Pioneer Museum inspired Elvin Light

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 19, 2003

Like most people who lived through the Great Depression, Elvin Light grew up with an appreciation for what he had and gave no thought to what it didn't have.

Life was hard, but life was good, &uot;If you can figure that out.&uot;

To Light, a plow point was much more than a cold piece of metal. It was a means of putting supper on the table. A basket of scattered cotton would fill a string quilt and a lantern would light the night.

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Every implement, every item had a use and filled a need. Without each and every one, life would have been harder than it already was.

Maybe that's why Light developed a love of &uot;old things.&uot;

&uot;I don't know why,&uot; he said. &uot;I guess it was because I grew up with them - needed them. I couldn't ever bring myself to throw anything away because I didn't know when I might need it.&uot;

Light became a collector of oldtiques and some things others called junk. He finally reached a point that he had more stuff than he had a place to keep it.

&uot;My wife, Daphine, said she had never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it,&uot; Light said, laughing. &uot;So, I decided that if I couldn't take it with me, I'd better find a place for it.&uot;

And the best place for pieces of history is a museum.

One day, Light decided that Arab needed a museum to house its history. So, he went to the mayor who referred him to the Arab Historical Society.

The historical society was interested but the idea needed a jump-start.

&uot;In 1989, me and Daphine made a little trip down to Florida and on the way we stopped in at the Pioneer Museum in Troy,&uot; Light said. &uot;I was well pleased with what they had done. I thought it would be something that we could do in Arab, but we were kind of short on money.&uot;

Light and the Arab Historical Society didn't let the cash shortfall keep them from their goal.

They worked with city officials who donated land for the museum of local history.

In 1990, the Hunt Schoolhouse became the first building in the Arab Historical Complex and soon to follow was the building that is now the Elvin Light Museum.

Light used the Pioneer Museum of Alabama as a model for the museum that houses truckloads of his collectibles.

&uot;What they had done at the Pioneer Museum really interested me,&uot; Light said. &uot;They had done such a good job and we just patterned the museum after theirs.&uot;

Like the Pioneer Museum of Alabama, the Elvin Light Museum has a village square with a barbershop, print shop, drug store and doctor's office.

&uot;At the Pioneer Museum, the shops set behind glass,&uot; Light said. &uot;We don't have glass, but we've got the same setup.&uot;

Over the doors of the museum hang several paintings of the old stores in Arab. The artist is

Troy native Nall Hollis.

The Light Museum also has a war exhibit that includes the Civil War and World War II.

&uot;We've got a large tool selection and a farm implement display on the floor,&uot; Light said. &uot;It's a nice museum for a small community of a little more than 7,000 people.&uot;

Having a museum named in his honor was a humbling experience

for Light. He takes pride in having a place to house the bits of history that he has collected over the years, but he's especially proud of enthusiastic support that the Arab Historical Society and the people of the community have given the project.

&uot;The historical complex is a community effort,&uot; Light said. &uot;Strictly a community effort. So many people have contributed to it. If they hadn't, it wouldn't be here today.&uot;

While on vacation in Texas, Light and his wife visited a town where engraved tiles were being sold for $100 each to fund a preservation project.

&uot;We brought the idea back and the historical society decided to sell engraved tiles for $50 each to raise money for the Arab Historical Complex,&uot; Light said. &uot;I believe that we've sold around 800 and that's brought in some much needed money.&uot;

Because of the generosity of the people in and around Arab, the historical complex continues to grow. Several buildings have been donated and are on site.

&uot;We have the Rice Church,

a blacksmith shop that is worked by a fourth generation blacksmith and a grist mill,&uot; Light said. &uot;When the grist mill is in operation the children really get a kick out of it. The miller grinds corn for them and they all get to take a little sample home. This is a great place to learn about our past and how people lived.&uot;

The Ruth Home is used for demonstrations of old-time crafts and for quilting bees.

None of the structures came to the historical complex in mint condition.

&uot;There was work to be done on all of them and we didn't have any trouble getting volunteers,&uot; Light said. &uot;We had work days on Wednesdays and people would come and do what needed to be done. The women would paint and caulk windows and cook lunch for all the volunteers. It was hard work but we all enjoyed it.&uot;

Light was fascinated by the country store at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama and he thought the historical complex would not be complete without one. After all, anyone 50 years old or more had memories of country stores and anyone younger needs to know about them, Light said. &uot;The country store was the hub of the community.&uot;

So, he made it happen.

He went out and acquired and tore down old houses, barns and cribs. From the scraps, the community volunteers built an old country store. When they finished they stepped back and found it was a job well done.

&uot;I think everybody around here is proud of the Arab Historical Complex,&uot; Light said. &uot;A lot of hard work has gone into it by a lot of people. So many people have made donations. It has been a community effort. It took everybody working together to make it happen. This is something we did - together.&uot;

But, the Arab Historical Complex is history in the making.

A 97-year-old retired teacher has donated her 110-year-old home to the historical society at her death. It will be move to the complex, thus bringing more history to life.

Elvin Light and other members of the Arab Historical Society can't &uot;take it with them&uot; but what they will leave behind is a treasure of historical significance that no amount of money could buy.