Conroe businessman has fond memories of downtown 1940s

Conroe’s businessman Jesse Powell still vividly remembers the day he arrived in Conroe by train.

“It was a beautiful fall day,” Powell said of that October 1943 day. A curious 10-year-old boy, he had many questions about his new home.

As the family exited the train and met the Charles Hotel, Powell saw his first palm tree outside the hotel. Growing up in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, he knew what a palm tree was in the movies.

“Here I am a 10 year old kid and I see a big palm tree. My first reaction is ‘I’m in the tropics,’ ”said longtime owner of Conroe Funeral Directors.

His father’s work at Conroe Airport during WWII brought the family to town. At the time it was an American naval station. It also puzzled young Powell as to why there would be a naval station so far inland.

The family had their first Conroe meal at a cafe on Y de Collins and Frazier streets before settling in their new town.

During Powell’s pre-teens and teens, the downtown area was a great source of wonder and entertainment for him and his friends.

“You probably only had 4,000 people in town at the time,” he said. He remembered that there were about four or five doctors in town and yet the square had four pharmacies.

Also something that seems difficult to understand today, in the 1940s the square was not yet fully built. He described a gravel business that existed along the North Thompson portion and a vacant area where the old JCPenney’s now stands at the corner of Simonton and North Thompson streets.

For being such a small town, Conroe had three theaters in the 1940s and 1950s – the Crighton Theater on Main Street, the Liberty Theater across from the Crighton, and another theater for black customers around the corner from the Everett Hardware store. Powell couldn’t remember the name of this theater.

And there was a lot of character in the Crighton and Liberty Theaters.

The Crighton was air conditioned and had comfortable cloth seats. There were also the “first shows” of movies where tickets cost 40 cents for adults and 9 cents for children – 9 cents because they didn’t have to pay tax on anything less than 9 cents. cents, Powell explained.

The better-off were the customers of the Crighton, while the less well-off waited about a month until the same film was shown at the Liberty Theater in a “second broadcast” for less than 25 cents.

The Liberty Theater was smaller, had no air conditioning, and had wooden seats.

Powell found it odd that the Liberty Theater only sold popcorn. Those looking for other refreshments would head next to Creamland for their sodas and candy. Creamland was another hangout for daytime teens with a jukebox, milkshakes, and ice cream.

The Crighton and Liberty theaters were owned by the Jefferson Amusement Company of Beaumont. OC Horton was the director of the theater.

Other favorites from his childhood were “Hamburger Joe” Bernadino’s Cafe and Pool Barbershop where a boy could have his hair cut for 25 cents.

He also spent a lot of time at the Paul Green Community Center or the Paul Green Pool Hall.

He described Green as a little Jewish man who lived at the State Hotel on Collins Street. He proudly displayed his son’s military photo on the wall and felt college banners adorned the walls.

“It was a family place where no beer or alcohol was sold and no gambling was allowed,” he said. The words “Grand Leader” – in reference to a previous store – appeared in a small black and white tile at the entrance.

Powell’s family left Conroe before his freshman year in high school.

As the Conroe Tiger’s quarterback, he convinced his parents to let him stay and complete his education at Conroe.

He moved into a room at the McGee Hotel on Pacific Street in Collins. Mrs. McGee and her twin sons have become like family to him.

He described Ms. McGee as an industrious and enterprising woman. Not only did she run the McGee Hotel, but she also worked for Albert Johnson, who owned a laundry business and later opened the Jewell Ice House (now Pacific Yard House).

Powell then graduated from Conroe High in 1951 and then enrolled at Texas A&M University.

He then transferred to Baylor University before enlisting in the United States Army.

In 1956 he returned to Conroe and went to work for Rigby Owen Sr. at the Courier. He soon married Owen Sr.’s daughter, Sandra.

“It was a very exciting time to be in the newspaper business,” he said. Thanks to Owen Sr.’s innovation, The Courier went from a heat press to an offset method. He said the movement has done wonders for the quality of the picture.

Powell remained in the newspaper business for about 15 years before saying he was exhausted by deadlines.

He went on to own a movie theater and later the Conroe Hotel at Frazier Street and Texas 105.

Having become restless in retirement, he entered the funeral industry about 25 years ago and opened Conroe Funeral Directors with his wife, Sandra, and their children, Clay and Stephanie.

Conroe Funeral Directors is located at 1504 N Thompson St, Conroe. See https://conroefuneraldirectors.org/ for more information.

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