History lovers work to preserve the past

They restore old buildings to keep Harrisburg's history alive

02/07/2011 12:00 AM

02/09/2011 9:48 AM

A small group of retired Harrisburg residents are renovating some town landmarks and creating a historical village that pays tribute to the town's history.

Lifelong residents Ted McCachren and Bill Williams, along with longtime residents Betsy Coulon, Bob Johnson, Dick Lewis and other volunteers, have been a part of three major restoration projects since 2005. All the landmarks are on display in Harrisburg Town Park on Robinson Church Road and can be toured by appointment or during special events.

The group's current renovation project is a pre-Civil-War-era log cabin, donated to the town by Margaret Ann Stallings and occupied until 1992. About a dozen students from Jay M. Robinson High School's masonry class constructed a new rock veneer chimney and fireplace and placed rock veneers on its foundation. Work is scheduled to be finished before 2012.

The century-old Morrison/Sims General Store, which eventually became the Historic Harrisburg Post Office, and a storage building called a "crib" also are on display at the park. The group also is doing work on the former Pharr Mill building and its grinding equipment and plans to add an educational display to the park in the future.

Bill Williams, 67, is simply looking to share and preserve his history. Second-grade students from Harrisburg Elementary visit the park annually to learn about their home.

"I want this part of Harrisburg to remain known," said Williams while pointing to the nearby railroad tracks, frequented by rumbling locomotives. "Harrisburg grew up here on the railroad, not on (N.C.) 49. We were a railroad community for a long time, and that's how things got to us - through the rail."

McCachren, 68, is a state-certified engineer. He documents the town's history and the group's restoration efforts - with dozens of before, during and after photos - on his personal website, www.tedmccachren.com. His reasons for preserving the area's history also are linked by blood.

"My daddy was born and raised in this first house across the railroad," he said, pointing across Robinson Church Road. "My mother was born and raised in the next one back on Hickory Ridge Road. I went to school at Harrisburg High School, which was where Lowe's Foods is, and I used to stop at the grocery store on the way home from school and get me a drink and something to eat. It was probably a nickel for a moon pie and a nickel for a cola.

"I'm just amazed we've got people interested enough to donate time, materials and money to save my history."

Johnson, 66, who has lived in Harrisburg since 1972, jokingly called himself an outsider but said he's finally doing what he's always wanted.

"My great-grandfather came from Germany to the Midwest, and he was a master craftsman," he said. "And I always found that fun. But it's hard to make a living at so I had to become a commercial banker for 30 years. But now I'm doing what I want."

The core members of the group involved in restoration efforts have general carpentry skills. McCachren and Lewis are engineers, Williams is a former math teacher and Coulon and Johnson are UNC-Chapel Hill graduates.

Together, they've gotten a lot accomplished.

"The interesting thing is while these two engineers are arguing, the banker gets up and does it," said Johnson.

Coulon, 59, has been in Harrisburg for 13 years. She enjoys the company, learning about the history and the sense of accomplishment.

"For me it's the camaraderie and stepping back and saying, 'Wow, we did that,'" she said about the store and post office restoration. "When we finally had the mayor come for the grand opening and ribbon cutting, I was walking away and I glanced back and thought, 'Wow,' 'cause that thing was a dump. We really worked hard, and that's a pretty nice feeling of satisfaction."

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