- Tuesday, 21 January 2020
- Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
It’s times like these that I deeply miss my late friend, former Hope Mills Mayor Eddie Dees.
As the debate continues to rage over the fate of the Parish House in Hope Mills, I so badly wish I could go for one of our regular rides in Eddie’s pickup and talk about local politics and the future of the town as we often used to do.
I respect his memory, and would never drag him into this debate without permission. So I made a phone call last week to a young lady I’ve known almost as long as I’ve called Fayetteville home, Eddie’s widow, Susan Faircloth Dees.
Susan gave her blessing to the words I’m about to write, before some of my harsher critics accuse me of desecrating Eddie’s name.
One thing I can tell you for sure about Eddie Dees is he was a man of common sense and practicality. He also loved Hope Mills and had a deep appreciation for its history.
That was what led him to write a book in 1991, Hope Mills Heritage, an illustrated history of his beloved hometown.
I’m proud to say I helped with the editing of the book, something he gratefully thanked me for in the book’s acknowledgements.
Of the 112 pages in the book, there are two devoted to the history of the Christ Episcopal Church. One paragraph on those pages deals with the Parish House, noting that in 1910, the bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Carolina instructed the Rev. Norvin C. Duncan to build a parish house to serve as rectory and community center.
For those who don’t know, a rectory is the house an Episcopal minister lives in. In other faiths it’s called the manse or parsonage.
Many of those who support saving the Parish House argue that it’s a historic building.
Let’s clarify that. Technically, every building in the downtown historic district that’s on the National Registry of Historic Places is a historic building. That’s because of the geography of the district, not the actual age of the buildings or their role in the history of the town.
The original inventory of buildings in the Hope Mills historic district included a gas station and a vacant lot, which count as historic not because of real history tied to that location, but simply because of where they are on the map.
Reminds me of a sign I saw at a gift shop one time that read something like, “In 1829 on this spot, absolutely nothing happened.” The same is true of many so-called historic buildings in downtown Hope Mills.
But let’s get back to the Parish House. It’s been well documented that for whatever reason, the house has fallen into disrepair. How long that took to happen and who is to blame really aren’t issues. This is a building with a lot of age, and not a lot of real Hope Mills history, that’s in bad shape.
If you haven’t taken a close look at the front door of the Parish House, there is a CONDEMNED sign on it. Right next to it is a red sign with a big white X. That means it’s unoccupied and has been for some time.
I’ve seen official reports from town staff stating that it could cost in the vicinity of six figures of town money just to stabilize this building and make it safe for entry, not to mention what would be needed to make it serviceable.
And if it is restored, what would it be used for? The town is already working toward a permanent museum near Trade Street, which is the true heart of the town’s mill village history with its collection of old storefront shops and its proximity to the textile mill.
History is great, and where possible it should be preserved. But the elected leaders of this town have a finite budget to deal with, and they are called on to make tough choices.
One of those involves the town’s future. Right now, there’s a pressing need for a new headquarters for the town’s police and fire departments. Work is scheduled to begin shortly on that facility, which is going to be an expensive but much needed building.
It will benefit both the police and fire staff who will occupy it, and it will be an asset to the town for years to come.
I posted something on Facebook recently regarding this whole situation. This is what I wrote. “How soon we forget. Old and historic are different words with different meanings.’’
There’s another word I’d add to the mix. Sentimental. Just because a group of people have sentimental feelings for something doesn’t mean that it should be preserved at taxpayer expense.
I feel sentimental about a lot of things, like cars I’ve owned or homes I’ve lived in, but time passes, and when my life circumstances changed, I didn’t continue to invest my income in their upkeep, I moved forward to something new.
The elected leadership is doing that in the case of the Parish House. This was a tough decision I’m sure, but I respect the fact that they’ve researched it and in their honest opinion are doing the right thing for the town of Hope Mills and its citizens, who put them in office to make the wisest possible use of the tax dollars they are entrusted with spending for the benefit of the entire town.
If you really support Hope Mills history, give the town’s elected your support in finally getting Heritage Park up and running. It will celebrate the town’s mill heritage while adding a source of revenue with the amphitheater that is proposed to be included in the park.
So far, the goal of this new group of elected officials is moving forward from two years of negativity. Regardless of what the naysayers will tell you, the motto on the town sign is accurate. “A proud past, a bright future.’’