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Volunteers work to preserve folk artist Jake McCord's front porch inside museum building

Although it's a sign of progress, some people are sad to see the demolition of old buildings along Railroad Street in downtown Thomson. And two young people are doing what they can to save the past.

McDuffie Museum Curator Jenny Lindsay and volunteer Hill Clarke spent several days recently working with City of Thomson crews as they tore down the old Jake McCord house and the one next to it. At the request of others in the community and from her Board of Directors, Ms. Lindsay will reconstruct the front porch of the McCord house inside the museum, where it will be used to display works of local artists.

"It would be a major, major expense to have it done by professionals," Ms. Lindsay said. "So, I'm conquering it myself, after consulting with a University of Georgia professor of History preservation."

Jake McCord is well-known in Thomson, where he retired two years ago after 39 years of cutting grass for the city. And although his tenure of service with the city was one of the longest of any employee, Mr. McCord's name also is known in other parts of the United States as a folk artist. He has painted hundreds of large, bright works that hang in museums as far away as New York.

The paintings were a familiar sight to anyone who drove down Railroad Street, as there were always at least two sitting on the front porch of his house. So, it is only natural for the porch to be used to display art.

Because some planks of the wooden floor were rotted and unusable, Mr. Clark took boards from the house next door to the McCord house to put in their place. The house next door was built in the same style as Mr. McCord's.

"So, not only will the porch be used as a display for artist's works, but it also will be an interpretive tool for vernacular architecture in the area," Ms. Lindsay said.

Ms. Lindsay said it will take some time - and money - to reconstruct the porch inside the museum, and she hopes to have it done by fall, depending on the availability of funds.

Both of the houses are now completely demolished and cleared, leaving only empty lots in preparation of the new City-County Government Center, with construction slated to begin in the next couple of months. Mr. McCord is now living at a local nursing home.

Another structure from Thomson's past is the old police booth that used to sit between Railroad and Main streets. Now located at Jimmy and Dena's Body Shop, Ms. Lindsay said it soon will be in the museum, also.

"I'm trying to get it set up with an old phone that you can pick up and listen to, just like the police used to," she said.

Meanwhile, the curator said she would like to see others in the community become involved in saving their past. Across the street from the McCord house is a large, brick building, painted gray, that will be torn down and replaced with a parking lot. Ms. Lindsay said the building is now used as a garage, but at one time, it was a cotton gin, according to Sanborn maps. Because of its dilapidated appearance, Ms. Lindsay said people assume the building "was built in the 1950s and is worthless, but really, it's from 1901.

"So, it's really important to Thomson, historically. If we could pull together some preservation efforts, it would be a great theater, and also, it could be rented out," she said, adding that she'd just like to raise awareness of the significance of the buildings being removed.

"The industrial buildings are going away. They were built well, but over the years, they have not been taken care of," she said. "And that's where America worked."

Web posted on Thursday, June 04, 2009

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