Opinion

Jourgensen: Those were the days in Saugus

It’s no surprise Saugus committed $600,000 to pay for fixing up Town Hall. The tall spindly structure designed in the distinctive Victorian eclectic style and built in 1875 last received a makeover in 1998. 

The town’s dedication to Town Hall demonstrates Saugus residents’ love for everything historic in the town. It’s no surprise a foray into Daily Item news clippings uncovered a five-inch thick file documenting town history. 

I could spend an entire day exploring Saugus’ past, but it is more fun to pick and choose historical odds and ends from Saugus’ yesteryears. 

An obvious one is the former Saugus Female Seminary’s claim to being the nation’s first school for girls. 

Once located at what is now 67 Main St., the school opened in 1822 as a local interfaith collaboration with the Rev. Joseph Emerson as its first perceptor or headmaster. Former Item writer Dwight Buell chronicled how the Saugus Female Seminary offered two 12-week school terms with tuition billed at $12 a year plus room and board “without fuel, light and washing.”

“The daughters of the elite of Massachusetts came in such numbers that the town had difficulty in finding board and room for the young seekers after knowledge,” Buell wrote by way of quoting a former Saugus Historical Society.

Emerson urged young women to think of spending their time in a way “you can benefit the world.” In true Saugus tradition, the seminary found itself engulfed in controversy when town Universalists who collaborated with local Methodists and Baptists to build the school, decided to evict the seminary. 

To enforce the eviction, the Universalists, according to Buell’s account, removed the seminary’s windows. To make matters worse, typhoid fever descended on Saugus, prompting parents to remove their daughters from the school and sending enrollment into a decline. The seminary closed 10 years after it opened. 

Shifting to the less distant past, does anyone remember the State Theatre on Central Street? Vacant by 1960, the theater’s claim to fame came in 1956 when someone set off a home-made bomb by a theater exit. The device was powerful enough to twist the metal exit door and fill the empty theater with smoke. 

Saugus and Lynn police and state Fire Marshal investigators converged on the theater and learned, according to the Daily Evening Item, that a caller to the theater said the attack was aimed at Manager John Golden, who told police he tossed troublemakers out of the theater prior to the explosion.

Frustrated that the first bombing left Golden unharmed, the caller threatened to ignite a second explosive device. Police nailed the bombing suspect, according to the Item, after his jilted girlfriend went to the police station and identified him. 

A 14-year-old town resident confessed to constructing the infernal device with gunpowder, tinfoil, copper tubing and a string fuse. The bomber was given a “lecture by the court” and a probation stint. 

The theater ended up becoming a manufacturing site. 

The mid-’50s also saw the town battle racing greyhound owners from boarding their animals at Walnut Street and Forest Street addresses. In true Saugus fashion, the dispute engulfed Town Meeting and traveled a fast road to court. 

Town Meeting in May 1955 unanimously adopted a bylaw amendment banning racing dogs only after opponents and racing proponents battled fiercely over the amendment. One racing opponent decried what he called greyhound “brainwashing” designed to turn “man’s best friend into a vicious beast.”

Dog owners offered a more interesting argument in their defense by pointing out how boarding dogs was a practice with a direct link to Saugus’ past as a farming community predating town zoning bylaws. This argument apparently held weight in court with judges ruling twice against the town in 1956 by refusing to grant an injunction barring the beasts. 

The town eventually prevailed and by 1958, the last remaining greyhound kennel was under town orders to close. 

Resident experts perusing this column admonished me for not mentioning Adventure Car Hop on Route 1 where the burgers were served on 45 records. The Thunderbird Diner also plied its trade on Route 1 under manager Buz Koffman’s stewardship. Alas, an explosion and fire destroyed the Thunderbird in 1968 and sent two town firefighters to the hospital. 

Chickland specialized in barbecue chicken and prior to America’s entry into World War II, served up 250,000 pounds of chicken in 1941, according to an Item story, fried up with 10,000 pounds of butter and 42,000 pounds of frying fats. Located on Saugus-Malden line, Chickland counted stars of the day among its customers, including Bette Davis, Eddie Shore and George Jessel.

Clifford A. Crawford opened Chickland in 1937. The Lynnfield resident was found shot to death in 1965 on the lawn of a restaurant he owned in Danvers. An Essex County jury in 1967 returned a first-degree murder verdict against Richard White.

White, 21, escaped the Concord Reformatory two months before shooting Crawford and earned the nickname “the North Shore Phantom” after leading police on several high-speed chases. Police and prosecutors, according to Item reporting, said White brandished a pistol early on the morning of Dec. 5, 1965 outside Vi-Cliff’s Restaurant, intending to rob Crawford. The restaurateur was armed and fired a single shot before being fatally shot by White. 

Chickland was sold two years after Crawford’s death. 

On a lighter note, Carl’s Duck Farm was a popular 1930s and 1940s Route 1 dining spot offering diners the opportunity to walk by their potential dinners as they entered the restaurant. Chickens and ducks were raised on the premises and when fire struck the farm in 1948, Carl’s employees jumped into action and managed to corral the ducks and shoo them away from the conflagration as motorists on Route 1 gawked. Chickland closed 10 years later. 

Route 1 hosted plenty of home-grown restaurants and watering holes throughout the decades. It also saw its share of transplanted establishments, including Zayde’s Bagel and Bake Shop. Opened by Joe Salinsky in 1931 on Summer Street in Lynn as the Lynn Baking Company, it became famous for its doughnut holes in the 1940s and Famous Rolls in the 1950s. 

Renamed Zayde’s (Yiddish for grandfather), the bakery relocated to Augustine’s Plaza in Saugus in 1975, using its self-styled “bagel-matic” to make 180 bagels an hour. Zayde’s closed in 1999. 

 

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