I’ve lived most of my life in Saugus. I was born very near where the Senior Center is today. My parents brought us to Lynn, where I did the first grade in the Tracy School. I was out of town when I served in Japan with the U.S. Army, and when Polly and our family returned to Lynn until we could afford a house in East Saugus. Not very much changed in my living place, SAUGUS. But there have been big changes to the town outside of my living here. The town has changed in the last 80 years of my life since I was eight years old.
Let’s start with the home. I was brought up on Cliff Street at the top of Henshit Mountain, the cliff area across from the Veterans School. Winters were great. Snowplowing was not much as the streets up there were dirt. We could go down to Laconia Avenue, or the other direction to Central Street. There was little traffic so it was pretty safe. And bicycling was easy going down but a drudge going up.
There were a lot of schools in Saugus and far less population than today. I went to the Felton, grades two to six, where the Senior Center is today. There also were grammar schools on Essex Street, the Ballard in East Saugus, the Robie in the Center, and a school in North Saugus. We had two junior highs, on the Center at the intersection of Central and Winter, that faced East Denver, and another in Cliftondale Square. My high school was later torched, but it existed for me at the intersection of Winter and Central.
We, and I mean nearly all students, walked to school each day; rain or snow was rarely cause for cancellation, and we on the hill had an easy trip down via paths through the woods, but troubles going home. A singular advantage for us students close to the junior and senior highs: We were allowed to go home for lunch. I don’t remember about the students at the school level who were close to the school, but we on the hill would go across East Denver, up the small hill and sit and smoke cigarettes starting at 13, continuing through high school, and pointing out to classmates what we were doing. We were the elite group. The other elite high school group was North Saugus students, who were bussed.
But more about these times. We had churches in Saugus. I was, and continue to be, a United Methodist. We had five Methodist churches in town: Cliftondale, East Saugus, Main Street just off the Center, one each in Lynnhurst and North Saugus. The Cliftondale is still Methodist, but Brazilian and the members are from out of town. We had a Baptist and two Congregational, one in the center and another in Cliftondale, and a St. John’s Episcopal in the center. There was an independent protestant church out near where Lowe’s is today and a very few other independents. There were two Catholic churches in town: St. Margaret’s in Cliftondale and Blessed Sacrament on Central Street at the intersection of Church Street. The new Blessed Sacrament was built while I was a youngster, and the old building is now used for group activities. The kids from the hill had the fun of working for the carpenter Gustafson, who reconditioned the old Blessed Sacrament, and we worked for fun, not for wages, learning carpentry along the way.
Another was the change in marketing. We had milk delivery and ice for our chest up on the mountain every couple of days. The ice wagon was pulled by a horse. We also had a vendor who sold clothes from a wagon and took orders for delivery on the next trip. This was much more convenient than a trip to the department stores in Lynn. We had many small stores in Saugus with a small supermarket in Saugus Center and Walkey’s Market in Cliftondale. Eventually Cogliano’s Market appeared during my teenage years. My mother used Werhlen’s Market on Central Street and usually called down to Werhlen’s on what she wanted; then I would go down the hill, most of the year using a cart to carry the load back up the hill, but a sled when the streets were covered with ice or snow.
But now to the biggest change in 80 years: automobiles and trucks. Trucks were much smaller as they had to navigate the dirt roads all over town and snow in the winter. We could have the joy of telling truckers how to get up and down Churchill Street, then watch them get blocked by the large stones that blocked the roadway. There was also Tontaquon Avenue running south to north but blocked by an undeveloped hill with trees and rocks. We could direct trucks to the wrong side and watch them get frustrated. That was a form of play for the hillers of my day.
The increase in autos is a significant change to the town. During my early years, families had a single car, used by the father to drive to work, and by the mother on weekends for shopping or entertainment. This meant that the roadways were pretty safe to walk in when snow or garbage lined the walkway; not always sidewalks existed. The Second World War had restraints on gas usage, and families had coupons for purchasing gas, because the wars in Europe and Asia required great quantities of gasoline to continue the battles. In the late forties and early fifties, families had the wherewithal to purchase a second vehicle to be used by mothers for shopping and nearby travel. Streets were still mostly quiet except for weekends or holidays during this period until the later sixties. Then families who could afford another for the oldest child, or the youngster working to obtain the price, increased the traffic. Now things started to cluster. Students drove to the high school, creating traffic jams and accidents. People were not used to the traffic and accidents swelled. We had a hospital in East Saugus to take care of the townies who had babies or medical requirements.
Now you who later moved to or grew up in Saugus have an idea what the town was like in the forties and fifties. If you want interesting information, ask a long time Saugonian what their time was like growing up in town. I’m sure many others who spent their childhood in town can give you additional information on lifestyle and the changes brought about by time.
(Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports.)