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Lake Avenue is ours alone

January 11, 2011

By Fremont Books, a retired antiques dealer and local historian, born Feb. 27, 1914. This column was originally published in the Pilot News in March of 2004.

To most of we old timers, Lake Avenue is the most memorable street in Plymouth.
Unlike our other main streets, Jefferson and Michigan, which are but transients; Lake Avenue is ours alone. It was born in the heart of Plymouth: anchored to the edge of the former Morris estate now a housing development. From there it went west to cross Michigan Street and on to the river’s edge where it was over run years ago by the Pennsylvania Railroad when it came through Plymouth.
Lake Avenue struggled out from under the railroad to emerge on the west side of the river and swung south a bit to avoid the stinking stockyards along Pennsylvania tracks before continuing.
Unlike Jefferson and Michigan Streets, who go directly on their way, Lake Avenue dawdles in the city making several sharp turns as if reluctant to leave. Then it finally splits into two parts with one going past Pretty Lake and the other one going past Dixon Lake to serve both its namesakes.
In a sentimental mood I retraced my memories of Lake Avenue as it once was. Beginning at its source — the edge of the Morris estate with its huge house and tree pavilion built high in those giant oaks facing Pennsylvania Avenue. At that time a stream, now dry, ran through its front yard with a small iron-railed bridge decorating its driveway.
From there I went on west to pause where once the Ebert Coca Cola Bottling Works had been. Then I really slipped back into the past recalling how in the prosperous late twenties we kids, with money earned picking pickles or weeding onions, had gathered around the iced Coca Cola coolers in town to buy five-cent bottles of Coca Cola to turn them over to check the embossed name of the town of their origin. The one whose bottle had come from the bottle works the farthest away had to pay for all.
Coming on to Michigan Street I remembered the old gray wooden building on the corner that once held Ira Berkypile’s store with the bleak apartments above it. In it I had acquired what little skill I had in dancing from a lovely little girl. I learned in an unheated bare back room, warmed by the wonder of her presence in my arms. (She later became my high school senior prom date. I lost her to the Depression in 1933 and reclaimed her in marriage 70 years later!)
Glowing from that memory I crossed Michigan Street to the southwest corner building. When I first encountered it I had gone inside to find great diesel engines as large as locomotives clattering loud enough to limit conversation to shouting as they spun the dynamos that supplied the town’s electricity.
The attendant had been proud to inform me that the big diesels had come all the way from Germany! (If you should go west on Oak Hill Avenue to Nutmeg Road and turn south, those ancient gnarled and decrepit old maples that are dying on both sides of the road once graced it when it was a lane to the home of a Mattingly who first owned the generating plant.)
The northwest corner of this intersection had been occupied by Southworth’s Monument Works. B.C. Southworth, the owner of this establishment, had once caused quite a furor in Plymouth when he had set a huge tombstone in the middle of LaPorte and Michigan Street intersection inscribed: “Sacred to the memory of Plymouth, Indiana born died.”
People commenting about the monument, some laughing and some indignant, soon attracting the attention of the chief of police, Win Morrow. He went in search of some truck to remove the ton or so of monument. Unfortunately, Southworth’s truck was conveniently unavailable so for a short time Plymouth was officially dead. It was the victim of the grim humor that allowed the residents to endure the reality of the Great Depression.
My imagination let me skip that part of Lake Avenue dominated by the Pennsylvania Railroad so I came on Lake Avenue again at the beginning of the VFW property. From there I looked ahead to see once again in my imagination, kids scattered along the street on hot summer afternoons. They were waving their brightly colored bathing suits and thumbing passing cars to hitch a ride to the public beaches at Pretty and Dixon Lakes. I joined them to catch a ride in a Model-T Ford. My ride took me to Bill Baselers Beach on Dixon Lake.

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