Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ringing the bell

Moving on up Main Street, leaving the church district, you would come to Lexington Avenue. On the right corner stood a very unusual three story structure called the Opera House. Imagine, Opera in Winchester! At nine years of age, I did not know what Opera really was but I figured that it must have been something special since they built such an elaborate building to house it. This building had been turned into a factory making clothes so I knew that I would not ever be able to see this Opera. On the left hand corner stood another impressive structure called the Brown Proctor Hotel. It took up the whole corner rising three stories and was the first building in Winchester to have an elevator. The elevator was one of those that had a sliding metal door which looked like a chain linked fence opening and closing.

Once past Lexington Avenue, you came to the center of town. Stores for clothes, furniture, jewelry, and all the stuff that made a town...well a town. The right side of the street, heading up Main Street from the south, was 8 to 12 steps higher than the left side. Funny I thought, not really knowing why one side of the street had to be higher than the other. The steps were not those little sissy steps either, but those big steps that ran the entire length of the street up to Broadway. Half way down the block you came to the courthouse.

To me, the courthouse was the most beautiful, most spectacular, most wonderful building in Winchester. It occupied the entire central square rising to a bell tower that had a clock face on four sides. Just imagine, being able to tell time no matter from which direction you came! It would light at night, leaving a soft glow into the night's darkness. Besides that, you could tell the time after dark. Painted completely white and facing east, it had a special dignity about it especially as the morning sun would reflect off the white brick. This place housed all the records that became so important to me as a budding genealogist.

Now just past the courthouse you could turn onto a u-shaped street that enclosed the court yard. Coming around this street, the post office was on the right, then the newspaper office [called the Winchester Sun], then the fire station, police station, county jail, and lawyer offices. A busy place it was. You ended up back on Main Street where People's Bank on one corner competed with Winchester Bank directly across the street.

It was many years later that my dad showed me a brass plaque hidden under an archway in a side entrance to the courthouse. It listed those who had fought in the Revolutionary War and had moved and lived in Clark County. Nicholas Jones was on this list, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather!

I knew that there was something special about this place. Now if the night was just quiet enough, and the air just dry enough, I could hear the bell chime midnight from my childhood bed. Nicholas, was that you ringing the bell?

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