Teen Town: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

One of the laments among Conway teens has always been that there is “nothing to do” in Conway. I heard it when I was a teen and throughout three decades of teaching high school students. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in the 1940s, parents and teachers successfully collaborated together to provide a place for teens to hang out. It was called Teen Town.

Teen Town was born in the fall of 1943 when the Conway High School PTA set up a youth center in the upstairs band room of the high school vocational building. A student recreational council was appointed to work with the parents. The center was a great success but the space soon became too small to hold all the teens it attracted.

In February, 1944, the PTA President, Mrs. Conway Packard, and the Conway Rotary Club negotiated with the National Guard to move Teen Town to the armory. The space was used as a USO center when military personnel were stationed in Conway. Teen Town was held there until March, 1946.

Talent shows and plays were conducted to raise money to buy a juke box, a stove and a big fan. The juke box was maintained, free of charge, by the man who sold it. CHS shop students built the two ping-pong tables. A large tub filled with ice served as the drink box. Approximately 125 students, ages 12 to 20, showed up every Saturday night.

In the spring of 1946, the National Guard said they would need the space back to store equipment so the Teen Town sponsors started looking for a new venue. Teen Town’s farewell party at the armory drew 190 teens. Ernest Halter, administrator for the Halter estate, met with Eloise Christopher and Louise Dickerson, two of the sponsors, and offered them use of a third-floor room in the Halter Building at the southeast corner of Oak and Front streets.

After some renovation, Teen Town found a new home, right above Greeson’s Drug, another popular hangout. Col. H.L. McAlister gave Teen Town a large number of chairs, some tables and other furniture from the Armory. The Red Cross donated two pianos, card tables, chairs and other furniture from the Camp Robinson WAC recreation building to the new center.

For a nickel, teens could dance to 45 records; play ping pong, the piano or games; or just drink a Coke and socialize. The nickel paid for new records, ping pong balls, light bulbs and the $10-a-month rent which Halter began charging after a couple of years, He used the $10 to pay for a night watchman as well as the gas and water.

The only rule was the “do right” rule. Those who acted silly or appeared to have been drinking never got in the door. Those who didn’t behave couldn’t stay. The “do right” rule covered everything and was seldom challenged. Part of Teen Town’s success may have been its lack of rules. The teens didn’t feel like they were being watched although there were always adult chaperones present. Teens could come and go as they pleased.

Sometimes the tenants who lived in the second floor apartments of the Halter building would complain when the juke box played louder and the jitter bugs danced harder. Most, however, felt that having a place for Conway’s young people to gather was more important than a little noise.

At Christmas, 1951, Raymond L. Fiddler gave the teens a four-lane bowling alley. Others donated two dozen bowling shoes and the installation of two of the lanes. City officials helped move the bowling alley using Lasley family trucks. Neal Ward furnished the moving equipment. Four lumber companies donated lumber and insulation material. Dr. Joe Robbins, the CHS football team and the FFA boys helped with the installation and soundproofing. The Methodist Family Night Club and Kiwanis Club also contributed to the project.

A Christmas party was held to celebrate. There was a huge crowd. Former patrons were invited. Boys who were home from the armed services came. Young people who had met and courted at Teen Town came. Corribel Doty, who had chaperoned faithfully every Saturday night for years, was there. Louise Dickerson, who had chaperoned and played the records, also came. Other adult contributers to Teen Town’s success were also present.

Teen Town faded away around 1953. The chaperones became tired and community support waned. An attempt was made years later to create a Teen Center on north Donaghey but it never really got off the ground.

Some of the information in today’s article came from Bill Nutter’s article on Teen Town which appeared in the December 1, 1996 Antique Wampus Cat. A special thanks to Donna Dickerson for sharing her memories.

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