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Group makes tracks in preserving Ayden's history

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A historic photo of the Ayden Depot that was recently restored for the Ayden Historical and Arts Society. A caption from the Feb. 25, 1937 Ayden Dispatch describes it as: “Picture of the Ayden Railroad Station made about 1890. In front of the ‘big’ locomotive is shown the late Dr. Joseph Dixon. The train stopped to let Doctor ‘Joe’ cross. (Picture courtesy of R.W. Smith.)”

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Lucas Simonds
The Times-Leader

Saturday, August 27, 2016

AYDEN — A group that formed last year to document and preserve Ayden’s past is working to digitize, restore and enlarge several photographs that capture historic scenes.

Members of the Ayden Historical and Arts Society, which was re-established in September, met earlier this month to discuss ongoing efforts to gather and preserve historic items and gather oral histories from Ayden. The group also is working on the photos with the help of ASAP Photo and Camera of Greenville.

One photo has been digitally restored, printed in a 24-inch-by-30-inch format and mounted on a sturdy display board. The photo, an 1890 shot of the original Ayden train depot, came from a collection of historic photos from society member Caroline Turnage Rouse.

“Years ago, there was a picture in the Ayden Dispatch, and it said, ‘Courtesy of R.W. Smith,’ and I didn’t know people were looking for this picture,” Rouse said. “R.W. Smith was my granddaddy, and when my mother died and we started going through the house … there’s a great big packing closet upstairs, and there were these boxes in the corner; she had no idea these pictures were even up there. We found a lot of pictures up there that are just amazing.”

The restored photo shows a crowd of people waiting at the depot and a train stopped to allow Dr. Joseph Dixon to cross the tracks.

“This Joe Dixon lived down in the Brick Kitchen area of Greene County and then migrated to Ayden when he finished medical school,” said society member Bill Norris, who has researched Dixon.

Dixon practiced medicine in Ayden until 1918, when he moved to Virginia in an attempt to help his breathing problems, society Chairwoman Andrea Norris said.

The cost to digitize, restore, print and mount the photo was $144, according to Norris, who asked for permission to continue working with ASAP to restore photos and to pay for the restoration with funds given to the society by the town. Society members agreed that she should continue with the project. The Ayden Board of Commissioners allocated $5,000 to the society in the town’s 2016-17 budget.

Also discussed was the collection of Ayden memorabilia and artifacts in the possession of Pat Persinger, owner of Happy’s Emporium. The daughter-in-law of longtime former Ayden Mayor Ross Persinger, Pat Persinger has spent years collecting items at yard and estate sales, and she hopes some of her collection can one day be housed in an Ayden museum.

“For 25 years I had an auction business, and as I’d go into houses in Ayden, you’d be absolutely surprised how many of the second generation do not want to keep this stuff because they don’t know what do with it or how to store it,” Persinger said. “A lot of people feel guilty about giving it away, but I think once they find out we have a safe place for it to go where people can enjoy it, that we will get a lot more people to donate.

“The majority of what I have here, I believe should belong to the Ayden Museum and the Town of Ayden; I think it should be shared with everybody that has a love for this town.”

Persinger’s collection comprises a wide range of items, including Ayden souvenirs such as a miniature horseshoe and jug, payment slips to old Ayden companies, historic Collard Festival Programs and ice picks from Ayden Ice Co.

“I’ve tried to give the collection to the town twice, but there was never a safe place to keep it, so I’ve kept it, waiting until we had the right safe place to put it,” Persinger said.

Plans for the Ayden Museum are still in the early stages, but there has been discussion of using a portion of the historic Dixon Building on Second Street.

The society plans to have an in-depth discussion of the proposed museum and the possibility of using the Dixon Building at the next meeting, 6 p.m. Sept. 13 in the education building of Ayden United Methodist Church.

To see more historic photos and learn about Ayden history, find the Facebook group “Save Historic Ayden” at www.facebook.com/SaveHistoricAyden.

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