Thursday, January 5, 2012
Center of the World
Center of the World on Birch Road
"Most old timers and some not so old timers will remember the place. It was on north 22nd Avenue and Birch Road, where Casa Capri Restaurant stands today.
These photos come from the family album of Violet (Birch) Bose: her parents original store next to the weigh scale that serviced all the local farmers about 1927/28 as a candy, cigarette, and soda stop.
The old Birch homestead still stands on the north side of Birch Road, although the home has passed out of the hands of the Birch family.
As the years went by, the Birchs added to the business. First a tavern, and then an IGA grocery store and a couple of gas pumps.
The bar served a Friday night fish fry (15cents a plate) and a Saturday chicken fry (25 cents a plate).
For the farmers in the area, it truly was the center of the world. The weigh scale was used by the farmers to weigh their truck loads of wagon loads of cabbage, corn, and grain. The North Shore tracks ran along 22nd Avenue, crossing at the intersection of Birch Road. Many a freight car was packed and stacked by the farmers and their sons. These same men came with shovels and cleared the tracks of snow during the year of the big blizzard in the 30's.
During those years of the Great Depression, after all the crops were harvested and sold, the farmers would come in the afternoons to the Center of the World and sit around a huge old round oak table to play a few hands of rummy or sheepshead. When spring came, the card games ended and the farmers would return to their fields.
The business was a family affair and everyone had their jobs, including Violet and her older sister, Evelyn.
Just keeping the place clean was a real chore; 22nd Avenue was a bumpy gravel road and when the wind blew out of the west it was a constant battle to keep the dust down.
The store was a lot of work, filling shelves, cleaning the glass fronts and the meat counters, preparing food for the fish and chicken fry and the never ending job of scrubbing and sweeping.
Violet remembers the flies being a real problem. She said the only way to keep ahead of them was some foul smelling spray and those sticky strips that hung from the ceiling.
Then there were the girls' most dreaded jobs: cleaning the outdoor privies and the spittoons, which had to be washed with hot sudsy water.
The building had a flat tarred roof and during the depression when money for repairs was tight, a rainstorm meant scurrying about with pots and pans to catch the drips from the leaky roof.
Customers became the Birchs friends and company. One year Chris got a deer and they held a deer roast for all their customers and friends. Violet recalled that one customer played ragtime piano and they rolled back the carpet in the living room and danced.
the tavern was closed on election day, as was the law, but that didn't mean a day of rest for the family. That day was always spend sanding and varnishing the bar for the year.
One night after everyone was n bed, Tillie heard a strange noise and woke Chris up and together they climbed out the bedroom window to investigate. Chris had his shotgun and caught a man trying to cut out the door lock to the place. As it turned out, the man had just been released from prison.
Chris and his brother, Bill, were athletes, playing on the Somers Grays baseball team. Chris eventually built a ball diamond and grandstand south of the store. It was a huge success and the parking lot was always packed with cars during a game. Teams came from Milwaukee, Illinois and Western Kenosha County.
the biggest draw were the hilarious donkey baseball games where players rode donkeys while playing their favorite sport.
"You hit the ball and you humped on that donkey and maybe he took you to first base and maybe he didn't," laughed Bose.
The steadfast customers of the establishment were farme3rs in the area until about WWII, when they began to draw folks from the city of Kenosha.
In 1945, Chris and Tillie sold the business and went to Somers to live and farm. A succession owners ran the place, but always kept the name: Center of the World."
(Source: Kenosha News, Bulletin, November 20, 1995, "Old Kenosha" article, page 52)