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Special memories of Newtown

For those who grew up there, the neighborhood of Newtown in Portsmouth near the Navy Yard was a special place.

Houses were close together, and everybody knew everybody. Streets had presidential names like Madison, Harrison, Lincoln and Jefferson. Kids had nicknames like Mouse, Cobble, Goose, Bomber, Tiger and even Jug Headquarters. More than a few were nicknamed Pookie.

David George Jr. was one of those called Pookie. He’s been a Western Branch resident for about 20 years now, but he’s never forgotten his old neighborhood just a few miles away. It’s gone now, torn down for an industrial park, but the memories still remain.

“My love is for my old neighborhood,” said George, who has written many of his memories and done loads of research on Newtown, its history and its residents.

The 90-year-old is currently battling cancer for the second time. He lived a full life after his Newtown childhood — a stint in the Army, a career as a traveling salesman, working at Fort Monroe and then retiring from Shared Hospital Services. He was married to Barbara Jean and had three children, David III, Janis and Barry.

Throughout his life, though, he still thinks often about Newtown and the friends he made there.

“I loved my old neighborhood, and I love the old people,” he said.

Newtown started on the outskirts of the Navy Yard and, at its heyday in the 1940s, numbered some 70 square blocks, 1,100 homes and 61 businesses, according to George’s research on the 1940 census.
The families there didn’t have much, especially when George was growing up.

“We were children of the Great Depression,” George said. “I was born in ’28. We didn’t have anything but whatever you had, you shared and shared equally. We were all in the same boat.”

He can tell stories about Newtown for hours — kids hanging around at Bray’s Pharmacy, riding their bicycles across the city to swim in the creek, even getting hauled down to the police station for teenaged antics.

“I don’t think anybody can value it unless you went through it,” George said.

George loved, and missed, Newtown so much that in 1979, he and a group of other Newtown natives formed a committee to host a reunion. The two-day affair took place in June 1980 and had more than 500 guests at a Saturday evening dinner and dance.

“That was the highlight of my life,” George said. “We gave (Jimmy Bray) and Benny Goldlbatt, who owned the other drugstore, awards for putting up with us over the years.”

The committee hoped to have another reunion, but after five years had passed and they started drawing up a list, more than 40 of the original attendees had died.

“I didn’t have the heart to do it without them,” George said.

George is easily one of the oldest surviving natives of Newtown, and he takes his role as historian seriously. Shelves at his home off Bruce Road are filled with notebooks with records, research and memories about Newtown. Photos of old neighborhood sports teams are meticulously labeled. There’s a map of the neighborhood on graphing paper and lists of all the names — and nicknames — he can remember.

He gets most of his material from the history room at the library and hopes his notebooks will be donated there after he’s gone.

“I just love it,” he said. “I’m 90 years old, and I can’t get out of my mind the happy times that we all had.”