Cherished memories of life on Main Street

150 Years of Howard History

March 20, 2001

William Paul Corun, 84, a native of Ellicott City and former owner of Paul's Market on Main Street, was interviewed by folklorist Alison Kahn in 1997 for an oral history project coordinated by Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway Inc. This is the first of two excerpts from that interview.

Well, I was born behind the post office, which originally was an old livery stable, and Wall's filling station and everything there on Main Street. Back where the parking lot is today is where I was born. There was a row of like six homes that the road went in back of the post office, and I was born in one of the six houses there.

The six houses - I can still remember it, it was very picturesque. There was a grapevine that run down [from the house] to the Tiber River, the branch, and the privies, the outhouses, straddled the branch. And it was a beautiful site. You'd hardly know it unless you'd know it was there because the grapevines covered it up. And each house had a walkway to their own private outhouse and everything went fine. And I lived ... there from 1917 until I was about 4 years old.

Then we moved to Baltimore County below where the flour mill is ... and stayed there until I got married. ... Technically, it was School Lane, but everybody called it "Hog Alley." As a matter of fact, through the years, some of the guys nicknamed me "Hog Alley," especially [Clagett] Higinbothom the undertaker, used to always call me "Hog Alley." And, of course, we all enjoyed it, and we had a wonderful time then.

Then at 13 years old, I went to work because I couldn't afford to go to high school. Had to get out and help raise the rest of the family because my father only had one lung from working at the [C.R.] Daniels [Co.] cotton mill, and he had to get an outside job. Of course, he worked at Rolling Road golf course, weather permitting, which was only like six, seven months a year, or maybe eight. And the seven of us in the family, we grew up that way, and I was making 4 dollars and a half a week when I first went to work in 1931.

So in '32, I had an offer to get a job in Ellicott City, which was [for the store] J. W. Crook, years ago. ... I was getting a little older and at 16, I was second man. I was a big guy, making $16 a week, and I was assistant manager. So the union come in later on, and of course the older man had all the preference, which is right. So I was young, and it was hard for me to get ahead. So I quit and went to work for Jim Brown on Main Street in Ellicott City in April 1939.

And then, of course, we got married in June of '39. ... And this will mark the 58th year of our wedding anniversary. And ... my wife died a little over five months ago, but I can still remember.

And then I worked for Jim Brown for ... eight or nine years, whatever, and of course I got drafted. And then he was going to turn the store over to me after I got out of the service, and two weeks after I got in the Army, he sold the store.

So I worked for [William A. Sites, the next owner] for about eight years, and they bought it for their son. They only had the one child, the son, and he didn't like the grocery business because it was too long of hours and too hard of work so they turned the store over to me - lock, stock and barrel. The only thing I had to pay for was the stock and fixtures. No mortgage, no interest, no nothing. And that was the result of being a loyal worker. I kept the store until 1981, 25 years, and then I was 65. ...

And back in those days, we had a 30-foot front. We had a 30-foot awning - red, white and blue - and that stood out. And of course we had the sign, "Paul's Market," and everything. ... And we specialized in ... fruit baskets, live rabbits and live chickens, and anything you could get in a cage. ... Whatever the farmers would bring in, I'd put it in there and we would sell it and of course give them market price. ... So we built up quite a reputation and I'd jokingly ... say to them, if I could get an elephant in a cage big enough, I could sell it. ...

The Health Department didn't want me to kill rabbits. I was doing it right and everything, but I wasn't allowed to kill anything on the premises, see. And I would, on an average of 25 a week. Easter come along, we'd sell as many as 200 live rabbits and we'd also sell ... raccoons and of course ... possums - I'd practically give them away. ...

Well ... the store is built in the side of a hill, and it's like a cave with water running down all the time. And we had this long bench in back of the wall - the room that separated the store from the back room - and we had this long bench which we used to kill turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything. And we used that for killing ... rabbits, dressing the deer. ... Course we keep the door closed where no one could see. ...

So anyhow, everything was going along fine, we was putting these muskrats in the meat case - we had a 16-foot meat case - and the man from the federal government come in one day, and on the meat case I'd have homemade signs ... like "Muskrats, dollar and a half apiece," or "Coons, $2.50 apiece," and this, that and the other. So the guy says to me, he says, "You can't sell the stuff like that by the piece." I said, "Oh, yes I can." ...

Well, I never did hear any more from him, so I kept on selling them. And like I say, here's this guy from the government, a federal man. Oh, boy, what have I run up against now! ...

I knew everyone on Main Street, everyone in the courthouse and everybody, you know. We just grew up together. And they says, "No, you all right. No problem with us." So this guy, oh, he was going to put me in jail and everything, but he never come back.

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