A town reborn

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 7, 2002

Features Editor

The world has bypassed many small towns, leaving them withering in the wake of interstates and four-lane highways.

For a while it seemed as though Goshen would be among them.

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The tiny town’s business district had been reduced to a row of vacant buildings with sagging roofs and crumbling walls. The "modern" city hall, nestled between them, looked sorely out of place.

Only the community’s mostly senior citizens remembered the days when Goshen was a thriving, bustling town with cotton gins, mule trading, five rolling stores operating out of a mercantile business that sold everything from food to hardware to mule supplies and two trains a day bringing in passengers and freight.

Although the town’s business community couldn’t compete with the big boys in the outside world, the survival instincts of the residents of Goshen kept the community together. Some people moved to "greener pastures," but a nucleus of Goshenites remained and the community has stayed strong.

The residents of Goshen take great pride in their community and their school and, slowly, the town is buzzing again.

Activity swirling around the new farmers’ co-op and the adjoining Eagle’s Nest are reminiscent of the days when people had to elbow their way through Max Shirley’s mercantile store. The Circle S country cooking restaurant is as crowded at meal time as the streets of yesteryear were packed on Saturday afternoons. People are choosing the sleepy little town as a bedroom community.

The town council, with a little nudging from the townspeople, realized that Goshen has what many people are looking for these days – a quiet, slow-paced place to call home.

However, downtown Goshen was not putting its best foot forward when people came looking. The business row was not much more than an eyesore. Goshen Mayor Michael Sanders said about five years ago, the council began to look for a solution to the town’s ills.

Ideas and possibilities were plenty but, realistically, the best solution was to raze the business row and build an attractive city complex that would house the business and social needs of the community.

But, the town council operates on a small budget and the council members, who make $25 a month for service to their community, knew they needed a source with deeper pockets than theirs to make such a dream come true.

"We managed to buy all of the buildings in town, except one on each end, and had them torn down to make room for our community complex," Sanders said. "And, we looked for ways to finance the project."

The plans were on the drawing board and as soon as financing could be secured, the town council

was ready to move ahead with a project that would give Goshen a new and much more inviting look.

The financial assistance the mayor and town council needed came in the possibility of a USDA grant and low interest loan. Having done all of the paper work and having all the "T’s"crossed and the "I’s" dotted, all the town council and citizens could do was sit back and wait.

"The council members and people around town kept asking me, ‘What do you hear from the USDA?’ and I would have to tell them ‘nothing yet,’ Sanders said. "But this week, I had something to tell."

Sanders received verbal notification that the grant and loan have been approved, but he kept the good news under his hat until the town council met.

"We talked about other things and I didn’t mention anything about the grant and loan until one of the council members asked, ‘What do you hear from the USDA?’"

Like a proud papa, Sanders shared the good news.

"They were a bunch of happy folks," he said, adding that, as the news spread around the community, there were smiles all around.

"We don’t have official notification yet and I’m told that there will be an official presentation made by the USDA and, when that’s done, we’ll be ready to move ahead," Sanders said. "We are really appreciative of this opportunity. This new complex is going to really make a difference in our town. It will give us a good look and we’ll be better able to serve the needs of the community."

The property has been cleared and readied for the 5,000-square foot facility which will house city offices, a conference room, kitchen, restrooms, a community activity room and, hopefully, the town’s nutrition center, Sanders said.

"The areas between the city complex and the other buildings on the block will be landscaped and there will be a parking area," the mayor said. "It will

something all of our citizens can be proud of."

Now that the grant and loan applications have been approved, the question facing the council is what to do with the town’s historic mobile jail that was, in years past, transported around the area by wagon to incarcerate those who had gotten caught on the wrong side of the law.

Adding to the interest of the old jail is the intrigue of "Hank Williams Sr. slept here."

There are many who claim to have "gotten" legendary Hank out of jail after a wild night in Goshen. However, the late Jim Tom Norman said the country music singer told him he would give him half of everything he made from that day forward if he would pay his bail. According, to Norman, he contacted his lawyer and asked him to draw up the papers. The lawyer told him to forget it. Williams would never amount to anything.

Sanders said the old jail is part of the lore of the land of Goshen and is worth preserving.

The jail might bring people to Goshen, the mayor said, but the progressive attitude, the friendly small town atmosphere and the never-say-die spirit of the town’s residents will keep them there.