Rain fell softly late Saturday morning in the Fourth Ward. But behind the clouds, an undercurrent of July heat and humidity was biding its time before it broke through.
For most of the dozen-and-a-half or so residents of the city’s Fourth Ward neighborhood who coordinated neighborhood yard sales Friday and Saturday, the soupy, rainy morning seemed to be slowing customer traffic.
In one garage, Fourth Ward resident Kay Deupree, a member of the Fourth Ward’s Neighborhood Action Team, was in the midst of selling a circa-1950s bed frame to an antiques collector.
The man gave Deupree a $5 bill, even though she put a sign above the garage door that read: “Every Thing $1.” He told Deupree to keep the change.
Deupree and others from the action group were trying to use the yard sales this weekend to coax people from the neighborhood—and other parts of the city—to come out and visit the Fourth Ward.
Deupree said her group began advertising the planned Fourth Ward yard sales, the first in the 20 years she’s lived in the neighborhood, at a Janesville Police Department cookout in Janesville earlier this year.
At the cookout, the group asked locals to share their favorite memories of the Fourth Ward.
“A lot of people shared memories of the Fourth Ward Park. Childhood memories,” Deupree said.
“We’re trying to figure out with events like the yard sales how we can build on those old memories, to make some memories that are more of a current thing. Not just remembrances of the ‘good old days.’”
The rainy start to the day didn’t dissuade 15-year-old South Franklin Street resident Tracey Kessler from running the lemonade stand she set up. For 25 cents, thirsty neighbors and yard sale patrons could get a translucent, green Solo cup full of either regular lemonade—or the sweet-sour, pink kind.
Kessler’s lemonade stand might have been a throwback to earlier times in the Fourth Ward.
But it’s also a sign, one neighbor said, of some more recent changes in the neighborhood, one that has been dogged at times by a reputation for violent crime, drug and gang activity, and absentee landlords.
“There’s some good apples here, but yeah, there’s been some bad apples, and there’s been some weeds here,” longtime Fourth Ward resident Charles Young said.
Young had stopped by to check out a neighbor’s yard sale. He was talking about the Fourth Ward’s social structure—not horticulture.
He was referring, in part, to news of a man who had been arrested in the Fourth Ward on the Fourth of July after police say the man shot a gun in the air three times as he was running from officers.
“The thing is, if you take care of your orchard and your garden, you end up with good things taking root. People feel better, they do better. Lemonade stands. Yard sales. Basketball in the park. You get more good apples than bad growing, and the weeds don’t spread as much.”
Young, a self-professed soul food cook who friends and neighbors know by the nickname “Cheerio,” has lived in the Fourth Ward off and on since he was 8 years old. He’s now 39.
In his younger days, Young said he had been one of the neighborhood “weeds”—at least in his behavior. He said he had run-ins with police and that he has been arrested.
He also moved to the Fourth Ward at a time when he, his mother and his siblings comprised one of just a few black families who lived in the neighborhood.
“I was little, but I was here at a time when the KKK was still really around town, back in the day when Geraldo Rivera got his nose broken,” Young said. “I got harassed some, knocked around by grown men because I was a little black kid in town.”
Young said that’s changing. He thinks the Fourth Ward is far more culturally and racially diverse than when he was a boy. He estimates some places have a population of “about 85% minority,” and he thinks the neighborhood overall is better for it.
“If you’re black or Hispanic or Cambodian and you’re here, you’re more recognized as part of the neighborhood. Maybe if you live here now, whoever you are, your blood is red just like the rest of everybody. People are more colorblind here, and it’s become a little bit different Janesville. It seems more like that now,” Young said.
Perhaps that kind of conversation is a little too heavy for a Saturday yard sale, but Deupree said such conversations might be eye-openers for Janesville “longtimers” with ingrained views of the Fourth Ward. Deupree and her husband, Neil Deupree, who are both white, said they moved to the Fourth Ward in 1997 specifically because they wanted to live in a neighborhood that was more diverse.
She said that having functions such as a neighborhood-wide garage sale are small ways Fourth Ward residents can reach out to the broader Janesville community.
Deupree could tell when yard sale browsers showed up that many were from outside the Fourth Ward. Either they had a map advertising the yard sale’s locations or they asked Deupree for maps her group had made.
“Somebody just called and said they wanted to come to the yard sales, but they didn’t know their way around Janesville’s west side. They needed directions. That is exactly what we wanted to happen today,” Deupree said.