IRH - Atkinson's Pool Room

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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IRH - Atkinson's Pool Room

Postby David » Tue June 20, 2017, 8:36 pm

Atkinson's Pool Room
by Russ Lancaster
In the 1950's, if you were a teen aged boy, there was a rite of passage you were afforded whether rich or poor and more importantly, you could go through this ritual of becoming a man even before obtaining a driver's license. So, somewhere between the ages of 14 - 16, a friend or acquaintance of yours would come to you and say, "Let's go to the pool room".
It was a question you had known would come but never gave much thought to. It could come from your best friend or just another guy. That was part of the thrill. An invitation by a peer to go to a place your parents had warned you about. A forbidden fruit that could no more be denied than when Eve was first tempted. You were afraid to take the bait but ashamed to refuse. You went.
Before reading further, rest assured that the parents' fear of your going there was no more warranted than your expectation of what you really expected to be there. You kept this a secret from you parents but only to appease them. There was nothing there to be feared.
Atkinsons was located on Main Street between the railroad tracks and Raleigh street with an innocent "beauty parlor" on one side and Graham's Feed and Seed on the other. There was also a back entrance off a dirt road that ran behind all the businesses on that side of Main Street down to the train station. Both men and boys alike used the back entrance by day and only the bravest men used the Main Street entrance even by night. Such a mysterious place this was.
My first visit came at the invitation of a classmate of mine, Sidney Merchant. We were neither good friends nor did we even share the same values. But it was MY invitation. It came in the first semester of 10th grade when we were both 15. That fall day, as we were leaving school, he and I met by chance and he invited me to go with him. He had been there before and needed someone to go with him. It was a place you went with someone, not alone. Unless you were an adult.
We walked down and entered the back way described above. It was a gigantic, dimly lit, open room with huge chairs, a wooden floor, spittoons and a few steam radiators hissing out damp heat. There were racks of pool sticks along each wall, chalk dispensers for clammy hands, hanging totes to keep track of your games and four full sized Brunswick pool tables with leather pockets. Above each table there was a special hooded light designed to light the only the pool table without infringing on the surrounding dimness.
There were mostly men at the front two tables, the third was empty and Sidney and I soon occupied the fourth table at the back of the room. Mr. Atkinson walked down where we were to rack the balls and start our count of games (a dime each at that time, loser pays all).
Mr. Atkinson was of short stature and stooped slightly forward. His white hair was mostly covered by his ever present baseball cap and sensing my fear, soon put me to ease with his kind and friendly voice. Then came my first shock.
Sidney asked me if I knew how to play pool. Duh! How could I know such a thing? I had never even seen a pool table before that day. But, he gave me the basic rules on how to play "eight ball", the most popular game of the times and I was soon playing, though not very well. This was destined to be a short day because I only had 40 cents, enough for 3 games and a 6 cent Dr. Pepper soft drink. My basic instructions were how NOT to tear the velvet cover of the table and how NOT to bring attention to myself. I learned fast and well.
The adults kept away from us and the few conversations we could hear dealt with sports. Mostly baseball back in those times as it was indeed America's pastime. In fact, Mr. Atkinson usually had the big old radio turned on the the Mutual Broadcasting System game of the day. There is another story there that will be posted here one day. Anyway, as I was saying, the adults conversations were just about the same as ours except they were much better informed. A few kids our age wandered in before we left and they were quite amused at how badly I played but play I had and I had passed the ritual with no visible harmful affects. I never told my Mom until this year (42 years after the incident) that I had been there. She might read this some day and I like to keep no secrets from her (especially those she will find out anyway).
So the mystery of Atkinson's Pool Room was solved. There was no mystery except in our own minds in our own small town in America in the 1950's. Life should be so easy now as we approach the year 2000. The kids of today and their parents should have no worry worse than that of the innocent but talked about pool room in Hamlet NC in the fifties.
Mr. Atkinson would later retire somewhere in the late seventies or early eighties and his son, Bobby would take over the business. He turned the front area into a bar (there was no beer served there when his Dad ran the business). But he left the pool room area itself much like it had been for decades before.
**update** 1999: I returned to Hamlet in June of '99 to revisit some of the places I write about, Atkinson's Pool Room being one of them. It still exists but no longer is a pool room. The magnificent tables old Hill Atkinson had brought to Hamlet are no longer there to be enjoyed. The high back old chairs, the chalk containers, the radiators, the overhead lamps.... all are gone. This place is now a bar with a few high tech games and pinball machines. The folks that go there now will have to remember it as it once was if they were lucky enough to have been there when Hill Atkinson was around. It just isn't the same anymore......
But, I Remember Hamlet..... and I remember Atkinson's Pool Room as it was in its glory. .

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Re: IRH - Atkinson's Pool Room

Postby sigmore » Wed June 21, 2017, 4:18 pm

I remember it back then when the feed and seed place was right beside it too. I don't remember how old I was but I think my uncle, Mike Campbell took me in there a couple of times. I remember also when it was probably the only pool room with no pool tables.

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