Presenting the past in the present
Tom MacCallum Contributing Columnist
We agree with Editor Kevin Spradlin that The Daily Journal should feature timely news.
But, the newspaper also recently featured a lot of “history.” His column on the Opinion page Nov. 21 was all about history. So was the guest column beneath his column.
History relates to the past. That past can be tomorrow as well as 200 years ago. In today’s electronic world, many people are even making history posting to Facebook. Unfortunately, the word “history” turns off a lot of people with memories of being taught dry facts in a history class.
In keeping with Mr. Spradlin’s goal of being current, today we will mix a little of the past with the future.
In 1890 a new brick court house with a bell and clock tower was constructed on Court House Square (now Harrington Square) in front of where the Daily Journal is now located. It is difficult to imagine such a structure on that small square today. It had two metal staircases to the second floor, one of which is now attached to the west side of the old Economy Auto building at Hancock and East Washington streets.
When the county outgrew that building, the 1924 Court House was built, which has now been partly replaced by the new Judicial Center. The building on the Square was sold for $1 and removed.
The only remnant of the 1890 Court House is the bell. There have been rumors for years that the bell was in the basement of the 1924 Court House. Actually, some people had seen it there. Many court house officials said they had no idea where it was.
Recently, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge took us on an exploratory mission to find it. The first place, and probably the most logical, he chose was the boiler room. Behind a wall to the side of the boiler, there it was, probably just as it was put some 89 years ago.
Fast forward to today. The Richmond County Historical Society would like very much to restore the bell to a suitable public location as a lasting symbol of the passing of lawful government from one location, one generation, to another. A large photograph of the bell lying in the basement will be on display at the Society’s booth at Christmas on the Square Dece. 7 along with a picture (sketch) of the 1890 Court House.
This is a continuing effort by the Society to present the past in some meaningful way to the public.
The American Historical Association says, “Only through studying history can we grasp how things change … comprehend the factors that cause change … understand how elements of a society persist despite change.”
Apparently a lot of local residents care about history. There are websites about Rockingham and Hamlet with memories and pictures. Towns have websites with history. Even unincorporated Derby has a history site at Triple L Farms. And of course, the Hamlet Depot and Museums and the National Railroad Museum, and probably many others.
Many books have been written about local history. And, there is a “method to this madness,” as is said, to this emphasis on history.
While it is important that we base our view of today on what happened yesterday, there is also an economic factor.
The Richmond County Tourism Development Authority is gearing up on a new campaign to promote tourism for economic reasons. We hope to grab the bell and jump on the new tourism train. The more tourists have to view, the better.
Tom MacCallum is a member of the Richmond County Historical Society and author of Camp Mackall, North Carolina.
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