I often ponder on the differences in the actions and language of individuals today and in times past. The new year seems to have piled up more and more differences. When I was a teen in church youth group, we were taught that if neighbors needed assistance and we could make a difference in their lives, we were obligated as Christians to do that.
We raked and mowed yards. We painted porch floors and swings (I can’t attest to the professionalism, but the neighbors we helped didn’t complain). I am saddened when we point fingers at those who are “trying” and with a little assistance could “make it” much better. What happened to the expression, “Can we lend a hand?”
We often say that we’d like the town to “look better” and wonder why “Somebody” doesn’t do something. When did each of us not become a “Somebody” to help our neighbors? We’ve had at least two families to purchase historical homes and continue to work to restore them. That is one of the most difficult jobs anyone can do. Trust me. Vernon and I have done that three times. We certainly didn’t do it alone. We had friends and family who jumped in to help.
Of course, most of you know, I’m speaking of the ole Hotel (where the Higgins and Rainwater families lived for many years. For several years, the building fell into disrepair). I can’t count the number of times townspeople stated they wished someone would buy and restore it. Well, a young family did. The Cards invested a great deal of money and labor in clean-up (and if you’d seen the inside you’d be amazed at the hundred or so bags of trash).
That happened until they received a work-stoppage order for around three months. One of our mayors and council changed the zoning of the first block of E. Main which includes four historic homes to heavy commercial. The young couple were not allowed to carry out the 50 or 60 large trash bags upon penalty of heavy fines.
In November, they received permission to begin some work but only recently got the remainder of required permits. Most of the back, which was not original part of the building, is mostly knocked down. Now, their industrial dumpster is filled to the brim, but the rain has prevented the removal and exchange for an empty dumpster.
Some of us noted he has been work alone (a tough job, alone). I asked about his wife. He related that they are expecting a new baby and her pregnancy is in distress, and her doctor ordered bed rest.
They have been on an uphill battle picking up the trash. A minister from California, who once lived in E’ton, mailed me a check to use for them after they were legally allowed to begin work again.
I found a couple of guys to assist in cleaning up the back trash, but they are now held up until the dumpster can be changed out. This young couple has elaborate, do-able plans which they’ve discussed in depth with an engineer. Meanwhile, the cold, rainy weather and family health problems have put a heavy burden on their shoulders.
City hall noted at the last meeting that it gets several calls each day from people who don’t think they should do anything to clean up their property until the Hotel clean-up or renovation is complete. Come on, guys, and give this couple a break. They have worked their hearts out for their new home. What about a helping hand policy?
Some of the same is true of the young man’s parents who purchased the Whalen House on the corner. Although both these historical buildings were slated for demolition, the father-son combo have made great strides considering the original conditions. The siding on the Whalen House must be taken off before the boards beneath can be replaced.
The city offered to salvage some of the old lumber from houses being demolished but that never came to pass, and new lumber must be ordered. Outside painting was begun but peeled due to the rain and cold temperature. Paint needs a certain temperature to adhere adequately so that has to cease until temperatures rise.
The extra cars at their back have been sold or traded and are being hauled away, but some remain for a bit as the new owner’s wife was hospitalized. Although the weather is not conducive to outside work as yet, the couple has done a beautiful job of remodeling their upstairs living quarters-a massive undertaking if you had ever visited inside.
Meanwhile, a new Dollar Store for the city is in still in the works and slated to be built from Fox Alley along Railroad St (L.T. Todd Hwy) and back as far as the property line of the lone house on Robinson behind the Dollar Store area. One of the problems that has arisen is that this eliminates a parking place for the homeowners.
My grandfather built that house many years ago, and he and my grandmother lived there until they passed. Between them and where Fox Alley exits on Robinson was a house I remember where two beautiful EHS students — Marilyn and Carolyn — lived with their mom.
On the other side, were two buildings. One was called the Brown Boarding House with about seven steps that dropped sharply off the sidewalk to get to the porch where I recall an old man often sat. On the corner was a grocery story run by several families at different times. It was Gribble’s Market and later Gamblin (Durwood)’s Grocery and later an upholstery shop run by Jim Hick’s dad. At this time, on the entire two block area, there are only the Card’s (at the Whalen Boarding House) on one side of Fox Alley and the new owners (of what was once my grandparents’ house) and Mt. Zion Baptist Church (which sits alone with its annex on this 2nd Robinson St. block).
My grandfather, Bill Cothran, was a councilman several decades ago. He worked for East Diamond, ran a farm, and built houses with his three sons-Manor, Paul & my dad Lig. I never remember my council grandfather talking about the workings of government (or the nonworking system we seem to have in this country for decades). I only know that a few years ago when E’ton had no one who desired to run for council, Vernon decided that the job was a civic duty and asked if I would be willing to accept the responsibility of running for council if he did.
He said he taught about civic responsibility for 30 years and thought it was our turn (and actually each person’s duty to assist). I was a teacher like Vernon for many years, but I’m now more of a history nut who has fought for salvaging what little is left of our town history. I held a strong belief we should remember that almost half our population in 1919 died from the Spanish Flu. Thanks to many volunteers, we now have a memorial to those victims in Oakwood.
Councilwoman Barbara Ann Shelton had a wish fulfilled for steps going down into Oakwood. Each of us wanted a council that acted civil in meetings with no loud or angry outbursts. This city has had more than its share. Surprisingly, for two years I don’t remember one major disagreement, only calm discussions and agreements.
Could we have done more? Probably, but the six of us came into a city plagued with debt. Many people do not realize how many debts were paid, one at a time. Since few previous records remained after one administration, we have not been able to have an adequate audit (even up to today). This meant we could not apply for certain grants.
We did, however, begin negotiations with a new business which will be on Flat Creek Rd. And instead of demolishing a historic black church next to the J.W. Million property, we donated the land and property to the incorporation of the Purple Waves Preservation Group to be renovated for a museum and meeting area. Most people voiced concerns stating the building was too far gone. Yet, thanks to a dream and hard, consistent workers from the county sheriff’s department, the outside is finished including a brand new roof and very expensive doors and windows.
The inside is clean and has a new floor and in the process of getting a new coat of paint over the graffiti. The heavy, old bell which rang every Sunday morning is back in its spot, and the historical baptistry and altar are getting refurbished. It’s amazing what a group of people can do if they work on their dream. Jerry and his guys are amazing at helping dreams come true. These guys apply their genius and labor throughout the county to get things done that small cities could never afford.
Several burned out and abandoned houses have been demolished and removed by his crew. At almost every council meeting, members are asked to look at and discuss vacant houses with roofs fallen in and doors and windows missing. Most have been unlivable for decades with some owners donating their land to the city.
At the next council meeting, we will, as usual, get a new list. Anyone who objects (or doesn’t) is welcome at any meeting (if remaining even-tempered). This will be the first instance the council will be asked to make a judgment about taking legal steps to be able to demolish occupied homes due to the appearance of their yards. One owner is a retired city employee with cancer and on dialysis. The other is a disabled veteran who has done odd jobs for almost everyone in the city at little charge.
Call me irresponsible for my civic duty, but this becomes a moral issue to me. It goes back to basic decency and helping our neighbors. I can help clean a yard or stack bricks at the back of the Hotel or paint a house. I have no vendetta. I’m as open in council as in this column.
I may not know all my neighbors, but I’m willing to lend a hand. Taking away a man’s home without first helping with his problem crosses a line for me. These are the individuals for whom I first put my bonnet in the ring. And I actually do consider myself having a responsible concern for my community. But I believe each individual is important in that community.