History has a new home

Published 6:57 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Decatur County history moved to Climax Swine Time grounds this week,

Three former voting precinct buildings—Bell, Parker and Pine Hill—were loaded up and placed there by Ducky Johnson’s house moving crews.

The three precincts were closed down after being consolidated into other precincts last year, Elections Official Doris White said. At that time, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners discussed preserving the buildings somewhere in light of their historical value to the county.

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Representatives from Climax’s Swine Time Committee and Climax Mayor Charles Hadsock offered the festival grounds in Climax where the buildings would gain a second life as permanent historical displays for future generations to enjoy.

For Bell’s long-time neighbor, Delores Hawkins of Antioch Church Road, watching the tiny building that once served as the local courthouse being loaded up and hauled away was like watching part of her own family’s history drive away.

“It just makes me want to cry, seeing it moved,” Hawkins said. “I grew up seeing it all of these years. I am really going to miss it.”

For Hawkins, ties to the old Bell precinct run deep.

Besides supplying the water line to the Bell precinct when a bathroom was installed at the facility in the 1970s, her grandfather, William Henry Johnson, was Justice of the Peace at Bell from 1932 until January 1965.

Her great-grandfather, James Riley Johnson, sold the half-acre lot on which Bell stood to Decatur County for $5 back in the early 1920s.

And Hawkins’ brother, Decatur County Commission Chairman Earl Perry, was born right across the street from Bell, on the Johnson homestead.

It took less than an hour Wednesday morning for the house movers to jack-up the tiny Bell precinct building located just off State Road 262 South after Decatur County Correctional Institute crews and Public Works employees removed all of the plumbing and disconnected the water supply. After the building was jacked up about four feet, the long trailer on which it would sit was backed under its aging frame, where it was secured for the winding road trip to its new home.

The drive to Climax took much longer, with frequent stops for the Sheriff’s Office escorts, while the movers carefully lifted sagging power lines to allow the steep-pitched tin roof to pass.

The caravan was greeted at the Swine Time grounds by Mayor Hadsock, District 2 Commissioner Butch Mosely and County Administrator Tom Patton.

Bell would be the first of the three precincts placed on the grounds, with Parker to come later that day and Pine Hill on Thursday.

Patton said the cost to the county for moving the three buildings came to $2,500 each. While some may complain about that much money, Patton asserts that it was a small price to pay to preserve such an important part of the county’s history.

“We, the county, could not have moved these buildings on our own, and Ducky Johnson’s crew is professional,” Patton said. “We are grateful that the Swine Time Committee and Mayor of Climax offered us a place to put these buildings where they will be protected and preserved for future generations.”

Some history

Bell began as a militia courthouse, and then became a precinct. As a historical presence in Climax, it will again represent a militia courthouse.

It stood for many years just south of Climax off 262, and tearfully, Hawkins, who lives just across the street from the precinct, said it had been a part of her family all her life making it hard for her to see it go.

The Parker precinct was also moved on Wednesday.

It too began as a courthouse for the Parker community, according to Fannie Boutwell who was a poll worker there for close to 60 years. When she and her husband, Roy, moved to Parker in 1947 it was there, and she served as a poll worker beginning in 1949.

Boutwell remembers her husband telling her that his Uncle Cleveland Boutwell helped build the courthouse/precinct. The table that was left in the precinct was also built by Cleveland Boutwell.

It was sad for Mrs. Boutwell to let the precinct go also as it was part of her life for so many years. Her husband, Roy, was the last Justice of the Peace to serve, and he was also election supervisor. She has the old tin paper voting boxes she plans to donate to the precinct.

For many years, the precinct had an outhouse, then bathrooms were added, but there was no water as there wasn’t a well. A water tank was made from a huge drum, and placed on a high metal frame. Mount Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department would then fill the water tank with water for bathroom usage.

As one of the group of historical buildings on the Swine Time grounds, Parker will again represent the voting precinct it once was.

Pine Hill was moved on Thursday, and Hilton Aultman said of Pine Hill precinct that he did not remember it being anything but a voting precinct. In the 1950s, his father, Gwen W. Aultman, was election supervisor. In the 1940s Hilton’s grandfather, Wiley Griffin Sr., was in charge of the elections

Hilton also remembers going with his dad while he worked the elections in the 1950s. Holton said there was no electricity during these days, and when it got dark and there were no lamps, he could remember the ballots being taken to the county for counting.

With no electricity, like other precincts in the county, there wasn’t a bathroom or water, but there was an outhouse. In later years, water, electricity and a bathroom were added.

Hilton said Pine Hill precinct was a family affair, as his grandfather, father and then he, all ran the elections.

It was another touching moment to see the building go, but Hilton said he looked forward to seeing it fully restored on the Swine Time Grounds. Pine Hill in its historical state will represent a one-room school house.

These buildings are an asset to the Climax Swine Time festival as they will remain a portion of what they once were. They will be available for school children to tour and learn of a time that has gone by. Plans are for the furnishing inside each one to be a replica of what was once inside the buildings.