The “North Street Gate”
at the Southbridge American Optical Complex
(Southbridge Business Center)
by Dick Whitney
March 4, 2002
The North Street Gate after the Hurricane in 1938
With the opening of the Southbridge Hotel and Business Center, a new and welcomed openess to the “AO Campus” has recently taken place. Today, the public is urged to visit the Southbridge Hotel Complex, and I highly recommend eating at the newly opened Visions Restaurant and seeing for yourself the Hotel and meeting room facility .
Until the year 2000, for as long as I can recall, stood the North Street gate which segregated those who worked at AO from the outside world. While I welcome the new change here at the facility, I recall a certain sadness when I saw the old Guard Shack demolished. This Guard Shack was located at the entrance to American Optical across from North St.. The Guards at the North Street Gate restricted entrance into the complex for so many years. I believe that many locals still don’t realize that anyone can just drive (or walk) in. I can sense in some, a certain disbelief when I tell them that no one will stop them as the venture onto the facility. Habits are slow to change! During much the majority of my 28 years at American Optical, I can recall this entrance being closely monitored by the AO Guards. Every visitor (or late employee) was screened by these uniformed men.
My father, who joined AO on March 30, 1947 wrote the following about his encounter with an AO Guard at the North Street gate a few months later:
“...On Friday afternoon, June 20 (1947), I left work a bit early to start the weekend of my wedding. I remember, as I went out the North Street Gate at AO, the guard stopped me and asked where I was going. I replied that I was off to get married. His response, which I will never forget, was, "Why, you're just a child!" ”
His departure that day, to marry my mother, Jan, is a story I recall him telling on several occasions. I can still see him chuckle as he recalled this event.
During busy times when traffic poured in and out of the facility, I recall these guards directing traffic at this intersection. I can not even tell you, how many times I traveled by the Guard Shack and usually waved when I drove by. Now when I drive through, I still can recall waving to the Guards as I drove through into the AO Facility.
Guard directing traffic outside the North St Gate in 1977
Photo by Dick Whitney
May 3, 2000 - Just prior to the North St Gates demolition
June 26, 2000 - North St Gate demolished
The North Street Gate During the 1955 Flood and in 2005
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Dick Whitney March 4, 2002
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