The old store that sits at the corner of Union Hill Road and Highway 20 was once the epicenter of Buffington, a thriving farm community that grew up in the area where Fort Buffington once was situated.
Fort Buffington was constructed in 1837 to be used by the federal government as a stockade for the removal of the Cherokee Native Americans who were living in the county at that time.
Capt. Ezekiel L. Buffington was in charge of the project of building the fort. The Cherokee were held there before being forced along the “Trail of Tears.”
The community still was called Fort Buffington in the late 1800s, and the Fort Buffington Post Office was located in Bell’s Store in the 1940s.
Eventually, the name of the community became simply Buffington.
Bell’s Store was built by the E.M. Bell family. W.F. Bell II reminisces in the book, “Buffington and Macedonia in Days Gone By,” about the store where he grew up. He tells of the customers sitting around the coal heater talking about the events of time, detailing a way of life that is mostly forgotten.
The old building that was constructed in 1935 as the community began to emerge from the Great Depression once more took a position of prominence for the surrounding residents in recent years.
For the last few years the old building has housed Cherokee Market and lately Scott’s Barbecue has been at the site for customers in the parking lot.
But now progress with a capital “P” is threatening to remove it forever.
As we whiz about our busy lives each day, rushing from work to ball practice, from schools to pick up kids to the store to get something for dinner, we often pass these historic landmarks that are reminders of our past in Cherokee County.
All too often, though, we are too busy to notice those old stores or homes or buildings that dot the roadsides and crossroads of major highways and rural back roads alike.
After a while, we don’t even see them anymore; they are just a part of the shifting, changing landscape of our community.
But when they are gone, they can never be reclaimed, and they represent something so precious: our past.
When word came that Bell’s Store was threatened by the wrecking ball to make way for a Flash Foods convenience store, the response was swift and strong.
Neighbors who had grown to love Cherokee Market and its eclectic blend of fresh produce, heritage meats and warm customer service were up in arms. Petitions were signed, politicians were contacted and meetings were attended.
But at the end of the day, the fate of the store could not be stayed. Now, it has become a matter of trying to save the store by moving it to another site. And even hope for that is starting to fade.
The new owners of the property are already applying for a demolition permit to tear the landmark structure down. County commissioners delayed the execution for three more months in February, but it seems they will not extend the moratorium on historic structures again, so the building must be moved soon if it is to be saved.
Various plans for sites in the area to move the structure have fallen through, and now it is on a wish and a prayer that the Cherokee Historical Society is hoping someone will come forward to offer a location to save the historic building.
Perhaps some may wonder why a little old store building on the side of the highway is worth saving, but those old general stores scattered throughout the county at various crossroads offer some of the best glimpses of our past.
They were the life-blood of the communities, the gathering spot, the place to get farm tools and fabric and tobacco and sugar and flour and soap and all the needs for daily life.
They remind us of where we come from and, in some way, of where we are going. They give our community depth and meaning.
I hope someone will come forward and offer a place to move Bell’s Store before the bulldozers show up. I hope against hope that a person in the Buffington area might offer a plan. The Cherokee Historical Society can be reached at (770) 345-3288 for those who want to help.
Our history is disappearing too fast. Soon it will be gone if we don’t do something to preserve it. And that will be sad for all of us.
Rebecca Johnston is editor of The Cherokee Tribune.