Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gone but not forgotten

Not so long ago, on the corner of what is now a very busy and often congested intersection sat a tiny, white stucco church complete with an equally tiny cemetery surrounded by a gray weathered split rail fence. It stood there humbly and quietly for at least 250 years, possibly longer.
It was not an intersection I often traveled through but when I did I'd always look at the church and wonder about its history and the people who attended services there. Often, I meant to stop and peek into the church's tiny windows and wander through its cemetery but never did. I vaguely remember a small white sign with Gothic type lettering announcing the name of the church but now I am at a loss to remember what it was.
In the last 25-30 years I've witnessed the building of a mega-mall followed by a strip shopping center on what was once an independently owned airport. A Burger King, another strip shopping center, a hospital and several chain restaurants  eventually surrounded the church and cemetery. And in the last five years, less than a quarter of a mile away, two more shopping centers have been built.
Ten years ago, the tiny one story church had its Andy Warhol "15 minutes of fame" when an article about it appeared in a local newspaper. Not for anything remotely historically newsworthy but because it was being razed to make way for a major, ubiquitous chain drugstore!
Whenever I was at the intersection it never ceased to amaze me the church managed to stand its ground all these years as progress engulfed what was once open fields. I was even naive enough to think the church would escape notice and stand for another 250 years or longer.
A subsequent newspaper article appeared about the respectful exhumation of the residents and their subsequent reburial to other local cemeteries. How does one go about removing residents from a cemetery anyway? So much for eternal rest.
Before I knew it, the drugstore was built and open. No marker or small monument marks the former site of the church or cemetery. For me it was a poignant reminder of our past and now it's as though it never existed. Even now I doubt people traveling through the intersection know about, let alone remember, the church and the cemetery.
I am not an ardent tree hugger or preservationist although I am an advocate for both and respect those who are. However, I am continually saddened at the rate historical places, regardless of whether something noteworthy happened, are literally obliterated from our daily landscape.
These historical places are testaments to hardy people who lived an arduous and often life-shortening way of life that paved the way for our current way of life. Sadly, many of us readily embrace and loudly tout our easier, cushier Facebook and Twitter lifestyle and in the process we've become lazy, entitled, and dependent. I am not advocating a return to the former lifestyle of our forbearers; it would be ludicrous and impossible to do. I believe in progress but not at the speed or expense of our personal independence and the qualities that make us human beings.  Sadly, we are rapidly losing more and more of each every day.
My reason for writing about the church was sparked by a house, purported to be from the early 1700's, whose owners spent a considerable amount of money and effort to stabilize what's left of the house because they believe it's an important and responsible thing to do. Were I in their shoes with the same financial wherewithal, I'd do the same.
In my sometimes weekly travels I pass more than a fair share of abandoned places, some centuries old, that while they can't all be saved I always wonder -- Who lived there? How many generations of families lived there? Were they married? Did they have children? Were they happy? What were their lives like?
Even though a CVS, or is it a Walgreens, drugstore now stands on the spot where the church and cemetery once stood, when I travel through the intersection and look to that corner, in my mind's eye the tiny, white stucco church and cemetery still shimmers brightly.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Beautifully written, Chris. There's an old bandshell here that was set to be razed a few years ago. The community was outraged, and a bunch of folks banded together and started a preservation society to raise money to keep the bandshell up--and they've succeeded! Now rather than just a crumbling space, it's used for summer concerts and festivals. I think sometimes we don't know what we have until it's set to come down and sometimes we realize too late what it means. Tearing down a beautiful piece of architecture for a box store just seems criminal. Your writing, though, is a fitting tribute to that pretty little church.