Landmarks just ain’t what they used to be. Over centuries, through all of recorded history, landmarks have guided wayward travelers and given assurance to locals. From natural features like mountains or rock formations, to a leaning tower or a lighthouse, they marked the landscape.
They were necessary in a world that was yet to develop planes, trains and automobiles, or radar, radio, telecommunications and, ultimately, a Global Positioning System. Eventually, we “marked the land” with signs, of course, but along the way there would be structures or trees or mounds to guide us as well. A silo, a covered bridge, Old McDonald’s barn, or a country church, led folks to their destination by word of mouth or hand-drawn maps.
Landmarks have now come to be reminders not of where we are, necessarily, but of where we have been. Landmarks come and go; that’s how it is. But when their usefulness at marking our way has passed, their stories should not die. In a world filled now with images from all over our planet and beyond, we recognize natural and manmade landmarks, but seem somehow not to realize that our local landscape offers its own such treasures. Woodstock’s old town retains many such spots, some historic homes that are now businesses, and some renovated buildings that enhance their heritage. At least one home was moved a few yards, preserving the building while retaining the history of its honored family.
A few scenes of the past are recognized with plaques. The Park at City Center is a good example. It is pretty with its fountain, gazebo, memorials, benches and events. Plaques placed throughout the park tell its story. The stately McAfee House with its famous pear trees once stood where the gazebo is now, serving as a backdrop for avid photographers, and giving Santa a spot for his annual visit. On the adjoining lot, Dr. VanSant’s family lived in the Lathem home. Both houses were destroyed by fire. While fire and the ravages of time have taken other homes over the decades, there are too many that have fallen to the bulldozers. They were landmarks in more ways than one. The Lon Hill home on the corner of Kyle Street and Rope Mill Road, like many others, just disappeared overnight months ago. Over the past couple of years, the north end of Main Street has felt the brunt of the city’s “progress.” Thankfully the Howell Home, the Martha Johnson Home, and the Dave Haney Home, all dating to the early 1900s or before, have been renovated for commercial use, and stand as monuments to the families that built and occupied them. But the Hugh Johnston home, surrounded by the proverbial white picket fence, is in disrepair. Its neighbors, the homes of Gordon Williams, Glenn Hubbard, and Floyd James, exist only in our memories. Others nearby, some over 50 years old, are slated for demolition. Time will tell a new story, perhaps of new landmarks.
Many of us recall some of the town’s older landmarks. The Old Dixie Inn Restaurant, not the prettiest structure in town, had quite a good reputation. Folks came from all around for the food, but the location, not like Marietta’s Big Chicken, lacked the monumental signage. Closer into town, a utility pole marked the spot where folks could make a U-turn around the pole which stood at the intersection of East Main, Fowler Street, and South Main. It was the lesser of two evils if you were on the west side of Main, hoping to turn left onto Main if you lived on the north side. You may think the traffic could be no worse than it is now, but I beg to differ. Just imagine how it would be with no traffic lights, no roundabout, and no Interstate. The pole was truly a landmark.
The Depot stands out, still, as our main landmark. Somehow, our in-town churches with their belfries and spires and steeples have survived. There are a few newer symbols, including the statue of Bob the Turkey, a short-lived resident of the south side of town. We give directions to the Elm Street campus as “take a right at the turkey and walk about a block.”
The ruins at the Rope Mill, the Little River itself, and the historic Noonday Creek have been a part of Woodstock’s landscape and history. The beautiful Chattahoochee Tech campus reminds us daily of the town’s historic public school. The original Bank of Woodstock building, the original post office, and historic Dean’s Store mark our business district, dotted with plaques on most other remaining buildings, a project of Preservation Woodstock. The mural has captured some landmarks, giving images to the ongoing projects of written words and oral histories. The few historic homes that remain are true landmarks, some still owned and occupied by original family members, and others operating businesses that incorporate Woodstock’s history and heritage into their décor and atmosphere. Treasures, indeed. But don’t expect your GPS to tell you their stories.