Center Street, Southington, Connecticut

Looking toward Center Street from the town green in Southington in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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Center Street in 2015:

Many of the buildings in the first photo are similar to the ones today, but most of them are gone.  The only one left seems to be the one on the far left, which once housed the First National Stores (Finast) grocery store.  In the 1942 photo, it is advertised as “Self Service” on the sign, differentiating it from other grocery stores where the customer would be served by a clerk behind the counter.  Finast, by contrast, was much like a modern grocery store where customers would walk through the store with a shopping cart, picking what they want and then paying at the checkout counter.  A few 1942 photos of the interior of the store can be seen here on the Library of Congress website.

On the other side of Court Street there was another grocery store, The Fulton Markets.  The building was on the left of the 1942, and it has since been replaced with a modern one-story commercial building.  This store evidently had slightly higher prices than Finast; signs in the windows indicate that their smoked shoulders were 33 cents per pound, as opposed to 31 cents at Finast.  Likewise, “milk fed fowl” was also 33 cents at Fulton and 31 cents at Finast, although the sign in the window at Fulton indicates that they are “fancy fowl,” so perhaps the fact that the meat is “fancy” justifies the extra two cents.  Other meats that were available at Fulton included “fresh ground chopped steak” for 25 cents, lamb patties for 37 cents, and “fresh made pure pork sausages” for 35 cents per pound.  They also had “Kooling Soda” available, 4 for 29 cents.

Although World War II had begun less than six months earlier, Americans were already starting to see it affect their grocery shopping.  Just a few weeks before the first photo was taken, sugar became the first grocery product to be rationed; each individual was limited to half a pound per week.  This seems like it would be a lot of sugar, but apparently it was only half of the average consumption prior to the rationing.  Before the end of the year, coffee would also be rationed, limiting each person to one pound every five weeks.  By the end of 1943, rationing would be extended to many other grocery store items, including meat, cheese, butter, cooking oil, processed foods, and dried fruit.

Other businesses visible in the 1942 photo include Capitol Shoe Repairing, Federated Stores, Levy’s (a children’s clothing store), and W.T. Grant (a discount department store).  Today, not only are all of the buildings gone, but most of the businesses themselves no longer exist.  One possible exception, though, might be Federated Stores; Macy’s was originally founded in 1929 as Federated Department Stores, but I’m not sure if this is the same company as the one seen in the first photo.  As for Finast, the grocery store company once had locations throughout the northeast, but it would later go through several mergers, eventually becoming part of Stop & Shop.

Soldiers’ Monument, Southington, Connecticut

The Soldiers’ Monument in Southington during Memorial Day observances in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The monument in 2015:

No New England town common is complete without a Civil War monument, and here in Southington the monument is a prominent subject in this photo, taken by the Office of War Information during World War II.  Taken during the town’s 1942 Memorial Day observances, it shows an American Legion honor guard firing a salute in front of the monument.  What makes this monument a little different, though, is that while many include lengthy inscriptions, this one simply reads “The Defenders of Our Union 1861-1865.”

Today, the monument is still there, and nearby on the town common are several others in honor of men and women from Southington who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  The surroundings, however, have changed.  The 1942 photo shows the Grand Rapids Furniture store in the background, and to the left of it is a house.  Both buildings are now gone, replaced by a parking lot today.

American Legion, Southington, Connecticut

American Legion members and other spectators watch the 1942 Memorial Day parade in Southington from in front of the American Legion hall.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

As mentioned in previous posts, the Office of War Information thoroughly documented Southington in May 1942, in order to produce a pamphlet to distribute overseas that would show life in a “typical” American town.  Of the nearly 300 photos available online through the Library of Congress, many of them focus on the town’s Memorial Day observances along Main Street.  This was the first Memorial Day after the United States entered World War II, and most of the American Legion members pictured here were probably veterans of World War I.  They were the generation who had fought in World War I, lived through the Great Depression, and were now facing the reality of their sons having to fight World War II; undoubtedly this last thought was on the minds of many of them that day.

Today, the American Legion hall is still there, with new doors and windows but otherwise not much different from 1942.  Some of the members today might be the children of the men in the first photo who served in World War II, or perhaps grandchildren who served in Vietnam a generation later.  At least a few of the young children in the first photo might still live in Southington today; if so, they would be in their late 70s or early 80s by now.

The Southington News, Southington, Connecticut

The Southington News Building on Eden Avenue in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The building in 2015

This building can also be seen in color in the 1942 photo in this post, which was taken just a few yards away from here. It was the home of The Southington News, and was among the subjects photographed by the Office of War Information in an effort to document small town American life during the war.  Even in the 1942 photo, though, this scene isn’t particularly impressive.  The overgrown weeds, unmowed lawn, and large patches of dirt in front of the building give the impression that not much was going on at The Southington News.  Or, perhaps the idea was to show that with wartime labor shortages, maintaining the lawn wasn’t a priority?

Today, The Southington News is long gone, but the building still stands, with an addition that covers most of the original facade.  The tops of the original brick pilasters can still be seen, and the edge of the roof is unchanged, although it looks like it hasn’t been painted since 1942.  As seen in the 2015 photo, it is vacant and for sale, having last been used as Dominic’s Men’s Shop.

Main Street and Eden Avenue, Southington, Connecticut

Looking northwest from the corner of Main and Eden in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

This is the first color “then” photo that I have featured here, and it was taken by the Office of War Information, about six months after the US entered World War II.  The euphemistically-named OWI was essentially the propaganda department during the war, and one of their projects was to create a pamphlet that documented life in an American town.  Southington was chosen as the model, and several hundred photographs were taken in May 1942, including a few color ones.  The idea was to distribute the pamphlet overseas, with the goal of showing the freedom and equality that Americans enjoyed and hopefully gaining sympathy for the American war effort.

The 1942 photo was taken from the parking lot of an Atlantic gas station, with another gas station visible across Eden Avenue on the far right.  Both are still there, although the Atlantic one is now a Shell, and the gas prices are a little higher than they were in 1942, when the average price per gallon was 20 cents.  Across the street in the center of the photo was the home of The Southington News.  The building is still there today, although with an addition on the front.  Because the addition is not as tall as the rest of the building, the top of the original facade can still be seen from this angle.  It was most recently used as a men’s clothing store, but it is now vacant.