By CHRIS MENEES
A piece of Hornbeak history is coming down — piece by piece.
Demolition of the old Darnell Grocery building on South Main Street in downtown Hornbeak has begun.
Obion County resident Terry Dwyer started tearing down the dilapidated building earlier this week and is in the process of acquiring the property from J.L. Miles, who acquired it from Obion County. The store was among 25 properties recently deeded to the county due to unpaid taxes and authorized for sale.
Additionally, the old building was recently condemned by the state fire marshal and ordered torn down within 90 days.
Dwyer and a couple of helpers have made considerable progress on tearing down the building within a few days’ time this week, but it’s slow going since he is being cautious and is also trying to salvage as much of the old brick as possible. The bricks are being taken down by hand, one at a time and working from top to bottom.
The store building sits on a corner lot on Hornbeak’s South Main Street, bordered on one side by City Barber & Beauty Shop and on the other side by West Main Street as the street curves around. A concern during the demolition process is the close location of the barber shop building within just a couple of feet of the old store building.
“I’ve got 90 days to tear it down, but they’re working with me on it and they’ve told me to be safe,” Dwyer said.
He said he has some people coming to look at the brick — which includes three different types and colors of brick — and haul it away. The inside of the building had already fallen in and those contents will also be hauled away for disposal.
He said he would like to tear down the building and put a car wash on the lot.
Dwyer believes the building was built in the late 1800s, sometime around the turn of the century, and he said a medical office and a switchboard were once located upstairs, while a grocery store and a pool hall were located downstairs.
Thomas Williams of Hornbeak — who formerly served as mayor for 16 years and fire chief for 17 years — also estimates the building was built “roughly around” 1900, “give or take” a few years.
He said there was once a brick kiln down behind his house and a sawmill further down the road, and he believes the building was constructed by local laborers using locally-produced materials.
“It was a lot of brick,” he said.
Williams, 89, said there was always a grocery located in the big building. He said before it was Darnell Grocery, it was Clifton Fields’ grocery store. He recalled that Darnell had a grocery store in Lake County before he moved to Obion County and acquired the building from Fields.
Williams also recalled there having been a dentist’s office and a telephone office upstairs and a pool hall downstairs. He said the telephone office later moved down on the corner of Church and South Main streets.
Both Williams and Dwyer estimate Darnell Grocery closed sometime in the early 1980s, but they don’t know an exact date.
Dwyer said he became acquainted with Darnell Grocery when he moved to the Hornbeak area from Chicago in the late 1970s.
“When I came from Chicago, I was amazed that you could walk in, get a cart load of groceries and say ‘put it down’ (on paper) and walk out the door. That’s the way (Mr. Darnell) did his work was on paper,” he said.
“Back then, you could trust people. These stores were made for the elderly or people on fixed incomes because they knew they got their check at the first of the month and people came in and paid their bills. And they delivered at that time. You’d call and tell them what you want. If they wanted a gallon of milk, they’d bring a gallon of milk out to your house. We just don’t have that anymore.”
Williams remembered the days when the grocery store would give tickets to customers on Saturdays and hold drawings for groceries and gold pieces.
Williams also recalled that a city toilet was once located behind the store building, separate from the store and at the end of a sidewalk. He said it provided a source of entertainment for local boys on occasion.
“On Halloween, boys would move (the toilet) on top of the buildings,” he said.
Dwyer has been told that a woman in Texas bought the old Darnell Grocery building off Internet marketplace eBay a few years ago. She apparently purchased it based on the outside appearance from a photo and then hired contractors to install new windows. When the contractor installed the windows, he reportedly called the owner in Texas and asked if she realized the dilapidated condition of the building she had purchased.
Dwyer said he was told the woman was from this area and had possibly planned to make a restaurant out of the old grocery building.
“When she came up and saw it, she walked away from it,” he said. “It had brand new windows that I took out.”
Dwyer said the building had become very hazardous in recent years and was “an eyesore” that had been drawing complaints.
“It’s the last of the old buildings in Hornbeak. This is the one that had stood the longest,” he said.
“I hate to see it go,” Williams added.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 6.3.11