Monday, January 17, 2011

The Wilsons Own The Barrel- 68 to 74

Woodrow and Kathryne Wilson

First let me say that I am thrilled you are saving “The Barrel”. It has been very sad for me to watch it deteriorate year after year, and to see the huge boat garages encroaching, just about swallowing the poor Barrel up. I was wondering how long before it would either fall down or be torn down to make way for one more boat garage.

My parents, Kathryne and Woodrow “Woody” Wilson were the last owners that actually ran “The Barrel” as a hot dog, root beer stand.  My parents bought the business in late 1967 or early in 1968. I know my family first operated The Barrel the summer of 1968. We bought it from Jo Ann and George Gallas. Their daughter Nicki wrote a beautiful piece about her memories of The Barrel. My parents and the Gallas’s became lifelong friends.

Starting in 1968 my parents ran The Barrel every summer through 1974. In 1972 my best friend from Evanston Township High School (IL), Ellen Sturm, and I came up and ran The Barrel all summer. We stayed in the little house that was behind The Barrel. That little house looks as bad as The Barrel today. Anyway, Ellen met a guy up in Saugatuck and ended up marrying him. That guy was Joe Clark, my bff Ellen Clark became the Saugatuck City Clerk for like 20 years. The Barrel has definitely contributed to the history of Saugatuck.

I loved the food. The “foot long” hot dogs were great, as were the steamed buns, hot fries, and cold root beer. Both the root beer and the hot dogs were made in Holland, local quality that is hard to duplicate today.  We had some of the old lead glass mugs, but we served all the drinks in paper cups.

There was a barrel that sat on the counter, and was 3 feet high or so. The tap for the root beer was on it. I remember the tap moved side to side, not out toward you. It was beautiful shellacked wood and had a name on it. I can’t remember the name. Perhaps it was the root beer distributor from Holland. I’ve always wondered what happened to it. Anybody know?

My Mom operated a business for a few years out of the little annex attached to The Barrel.  She called it “The Small Shop”. The merchandise was a real slice of the time. Candles, incense, incense holders, posters, beads, you remember, or maybe you don’t. I know she loved going to the International Gift Show in Chicago and walking around looking at all the stuff, as well as buying her knick-knacks.

The Barrel operated in 1973, but health issues were beginning to limit the amount of time and energy my parents could put into the business.  In 1974 The Barrel was open a few holiday weekends at most.

Other dynamics, besides health, were in place that made business difficult. First, the “short cut” opened past St Peters parking lot. People stopped driving by The Barrel on their way to Oval Beach. Then, the health and restaurant operating codes changed. The Barrel would require thousands of $ in improvements. As long as the business kept operating, The Barrel was grandfathered in to the earlier code, but once it didn’t open, it would have to be upgraded before it could re-open.

Due to health issues, The Barrel didn’t open in 1975.

By the way, if I sound upset by the boat garages that have sprung up around The Barrel, I shouldn’t be. My father, “Woody”, sold the corner lot just to the West of The Barrel for the first garage to be built. Incidentally, that corner garage was built on top of what remained of The Barrel’s Putt-Putt golf course, and a cement block structure I used to call “The Tower”,  Remember?

Taken about 1974

I believe my parents sold what was left of The Barrel property in 1977 to a man named Enos. He planned to bring The Barrel up to code and run it as a business again, but it never opened.

Then it was sold to a Mr. Anderson. At one time he mowed the property, put up some flags and operated a “cooking trailer” on the site, but The Barrel itself was never open again.

I am glad The Barrel will live again. Just writing this has brought back great memories for me.

Suzan Wilson Capillo Jan. 15, 2011

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