Carmi’s Teen town had it’s roots with a high school language arts teacher named Miss Amaline Turni, who decided the youth of Carmi needed a teen center back in 1953. A group was formed which held dances at the high school, Carmi Country Club and the Farm Bureau building, and in the process raised enough money for a permanent home. To help raise funds they also held events like bake sales and a talent show.
By 1954 the group had raised enough money for a permanent home, after spending time temporarily above King’s diner and Halk Auto Supply. The organization was run by a teen council, supervised by an adult council consisting of civic leaders. They moved the center to the old Elks building, which they rented for forty dollars a month. The Elks also sold them an air conditioner, and donated a snack bar. The Masonic Lodge donated a pool table, and other civic organizations donated furniture and decorations.
The social room was painted a light blue, and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings. Music was provided by a juke box which ran nearly all the time. Over the years this was replaced by a hi fi sound system which was actually pretty good by any standards.
As attendance grew, it became obvious that a larger space was needed. The teens managed to raise $20,000 through donations and fund raisers and purchased the old Gidcumb Furniture store on Walnut Street, and moved shop in 1962, taking with them furniture, the stereo and the chandeliers.
It was about this time that the mirror ball was added, which surely will be remembered by anyone who ever went there.
For years the place was supervised by James Robert Endicott, along with his wife and son. The heydays were likely the sixties and seventies, with live music overtaking the juke box for dancing. Tons of great bands played there … Bloody Williamson who I believe went on to become Head East, Hard Times, Cletus Rougue, Bogart, Lynx … the list goes on forever, including many bands like Chicago who are rumored to have played there and never did.
In the late seventies the bands gave way to traveling discos with a D.J., and with it went a culture of local bands. There wasn’t a lot of places for a band to play back then, particularly if they had underage members … Lamey’s, The Pier in Mt. Carmel and Kramer’s Lake in Evansville. When disco drove out the bands, there were fewer bands, and when disco finally died there wasn’t enough music to take its place.
Still Teen Town held on till the eighties I believe, before finally closing its doors. By then teenagers had changed it seems, and though other establishments catering to the young tried to make a go of it, none had much luck.
The old Teen Town building now houses the Masonic Lodge, who was instrumental in helping Teen Town get off the ground in the first place. It’s ironic that many of the older members of the lodge today likely attended Teen Town in the same building many decades ago.
I’ll never forget the first night I went, the summer before my freshman year. It was strongly rumored that there was hazing involved for freshman, and being more obnoxious than most, it was rumored that I would be lucky to survive the evening. As a result I was forced to walk down the sidewalk and inside alone, as none of my friends wanted to end up collateral damage.
As it happened I didn’t have any trouble, inside or out. Teen Town was the place we all, more or less learned to get along. Or at least tolerate each other. Whether you were from Carmi, Crossville, Norris City, Enfield or Grayville, things tended to do smoothly.
This was brought home recently when I found myself in Grayville, coming home and realizing that:
a. I was nearly out of gas.
b. I had left my wallet at home in Carmi.
On the advice of the Grayville Police Department, I went to Rick’s, a gas station on Route One. Rick and I recognized each other on sight, and he loaned me five dollars worth of gas. As he pumped it we realized we knew each other from Teen Town over thirty years ago. We likely never spoke, just passed each other on the balcony or standing out front. I might have forgotten his name, but I’ll be sure to remember it now. Good samaritans are hard to find.