Today we watched as they finally tore down the Oak Street Market. It had sat vacant and vandalized for some time, and last year it was decided that it should be torn down and replaced with a community garden. Teghan enjoyed watching the demolition.That type of chaos is right up her alley, and if it hadn’t been weird we would have hung out watching a lot longer. Few things hold her attention like watching a giant mess in the making.
It was both necessary and sad. I suspect many WMU alumni experienced this market through underage alcohol purchases, or during nights that took a very wrong turn. But like most old buildings, it had a long history in the community; and a slightly more glorious past. I always wonder about the history of old buildings. I seek out stories of origin- who built it and why. I want to know their whole story, from beginning to end. But especially the beginning.
The Oak Street Market first opened in 1901, operating as The J.C. Ball Grocery. It was owned by J.C. Ball until 1947. Jacob Ball and his wife Maude lived in a few Vine neighborhood homes before finally building a permanent residence around the corner from their grocery store. They would raise their two children in that home around the corner, and remained there the rest of their lives. Maude passed away in 1968, Jacob in 1971.
Perhaps I care more about the Oak Street Market because we are living in Jacob and Maude’s home. Every time we walk or drive past, I don’t even see the Oak Street Market. I see J.C. Ball’s Grocery. I imagine what they put into that place and what their lives must have been like. The same way I think about how many times their family walked up and down the same stairs my family walks every day.
It forces me to think about time in a new way. Sometimes it makes me think about ghosts. We have never felt anything strange here- but if we ever do, I guess I know who my number one suspects will be. It doesn’t matter. Just knowing their story means they exist here. Not in a frightening way; it’s a kind of haunting that has nothing to do with the paranormal. I don’t make up the guest bed for them, set extra places for dinner, or call them by name. They only exist as a memory in our shared spaces. I hardly think of them at all.
I cannot complain that the market is gone. It didn’t have enough meaning, architecture, or history for anyone to save it. I’m glad we saw it go- especially for the joy it brought Teghan. There’s no question that the destruction was the highlight of her day. But I am a little sad that the reminder is gone. I suppose from now on I will pass by and think about what used to be there. It was a marker of another time, and soon no one will even remember.
Today this neighborhood experienced a tangible moment of time passing. And Jacob Ball’s market is now just another ghost that will only exist for those who bother to look for it.