Sweet Solution to Sinister Delinquency

I went to high school near Albany, NY, and reminiscing on my teenage years, I remember Valentine’s Day being filled with friendship and jealousy. You knew the popular kids by the bunches of red, pink, and white carnations in hand, or popping out of their backpacks. Our student council raised funds by selling single carnations for various holidays including Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and the winter holidays. This got me thinking, what did youth of yesteryear do to celebrate the day of love, flowers, and chocolates?

An announcement found in the Teen Town Chatter section of the St. Augustine Record, by Judy Henley February 13, 1956 told me their story:

“The time has arrived and we’re going to have a ball. The big Valentine Ball you’ve heard so much about. The highlight of the affair will be the crowning of the Valentine Sweetheart at 10:15. Be sure and be there because she’s really tops. The long-awaited secret will be revealed…. And those fancy refreshments we’ll have! A big punch bowl filled to the brim and loads of cake, yum-yum.

We do want all the parents to come by and see what a wonderful place Teen Town really is. Of course, all the gang knows it can’t be beat.”

I realized this wasn’t a school function, so how did it come to be? “What is Teen Town? It’s fun—laughter—noise—music. It’s hot dogs—cold drinks—french fries. It’s bedlam—chaperoned—Saturday night. But there is a serious side to Teen Town, not quite so obvious.”

 

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Even parents were invited for this “semi-formal affair will be a colorful occasion and one that parents and Teen Town friends should enjoy,” according to Teen Town Director, Mrs. A. N. Anderson. The major event of the evening was the crowning of the Valentine Sweetheart from finalists Vicky Taylor, Sissy Casto, Marcia Parrish, Connie Bradshaw and Sandy Baker. Much like my student fundraisers, this event was a benefit for the St. Johns County Heart Fund drive.

 

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Feb 16, 1959, the St. Augustine Record announced Miss Sissy Casto as the Teen Town Valentine Sweetheart, seen with her escort Early Wilkins. John Gibson, a member of the Teen-Town student board, was honored to place the crown on our queen of hearts head.

In 1955, the community came together making things happen. Parents were concerned for their teenager’s welfare, especially having no place to go on a Saturday night except for local “juke joints” selling hard liquors to minors, encouraging juvenile delinquency.

I realized this wasn’t a school function, so how did it come to be? “What is Teen Town? It’s fun—laughter—noise—music. It’s hot dogs—cold drinks—french fries. It’s bedlam—chaperoned—Saturday night. But there is a serious side to Teen Town, not quite so obvious.”

 

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A group gathered to raise funds to find a space to clean up and use for their children’s entertainment. The group raised double the original goal amount of $800 when people took an interest in cleaning and freshening up the Civic Center for the project. Known as Teen-Town, the concept became so popular that students asked that the Center stay open over the summer along with the school year, so they have a place to hang-out year-round.

Local businesses even donated items so a full-fledged snack bar was created. Some merchants donated food, and others gave a water cooler, paintings for decoration, booths, and a deep fryer for French fries. A local carpenter put the finishing touches to make what became known as “Hernando’s Hideaway” a success.

In November, 1955, St. Augustine Mayor Dwight L. Brett visited Miami for a subcommittee to investigate juvenile delinquency. He was convinced that St. Augustine had the right idea. Brett said: “I will not comment on this too much, except I would like to say that I represent the number one city in age as far as the country is concerned, and I think we should like to be number one in a lot of these projects, especially one such as juvenile delinquency. I think we are.”

Though he spoke mostly about the city laws that concerned juvenile delinquency, Brett seemed to think Teen-Town was part of the reason St. Augustine was successful in keeping the number of delinquency accounts at a minimum.

Teen-Town did close its doors in the 1960s, mostly due to the fading interest of the local teens. Though some citizens would like to see it come back for teens today, there may be some blocks to that coming to pass including finding a group of people to initiate it.

Though Teen-Town is no longer a part of our community, the fond memories of it still linger in residents who remember dancing the night away with their friends.

Written by Nicole Diehm

 

Sources:

Carroll, John, photographer. “Teen town Valentine Sweetheart is Crowned.” St. Augustine Record, 2/16/1959.

Henley, Judy. “Teen Town Chatter.” St. Augustine Record, 2/13/1956.

McCoy, Kimeko. “Where History Lives: Locals recall high times at Teen Town.” St. Augustine Record, 8/15/2021. Accessed 1/25/2022. https://www.staugustine.com/story/news/history/2021/08/15/st-augustine-history-locals-recall-high-times-teen-town/8128800002/

Pitts, Margaret. “Provides Fun, Wholesome Recreation.” St. Augustine Record, 7/1/1956. P. 6A.

“Mayor’s Report on Teen Town.” St. Augustine Record, 7/1/1956. P. 6A.

“Parents Are Invited to Join in the Valentine Benefit Ball at Teen-Town” St. Augustine Record, 2/13/1956.