From cabins to popcorn stands, business boomed

WORTHINGTON -- Times were good. People had such hopes, such expectations. The late '20s, dawn of the '30s. Eight decades ago. Automobiles had become commonplace, big black cars (mostly) with rounded fenders, running boards and steel bodies. Model...

WORTHINGTON -- Times were good. People had such hopes, such expectations.

The late '20s, dawn of the '30s. Eight decades ago.

Automobiles had become commonplace, big black cars (mostly) with rounded fenders, running boards and steel bodies. Model-A Fords, Buicks, Dodges, Packards, Chevies. Roads were getting better. In 1919, concrete was poured between Adrian and Worthington. Gas was cheap.

By 1928, 1929 there were families taking summer vacations. Many, many of them had never before thought of vacations.

Lee Leonard at Worthington hit on a way to capitalize on the new ways. He would manage a cabin court -- people were doing it all across the country. Little one-room cabins. Vacationers could drive their cars right up to the cabin doors. Leonard's cabins were directly across from Chautauqua Park. It is not hard to imagine how this would succeed.


Think of a hot week in July. Father, mother and kids would climb from their Dodge in front of one of Leonard's cabins and set up housekeeping for a week. They could stroll across the street into the shade of Chautauqua Park, go to the lake and splash and swim or rent a rowboat. The kids could swing and teeter-totter. Dad and Mom could spend a week at rest, picnic every day.

There was provision for this -- a little grocery store was part of the cabin court. You could buy bread and milk, Wheaties, baked beans, eggs, ice cream bars. Foil-wrapped Eskimo Pies were two for a nickel.

It is hard to imagine it wouldn't work out.

This column last week told of three boys -- Billy Blanchard, George Pappas, Lawrence Mortenson -- who scratched their names in a layer of fresh cement atop a newly-built retaining wall at Chautauqua Park. It was (maybe) 1929, 1930.

Stella Seegers called me. Lawrence Mortenson was her brother. Lawrence and Billy and George were boys in the neighborhood.

"We lived in one of those Leonard cabins," Stella said. "Mother and Dad and Lawrence and I." One room. Times had changed. Few people vacationed.

"My Dad was Lars," Stella said. "He was janitor at the Hotel Thompson. One day he fell off the rear fire escape. He broke his back. He was crippled from that time on. That was how we came to live in the cabin."

Lawrence Mortenson -- and Billy Blanchard and George Pappas -- did the things Worthington boys did in those years. The Lake Avenue "gang" went across the street and skated on the Okabena ice through all the winter. "Day and night," Stella remembers.


Stella remembers her brother's special pal was Ray Ager. The Agers also lived along Lake Avenue.

"Lawrence and Ray would go ice boating. That was a big thing then."

Harold Thomas lived on Lake Street. Harold had an ice boat; I rode on it one time. In later years Harold told me "in those years, snow didn't pile up on the lake."

"There weren't houses around the lake. The wind would come over the lake and sweep it clean."

So it was that the boys sailed their winter boats. Ray Ager and Lawrence Mortenson were out there often.

Lawrence Mortenson came to have a special fame at Worthington.

After Mrs. Julian closed down her popcorn wagon -- she usually was at the hotel corner, the intersection of 10th Street and Third Avenue.

After Mrs. Julian closed down her popcorn wagon, a small, permanent popcorn stand was opened on the west side of 10th Street across from Montgomery Ward and Meier Brothers (the Long Branch).


Times were improving. The Mortensons then were living in the house behind the Blanchard house. Worthington people went riding on summer evenings. Lawrence ran the popcorn stand; a bag with lots of butter for a nickel, add your own salt. There was a shaker on the counter. Everyone knew Lawrence, Worthington's popcorn man. Later he had a second stand, near Rickers Studio. Finally, he moved to Minneapolis.

In years to come, Mrs. George Rockwood and then Julia Cunningham worked the 10th Street stand. For a great long time, Julia's brother, Joe Heger, was Popcorn Man. Joe reported, "Some days I do more business than Montgomery Ward and Meier Brothers put together."

People wondered how this could be. "Sundays. Holidays," Joe would say. Then a wink. Wards and Meier Brothers closed on Sundays and holidays.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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