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Where is Lippe’s Corner
By: Edward Brousseau

Lippe's Corner after the Flood of 1955 - Faxon photo

     All towns and cities, throughout their development, are carved into villages or sections that reflect industrial, geographical, ethnic, or historical significance.  Many of Southbridge’s distinctive neighborhoods were a result of various textile mills that sprouted on the banks of the Quinebaug River.  In some instances, the meaning of the descriptive moniker is fairly obvious to the newcomer, and in others, the significance has been lost to time, erosion, (of both land and memory), and most substantially, progress.

     Lensdale, Globe, Sandersdale, Shuttleville, Hooker District (and there is a wide scale of opinions on that origination), are now home to small specialty manufactures of laser printers, garage doors, bakery products.  Or in the case of Westville, simply provide a place to enjoy nature’s beauty.  Many of these names are today still used as reference points.  One, however, has great significance to me, and I have not heard it mentioned for quite a while.

     Lippe’s Corner, the area formed by the intersection of Mechnic and Charlton streets, seems to have fallen to history. Growing up on Mechanic St., Lippe’s Corner not only described the location of a grocery store, but was the heart of the larger area known as the Flats.  There are several theories for the name “The Flats”: it is the lowest part of town, the many three deckers contained apartments called flats, and the tenement roofs were all flat while those in other areas of town were pitched.  Or maybe because the Quinebaug and Cady brooks run flat in this area…and there could be still more reasons.
     It could be argued that Lippe’s Corner reached further than the adjacent crossroad, as the area provided all the necessities for daily living, from cradle to grave.  Sacred Heart Church and its parish school, public schools, grocery stores, barbershops, restaurants, clothing stores, Guertin’s Funeral Home, gas stations, car dealers, and even a cemetery could all be found within shouting distance.

     It was a vibrant and busy section that proudly boasted having the first traffic light in Southbridge.  It had Gibralter Field, now the location of the state swimming pool, where semi-pro baseball teams like the Polish Tigers played their games.  How cool we felt, at 10 or 11 years old, when a player would ask us to hold his cigar or cigarette when he went up to hit.  Little did we know that our parents would soon hear of our bravado.  And as the son of the proprietor of Brousseau’s Café, there was little that I could get away with.

      Gerry Brousseau’s café was located in the same building as Lippe’s Market, and was the stop for many of the AO workers going to and from work.  My grandmother, living on the second floor, with views up both Charlton and Mechanic Sts., only increased the likelihood that any of my misdeeds would be immediately reported.

     Another spot that got us miscreants into trouble was Tom Hughes’ woodpile.  Mr. Hughes was a woodcutter and also sold coal, with his woodlot and coal sheds just a short distance from the corner.  The tempting woodpile stood, stacked ten feet high and stretching a hundred yards along Thomas St. At least it seemed so at the time.  Running across its length, or harvesting the bountiful crop of rare brown chestnuts dropped by the huge Chestnut tree in the yard, was sure to bring out Mr. Hughes or his helper, sending us scampering in every direction.  Old Joe, as the helper was known, was responsible for keeping the workhorses, barns, and coal sheds in order.  One unfortunate playmate that shall remain anonymous, but lived across from Sacred Heart Church, is still addressed with the nickname “Joe”.
     Perron’s Hardware store was always a favorite destination for us.  It proved to be the solution for all our broken toys, flat bicycle tires, and secret building projects, and many yards of electrical tape to rewrap unraveling baseballs, to cover nail heads in repaired bats or hold the soles to the rest of our worn, torn sneakers. The were not fancy running shoes, just plain, white hi-tops, Keds with the rubber ball on the inside ankle.  There were also more than a few gifts that Mr. Guertin helped us to select for Mom, usually to get back into her good graces.

     How many other corners in town had a drinking fountain on the sidewalk?  The town even provided ice in the summer.  Someone, probably from McKinstry’s Ice Co., would lift the metal plate in the sidewalk and drop huge blocks if ice onto the pipes that fed the bubbler.  The same corner had a police call box that the patrolmen would use to check in with headquarters.  We knew them all, as they were the fathers of classmates.  There was even a local version of “Good Cop/Bad Cop.”  Officers Bachand and Gouin would threaten us with calling in the heavies, Officer MacDonald or Roxie Materas.  All walked the streets at night, checking the locked doors of the closed stores.

     The neighborhood had a pharmacy, LaVallee’s, where the root beer barrel dispensed Richardson’s Root Beer.  The Lafleche’s ran a children’s clothing store across from Perrons, both now occupied by Renaud’s furniture.  New cars were driven out of Desrosier Buick, with Ernest and Ray Lippe always seeming to have the latest model.  If a Pontiac was more your style, Archie Keyes had them in all colors at the end of Mechanic St.  Cournoyer’s, Chet’s and Gaulin’s barbershop kept our ears well below the hairline, with orders from Dad to destroy whatever semblance of Elvis Presley’s notorious DA hairstyle we’d created.  Censorship prevents me from explaining the abbreviation DA.

     Pop, at Savoie’s gas station was always willing to let us hang around and glean whatever knowledge we could from him.  That usually brought severe repercussions from Mom when we appeared at supper covered with grease.  Next door, George the Greek resoled our shoes, applied the metal “taps” to their heels, which aggravated the nuns at Sacred Heart School, and sharpened the skates we used at Carpenter’s Pond.

    If Carpenter’s Pond and Henry St. Field were considered to be another neighborhood, the hills behind them were considered to be another world.  Trails led up to Clemence Pond, the cow pastures and the airport beyond.  There was a dynamite shack halfway up the hill, where explosives used to quarry Carpenter’s Pond ice were stored.  And running up the hill, old car wheels were attached to trees, where the Sitzmark Ski Club ran its towrope.  The walk home usually meant a stop at Lusignan’s Bakery to beg for “broken donuts”.  Or Vic’s Spa, for a frosty Blend, an icy root beer, or maybe a lime ricky.

     Another “Field of Dreams” was that of the American Optical Athletic Assoc.  Bounded by the AO buildings, the Cady and Quinebaug rivers, and the swamp behind the houses on Charlton St., it had ball fields and tennis courts.  More than a few baseballs and tennis balls were errantly launched skyward, landing in the river beyond our means of
retrieval.

     This was probably one of the best places to collect the ultimate fishing bait, the fat “night crawler”.  Whenever the rivers overflowed their embankments, which was  often, a gang of kids would descend onto the field with old galvanized buckets to be filled with a slimy, wriggling mass, hopefully to be changed into cash.  Have you ever left a bucket of worms under your sister’s bedroom window?  For three weeks?

     The AO field was also the location of a large “Victory Garden” where those living in the large three and six family tenements could plant and tend vegetables for their use.  Long after its disappearance, the Marino family kept a large garden behind their home next to the river.

     Drs. Nerio Pioppi and Ernest Borsari started their long lasting practices in the Difederico’s Market building before moving up to the beautiful mansion on Elm St.  There was even an A&P before it moved up to Main St.  Mr. Hebert, from whom we rented an apartment, ran a cleaning business on Green Ave., and also bottled soda.

     DiFederico’s Market, Archie’s Variety run by Mr. Champagne, Frenchy’s Restaurant owned by George Thibodeau, McCann’s ice cream near the bridge, Lakin’s clothing at the corner, and others have all made Lippe’s Corner a bustling village on its own.  It is sad that the only remaining connection to that era is the Charlton St. School near Guelfwood Rd. and the cemetery.

     Mechanic St. and Charlton St. schools were the two neighborhood public schools.  The elderly high rise sits where kids ran once played at the former, their shouts and laughter replaced by quiet.  And although the smell of the pine grove behind the latter still lingers in memory, the pine trees are gone, fallen to an expanded school and athletic fields.

      How many meals were spoiled by visits to Chick Brunelle’s Easylook candy store across from Charlton St. School? How many pairs of shoes ruined catching frogs in the swamp where Schott Fiber Optics is now? How many flower bouquets were made from the discarded funeral floral arrangements at the cemetery?  How many lasting friendships made?  And how many more forgotten?

     Buildings, stores, and names change, memories fade, and friends separate.  No one has yet been able to slow down or stop time, life, or progress.  But there is something that you can do.  Give yourself a gift and take a slow walk through your old neighborhood, wherever it may have been.  Even better, do it with someone you shared it with, someone to help you turn back time, and bring back memories.
 
 

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