Present often repeats stories of the past
by Juanita Hughes, columnist
March 26, 2014 12:00 AM | 1038 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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In planning for the Woodstock Public Library’s 50th anniversary, we’ve looked through some old scrapbooks and newspapers to get a sense of the Woodstock of the 1960s. Some of the headlines in the Woodstock Star confirm that “history repeats itself.”

The City Council was struggling with streets, water, parking and taxes, just like today. There was a smattering of crime. A medical facility was in the works, and there was talk of major highways in the future. South Cherokee Recreation Association was off to a running start, pun intended.

The business district, comprising about three blocks, had few-to-none empty storefronts. Life was good, and destined to get better with the opening of a public library.

In a town that boasted a population of around 800, there was bound to be some unforgettable characters. When I begin to walk through my memories and listen to natives talk about characters before my time, it’s obvious that these folks could have been prominent characters in any work described as Southern Literature.

There was Miss Iris Dobbs who lived across the branch behind the Depot. Old-timers say she would come motoring out of Wheeler Street and East Main onto Main Street, bouncing over the railroad tracks, never looking in either direction.

It wasn’t that she was reckless (she was probably wreck-less as well), it’s just that there weren’t many cars, and most drivers around town knew to watch for her.

Claude Chandler was another familiar sight. His home on South Main Street near Dupree Road was a nice little walk uptown, but he also continued to drive around town. He had a little encounter with a freight train at the cemetery crossing once. He was not injured, and he insisted the train didn’t blow its whistle else he would have heard it.

Some images are in our mind’s eye only. There’s Mr. Howard, who ran the jewelry store in the old post office. He was slightly stooped, and shuffled when he walked. Louella McDonald always wore a hat and could be seen walking to her jobs in homes in town.

And there’s Miss Carrie Rusk, hiding her smile behind a handkerchief, and her sister, Emma Barnes, not hiding her smile, the sweetest one I ever saw! You were liable to see Mr. Joe Johnston (referred to by many as Uncle Joe) hiding out at Dean’s Store or in his office in the Johnston Building, puffing away on his cigar.

The clerks in the stores up and down the street seemed never to change. Miss Mag Rusk and Clara Ragsdale were behind the counter at Dawson’s Department Store where George Parr (married to Sara Dawson) was supposed to be in charge. As one story goes, Sara (Mrs. Parr to Woodstock Elementary sixth-graders) asked George one morning to do something that day.

When he asked what she wanted him to do, she replied, “I don’t care what you do, just do something!”

The bank tellers were familiar faces—Madge Duncan, Nell Hill, Marie Poor, Mary Lou Reece, Sylvia Edwards. They survived a bank robbery. And what a sight to see Lee Etta Priest, prim and proper, selling auto parts at her husband Hank’s store.

Landmarks like the gas pumps at Dean’s Store and Charlie Wheeler’s place come to mind. And any scene being played out would have to include the vesper chimes ringing from the Methodist Church, and the train whistle, and, on Saturday night, the roar of engines from Dixie Speedway.

During the ’60s, there were four businesses in town that remain in business today: Woodstock Gas Company, Morgan Hardware, Woodstock Funeral Home, and Edwards Tire Sales. Not bad, considering all the businesses that have come and gone through the years.

And there is one business that many of us would like to have back. Economy Food was right in the middle of town, and the world’s greatest butcher, James Poor, and his partner, Byron Holbert, the world’s greatest grocer, offered service that can’t be found in today’s downtown.

James would call his regular customers when ground beef was on sale. Byron could ring up groceries and carry on two or three conversations at the same time. He could look the other way when a prominent Woodstock citizen picked up a banana on the way out.

Ah, the stuff a Southern novel is made of. Add a few elements that can’t be mentioned here, throw in some juicy tidbits and pretty words, flinging them out like cracked corn to the Domineckers, and you’ve got a story. It would be a book fit for a library shelf.

Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.
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