Rockvale Historical Society fights to preserve Reconstruction-era store

Mary R. Reeves, The Murfreesboro Post, July 29, 2017

The old white building sits close to the road, its architecture a testament to olden, golden days when farmers gathered for checker games while their wives gossiped about soap operas on the party lines.  The doors are locked, the rooms are empty, but the old Rockvale store lives and breathes a personal history for many in the community it served for more than 130 years.

The Board of the Rockvale Historical Society

“My father, Elam Carlton and my grandparents lived across the street from the store,” said Denise Carlton, a Rockvale native whose distant relative actually built the store just after the Civil War.  “When I was a little girl, I would get off the bus and go to my grandparents and my grandmother would give me some money to go get me a Dr. Pepper.”

Carlton is hardly the only one to hold such fond memories of the old white building.  Both on the petition webpage soliciting signatures to save the store and on the ReStore Rockvale Facebook page, residents and former residents have a lot to say about the shop.

“In an age where it seems we’re in favor of tearing down the old for the bright and shiny new, keeping a piece of history should be a top priority,” wrote Edan Bryant of Mission Viejo.

Wayne Wright of Murfreesboro posted, “This would be the oldest store in the county when reestablished. I was a regular customer at this store.”

William Dalton of Shelbyville wrote, “The store was there when and before I was born. Use to go there every morning. It needs to be restored to a community center. It’s the center of Rockvale.”

As these testimonials show, Carlton is only one of many area residents concerned about the future of the store. After a legal settlement years, ago, the building, and the small plot of land it occupies, now belongs to the county, which has plans to build a new recycling center on that very plot.

Site is significant

According to County Mayor Ernest Burgess, the county offered the store to any non-profit group to claim, providing they would relocate, restore and renovate the building and use it for the public good in some way

The newly formed Rockvale Historical Society has plans for that renovation and restoration — it’s the relocation that seems to be the sticking point.

“It’s on the National Historic Registry for three different periods,” said Carlton. “Reconstruction, World War I and World War II. It’s the only commercial building listing in Rutherford County that sits on the national registry. It represents commerce and community and how they built their own community support.”

To qualify for the national registry, she said, the cultural, historical and/or architectural historical importance of the building must be established, and a good deal of the store’s cultural impact is in the fact that it was a roadside business. If it gets moved, she said, it loses its standing on the national registry.

In January the Property Management committee was asked for permission to tear down the store and the committee told them to do a public notice and see what interest the community had in the store. RHS responded to that public notice.

Museum or something more?

There’s also the question of purpose. According to Carlton, the county states it is to be used as a museum. While many of the people who purchased the original fixtures of the store are willing to donate them and restore the store to its former glory, RHS wants it to be more than a museum. The society will be responsible for the building and its use and maintenance. Local genealogies will be available for those researching their family, and records, photographs will be kept there.

“When you walk in, you’d have the feel of walking into the old store,” said Carlton, an RHS board member. “We would have insides like this with center tables for people to use for various purposes.”

The plans the Rockvale Historical Society have for the building include opening it up daily for seniors, where people can come play checkers, like in the old days, or have quilting bees, or sit around and drink coffee and talk when it was just as likely to be a wagon parked out front as a car.

“We want it to be a day-to-day building for the community to use.” she said. “We want it to be living and

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breathing, an active part of the community again.”

Rockvale Historical Society is on Facebook so the community can learn and share interest in this and other projects.

“RHS had engineers evaluate the building for condition, we do not have access to the building, at this point, to maintain or correct anything; the county owns it and is in charge of maintaining the property,” Carlton continued. “That question does come up as people have asked us to organize a day to clean up around it and do some prep work to preserve it better. We can’t do that, without the county’s permission. It is, in fact, in good enough shape to be picked up and moved, but that’s not what the historical society or community wants.”

The new position proposed by the county would have the building adjacent to and within feet of the proposed new recycling center with its sounds, sights — and smells.

Currently, a convenience center sits on another tract of land across the road. The current convenience center has its own traffic issues.

“It’s not safe now,” said Burgess. “It’s not convenient, not laid out effectively, and at peak times, it’s a mess.”

The community is waiting to have a public time to be able to speak to the relocation/new recycling center and has not had this opportunity.

Burgess said the group (RHS) has until Sept. 22 to make a decision about what to do with the building.

Community members have gone to social media and created a Facebook page, Restore Rockvale, and online petition which garnered more than 600 signatures in only a week. It states that there are several places for a convenience center in the area, but only one site for the historic Rockvale Store. The petiotion is available at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/restore-rockvale.

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