With each visit from the wrecking ball, Woodstock loses another precious landmark structure from the past.
The Hubbard Home is the most recent victim. It all serves to remind us yet again of the importance of preserving Woodstock’s remaining historic homes. All too often demolition proves to be unavoidable, and we’re left with the challenge of preserving, instead, the artifacts, along with written and photographed records of each home and the families that built and/or occupied them.
The big, empty space where the Hubbard house stood lies adjacent to an excavation site where the owner demolished the unique home of Gordon and Leila Williams quite a while ago. The site has become an eyesore, and is now hidden from view by construction fencing.
Across the street, commercial buildings seem almost finished, replacing homes that had graced the northern blocks of Main Street for at least eight decades. It’s progress, as they say. When those homes were built, it was progress then as well. This latest disturbance of the landscape is perhaps not as unsettling as when those houses sprang up where the Deans’ alfalfa field had been! Woodstock’s citizens at the time were probably not unhappy with the influx of folks wanting to live in town. The school was just a few doors down the street, as was the depot where passenger and freight trains stopped daily. The town’s life blood flowed through the veins of the railroad tracks. There was a grocery store and a bank, doctors, churches, eateries and merchants who sold everything from sewing thread to plows. The little town was blessed with all it needed, considering that the train brought in all manner of merchandise for the merchants while shipping out cotton grown by local farmers and rope produced by the Rope Mill up on the banks of the Little River.
The occasional newcomer was welcomed with open arms, and as a few houses took shape, the older homes stood proudly amid them, holding their own as symbols and reminders of the city’s heritage. We can’t — and don’t want to — go back to the alfalfa field.
Admittedly there are structures that need to go, and others that beg for preservation. There aren’t many of those century-old icons, only a handful, while literally hundreds of homes are being built around them. The very real advantage of living close into town has been discovered, turning us into a replica of big-city life. Huge car dealerships in outlying areas of town are in stark contrast to the livery stable that once occupied the southwest corner of today’s Main Street and Towne Lake Parkway. Shopping centers and an outlet mall have no resemblance at all to the JH Johnston Mercantile and Cotton Broker business, or Dawson-Parr Department Store, Main Street landmarks from another century. The amphitheater has replaced the stage at Woodstock Elementary. And, sadly, trains no longer stop, nor do they need to, at the Depot.
For every home and storefront that is gone, there may be memories, preserved in family scrapbooks, in letters and newspaper clippings, in photographs, and in stories passed down in a myriad of ways. But those stories and their lessons are best kept alive when the walls are left standing. The memories take shape, and voices from the past speak to us more clearly, when we can touch the mantle of that fireplace where a bride and groom said their vows; and when we can stand in the same spot where we worked a puzzle with the lady of the house while listening to her ever-present stereo playing Bing Crosby or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; and we can marvel at the stained glass windows and pocket doors and fireplaces from an era when the town’s population was around 300, and folks still needed a stable behind the house. We hold our breath and count our blessings when we visit the businesses that occupy many of the treasured homes.
Mrs. Howell would be so happy to greet us in her renovated home, now an insurance office, where so many of us felt blessed to know her. Each time I darken the door of the tearoom, I feel that Dawson ambience, and relish my time there. We feel cheated, somehow, when we can’t sit in Marjorie Hubbard’s living room and imagine Glenn telling yet another story about his bee hives or his garden.
To put it in perspective, we should probably think about future generations, those children who are growing up in the midst of the present frenzy. This is the Woodstock they will remember, the events they will refer to as “the good old days.” If we have managed to properly preserve our history and heritage, those later generations will appreciate the legacy left to them and will strive, without wrecking balls, to do the same for Woodstock citizens of the future.