A talk by Melvin Holleman (1925-2014), entitled “Growing Up in Smyrna,” delivered before the Smyrna Historical & Genealogical Society at the Smyrna History Museum on July 29, 1999.
Transcribed and Edited by Bill Marchione
Shortly after moving to Smyrna in 2009, while volunteering at the Smyrna History Museum, I made the acquaintance of Melvin Holleman, a genial older citizen of Smyrna. Mr. Holleman passed away in 2014. In 2018, while examining and transcribing taped programs in the museum collection, I happened upon the a taped recording of an account that Mr. Holleman gave of his experiences growing up in Smyrna in the 1930s and early 40s, containing much interesting information about the Smyrna of that by-gone era.
I was born on Love Street. It was number 507 back then on property just west of the United Methodist Church. We rented a house right next to P. F. (Pomp Fowler) Brinkley, a former mayor, between Prince’s and Dunn’s Alley. That was a walk through that ran from Love Street (now Concord Road) through to Church Street that was used by everybody for a number of years. That’s where I was born.
The United Methodist or First Methodist Church stood at the northwest corner of Atlanta Road and Church Street in what is now a bank parking lot and was in the days of Melvin Holleman’s youth Smyrna’s most distinctive architectural landmark. This ornate structure marked the southern end of the old downtown.
I was born at home. You certainly wouldn’t pay a hospital bill to have a baby in those days. They might keep you a week or two instead of a day or two. I don’t remember much of what happened until I was four or five years old. I was at that house that I was born in 1925 and then my parents built a house at the end of Love Street in 1930 and my wife and I built a house on two lots next to them at the end of Love Street in 1948 and I’m still living there and I expect to be there when I die.
I’ve been fibbing a little, but I just thought of this. I said I’ve lived on Love Street all my life. But when we started building the house we moved up near Old Concord Road for a couple of months while our new house was being built. When we built this house during the Depression we paid the masons 75 cents a day and the carpenters 50 cents a day, so we got the house at a pretty good bargain, but then 50 cents was 50 cents in those days. So we did live two to three miles up the way for a few months, but the rest of the time we lived on Love Street at the three locations I mentioned.
Probably the most vivid thing in terms of differences, and there were so many back then, was the fact that we didn’t have any paved roads or streets in Smyrna at that time. The only paved road was route 41 (Atlanta Road) which went right through Smyrna. It was many years before we got anything else. Next came the Access Highway (now South Cobb Drive) which was built to connect to the Bell Bomber Plant. But I can recall very vividly when I was 5 or 6 years old, and we were attending the Smyrna Presbyterian Church, walking to Sunday School there with my brothers, that we would be up to our knees in ruts. I remember model T Fords creating deeper and deeper ruts in that road. It’s really hard to imagine the conditions! Then later we started paving the streets. I have with me tonight a receipt evidencing what I paid for the paving in front of our current house on Love Street, a receipt dated September 7, 1949, for the sum of $228.00 (or 95 cents per linear foot).
Atlanta Road is seen here as it looked in the early 1920s. This road, also known as Route 41, formed part of the interregional Dixie Highway linking Florida to such northern population centers as Chicago and Detroit. What we see to the right is Atlanta Road’s intersection with Memorial Drive. In 1920 Atlanta Road became Smyrna’s first paved roadway. Notice the Rogers Grocery Store to the far right of this photograph, where Melvin Holleman worked as a teenager.
Smyrna did have one advantage. Route 41 passing through Smyrna was the main route for folks traveling from up north to Florida and Mrs. Rice’s Place (on the site now occupied by Carmichael’s Funeral Home). There Mrs. Rice grew Jonquils, which we were allowed to sell on the street. My site was the Amoco Station on Atlanta Road. We’d have these little bunches of jonquils that she’d wrap a string around, and we’d sell them to all these rich folks who’d come through who could afford a dime. We sold them for ten cents. We’d get a nickel and she’d get a nickel!
The lush garden of Mrs. Parker Rice, corner of King and Church Streets, where Jonquils were gathered for sale to tourists passing through Smyrna.
That was the only job available hereabouts then, unless it was cutting grass. I remember vividly Miss Baldwin who lived in the curve of Concord Road (it was Love Street back then). I cut her grass once a month for 30 cents and it took me half a day. I had to cut the tall grass with a sickle before I could trim it down with a mower (a Regal). You earned your money back then! I had two or three that I cut grass for, but no more than once a month, to earn just 30 cents.
I’d like to mention some of the other things we did as kids. I must have been 11, 12, or 13 years old at the time. Cutting grass was probably the major one. Then I was the janitor at the Presbyterian Church on Memorial Drive. I’d have to go down on Saturday and dust the place, and then go back on Sunday morning because that much dust had penetrated the sanctuary through the wood. The Presbyterian Church was then a little brown clapboard building. I earned a dollar a week. When Jake Nash reached into his pocket and brought out a big roll of bills to pay me my eyes would bug out and he’d take his sweet time peeling off that dollar to hand to me. Later they brick veneered the church and added to the back, but it’s the same building that stands there today opposite the Smyrna Memorial Cemetery
The Smyrna Presbyterian Church on Memorial Drive, opposite the Smyrna Memorial Cemetery, where young Melvin worked as a janitor, as the building looks today.
And then I also worked at the old Roger’s Grocery Store downtown. Wed have to go in Tuesday mornings before school and stock up and then we worked Friday night and all day Saturday till ten o’clock when the store closed and I’d earn just enough to go to Atlanta to the midnight show and the Varsity and then I was broke till the next wee
Also my daddy was a pretty good gardener so I used to sell roasting ears for 20 cents a dozen. I’d fill up my wagon and go up and down the street selling corn. And we used to pick cotton. I think of this nowadays because kids have to have a TV and a computer to get along. We didn’t have that of course. I used to pick cotton over on Concord where the old Bennett Project is before you get to South Cobb. We picked cotton out of that field every year. And we grabbed taters when it was time for the russet taters to come in. And Mr. Dunton did a wise thing. He’d pay us 10 cents before we did any work if we’d promise not to put any rocks in the sacks because they were paying us by the pound.
Then when I started to school, they had an earlier school that had burned. Then a new one was built on the same site (the Smyrna School). I don’t remember the exact year. I started there in 1930. At the time the school housed the first to the eleventh grade. All of the grades were in that building and I still don’t think there were as many as 500 in the whole school.
The Smyrna Elementary School stood well back in what is now the large parking lot opposite the First Baptist Church on King Street. Built originally in 1920 at great expense to the town, and considered at that point a state of the art facility, it was soon after gutted by fire, but was rebuilt in 1925.In all this cost the city some $50,000, a huge sum at that time.
My class was the first freshman class to move into the new high school building. That was a new high school for us and we moved in there in 1938. Prior to that we only had a dirt basketball court. In fact we had very few organized activities. Smyrna High School when I went to school only participated in two district or county sports and that was basketball or track. But anyway we had the old dirt court there. Then when we built the new building in 1938 they took the old auditorium of the Smyrna School and made a basketball court out of it, and we thought he were in hog’s heaven because we had somewhere to sit and it didn’t rain on you, but it was very good competitively for us because that they didn’t raise the ceiling and we had the best year we ever had there because we’d learned to shoot straight. That ceiling had been pummeled from every angle by visiting teams, so that was a little bit of a help to us.
Built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1938 immediately north of the Smyrna Elementary School,Smyrna’s first purpose-built high school still stands at the corner of King and Stephens Street, but sadly is slated for demolition.
Comment from an audience member: Don’t forget the pot bellied stove!
Yes, and speaking of pot bellied stoves that also went with my janitorial services at the church.
Of course there were no parks back then or the kinds of services for the seniors that the city now provides. Back then you had to make your own fun. As to the basketball court it didn’t seat but a hundred people. There wasn’t enough room so they just put one row of seats all the way around the gym and that was it, and sometimes they’d let us sit on the stage.
Still there were many hotly contested games in Smyrna and one of the major fields was a lot on Hughes Street. And I kept hoping that the owners wouldn’t sell that lot so we’d have somewhere to play and we did have it, in fact, for some years. And some of you will remember that our favorite baseball field was over at Cobb’s pasture. That was a baseball field with built-in bases, if you can believe that. It was a good place to play and those Cobb boys were extremely good baseball players. But if it was being used by older people, we just had to pick the first vacant lot we could find.
There was one major bright spot going back and that concerned Jimmy Pierce who was interested in the youth and he did a lot of things for us. He organized a youth baseball team that we played on that went to different cities that we really appreciated. He also owned a pool room (on Atlanta Road in the downtown). He opened it one afternoon for school students only, but even then I wasn’t allowed to go in there because if you played pool you were going to hell the next day! Then two years later we found out that the First Presbyterian Church in Marietta had installed a pool table. That was when my mother made us change over to the First Baptist Church!
We had no city courts for games but we were fortunate that my sister and Doris Arrington, later Quarles, were friends and we were privileged to be invited there quite often. I did pretty well with tennis back then. Doris was also a friend of mother. Also (roller) skating was a big thing a little later when we were teenagers. And the part of Atlanta Road near the Carmichael store and place (the home place of Jimmy Carmichael, who was big in politics)—they opened up that area and laid down pavement for about 2 miles and we’d skate there.
The Smyrna Water Tank was constructed in 1928, when the city ceased relying on individual wells. The tank was part a water supply system that was fed by two deep wells located on the east side of Atlanta Road, between Roswell and Whitfield Streets in what is now the Williams Park neighborhood. The water was piped from these wells to this huge storage tank that stood behind the Smyrna Memorial Cemetery on the edge of King Street. Prior to the creation of this modern water supply system, Smyrna had suffered periodic droughts as well as outbreaks of disease. Public health concerns and the rapid population growth of the city prompted the creation of the city’s first water supply system. The Smyrna water tower stood until the mid-1980s.
Since there were no organized sports we did a good many things that might seem a little crazy. One of the things we did involved the big water tank that used to stand there (on King Street behind the Memorial Cemetery). If I had a nickel for every time we climbed that structure when we had been warned not to do so, I could probably buy a Coke at today’s prices. You felt like you’d accomplished something climbing that thing. We’d climb it in the middle of the night and walk around the top a time or two. That was pretty exciting!
The Bert Adams Boy Scout Reservation was located off of what is now Cumberland Boulevard, in the hilly countryside southwest of the Cumberland Mall. Present-day Stillhouse Lane runs through the property.
Also, when the train stopped near Spring Street, we’d hop on a freight car and ride down nearly to Vinings. They’d be moving at a speed that wasn’t fast enough to scare us, but then there’s one big hill near Bert Adams Camp and we’d jump off there and then roll down that hill. If my grandson did that now, I’d have about fourteen heart attacks!
Also giving the conductors on the old streetcars grief was another recreational activity for us. Smyrna had a lot of people who worked for the streetcar line, not only on the tracks, but also for the power company, so that was a big thing for us. I remember when Mary was pregnant with our first child, we had to get off twice before we got to Atlanta because she got sick. She suffered from motion sickness. That was a big thing for us. It was Smyrna’s MARTA.
The streetcars were connected to the electric wires up above by a trolley pole. We’d pull the connection to the wires off and it would shoot sparks everywhere. At Christmastime, as many of you will remember Jack and Bobby Taylor would set up right outside the city limits and sell fire works (the city wouldn’t allow their sale). They’d do this for two weeks or so before Christmas and we’d buy them and put cherry bombs on the tracks and it was like World War II before World War II and often the conductors would run after us. We did a lot of things like that to make life interesting.
A streetcar line ran from downtown Atlanta, through Smyrna along Atlanta Road, to downtown Marietta from 1905 to 1947. Streetcars and motor vehicles together transformed Smyrna from a sleepy agricultural village into a fast-growing commuter suburb in these years. Here we see a streetcar outside of the Black & Webb Grocery Store, corner of Spring Street in downtown Smyrna, in the early 1940s.
Otherwise our entertainment was pretty much geared to church and school activities. We used to have the Baxter Quartet and even country music performances. One visit by Pop E and His Young Uns. He was quite popular on the radio in those days. He asked me to sing with them, but my mother wouldn’t let me go on the road with them. I remember Little Joe, the one who used to sing all the hymns, was so small we’d have to prop him up. But I used to go down to the Atlanta Theater on Saturday nights and sing with Pop E. Mother didn’t like that but she let me do it for a time. [Pop E and His Young One’s]
You know we used to have talent shows or amateur nights regularly. It’s one of the things I miss. And Hilda Adams and I won one of these contests singing “Tell Mother I’ll Be There.” And we were careful not to say anything about hell before singing that song.
Mother used to get up at 4:30 to drive all the way over to Clarksville on those dirt roads, but she made $11.00 a week and that was pretty good. And Daddy bought her a better car, a Pontiac, with a better heater. One day it rained and she came back and said “You’d better buy me another Model A and send that one back,” and that’s what he did.
Another thing we used to do is a lot of rabbit and squirrel hunting. And we ate them. I live on Love Street about two blocks from here. At one time Love Street extended all the way to Atlanta Road where it connected to Spring Road. What’s now Concord, all that was Love Street for years. And we used to rabbit and squirrel hunt there and go on the snow catching rabbits. And that was right at our house. At that time there were only two houses below ours on Love Street and we’d hunt in the area below there. Back then we had plenty of space around Smyrna.
We were listed as 1500 on the census report for a period of time and, of course, the boundaries have expended. Something else I read is that in 1947 when Lorena Pace Pruitt was mayor Smyrna got a lot of publicity. She was one of the first female mayors in the United States. At that time the city limits were one half mile in every direction from the Masonic Lodge on West Spring Street. We didn’t have a lot of area. Since then it’s expanded quite a lot but we didn’t have a lot of area when the town had 1500 residents.
Smyrna made history in 1945 when it chose Lorena Pace Pruitt as its Mayor, the first female mayor in the history of Georgia.
Also the schools were different. As one example, they were strict about being six years old by September 1. They also had eleven grades back then. When I was eighteen I had already finished high school, had one year of college, served nine months in the navy, and was married! Now an eighteen year old is just getting out of high school. It was a different world and it was that way everywhere hereabouts. I don’t remember seeing a twelfth grade anywhere in those days.
I’d like to mention a few of the downtown sites that I recollect. There was Black & Webb’s Grocery Store. (referenced in photo caption above). That was our grocery store. Harry Black and Sam Webb were the owners. It stood right out here at the corner of Spring Street. Everybody used to charge everything back then. And when I got to be a little older I was allowed to charge ten cents a day. And everytime I’d go up there I’d get a Kineda pie. That was a little pie that had chocolate on the outside and a little goo in the middle, but it was good. They were fine folks and that’s where we got our dog bones.
One time when we were playing “Keep Away” with a dog bone when we didn’t have a ball, I jumped over a hedge and fell on it and broke a bone in my arm so I had to wear a cast that Dr. Pace applied. The day I got the cast off I was running through the house and my cousin stuck his foot out and I broke the bone again, about an inch and a half above the first break. On both occasions these accidents occurred while my mother was washing her hair. So from that point on she made me come in and sit down whenever she washed her hair. Another thing I remember about Black & Webb. If you wanted a chicken you’d go down there and pick it out of the coop and then you’d put its head through the poke and tie its feet and that was the way you’d carry a chicken home.
Dr. William T. Pace, the father of Lorena Pace Pruitt, himself a former Mayor and State Legislator, the leading physician in Smyrna at the time. He also owned and operated a pharmacy in the downtown.
Also, we had an ice plant here. So we’d come down and get a nickel’s worth of ice because we didn’t have a refrigerator, just an ice box back then. We’d tie a rope around it and carry it home, and lose some of the ice along the way in hot weather.
Smyrna’s Southland Ice Plant as at looked just before its demolition, having been, in the intervening years, converted to a plastics factory. The plant stood on Roswell Street on the site now occupied by Williams Park.
Another local landmark was Landers Drug Store. [Lander’s Drug Store] It was there for years and years. That was our primary drug store. That’s where they sent me to take in a supply of castor oil—castor oil with cherry syrup of some sort and as a result I can’t stand anything with cherries to this day. But at the time it did go down a little better. My parents had a heater in their bedroom and they’d put that bottle of castor oil on the heater to warm it up . We had to take castor oil and Hitchcock liver medicine much of the year, whether we needed it or not. That was just part of life in those days.
Dr. Fowler and Dr. W. A. Ketter were our doctors for years. Dr. Ketter delivered both of our children. Years later he moved to the doctors building in Atlanta. But the big thing as far as doctors were concerned was when little Dr. Mitchell came in and built the building down the end of Atlanta Road. He did make house calls. His office calls were a dollar and house calls were two dollars and weekend calls were three dollars. We didn’t call him too often, but that was pretty good. Dr. Denmark, who we used later, used to be in Atlanta, but then ended up in Alpharetta. She’s now over a hundred year old. She had gone up to $5 the last time we checked. Some people just love their professions and if they didn’t need it didn’t worry about it.
Dr. W. D. Mitchell constructed a building on Sunset Avenue as a medical office. Sunset Avenue ran a little south of the roadway that today separates the Smyrna Library from the Smyrna Community Center. The neighborhood was demolished in the early 1990s to make way for the transforming Downtown Redevelopment Project.
And then, of course, there was G.B.’s. I think everyone remembers G.B.’s. G.B. Williams was there for a long time. But some time before that Mr. Patterson had a hot dog stand there and it was really good. Slaw dogs were his specialty. I can’t remember how long that lasted. That was back when a hot dog cost a nickel. Then we had several little eating joints that didn’t last long on the corner of Spring and Atlanta Road. The one I remember, because I happened to be dating there at the time, was run by Dean Rice—a little place called the Chat & Nibble. Later it was the Smyrna Café and several other businesses.
And I remember Collins Drug Store. And then there was Fowler’s Beauty Shop, which was the last building when the old downtown still stood. Mother used to spend 50 cents to get her hair done there. Those were the days of the “finger wave.” Any of you ladies ever get a finger wave? It looked like you could plant corn in there. That was her reward for the week, getting her hair done at Fowler’s Beauty Parlor.
Hair Cuts were taken care of by Roy McCarty and Ralph Argo. Their’s were the only barber shops right here in the town. We had a lot of front porch barbers, however. They’d try it at home—with the result that one side burn would be higher than the other! Roy and Ralph were very good, however. And I remember that it cost 25 cents to get a haircut. I had to wait four weeks before I’d go back; that’s the way I had it figured out.
Audience member comment: They started out in Oakdale.
Yes, they were there for a long time and Ralph lived down in that area and Roy lived on King Street and then he figured he’d make more money and he became deputy sheriff of Cobb County for a number of years.
D. C. Osborne’s Garage, one of seven in Downtown Smyrna in the 1930s. It stood on the west side of Atlanta Road a short distance south of the Memorial Drive intersection.
With regard to auto repair and service stations in Smyrna, I remember Alvin Glover had a service station on the pie-shaped lot near the cemetery. And then facing Atlanta Road, a little further down, was the D. C. Osborne Garage. We still have some of his family here.
The interior of Roger’s Grocery Store, where Melvin Holleman worked as a teenager. See the photograph of its exterior above.
And then Roger’s Grocery Store is where I worked the first time outside of the yard and selling jonquils and so forth. They put me to work when I was fifteen and you weren’t supposed to work till you were 16. It took me about two years to straighten that out when I began to collect my Social Security.
I also remember the old Telephone Exchange. That’s when you used to punch them in this way (demonstrates with his hands). That was fascinating to me. I still don’t understand how we get lights from a light bulb, so I don’t understand how you can push something in a machine and connect with someone a mile away.
And then there was the Streetcar Sub Station [Streetcar Substation—intro of electricity] that was opposite the end of Sunset Ave. I always liked that because that was the place from which we hitchhiked to Marietta. After the streetcars stopped coming through Smyrna, it became a restaurant for a time and a part of it became a gift shop for awhile until it was torn down, but that was a really important part of old Smyrna.
And then of course the depot was there. [Smyrna Depot] The building was yellow, not white like the Smyrna Museum, which it was intended to duplicate in appearance. It didn’t show up as good, but it was always that same color so far as I know. We’d get little jobs there. They’d pay us to load and unload freight from time to time. Mr. Paden—I don’t remember anyone before him—was there as the Station Master for years and years.
The Smyrna Depot, dating from 1907, stood at the intersection of Atlanta Road and Spring Street. The Smyrna History Museum replicates its external appearance, except for the color. The depot was yellow, not white and was taken down in the late 1950s.
And then the grocery stores. We had the large ones like Rogers and Black & Webb. Also Chadwick’s little corner grocery was down behind my house and I can remember that because you could buy a BB Bat Sucker for a penny, and if you could take care of it, it would last a couple of days. Even better, you could get a Black Cat Sucker that would last a week. It had all that gummy stuff with chocolate inside. [Black Cat Sucker] We didn’t buy groceries there. We bought candy. I got three for a penny.
The exterior of Johnson’s Shoe Shop, a unique local business. Noted historian Pete Wood in his wonderfully informative memoir of old Smyrna, “with shoes piled so high, one had to go through the store sideways.”
And much later, there was Johnson’s Shoe Store. We should have had a contest to guess how many pairs of shoes he had piled up in his window, if you could mate them up. He’d pile them as high as they’d go. A very interesting place to go.
After World War II started they had a National Guard Unit here and several of the boys in our senior class joined. They thought it would be good, since we didn’t have ROTC, to form one at the high school and our uniform consisted of a tan windbreaker. When I joined the navy I was just 17 and when I got to boot camp, they found out that I knew my left foot from my right, and they made me the drillmaster. I knew nothing but how to call cadence and keep up with the rest. But I thought that was the good training that I had down there just from some of the boys who were our age and were doing basically the same thing.
When we were smaller children we played primarily with home made toys. I remember we got a bicycle at Christmas, but it was for all three of us—my brother, my sister, and me. My brother did fine. He was older than me. My sister did fine too, but it was a girl’s bicycle. But when I got in, there was no way I could straddle the bars, and I had to crunch up on one side to ride the bike.
Back then you could keep stock grazing on your property. A neighbor owned a pony called “Beauty.” And then during World War II they allowed you to have hogs. And Daddy being a farm boy we had a bunch. Smyrna really began to take off with the building of the Belmont Hills Shopping Center, which was the largest shopping center in the southeast, and we did get on the map with that, along with Lockheed and Bell Bomber, and with all of that I think we ought to feel really proud.