Memories and landmarks of downtown Rockingham

By: Doug Smith - Contributing columnist

Waiting at Capital Bank’s drive through, recently, my thoughts turned to the open space between the former Economy Auto Supply building and Helms Jewelers. If you have lived in a community long enough, you are aware of the various landmarks: the ones that have changed, and some that have remained the same.

Capital Bank’s corner, by the way, has hosted several banks over the years. Once, however, Rockingham Hotel stood there; I would discover it leveled when I returned home from Army basic training in December, 1974. Several generations of locals got haircuts at City Barber Shop in the hotel’s ground floor. Later, it would migrate across the street to what is now Willow Tree.

Richmond Theater, however, occupied that space across from Capital Bank, along with John’s Music Shop. We were fortunate, also, to boast two theaters for movie choices, downtown, with The Strand just around the corner in the current community theater. I recall trooping to the Richmond with junior high classes for cultural exposure to the likes of “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Sound of Music.” 1970’s “Love Story” was weepy for many, but Ali McGraw’s “potty mouth” was a bit much for mom.

One evening about 1970, with my brother, Billy, and neighbor Tommy Wilson, we decided to take in the film “Oliver!” This was over a year before Tommy and I would obtain our coveted driver’s licenses, so one of our parents dropped us off at the Richmond. Later, amidst some adolescent chuckling about the movie, the three of us had to contemplate finding a phone to summon a ride. For young teens, then, that mile-and-a-half distance to home seemed so far; and, it would be decades before we could reach for cell phones.

We headed for another nearby landmark: the squat building that housed Rockingham’s police department between the two oak trees on town square. The ancient officer at the desk fixed an unamused gaze as we approached to request use of the phone. Now, having just seen “Oliver!,” this was not unlike the scene where young Oliver supplicated before gruff Mister Bumble to beg more porridge. “Make it snappy!”, he ordered us.

Incidentally, West Washington street once passed by that police station and through the square. Drivers actually stopped at a traffic light next to PNC Bank — Southern National Bank, then, after it had been Farmers’ bank.

You’ll have to quiz local long-timers about the town beyond that traffic light … the folks with plenty of silver in their hair.

Douglas Smith is a Rockingham resident and frequent writer of letters to the editor.

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Doug Smith

Contributing columnist