For decades, according to the town’s long-timers, downtown Van Alstyne was a hub of friend meeting friend, strolls around the square on Saturday nights, having ice cream or coffee at the soda fountain and catching up on old times at the barber shop.
One man, Brady Hammonds, sat on the corner for years, every day waving at every passersby, according to local Robert Lewis. Lots of his friends joined him on Saturdays. And each wave they sent out to passing motorists or pedestrians multiplied and rippled outward, until, the old-timers remembered, people were waving to everyone.
At that time, Van Alstyne was about 900 residents strong, so there were few strangers passing through town.
Local Donnie J. Neill remembers the 1960s and 70s as having at least five people on the corner, and named those as Grady Lay and his brother, Beacher Lay, Adurn (“Everybody just called him Adurn, I don’t think anyone knew his last name,” Neill said.) and Bailey Harris met at that corner about sunup, and the waving and good natured camaraderie continued. Neill added, “The crack in the whip, Doug Crawford. He was a guy always telling jokes and swapping knives. Doug Crawford. I just handed off one of his knives to my boy this weekend.”
“They’d get together just about daylight, go across to City Drug and get coffee, then go back and sit on the steps,” Neill said.
That corner being talked about is the southeast corner of Jefferson and Preston streets. And it’s back in use as a Saturday sit and wave regular.
“Saturday mornings, we meet at 9 a.m., it’s the only time of the week that we can get together,” said Lewis. “Sometimes there are eight people, sometimes fewer. But they have been consistent with this for more than a year now.”
Lewis said he’s only missed one Saturday since he and Neill got the Saturday sit-and-wave restarted. “I enjoy it. Almost everybody waves, and some stop and talk to you.” Lewis said there are only two things they all agree not to talk about on that corner — politics and religion. “No need to mess up good friendships,” Lewis said with a chuckle.
Neill, a real estate broker, has had to miss more than a couple of Saturdays, and this previous Saturday was one of those, but said it warmed his heart when he drove by and got those waves from his friends on the corner.
“That corner was the heartbeat of the little town,” Neill said. “In the old days, about the 20s til the 60s, everybody was a farmer or a merchant. They worked til lunch on Saturday, then went home and took a bath. Then, they’d bring the family downtown. They would spent the day in downtown until 10 or 11 at night.”
Neill laughed when asked how old these first Saturday sit-and-wave men were. “Well, when you’re a kid, someone who is 30 seems old. But now that I’m getting on up there, I figure these men were probably in their 60s and 70s.
“You would notice if one was missing on a Saturday. People would drive by and wave and honk,” he added.
“That was the heartbeat of the little town, that corner,” Neill said. “I knew our little town needed this, and Mr. Lewis and I got it started again this year. Our little town is gonna grow up around us, but it’s important that our little town never loses that love that people came to know so well on that corner.”
Forty and fifty years later, Van Alstyne men are still telling stories about those men on that corner. And, they are telling stories about the first fire engine the city had, and about the upcoming skeet shoot, and about the band one of them played in. Anything that comes to mind is shared.
“If we could get the downtown square here to compare to the square in McKinney, in being both busy and friendly, it could become productive for the businesses, and maybe all the storefronts could be open again,” Neill said.
“It’s my prayer this continues,” Nell added. “I believe we need to come back to the heart of this little town. I still call my little town ‘good’ and want to see it stay that way.”