It’s the end of summer, everyone’s bored, what to do? I have a great suggestion…take an old guy on a field trip. Really. Grab a relative or a friend, the older the better, turn on the tape recorder and let it roll.
That’s part of the fun of Richmond In Sight, the oral histories I’m collecting and transcribing. Eventually, they will go to VCU Libraries to be preserved in their archives. My second book, On the West Clay Line, coming out this fall, has stories of folks who were raised in the Jackson Ward, Carver & Newtowne neighborhoods. I didn’t edit much so you can appreciate the stories just as I heard them. I’ve already decided that the third book will be Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill. That means more field trips with Aleck Mollen, whose family store was at 17th & Main. Our first ride taught me everything from where the Kingan’s building was on Cary to where the neighborhood prostitute lived so I’m eagerly waiting for our next outing.

But, back to last Friday when I picked up Morris Goldberg for a visit to the old neighborhood. Mr. Goldberg is 94, a lifetime Richmonder, whose family had a store at the corner of Hancock & Clay.

Mr. Goldberg at Hancock & Clay, site of Goldberg's Store

Mr. Goldberg at Hancock & Clay, site of Goldberg’s Store

Now we refer to this area as Carver but that name is only as old as the George Washington Carver Elementary School. Some of my oral history sources say that the original “Moore Street School” was a one room school, but in 1886, a two story building was completed which fronted on Moore Street. In 1951, additions were made and the school’s name was changed to Carver and its address is now 1110 W. Leigh Street. Residents started calling the area west of Belvidere, south to Marshall Street, west to Bowe Street & north to Leigh Street Carver. All my “young people” (meaning my sources under 90) refer to the neighborhood as Carver.

When Mr. Goldberg was a kid, the whole area was known as Jackson Ward. Goldberg’s Store was like most Jewish stores in the area, grocery store downstairs, living quarters upstairs. Across the street was Hurdle’s Drug Store, pictured as it looks today and in a Stilson photo as the interior looked when Mr. Goldberg was roaming the streets. My book includes many of his stories, including descriptions of Hurdle’s Drug Store.

Sit of Hurdle's Drug Store

Sit of Hurdle’s Drug Store

051Hurdles Drug interior, bk

Standing on the corner of Hancock & Clay, Mr. Goldberg pointed to a building across Hancock from Hurdle’s and said “That was Clayman’s nip joint.” Tales of Prohibition days have been recorded from several of my sources. Dr. Wesley Carter told me that bootleggers lowered their merchandise into water meters so their customers could retrieve the bottles without fear of interference from the Purity Squad. That was the Richmond Police Department unit assigned to enforcing vice laws. All this and more is in the West Clay line book, straight from the memories of the kids who grew up in the early 1900s.

We cruised alleys (“that was the horse stables for Richmond Ice Company”), pulled over to check addresses, and almost went down a one-way street the wrong way. It wasn’t one way in 1933 so I guess we have an excuse. My apologies to all the people who were irritated by how slow we were going. We pulled over to let them pass anywhere the road allowed but, hey, his eyes are 94 years old. Give us a break.

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