Friday, October 24, 2014
Yellow Springs: Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?
Katja, Mike, and Duffy on Dayton St. in downtown Yellow Springs
Katja and I and our sheepdogs Mike and Duffy recently visited Yellow Springs and spent a few hours in the downtown business district. We graduated from Antioch College in 1960, and when it came time to leave we were broken-hearted. We loved Yellow Springs and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. A small town of about 3600, Yellow Springs is unique in the region – full of writers, artists, and intellectuals, many of whom are Antioch alumni. According to the Yellow Springs’s website, Budget Travel named the community one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns,” and I’d have to agree. The downtown area contains over 75 shops, galleries, restaurants, and pubs, and, even on our weekday afternoon visit, there were lots of visitors wandering about. We discovered when we moved to Ann Arbor after graduation, much to our amazement, that there are other great places to live. However, a piece of our hearts will always remain in Yellow Springs. Here are some of the sights from our visit.
Xenia Avenue (Highway 68) is Yellow Springs’ main thoroughfare and the location of its only traffic light. The town’s two-block business district is a quarter-mile north of the Antioch campus. Springfield, Ohio, is 9 miles to the north on Highway 68; Xenia, 9 miles to the south.
Ye Olde Trail Tavern
This is the first bar where I ever purchased a bottle of beer. I hadn’t drunk alcohol at all during my high school years, so discovering beer was a thrilling (and questionable) part of my first year in college. Ye Olde Trail Tavern served good pizza too. Most beer today is 6% alcohol, but young Ohioans back then could purchase diluted 3.2% beer when they turned 18. You just had to drink more. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger gave a concert on campus during our freshman year, and a select group of students joined him afterward on the second floor of Ye Olde Trail Tavern for a private performance and sing-along. I didn’t hear about it until later, but Katja, already a member of the campus inner circle, was there.
The Little Art Theater
I probably owe my married life to the Little Art Theater because that was most of Katja’s and my Friday night dates occurred. We saw everything that Ingmar Bergman produced, as well as the latest films by Fellini, Truffaut, Bertolucci, Cocteau, and many others. Nowadays we still do Friday nights out at the movies, and we were pleased to see that the Little Art Theater is thriving.
The drugstore was one of the business establishments in downtown Yellow Springs that we patronized regularly. I remember it most vividly with respect to the day of our wedding. It was a hot August day, and I found myself sweating uncontrollably. I walked down to the drugstore, told the pharmacist that I couldn’t stop sweating because I was getting married in the afternoon, and asked if he sold pills which would help. I was disappointed when he explained that weren’t any such pills. A few days later, I went to the drugstore to make my first condom purchase as a new husband. I broke out again with uncontrollable sweating.
The Presbyterian Church offered a special reception for new Antioch students at the beginning of our freshman year, and one of my hallmates, George M., cajoled me as a fellow Presbyterian to attend. We went and sampled light refreshments before the service, but that was the end of our formal religious life as college students.
Now an art gallery, this building was the town laundry back in our day. For unknown reasons, I remember bringing laundry there all the time with Katja, though she claims that she was never there. Maybe Katja doesn’t remember having laundry done because it was unmemorable and/or anti-feminist. Or maybe my overactive imagination is simply fabricating memories.
Yellow Springs now has a lot more shops and galleries than it did in our day. Among other stops, Katja checked out the Village Artisans Gallery while the sheepdogs and I took in the passing scene out on the street.
Yellow Springs Pottery
Katja always shops at the Yellow Springs Pottery and brings home a souvenir of our visit.
The Smoking Octopus and Aleto’s Café
Yellow Springs is a dog-friendly town, and the pups joined us for dinner on the patio at Aleto’s Café (on the right side of the structure). This used to be the Wings Café, Yellow Springs’ most popular dining establishment, but they moved up the street.
Because we usually ate at the college cafeteria, we didn’t patronize the IGA store a lot. I went there mainly to buy cartons of Marlboros or Kents ($1.99 per carton).
Dayton St. business district
Today this block is the home of shops and cafes catering to tourists and visitors. In the 1950’s, though, it was the site of the town’s black business district. In one of the first organized civil rights protests in the nation, Antioch students boycotted the segregated, all-white barber shop on Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs. Many of the male students, including myself, patronized the black barbershop in one of the storefronts on this strip.
Cone Corner Dairy Bar
Believe it or not, a soft-serve establishment was in operation at this site fifty-five years ago. It wasn’t called the Cone Corner then -- perhaps something like the Creamy Whip or the Dairy King. In any case, we were regular patrons. My parents had bought me a 1950 Buick which I brought to campus. Having grown up in Philadelphia, Katja had never learned to drive, so I set about teaching her how. That was a harrowing experience which usually wound up with us yelling at one another. Finally I simply gave up and turned the keys over to her. Katja would drive five blocks by herself down High Street from my apartment to the Creamy Whip, purchase a softserve cone, and then make a U-turn and drive back. Self-teaching turned out to be the best method of learning to drive, and it was tasty as well. On our recent trip I told the teenage clerk that we’d bought softserve cones there 55 years ago, and she was impressed.
Ha Ha Pizza
Now a pizza joint, this was the 68 Drive-In in the 1950s. I and my friends kept late-night hours, and going to the 68 Drive-In around midnight was a frequent ritual. One time my friend John N. and I brought glasses of bourbon into the restaurant. The manager called the police who confiscated our drinks and nearly confiscated us as well.
Our favorite hangout in Yellow Springs was Com’s Tavern, located at the intersection of W. Davis and High Streets. Com and his wife Goldie had an upper bar room (maroon in the photo) which catered mainly to local black customers, while the lower room (at the right, now stucco) served the mostly white Antioch students. Goldie was a fount of wisdom and a surrogate mother for Katja and I and many of the other regulars who came in to order her pizza.
For a couple of years I rented a tiny two-room apartment across the street from Com’s. There was no heat except for the gas oven whose door I kept open during the winter, and you had to leave the apartment and walk around to the front of the building to visit a bathroom. I paid $10 a month in rent which the landlady regarded as a more than fair price. Katja and I lived in Yellow Springs for only one week after our wedding and before departing to Ann Arbor, but this was our first home as a married couple.
Duffy and Mike in downtown Yellow Springs
Our hippy sheepdogs concluded that Yellow Springs is definitely their kind of town.
Our years in Yellow Springs shaped all the rest of our lives – our values, aspirations, political views, conceptions of ourselves, career choices, hobbies, and life styles. I’m grateful to my parents for sending me there and to our many Antioch friends who provided countless life-changing experiences.