Thursday, November 5, 2009

Between the Chrystie Estate and the A&P: Bob Russell’s Brook

Editor’s Note: Bob Russell, a regular contributor to this blog and to the Hastings Historian, left a fascinating comment on Judy Chamberlain’s post last week about the history of the local A&P. I asked him to tell me more about what he remembered of the former Chrystie property, and he reminded me that he had sent a letter on just that subject to the Historical Society in 1999, which was printed in the Hastings Historian. We present an edited version of his letter here, illustrated with color slides from our collection taken of the Chrystie Estate in the 1940s.

Looking north from Five Corners up Broadway, toward the old Chrystie house on the site now occupied by the Hastings Terraces at 555 and 556 Broadway.

During the late 1950s and very early 1960s, just before the A&P excavations began, my friends and I would regularly play soldiers, or just plain explore the area, on the northwest corner of Main Street and Broadway known to us as “The Brook.” This land was originally part of the Chrystie Estate. The house I grew up in was on Whitman Street. So as the crow flies, I could, with a good head of steam, be at “The Brook” within five minutes by crossing through St. Matthew’s School playground.

I spent a lot of time there as a kid and knew the area pretty well. At the base of the slope, down from the top of the hill, just after the land leveled out, there was a circular pool. It appeared to me to be some kind of fountain or man-made pond, perhaps for growing watercress. It was somewhat overgrown but not stagnant, and I suspected it to be spring-fed and self-effluating, eventually meandering its way to the brook. Although it was fenced in, there was an opening just wide enough to squeeze through. But once inside, you had little room along the edge to stand on and had to be careful not to fall in.

The gardens of the Chrystie Estate, looking west toward Whitman Street.

Not far from the circular pond, there was a curious and relatively deep hole. It was roughly four feet square and six to eight feet deep. It was lined with stones so it was constructed as a square dry well. At the bottom were some rotted boards covered with weeds and brush. Perhaps this had been an old cover that had rotted over time and ultimately caved in. Nevertheless, I always stayed away from this pit as it was scary looking.

Then one day a friend came to us and said he and another lad had been down there and that it was O.K. to explore. One kid couldn’t go down without someone to help him get in and out. With the help of my friend Eric Likhonine, I got down to the bottom and began to snoop around.

The gardens, looking north from Main Street.

Underneath the boards and brush I saw iron balls, perhaps a half dozen or so, stuck in the dirt at the bottom. With a stick I pried one loose. I scraped it off, and it looked like an iron softball. For an 11 or 12 year-old, it was somewhat heavy and must have weighed between 10 and 20 pounds.

At that moment I just wanted to get out with my find. I passed it up to my friend, who then helped me get back out. We started off for my house, taking turns carrying the ball as we walked. My mother became upset when she saw it and asked where we had gotten it. She he told us to take it back. Eric laughed because he knew we’d have to haul it back—that all our hard work had been in vain. Eric, whose parents owned the Denise Gift Shop across from the Hastings Theater, now lives in Ashville, North Carolina, and remembers the incident very well.

So what happened to the cannonball? We went back to the brook and dropped it back into the dry well. We often talked about going back in again, just to get one or two to hide somewhere, but we never did.


Bob Russell’s next Hastings Historian article will be on the Cup ‘N’ Saucer restaurant that once occupied the spot that is now Comfort Lounge. “We’re sure that many of you have fond memories of the Cup ‘N’ Saucer that was previously Lang’s,” says Bob. “Does anyone have photos of the Langs, or of the Carusos, or any shots taken in or outside the store? Kindly e-mail them to us at hhsblog[at]hastingshistorical[dot]org.”
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