Theater driving an interest in Woodstock history
by Juanita Hughes
August 06, 2013 09:32 PM | 1471 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
For many years in Woodstock, the theater company now known as Elm Street operated west of town as the Towne Lake Arts Center.

With their move into quarters in the larger auditorium previously occupied by Woodstock First Baptist and Woodstock Community Church, the name was changed to reflect their association with the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.

With Director Gay Grooms at the helm from the beginning, success has been indisputable.

From the outside looking in, it seems to operate like a well-tuned, well-oiled, well-maintained piece of polished machinery. Whatever happens behind the “scenes” yields productions that earn rave reviews. While there may be some professionals involved, there are also surely quite a few local aspiring actors and actresses, dancers and singers, as well as folks who love to tinker with costumes and staging and lighting and marketing.

I don’t speak from experience. I never had a speaking part or a production chore in any play, at school or otherwise. In fact, my only memory of being on stage at my elementary school was as a butterfly decked out in an orange crepe paper costume with an assortment of other colorful crepe-paper-clothed creatures.

Otherwise, as school plays went, I was in the audience. I probably saw dozens of movies before I ever attended a live stage play in a theater or church or outdoor arena. It was then that I realized that nothing on a theater or TV screen could rival live entertainment.

Since Elm Street came to town, there is always something to be experienced on stage, something for everyone. In the past year alone, audiences have enjoyed “Snow White”, “Alice in Wonderland,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “Nunsens.”

“Nunsense” is back again (don’t miss it, Aug. 9, 11, 16, 17, 18), but following that, in September, there will be a performance never seen before.

Elm Street, with all its volunteers and directors, its actors and actresses, its set builders and lighting people, costumer designers, accompanists, and its go-fers, will present for its hometown audience, “Mizz Edna Drives on Main”

The story is based on an anecdote from Woodstock’s past. “Mizz Edna” was Edna McCleskey Haney, and is reported to be the first woman to drive a car in Woodstock. The Haney name can be found on page after page of Woodstock’s history, dating back to settlement of the area in the 1830s.

Much of the property around Enon Cemetery and the Woodstock Knoll development near Haney Road was owned and occupied by Haney families. Edna herself was a McCleskey from Cobb County. Her husband was Dave Haney, and around 1904 they built the house known today as the Haney House at 8256 Main Street, a true treasure, which is now for sale.

The little town was booming at that time. Beautiful homes were springing up. New businesses were opening. Churches were growing. A new public school was organized.

Dave and one of his neighbors, W. D. Bozeman, were partners in the Haney-Bozeman Mercantile Company. They were cotton brokers as well, and owned at least one of several warehouses situated around town.

A few men were giving up horse-trading and blacksmithing to tinker with horseless carriages. A caption with a 1906 photo of Linton Dean and James Boring states that the automobile they are driving was one of the first automobiles in Woodstock.

I wonder what women thought about cars then. They probably were cooking up ideas about getting rid of the horses and tearing down the stable.

But not many years later, Mizz Edna, an early steel magnolia, surely had other thoughts. She may have been the one who had been driving the wagon to visit neighbors or go to church, and maybe longer trips, to Marietta and Canton.

She could see the advantages of being in charge herself, rather than depending on a horse to get her to her destination. Can you imagine in today’s culture, streets and highways where only men are driving? And without directions?

While Preservation Woodstock members have long hoped for production of a play focused on Woodstock’s history, it took collaboration with Elm Street to make hope become reality. As a follow-up to Mizz Edna, Preservation Woodstock will host an exhibit titled “Women in Woodstock’s History” at the Woodstock Public Library in November.

Seven women, including Edna, will be featured. Tentative plans also include art work and a wax museum program by Woodstock Elementary students.

Thanks, Mizz Edna, for leading the way. And thanks, Elm Street, for telling the story.

Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian.+

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