Townie Tidbits

UNCLE JIM AND HIS POTATO SHED

  My Uncle Jim (James Callahan) went to work as a young man over at F.J. Ward Produce Company at the old Charlestown Potato Sheds near Boston Sand & Gravel Company. Back as a kid my mother would often visit her brother at work while my brother and I would run back and forth on the elevated wooden sidewalks along the long line of sheds that ran from City Square to the Prison Point Bridge. To a kid’s imagination, the sheds looked like a scene out of a cowboy movie. We weren’t in Charlestown anymore, we were in Dodge City. Back then, the whole area was a combination of potatoes and cement trucks. We enjoyed visiting Uncle Jim and always carrying home a couple of ten pound bags of Maine potatoes.

   I never thought there would never be an end to the potato sheds which seemed as much a part of Townie history as the Bunker Hill Monument. However, the end came quickly one morning in May. I remember the event like it was yesterday especially at this time every year.

   A number of years ago, a friend of mine Richie Mirra gave me a photo he took on the bridge traveling over to the town from Cambridge. He and his new bride Eileen were actually returning home from their honeymoon. He remembered seeing all the smoke from Cambridge and thought it was from Chelsea. Half way over the bridge he realized what it was, he stopped, grabbed his camera with all his honeymoon photos on it and began snapping away. He gave me a great photo which I have since cherished since those sheds were so much a part of my boyhood. In the photo you can actually see the passenger side taillight of his 1954 Ford sedan.

   The date was May 10, 1962. It was already a bad time for me since my 14 year old cousin Nicky passed away from cancer on May 8 two days before. Not a nice time to be a Giarratani or a Harrington.

   Box 4132 was pulled at 4 pm just as rush hour was beginning, it was a five alarm fire that raged for hours. Afterwards except for one or two sheds untouched by the fast-moving flames, the sheds were history and the potatoes had all turned into French fries forever. My uncle’s place survived for a few more years but in the end, everything was gone and a memory by 1970.

   May will always have bittersweet memories for yours truly. The potato sheds destroyed, my cousin Nicky’s death, my birthday and my Uncle Nealy’s birthday too.

   As I commented a few weeks back, part of the old Potato Shed stone wall still stands separating Old Sully’s from New Rutherford Avenue. Actually if you are driving along Rutherford Avenue today, just before you drop down to the underpass by Austin Street in the middle lane, you are at F.J. Ward Produce Company. If there were any potatoes near there today, they would all be mashed by the traffic rolling over the site.

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