Friday, May 20, 2011

The Old Weatherford Square

     Have you noticed our square lately? Probably not for few of us voluntarily navigate the area. The square has had many changes since1855 when Weatherford was first designated the county seat of Parker County. We citizens have protested each change since our original spacious square surrounding the courthouse was sliced away to accommodate the increased interstate traffic demands of Hwy 80. In my opinion, the trees have now grown large enough to compliment the courthouse and the surrounding landscaping is attractive. Of course, we will continue to exercise our right to criticize and complain ……..
      In the beginning we had a courthouse made of logs or split timber and log cabins and tents formed the square. In those days navigating the square was simple…unless a horse chose to buck or something caused a team and wagon run-away.
      My family moved to this county in 1929, one of many seeking a new beginning after the October market crash. Of course I don’t remember the move…truly I don’t! I do remember coming into town from the east side before the bridge over the railroad tracks was built.
         Weatherford, as the hub of the county, became the marketing center for the area’s farm products with the north and east sides of the spacious courthouse square utilized as an open market. In the earlier days the produce was usually brought to market by wagons and teams but by the late ‘30’s many old cars had been modified to carry a load of produce in a makeshift bed covered with canvas to help shade the highly perishable
produce from the sun.
    The ladies of the town could shop from a wide range of produce, some for fresh fruit or vegetables for the evening meal and some buying larger amounts for home canning. Most of the growers preferred to sell in bulk and usually had baskets of tomatoes, black-eyed peas, or peaches displayed for sale. Occasionally baskets of wild plums or grapes were brought in. As a child the job of picking ripe plums fell to me because I was the lucky person small enough to crawl under the low growing trees. What a bit of malarkey but I picked several bushel baskets of those tiny plums. Prices were low: a half-bushel of tomatoes might be 50¢ and might not sell at even that low price. Often a depressing amount of produce was returned home and fed to the hogs. When watermelons ripened, loads of Tom Watsons, and Black Diamonds were brought in and like the vegetable, were priced cheap, the price declining toward the end of the day as the farmers tried to avoid hauling them back home.
          On First Monday,the traditional marketing and trading day of many counties, the square swarmed with horses, mules, goats and dogs. There were crated chickens, geese and rabbits and probably a few wild critters. Anything that could traded for something useful or turned into cash was brought to First Monday, and tools and farm equipment, home canned goods and hand pieced quilts could usually be found.
          Although the marketing portion of the square retained a driving space between its two rows of parking and vendor sites, it was still a navigational nightmare. The square’s parking space had four exits; one on each side of the square but the traffic was two-way.  Shoppers were wandering around, other vehicles were leaving and even a few wagons with their occasionally very .nervous teams, had to make their way out these exits from the square onto the street that circled the entire complex
   Model Ts chugged as they waited an opportunity to move and old Chevys, that collectors would “die” for today, also took their turn, all giving a few “Ooggles” from old horns, their drivers fervently hoping their engines would not die and cause even more confusion while their vehicle was being cranked.
     If you think learning to drive with a stick-shift and stalling on a steep incline is a bad experience, reflect upon the days a car had to be cranked. First the driver needed to adjust the spark and gas levers properly, then getting the crank and going to the front of the car he started cranking to make the engine catch. Sometimes he was lucky and one turn sufficed. Sometimes he cranked and cranked and sometimes there was that dreaded odor of gasoline: flooded!
      The lucky guy whose car started immediately had to rush back to the drivers seat and again adjust those levers and hope that dagburned contraption didn’t stall again.

The next time you are caught in traffic around the square, just think about those good ole days.