To the Contrary

City looked different from the old back lots

Not many people can remember the "back lots" of Rock Hill. I do remember. In the early 1930s, I lived with my father and mother in a house trailer in the back lots. About 1933, my dad, Sid Parrish, bought an old Rock Hill trolley and parked it along the railroad tracks on White Street that ran between the Southern Railway repair yard and the back lots. He changed it into a hot dog stand. In the back, still parallel to the railroad tracks, he parked a 20-foot house trailer. ( I vaguely remember the trip we took in this house trailer behind a new 1932 Ford to Mexico in a prior year). This was a great life for a young boy. I enjoyed having all the hot dogs and sweet milk I could eat and drink. It wasn't long before he expanded the interior of the trolley to include a long counter with stools and a full kitchen in the back. It was named Sid's Place.

I was going to Ebenezer School. I wasn't doing well in school, so I had to go to a tutor. I believe she was a retired schoolteacher and the wife of a city policeman. I remember their house was on Caldwell Street, across from Dr. McDonald's office. I would walk through the back lots to her house several times a week during the summers.

After three years, Ebenezer was tired of me and said that because I lived past Trade Street on East White, I had to go to the Central School. That was not so bad. My cousin Robert Wade Smith went to that school. But that was the year Robert Wade went to high school. I attended one year at Central.

The tutor and I were not the only ones who lived in the back lots. There were two houses for black families who worked for the Friedheims. They had kids, but for some reason, we didn't play together. It probably had to do with that white vs. black thing. I had no playmates in the back lots, but I do remember the dishwasher for the Royal Cafe on Trade Street (Trade is now called Dave Lyle Boulvard). He was my friend, and we used to play catch ball behind the cafe. He was black.

I very seldom walked on Trade and Main Streets. I always used the back doors. The Carolina Theater on Trade had its men's toilet behind the screen. (You remember the Carolina? They only showed Westerns and the balcony was for black people.) This men's toilet was near the back door to the theater. Whoever was first to use the toilet each day would unlatch the door. That's how I entered the Carolina. At the Stevenson and the Capital, I had to pay 9 cents to get in. I used to see every movie. Since they showed new movies two or three times each week, I saw a lot of movies.

I always used the back door to Friedheim's. Rabbit Harris was my friend. He was in the men's department on the second floor. I loved to watch those little metal boxes ride along the tracks all over the store to the cashier. The cashier was in a very high box on the main floor. The clerks would put the money and the sales slip in these little cars and send them to the cashier. She would return the change and receipt in the same little car. That entertainment was good for at least an hour. Everyone knew me as the little boy who was always around. They called me by my middle name, Ernest.

My greatest adventure in the back lots was the dime stores. I loved to go shopping in the dime stores. There were three of them: McCrory's, Newberry's and Woolworth. They had all the good stuff. I could spend hours looking at baseball gloves, bats and all that sports stuff, and some great toy trucks.

Every so often, they would send a train into the back lots with a car load of farmers' needs for Friedheim's. That would always be a close call for Sid's Place. The train would slip by with only inches to spare. There was a big two-story building next to Sid's Place. On the first floor was a new car dealership. I think was a Dodge dealership. Upstairs, with an outside stairway, was a dance hall. Every Saturday night, it was alive with lots of loud music and happy people. In my bed in the trailer, I could hear them all night.

About the last of my life in the back lots I remember the city built a new police station and fire department with big, new red fire engines just up the street on White Street. It was big, new and beautiful. But, what I liked most was that they had a nice clean toilet that I could use. I was happy about that. We had none in the trailer or cafe.

What happened to Sid's Place? They put brick around it and made it look better, but now it is a parking lot. After that, we moved to Manchester Street next to the industrial mill village, and Dad opened another Sid's Place on the Greasy Corner across from the Cutter Mill on White Street. Before I left to enter the Navy in 1942, Dad bought a house at 133 Johnson St. They lived there for about 10 years. Now, that's the location of Rock Hill City Hall.