In the early 1950s, love-struck teens who wanted to take their significant other on a date headed to one place: Whitney’s Chicken Inn in Castle Rock.
“That was a big deal for prom if your parents let you go that far,” said Millie Grocott, who was born and raised in Longview.
“That was an experience in those days — to go 11 miles to Castle Rock with your date,” said her husband, Dave Grocott, who’s spent the majority of his life in Longview. He was born in Ryderwood, which was founded as a logging town by the Long-Bell Lumber Co.
When the couple began dating in 1951, they’d head to the Castle Rock eatery for pan-fried chicken. Or to Ferguson’s Triple X (XXX), a Longview hamburger joint that served sodas and milkshakes on platters attached to car windows. It was not uncommon for the Grocotts to dine on a burger after seeing a movie at the drive-in theater, which was located at site where The Home Depot is today.
On a typical day, though, Commerce Avenue was the social hub of the town.
“That was the center of Longview, very definitely,” Millie said.
The Grocotts remember Longview as a place where everyone knew everyone, and meeting up with friends was as easy as strolling among the shops that dotted Commerce Avenue.
“It’s difficult for us at our age to accept some of the changes (to the town) because we can look back and say, ‘This is the way it was,’ ” Dave said.
Longview isn’t at fault for all of those changes, however. The Grocotts said culture as a whole has shifted since they were young. Technology has replaced face-to-face encounters on city streets with social interaction through phones or computers.
Dave said he hopes a sense of community is re-established someday.
“There’s nothing more constant than change, and we’re going through that,” Dave said. “I’ve longed for some of the more closely connected parts of Longview.”
Still, the couple said they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Dave said Portland traffic is a good reminder of why they enjoy living in a small community.
Millie said Longview was a good place to grow up. She was raised by a mill worker in the Highlands neighborhood, which she said was significantly different than it is today and didn’t have a noticeable drug problem. One of her most significant memories, however, is going to grade school during World War II, when Longview’s population surged.
“A lot of people were moving in,” she said, explaining that the increased population led to classes of at least 40 students. “Classes were packed because of the war industry, and people were coming in for the jobs.”
When young men were drafted to the war, many of the mill jobs became vacant. “People came in to fill those jobs because industry had to be kept going,” she said.
Dave said that during the war his dad became an air raid warden, and he was a junior air raid warden. During blackouts — which were required as a precaution against air raids by Japanese bombers — the pair walked around town, ensuring that no light was showing.
“It was scary,” Millie recalled. “I remember headlines in the paper — ‘War breaks out.’ I think the letters were in black. My parents were extremely distressed at what was happening.”
Millie and Dave met when Millie was 5 years old. She thought he was “sweet and so polite,” she said with a grin. The pair began dating in 1951 and will have been married 63 years this month.
The couple has stayed in Longview their entire lives, except for a short stint in Bellingham while Dave was in college. Millie was a homemaker, and Dave was a principal in the Longview School District for 30 years.
“We’re locals through and through,” Dave said.
Despite the changes the couple has seen over the years, they said they’re optimistic about Longview’s future, and they’re glad they’ve stayed.
“There’s so much good here,” Millie said. “I just really want to see it developed and continue to enjoy that.”