retail center of the county. On weekends employees of various mills would flock to Broad to look for any merchandise they may need. Furniture stores, department stores, shoe stores, jewelry stores, discount stores, and many others. It was a five or six block outdoor mall. It even had a couple of grocery stores (Big Apple and A&P) in the six and seven hundred block, plus banks.
I worked at J.C. Penney’s in the early sixties for a couple years during Christmas rush and other holidays. It was a time branded forever in my memory. A positive memory.
After my Navy days, I became a member of Rome P.D. and spent most of my first two years on Broad moving double parkers, and working traffic. From about four in the afternoon, till around six thirty, if you were on second and broad you stayed in the street moving traffic coming from South Broad. The street was busy. Then there was ‘Midnight Madness” each year near Christmas time. That was a headache for us.
Policemen had worked that street since the 1920’s or before. In the forties and fifties they had an officer on every block for all three shifts. Things changed over the years. The museum has pictures around 1900 and before of wagons jammed into the cotton block. There was nowhere to go, so there you sat till Cotton merchants could buy and have your two or three bales unloaded. Many farmers slept in their wagons during this time.
The streets were dirt, then paved with brick, street car tracks were added, with large statues in the middle of the street. We had large parades up the widest street in the State. During the fifties, the young folk congregated (hung out) on Broad. They circled Broad so many times the City banned ‘U’ turns at sixth Avenue and at First.
Then the strip malls started siphoning off Broad Street retailers. The kids began circling the “Chow Time” and “Dari-Delite” and left Broad. As the Malls opened and took more business it was a slow death for the Street in the 70’s and 80’s. I personally thought it was going to die like a lot of other cities throughout the State.
Then Streetscape in ’89 began the revitalization. Some downtown merchants refused to see it go away, and invested in the idea of resurrecting it to better days.
In 1988, Kenneth Kines and I counted twenty five vacant buildings on Broad. I made the statement, “Last one to leave, cut the lights out.” There was no way it could come back. Even the New Years Eve gathering on Broad to blow horns and shoot illegal firecrackers was over. We had clubs offering all kind of deals to party with them, and folks took them up on it.
I love Broad Street. I love its history, from the gunfights in the 1800’s (Bill Arp killed William Johnson on Broad Street, could have been in Dodge City). I wrote about a police shoot out on the corner of 4th and Broad. Then there was Ellen Axson Wilson’s funeral, and men marching off to war up that street, from Civil War to both World Wars. It holds a special place in my heart.
We’ve had saloons in the old days, and according to my mentor “Cotton’ Duke, who spent his life working for the city of Rome, we had a couple of Brothels at one time on Broad Street, and one just off.
It is famous now as a great place to grab a bite, but it always has been. The Partridge, Town House, Vic’s, Joes Lunch, Carl and Dee’s, Bumble Bee, Krystal, and less than a block away on the bank of the river was the Dock, and Toonerville Trolley. The lunch counters at Enloe’s, Walgreen’s, Redford’s, and Murphy’s were hard to chose between.
In many different ways, Rome’s Broad Street has always been an entertainment district. From young couples strolling the street and window shopping in the fifties, to teen-agers hanging out, to mom’s dragging their young’uns to town and subjecting them to trying on school clothes, and making them sit for hours while they looked through patterns, and then a treat at the Krystal.
So, now it’s back. Restaurants and pubs dot the entire length of the street, along with numerous Boutique’s. They actually call it an entertainment district now, and yet we still merchants left. The entertainment district is poised to jump the river, take over North 5th Avenue and West 3rd, in fact it’s already started.
Let’s enjoy our street. It has many lives, and there is no telling where this one is heading. Good food and good cheer. All you ‘hippies’, young and old, I’ll meet you in a restaurant on Broad Street.
Mike Ragland is a historian and local author of several books including:”Bertha”, “A Time to Gather Stones”, “The Legend of the Courage Wolf”, “Living with Lucy”. To learn more about Mike Ragland, visit http://www.mikeragland.com/.