Stop 73: The 1945 Main Street Cleaners
The longest continuously-operated business at the same location in Dade City as of 1993, Dade City depended upon the Main Street Cleaners at 207 Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly East Main Avenue, Dade City). When author Madonna Wise was researching her 2014 book on Dade City history, numerous people asked her to to be sure and include the story of the Main Street Cleaners.
Owned and operated by George Rawls from 1946, Rawls was born in Amsterdam, Georgia and later enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was a Seaman 2nd Class during World War II and learned the intricacies of the clothes presser business in the U.S. Navy. In fact, he was working at the Naval Hospital in Honolulu during the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor. His exacting skills in the dry-cleaning arena excelled and town folk regularly dropped off their drycleaning and pressing at the Dade City business.
George was wed in 1935, to a local girl, Maggie Lee Thompson who moved to Dade City from Boston, Georgia when she was eleven. They have two daughters, Amye and Anita.
A second extraordinary citizen, James Irvin arrived in Dade City from Georgia in 1925. He spent some time at Ramsey’s Gulf Service Station and then joined his brother-in-law, George Washington Rawls at the legendary “Main Street Cleaners.”
Irvin married Lucille Thompson in 1935 and they had three children, Robert, Aronia, and Patricia.
A person who responded when he saw a need, Dade City benefitted from 55 years of community service from Irvin. He said that Odell Mickens, educator and later commissioner, encouraged him to learn about leadership in scouting. “We met on many nights in Webster for the training meetings,” said Irvin. Involved for eighteen years, Irvin chartered the first African-American Boy Scout Troop in Florida. He also contributed to the School Aid Club which generated funds for Black schools. He loved to recall the turkey, ham, and radio raffles for proceeds that went to the Pasco County School Board to provide equipment and materials for Black schools. “We were able to outfit our first home economics classroom,” recalled Irvin.
A member of the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in 1927, Irvin later served as a deacon. Also active in Dade City’s Little League and known throughout the state, he was chosen to officiate at the League’s World Series. He mentored many Dade City athletes into adulthood. He was an active member of the Dade City’s Community Alliance Panel which worked on improving race relations.
Rawls passed away in 1987 and Irvin in 1993. Ultimately the widows of these two men who were sisters, Lucille Thompson Irvin and Maggie Lee Rawls took over the Main Street Cleaners operation for several years. Maggie was the seamstress of the Cleaners over time as well. Other long-time employees were Raymond “R.C.” Graham, Ruby Kimble, and Geraldine Knight.
Not surprising at the November 9, 1993 meeting of the city commission, Resolution 495 brought about the renaming of the civic center at the Naomi Jones Park as the James Irvin Center. A trip down Highway 52, just west out of Dade City, will also reveal that the James Irvin School proudly displays his name.
A legacy remains as many reminisce that you could count on being greeted by George and Maggie Rawls as well as James and Lucille Irvin, a model of welcoming practiced by merchants who yet serve the community.