Mitchell: Rowdy Saturday nights of old in Cassville

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

These days, Saturday night is nothing special in Cassville, not like it once was about 70 or so years ago when the town, at least parts of the square, were hopping with activities.

Of particular interest was the south side of the square. That was where the Cassville Democrat published for decades after the fire of 1893 destroyed the west side of the public square and the upstairs location of the newspaper. With banks, and a few other businesses on the other sides, the south was the heaviest of operations.

The later the hour reached on Saturday night, it seemed the more rowdy activities would become. The primary cause was probably the Nighthawk Café.

Steps up

To reach the long, narrow configuration of the business, there was a flight of stairs from which many customers -- causing a disturbance after hoisting a few in excess -- would come tumbling down, either on their rumps or heads. And, it wasn't always the men. Often, there was a customer in a skirt that was being ejected.

The Nighthawk was adjacent to the Music Store of Carl Mitchell's, next in line was K.E. Brown's Jewelry Store, then the South Side Barber Shop, then the Cassville Democrat. The Music Store -- later named the Corner Store -- was the beginning of many an excursion, since the bus station was located there.

While the activities around parts of the square often went through the midnight hour, the newspaper wasn't one that stayed open late. The wee-hour activities were often observed behind the hooked screen door. Not that this would have stopped any entry, but we felt safe.

Machines

Not being connected with K.E. yet, it was always interesting to see him operate either his popcorn or peanut machines, which were on the sidewalk between him and the Nighthawk. He seemed always to sense a problem brewing next door and would sometimes move his machines a little bit farther west to avoid any damage to his pride and joy, both self-made.

He held onto the machines until the two-day sale in 1993, after he suffered a stroke. They brought top dollar from collectors.

Upstairs

During this era, the upstairs of many of the buildings were in use.

Above the Music Store, frequent dances for couples and young people were an entertainment feature of the community. Owners of the downstairs business often furnished a radio or Victrola for the music. Sometimes, participants brought their favorite records to the event.

Willis Insurance and the Cassville Democrat -- the oldest consecutive businesses in town -- had offices above the barbershop, reached by a flight of stairs adjacent to the Democrat.

Westward in the block was the Chester Daniels Variety Store, then Mrs. Nolan's Ozark Theater, and finally, in early days, Lynn Mitchell's Ford Agency. Above this building were later Dr. Jim Rudd's office and Fields Photo, among several others in and out principally because of the steep flight of stairs, which was closed in later years.

Saturday drawings

Cassville wasn't the only town using the promotion of Saturday drawings for cash money and later merchandise prizes, but local merchants possibly chipped in more than others because they were the ones here who consistently attracted the largest crowds.

Any time people were in town, they could register for the upcoming drawing that was held on the west side of the square in front of Lynn Mitchell's Insurance Office in what was then the Community Building and later Hall Theater.

Initially, that side of the square held those waiting for their names to be called. But, later, both the north and south sides were roped off to hold growing crowds. Mitchell is remembered to have pleaded with local merchants to provide him with a more adequate public address system so he could be heard throughout the square.

There have even been discussions in later years if this method would be successful in attracting more business to Cassville in these times.

Drug store

The north side of the square wasn't to be completely outdone during the late Saturday night days. Wooten Drug was among those whose hours were lengthened on Saturday nights -- often until midnight -- to serve the public.

Fountain service proved quite popular with the young people -- especially those whose parents didn't require their being home before the late hour. Their interest in what was going on at particular locations around the square was every bit as sharp as their adult counterparts.

Come to think of it, there aren't any memories of confrontations between any youngsters of any consequence -- either of a local nature or of mixed communities -- in those days.

There might have been some in later times, but not in the days of the Nighthawk.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.