A Tiny Bit Of Second-Hand Northampton Oral History

Due to the recent hurricane, there have been a lot of photos circulating of previous big storms that have hit western Massachusetts. Here’s a photo of Strong Avenue in Northampton, looking towards Main Street/Fitzwilly’s/Kathy’s Diner, circa the 1938 hurricane. It’s a good flood photo (some more good ones on the Forbes Library Facebook page), but I’m actually posting it because it’s the only photo of that little brick building on the right (next to the car) I’ve ever run across. I used to get my hair cut there (1995-6?) and the barber told me the history of the building. Before he cut hair there, it was this Mobil station. Before that, it was a rest/layover hangout for train conductors. They’d take naps and smoke pipes there between runs. It was built out of broken bricks by a conductor who scavenged them from some local brick foundry. Since broken bricks aren’t very easy to build strong walls with, the walls were made 4 layers deep (you could see a cutaway from when the Mobil had cut into a wall for something). It was so small inside compared to what you’d expect looking at it from the outside, it almost qualified as an optical illusion.

It was a super-cool little tank of a building. You could still see where the garage bay had been turned into a window, and if I recall correctly, the tracks for the door and a couple other pieces of iron hardware were still bolted onto the ceiling/walls. The place was crammed full of junk, and the barber was old and had shaky hands and didn’t give great haircuts but I liked going there anyway. He either died or retired and they knocked the building down and excavated the whole slope. Now it’s a row of really bland brickface storefronts and condos.

Bonus fun photo: I went a-Googling to see if I could find any other photos of the building, and instead found this photo of the original Kathy’s Diner:

Neat. Anyway, that’s my misremembered version of that guy’s hazy recollection. I hope you’re proud of me for not giggling at my own use of the word “oral.”

(photo from Forbes Library)

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