Saving a slice of history for all to savor - Bob Paslay

I was raised in a mid-size Southern town called Spartanburg in South Carolina. We boast of Marshall Tucker, Marshall Chapman and textile magnate Roger Milliken. There are some very smart, friendly people and some fine colleges. But the public officials have always been real yahoos when it comes to any concern for history and preserving history.

They love to bulldoze down old buildings, to wipe out history every chance they get. Any old building still standing in Spartanburg is not because of any concern or forethought of these pointed headed officials but purely by the grace of God.

When I was in high school there was the neatest building, an old post office in downtown and the city decided they wanted more parking and despite historical preservationists and others begging and begging, they of course bulldozed it down.

The ironic thing is most businesses left the downtown and they had nothing but parking and no reason to park. There was a wonderful street called Short Wofford when I was younger and it was the black business street and boasted a variety of businesses. And you can guess what they did to that section. That's right, bulldozed it down. The city hall in this town is one of the ugliest buildings of gray modern brick and glass that you will ever have the displeasure to see. The great old spiral courthouse, red brick and beautiful is gone because they tore it down and replaced it with another glass and brick monstrosity and when they needed more room they put county offices into an old Sears building. Thank goodness for a few funeral homes saving a few more large houses.

I'll give you an idea of their love of bulldozers. When a man took a clerk hostage in a convenience store south of downtown months ago, they asked him to come out and end it. He didn't and so guess what they did - you're right, they bulldozed the building down.

Spartanburg doesn't have a monopoly on chuckle heads. Sixty miles away in Anderson where I have my lake house they bulldozed down a beautiful Gone With the Wind house with curved glass in one room's windows and a Rhett Butler-like staircase to make way for a chicken restaurant. They bulldozed down a beautiful monstrous house to build a new library.

I thought of all this recently on my fun trip to Los Angeles. Among the fun things like going to see the Dodgers play and checking out the handprints and signatures of the stars, I stopped at a section of land off the freeway out of L.A. that was intriguing because all these historic houses were lined side by side.

As I investigated I found out that some history-loving people with foresight secured this land and began moving Victorian houses and a church and a horse stable to the land. In most cases, the buildings were donated or sold at a nominal fee.

Some, like the church with its round ceiling sanctuary, are in the early stages of repair. Others like some of the classic Victorian houses are in pristine shape.

And the people who run this little bite of history are people who truly love these old structures. The goal, I gather, is to get volunteers to reapply plaster to the slats of the inside of the church and to repair the other buildings. The $10 admission fee covered very little of the costs I believe. They don't even charge if you want to walk around the outside as long as you want.

They tell a sad story about the first two structures moved to the site. Because of lack of security, someone got into them and they burned. But not defeated, they continued with the project. I am remiss in not counting the buildings but I would guess there are about 10 to 12. There is room for more but the costs of moving the old houses out of harm's way is enormous.

Man, this little living museum made me feel good. I am not going to give you the exact directions in case the officials from my hometown are there on vacation and get their hands on a bulldozer.

Cookie cutter homes, no matter how elaborate, are never going to capture the skill and the beauty of these old structures. They didn't have pop-in windows. They built them. They didn't make every door in the house the same size because they didn't have to and it didn't occur to them to do it.

The people in Clayton County are lucky to have Stately Oaks and the old train depot converted into a museum. The people in Henry County are lucky to have the historic downtown in McDonough. Dotting across Atlanta a few old buildings have also survived, cozied in between the monstrous condos and office buildings.

People think I am crazy if I say this outloud, but I believe you can feel the presence of those who lived in these houses if you stand quietly in them for a little while. You can hear the grunting as they drug in the just-cut Christmas tree and can smell and taste the food cooked on the old wood stoves. It's as if the life of the people somehow embeds itself in the structure itself.

Thank goodness for all the enlightened lovers of history for you are making future generations better by letting them see and feel what it was like to live in an earlier time.

Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at bpaslay@news-daily.com or at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257.