Community Reminisces on Old Recreation Center. Growth On The Way.

Melissa Cordell
L Town Radio Staff Reporter

Lincolnton’s old recreation center was demolished on the morning of Monday, August 5. Crews are still working to clear the rubble away.

Piedmont Companies will be building two new townhome buildings near Lincolnton’s downtown area. Phase One of the new townhomes will begin in the upcoming few months as construction starts on the lot at the intersection of East Pine Street and North Aspen Street. The lot where the old recreation center used to sit on East Pine Street will be Phase Two. Piedmont Companies will start construction to put another townhome building there, but there is not a timeline for it at this time. The City of Lincolnton has already fixed the utilities to accommodate the construction company’s needs for the complexes.

In an article by Former Director of The Lincoln County Historical Association, Harpe Consulting and now with Richard Grubb & Associates Jason Harpe, described it as “historically significant as the county’s first public recreation facility established in 1947. The Youth Center building was constructed as a temporary school building ca. 1921 and the facility closed in 1927. Little is known about the building’s usage in the intervening years. In 1947 the four-classroom building was acquired by the City of Lincolnton and extensively renovated on the interior for the new recreational use. A professionally-trained woman director, Betty Gabriel, was hired to lead the newly-established recreation program. The building retains historic integrity from the 1947 to 1959 period of significance when the building was used to conduct important recreational, cultural, and social activities that enriched the lives of Lincolnton’s youth and adults.” Harpe went on to say, “Although the Center continued to function until 1989, the period after 1959 is not of exceptional importance. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 30, 2009.” Harpe also wrote the National Register of Historical Places nomination for the building.

Mayor Ed Hatley

Mayor Ed Hatley said the old recreation center building was inspected but had been in bad shape since he first took office. “The building was in such physical shape that saving the building was infeasible. That building served the community well,” he said. “It was still being used when I came in ’74., but it was abandoned shortly thereafter. We had several people look at it to see if it could be saved, but it could not.”

Members of the community are sad to see the building go. The building served as one of Lincolnton’s main recreation centers until Betty G. Ross Park was built. Most are understanding, especially those that toured the building and knew the history of its problems.

Steve Bailey fondly remembers pieces of his childhood at the old recreation center. “It was a place where the ‘kids’ would go in the late 1960s and 70s,” he said. “There was the one bowling lane in the basement that we would have to set up your pins. Local bands would play sometimes, and there would be good turnouts by the local ‘hippies.'”

He understands why the building had to be demolished and said: “If it had been 40 years ago, it could have been saved, but it has been past help for a long time.”

Bailey was able to document the inside of the building in 2004 and pointed out termite trails and how bad the building was decaying.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEVE BAILEY

Councilman Roby Jetton

Councilman Roby Jetton grew up with the old recreation center and shared what entered his mind as he drove by it Tuesday morning. “When I went by there this morning and saw it down, it really hit me hard. It really hit a little spot in my heart because ten thousand memories went through my mind in a matter of minutes,” he said. “I can remember, especially after a football game, the inside being packed with boys and girls, shag dancing, [and] people playing ping pong and bowling. It was a home away from home for kids in Lincolnton. It was where everyone went. It just brought back a lot of good memories.”

One of those good memories is how his boxing career started off in the building when he was a kid, and how it prompted him to go pro in his 30s. “I tried everywhere in the world I could to save that building,” he said. “I was talking with a gentleman in Lincolnton who was really interested in buying it and making it a restaurant.” Unfortunately, those plans fell through quickly when both men toured the building and encountered the termite infestation, making it “impossible to save.”

Melany Dawn Adams, a local photographer who has also been on Lincoln County’s Historic Properties Commission for the past nine years, echoed Bailey’s understanding. “Most people only saw the front of the building, and it still looked structurally sound,” she said, adding, “But it wasn’t.”

David Abernethy and Doreen Yates bought the property in 2013. Years later, it was in the City of Lincolnton’s hands after being given The Downtown Development Association of Lincolnton.

Adams said: “I am always sad to see a part of Lincolnton be gone forever, but I know it has been in such tragic shape for so many years and was so unsafe that it couldn’t be saved. If anyone could have saved it within any reason at all, I am sure the [previous] owner would have. He [Abernethy] has saved other structures when possible. Someone was going to end up trespassing and maybe get hurt since the roof and floors had caved in years ago. I am sad to see it go, but I am looking forward to seeing what comes next. It will be a place for new families to make new memories.”

Amy Brown, a resident who also saw the building in its glory days, doesn’t remember too much about it but knows it means a lot to many residents. “I just remember going there in the ’70s for after school activities. I remember going there and doing crafts with Erma Dean Hoyle,” she said. “She later became Director of Parks and Recreation. My friend and I looked forward to going there after school because she was such a nice, friendly, and welcoming person.”

Marsha Burton Millsaps spoke on why people might be upset with what they view as a sudden and unprompted change. “Buildings from your childhood are always remembered. A recreation center was a wonderful place to get together with friends and have fun. We had the Oaklawn recreation center back in the ’60s, which was a cement pond and a building,” she said. “Time changes things, and sometimes buildings get old and are torn down. Lincolnton is growing, and we see changes coming. Change can scare people, but if Lincolnton can progress successfully, it has to be able to accommodate the influx of new people with housing.”

Millsaps’ last point is all too true for people moving into the area. Most, if not all, Lincolnton townhome and apartment complexes currently have waiting lists. For some, that can mean waiting months to find housing. Lincolnton undoubtedly needs the complexes that Piedmont Companies will build this year.

Mayor Hately concluded, “It will have a new life with the condo buildings and encourage living downtown.”

Melissa Cordell is an alumna of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies and is the Staff Reporter to L Town Radio. To email Melissa with a story idea or news tip email at news@ltownradio.com

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