Embellished and enhanced by the imagination of the storytellers, and colored by decades of changes in the landscape, the stories take on new life with each new generation.
This week, May 4 to be exact, marks the centennial of an event that changed the face of Woodstock in 1913, giving the northernmost block of the town an image that would survive until the present day.
Some background to the story is necessary. Woodstock’s early settlers, beginning in the 1830s, seldom built brick structures. Following the Civil War and the arrival of the railroad, the town began to take shape and build up around the depot and rails.
Most of the homes — and some businesses — were constructed of wood. The J.H. Johnston home, a large two-story wood frame house to accommodate the Johnstons and their 10 children, was near the intersection of Main Street, Rope Mill Road, and the railroad crossing.
Next door, to the south, was the Woodstock Baptist Church, also a wood frame edifice. It had been built after the congregation, called Enon Baptist Church, moved their old building in 1879 from its former location at the site of today’s Enon Cemetery across Main Street from the government annex north of town.
The old building, moved to stand in the vicinity of today’s large parking lot on Towne Lake Parkway just off Main, was used for a number of years, but the congregation built a pretty new sanctuary facing Main Street in 1891, having changed the name of the church from Enon to Woodstock Baptist Church in 1884.
A bit more background is needed here. Electrification had not yet reached the Southland and neither had modern firefighting methods and equipment. Fires were common.
The town was still recovering from the loss of a major business in a fire just the year before, and the new structure to replace the destroyed Perkinson & McAfee General Mercantile Company store was nearing completion.
Fires had to be fought by volunteers, mostly bucket brigade, and efforts were usually directed to protecting adjacent structures. Those efforts failed on that fateful night in May.
These words from the minutes of the Baptist church state the facts. “On Sunday night, May 4, 1913, the dwelling house of Mr. J.H. Johnston caught on fire at 8:00 and the Baptist Church house caught from that building and was burned down saving only the seats and Bible.”
The “once-upon-a-time” of the story lies in the origin of the fire. According to family reports, one of the Johnston “boys” came home in the evening, slightly inebriated, and turned over a kerosene lamp. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As far as can be determined, rebuilding of both structures began immediately and matching brick was used so that the two complement each other.
From the ashes were born these twin buildings, residing side by side through the decades, landmarks attesting to the civic pride and preservation efforts of citizens and government officials.
One little footnote might be of interest to some. The Johnston family was very active in the Methodist Church, a fact which made no difference as the two “families” resided as friends throughout their decades as neighbors.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.