Chapter 4: “We’ll Meet You at Pitkin’s Corner”

Your father painted Pitkin’s store from the roof of the building diagonally across the Gambier Street/Main Street intersection, on the southeast corner…”—Peter J. Pitkin, August 2009

Pitkin's Corner, 1951 (c) The Artist's Eye, by Janis Johnson

Perhaps the most memorable scene in downtown Mount Vernon in the 1950s was Pitkin’s Corner — the bustling market where regional farmers brought their fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy products and other fresh goods for the kitchens and dining tables of Knox County. Anchored at the corner of South Main and Gambier streets, Pitkin’s Corner for several decades epitomized the daily discourse of community life in small town America.

But it was on Saturdays that the activity in front of Pitkin’s Corner transformed into a parade of local culture. Whether for genuine shopping needs or for show, stepping out for an appearance along Main Street was the thing to do on Saturdays — to pick up stationery at Gelsanliter’s, have a suit fitted at Lemasters’, visit the bra lady at Rudin’s or don hats and white gloves for a genteel lunch at The Alcove, among the abundance of activities along the three-block stretch.

Yet ultimately everyone seemed to congregate at Pitkin’s. Vernon Johnson was enchanted by the cast of characters and what the scene represented to the community. In his most complex image of Mount Vernon in those years, he carefully, and at times humorously, depicted the faces, personalities and spirit of this crossroads of local life. Pitkin’s Corner was his most beloved painting of Mount Vernon. And its own history is itself quite storied, as the watercolor traveled through multiple hands and exhibits over the years.

…..

In just one year, 1951, and in just one painting, Pitkin’s Corner, Vernon Johnson revealed his deeply held values and idyllic views of small-town America. Through everyday realities, Pitkin’s Corner brought together the people and activities that animated normal life. Behind each face and image is a back-story about the vital connections between rural land and Main Street, farms and emerging suburbs, tradition and progress. At the center of everything were both the routine and heartfelt personal connections of people. “

“We’ll meet you at Pitkin’s Corner is the familiar call as the family car pulls into Mount Vernon, Ohio, any Saturday morning,” Dad wrote in a 1951 essay.

“….Across the nation, every small town has a Pitkin’s Corner; a place where men and women of America find enlightenment in sharing their experiences and views, forming opinions, and in fact, carrying out the important business which comprises such a vital part of our everyday living.”

In the book, a Pitkin family member recalls his life as a youth in this small town and provides a first-hand account of Pitkin’s Corner and Main Street Ohio in the 1950s…. 

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