It was big news.
"Woodstock will break dirt next week for the erection of a large cotton seed oil mill and dry-mixing fertilizer plant. The enterprise is capitalized by local parties, of which Mr. J. H. Johnston is president. The plant will be located between Woodstock and the 'Bullock Barn' place on L&NRR, and the promoters hope to begin operating the machinery early this fall."
The plant became a reality and was functional until the time when cotton crops and related businesses were no longer profitable. I tried to imagine if the owners had a celebratory shovel event, but I really doubt that. I can see some folks gathering one morning and actually beginning to lay out a building and turn some dirt.
Apparently the term for that in those days was "break dirt." Today we say "groundbreaking," a term that brings to mind a picture of men (and perhaps women) in business attire, often wearing hard hats, and wielding shovels. "Breaking dirt," on the other hand, could well have been a literal term with no pomp, no frills, no hard hats, and no business suits.
I thought about these terms last week when, with no ceremony and no big audience, contractors "broke pavement" as work began on Woodstock's Streetscape project. The project has been in the works for years.
We've jumped through hoops of every legal and government description. The public has met with planners and city officials and other citizens and looked at proposals, made suggestions, talked with planners, and waited with anxious hopes. City officials have struggled with infrastructure and zoning, finances and grants, ever-changing traffic patterns, and an unstable economy. Merchants have struggled with parking, delayed facade programs, fluctuating real estate leases, and the same unstable economy.
Finally, hopes are high that the turnaround is in sight. The project is in progress. Dirt, ground, and cement have been broken. To make it official, a "groundbreaking" has been held (a long week after the real break in the earth's surface) and, as they say at the Derby, "They're off!"
In the meantime, it's business as usual on Main Street. For the time being, traffic moves right along. Folks are finding ample parking behind the stores in nearby lots, including a Mill Street lot just purchased by the city. As work progresses on sidewalks, customers can use Wall Street entrances for most of the stores. Some work occurs during nighttime hours, and each morning reveals the developing metamorphosis taking place.
When work is in progress during the day, it's a free show. The local yokels stand around like little boys, wishing it would come their turn to operate all that earth-moving equipment. That little Bobcat can pick up its weight in broken pavement and lift it high above a Dumpster. Then the Dumpster comes and hauls it away, and somebody else shows up to sweep up the leftovers. Then another fun-to-operate machine digs a thin line deep into the pavement, followed by a jack-hammer worker who was real good in kindergarten in staying within the lines in his coloring book. There's another guy who walks around with a cell phone and a camera, "putting out fires" I guess. They all wear hard hats and seem focused on their jobs... which is a good thing. I can't stay focused on my job for watching them!
I've been watching as the pavement in front of Dean's Store crumbles. The first paving of Main Street occurred in 1929, and they say that Linton Dean threw his hat into the paving mixture. Talk about buried treasure.
It seems like only yesterday that we got new sidewalks and extra traffic lanes and traffic lights. All those things were major improvements at the time. But we grew and change was inevitable... and never-ending. Soon streetscapes will be finished. The roundabout at Main Street and Haney Road will be working. The park will be expanded and improved. City Hall will have a presence in town again in the renovated old Baptist sanctuary. The interchange at Rope Mill will be complete, bringing new stores and homes. Lots of dirt and ground will have been broken and moved and enhanced. Some will be covered with pavement. Some will be landscaped. Some will be left as green space.
At the Visitors Center at Dean's Store we distribute a little coloring book based on a timeline of Woodstock's history. The back cover has space for children to draw and color a picture of how they think Woodstock will look in the year 3000. It's something to think about. Try it. Woodstock is aging well. The picture should be beautiful.
Juanita Hughes is the retired manager of the Woodstock Public Library.