Remembering my childhood

Published 9:44 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here are some memories of old Cardinal Charlie’s young years.

Those old Burma Shave in the farmers’ fields out on old M-40 South. Also old “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” signs painted on the sides of those old wooden barns. I used to like to get a real cold drink on one of those little white stone-like fountains we had downtown. One was at the Dowagiac Saving and Loan building. Another was in front of Howard Goodsell’s hardware store. We had our police department’s building a little one that was jacked up on the hillside of one block called Pine Street. This is now the parking lot north of the Chinese restaurant.

My old neighbor, Oscar Burch was the chief of police in the 1930s. Oscar was also an auctioneer as I remember. Back then our city jail was behind our old fire station that was on the corner of E. Division and W. Railroad. The jail was a place for a few drunks and I think they let hobos sleep there also just to keep them warm. Back in those days we had a freight house with cattle-pens north of the depot, this was on the M.C. R. property.

I’m sure some can remember the small two-story railroad control tower just off of Beeson Street. There a man up in the control tower would lower the gates and then raise them when a train would come through. Sure a big change now, huh?

Over by the Round Oak building was a nice roller skating rink. Our old Oak Street School had a small wading pool when we kids thought we were swimming. You had to walk through a small thing of water before you could get to the pool.

We had nice tennis courts that we kids used to roller skate on. Then in the winter, the fire department would freeze the tennis courts for ice skating. The old Oak Street School went from kindergarten through 6th grade and it had a really small gymnasium in the basement that hardly anyone would be able to put a basketball in the hoop.

As I recall they had a heck of a job tearing that old building down. It was sad to see it go after spending by early years of schooling with some of Dowagiac’s best teachers, in my opinion. Justus Gage School took the place, and my two boys went through there for seven years of their schooling.

All around our town were little red alarm fire boxes on telephone poles. When the whistle would blow at the old waterworks building on Cheestnut St. after someone had activated the little red fire alarm box, it would blow three long blasts and then two short blasts, and that would tell you it was on the corner of Front and Wayne Street. We used to have little card with all the box numbers and where the fire box was located. I think this card was put out by a local insurance company.

Remember how we used to put a card in the window to tell the Walker ice man that we need 25 pounds or 50 pounds of ice for our old wooden ice box on our back enclosed porch. We kids used to chase the iceman and get pieces to suck on during those hot days. Lots of time he had to use his chipper and we got what was left.


“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. Email him at