Juanita Hughes: Search for Woodstock's history a never-ending quest
by Juanita Hughes
Columnist
November 04, 2009 01:00 AM | 1002 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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Beginning in late September, I have been "teaching" (and I use the term lightly) a Woodstock history class through the senior center in Woodstock.

Preparing for that was quite an ordeal since I had to organize my thoughts and thus the materials. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. So it was with surprise that each week the excursion into yet another facet of the history of our town has smoothly fallen into place. If I could only stay on track during my lectures without going off on tangents, chasing elusive rabbits and following the wrong fork in the road, the ride would be smoother. Downtown Development Director Billy Peppers accuses me of having no landing gear for my helicopter. He says I just go round and round and never light on solid ground. Perhaps he's right.

In the midst of these weekly sessions, a little-known but relatively important historical tidbit surfaced outside class. For many years, before I became so interested in the town's history, I assumed that the railroad tracks and the depot came to town at the same time, around 1879. In the early '80s as work began and progressed in the efforts to place the depot on the National Register of Historic Sites, it was confirmed that a depot was built when the tracks were laid, but the present depot was not that first one.

Gradually some other facts surfaced, including newspaper accounts of the new depot opening in 1912, and the old depot being torn down in 1913, dispelling rumors of a fire. A Toonigh neighbor hauled away the pieces of the old depot and built the first Toonigh Church of God, according to his family.

No one is still around who remembers where that depot stood, but the accepted theory was that it was north of the Arnold Mill Road intersection on the west side of the tracks. That brings us to the present where a copy of a document in the J.H. Johnston file, after being more closely examined, offers a new interpretation of a transaction between Mr. Johnston and the L & N Rail Road Company dated June 24, 1911. The blueprint "forming part of contract between J. H. Johnston and L&N R.R. Co." shows a depot very near the present location, but on the west side of the tracks. A proposed brick warehouse, 36 by 100 feet, was to be built by Mr. Johnston for the "handling of cotton, cotton seed, guano, flour, fertilizer, etc. in wholesale lots exclusively. No retail business to be handled in connection therewith, and without charge on the part of said R.R."

The document gives the railroad mile marker, and states the number of feet from there, placing the old depot only slightly north of its present location, but on the west side of the tracks. Someone recently measured off the feet, and from all indications, the old depot stood almost directly across Main Street from the original J.H. Johnston building, which is now occupied by New Image Salon. The warehouse apparently was constructed as planned, said number of feet north of the depot, and there are old photos showing it at that location. On the blueprint, no street is shown where Arnold Mill Road is today, but old-timers do recall that at one time that road came into Main Street north of town, approximately where Dobbs Road is today. The said warehouse can be seen in later pictures very near, and north of, what is now Arnold Mill Road.

So now, we must move the ghost of a depot slab by slab, south from its old imagined location to reside on the town side of the tracks near the caboose, a caboose with no ancient history, but an eye-catching monument to the importance of the railroad in Woodstock's history. I'm ready for this train to slow down and let me catch up. I want to be able to land this helicopter on the exact site. In the meantime, I'm trying to chase down all the incorrect written accounts. I should know by now that you can't invent history. And if you try to re-write it, you'll never get it right. I love what Harry Truman said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know."

So we'll continue in the never-ending search for new and enlightening facts as they come from unexpected but welcome sources. It makes for lively conversation and with every discovery, we come to appreciate even more the background and foundation of the town we inhabit today.

Juanita Hughes is the retired manager of the Woodstock Public Library.
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