A vintage hot air balloon being watched by a crowd. Notice the large number of people assisting the balloon on the ground – not today’s hot air balloon.

Submitted by Judy Sharp

If you happen to be near the Depot Museum any day now, you’ll probably see a few folks busily preparing the Museum for the season opening on the Smorgasbord weekend, coming up on June 2.  We’ve determined that “we bit off more than we could chew,” as mother used to say. Not all the items and pictures and clothes and documents will be where we’d like them to be, nor in their completed state. But it will be presentable and interesting and rearranged. And we certainly hope you will take a look while you’re in the area on Sunday, for the Smorgasbord dinner and door prize drawings.

Speaking of door prizes, we’d like to thank these Memphis merchants for generously donating nice prizes for the drawings we’ll be having on June 2, at the Downing Appreciation Days Building: Hair Co., Hopkins Lumber, Scotland County Pharmacy, RPM Truck Accessories, Witmers Furniture, Gas & More BP, Memphis Mercantile & Appliance Stores, and Countryside Flowers. We appreciate you all.

Two events have dominated the City of Downing for many years now. The annual Downing Depot Museum’s Smorgasbord dinner held at the beginning of summer, and the Downing Appreciation Days weekend held at the end of summer. Both events have drawn big crowds to the area. They are like Homecoming, when past residents from far and wide tend to come home for an infrequent visit. These times are looked forward to by many locals, and lots of preparations are made.

If you look back at Downing Museum News of yester-year you will find a bit of nostalgia about Downing Appreciation Days. This event is held in September each year. Imagine, in 1976, when the Burlington Northern Depot was recently moved and the Museum was just getting started. Inez Shaw reported that in one day, “more than 1,000 people milled through the [Depot] building viewing displays and demonstrations.” That just boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

In the early years of the Museum, 1976 through 1978, collections and demonstrations varied during the Appreciation Days. One was of Bob Stice’s collection of arrowheads and artifacts found near Downing. Collections representing businesses of old included: ice and tobacco tools of the late Henry Ross and a hand-operated sheep shearing machine of Fred Havens. Two items that were new in the Museum displays were the first fire-fighting equipment tank and a freight wagon that was used by the Downing Lumber Co. to convey lumber from the railroad to their building. There was also a taxidermist and rock collection. The whole while the organ was being played to entertain visitors. Demonstrations taking place included quilting, needlepoint, coffee grinding, butter churning, tearing rags for rug making, crocheting, rope making, shoe repair, and making a broom like those that were handmade in Downing during the 1870s.

The Hocker Brothers’ Model Ts. Looks like they were ready for a road tour, including all the girls and a baby.

By the mid-1970s, people no doubt missed the railroad, the sound of the train coming through town day and night. But they were good at remembering the past. Sentiment ran deep for Downing history. That’s how the depot became a museum. That’s how so many things have been donated over the years, to gather the combination of interesting items we have today. That’s how you can remember the museum when you’re getting rid of “that old thing.” Don’t throw it away. Share it. It may seem that the museum is chock full of stuff, but there is always room for a new-old thing. Just let us try.

You might think the Depot Museum has some of everything. In some cases that may be true, but while preparing the special Transportation exhibit for the opening of the Museum in two weeks, it became apparent that some transportation modes were missing—for instance early tractors, bicycles and unicycles, cruising cars of the 1950s, someone’s first car being rebuilt in the backyard, and 3- and 4-wheeled ATVs replacing horses around the farms. We believe these things existed, but have found no photos to prove it. Do you have some to share? to let us scan to use, or to donate to the Museum?

You may be surprised, but the mode of rail travel is very minimal in our photo collection. We have the standard pictures of the last engine, the Doodlebug, and the bridge crew posing near Centerville. Yes there are a couple of shots of the depot with people posing at the door, but the shot is from far, far away and the people are indistinguishable. What’s missing is a real train traveling the real tracks near or through Downing, or stopped at the depot. There are no engines and engineers, cabooses and conductors, brakemen working the train, freight being loaded or unloaded, nor passengers waiting at the depot. Do you have some to share? to let us scan to use, or to donate to the Museum?

Three of Downing’s service stations, each referred to by different names. At top left is “Bob Wineingar’s ‘filling station.’ The Methodist Church has a parking lot here now [date unknown]. The house at rear is Dr. Drake’s.” Top right is the Harris’ Phillips 66 station that you can still see pillar bottoms standing near Hwy 136 and Route A junction, in 2019. Several people owned or operated this station over the years. At bottom is the Morgan “Auto Port,” a common name for early gas stations. This was run by Frosty Jackson for many years. Jack’s Coffee Shop shared a portion of it.

Does someone have pictures of Hwy 4 becoming Hwy 136? Of the first paving or rocking of Prime Street, when Drag Day wasn’t needed anymore? Of a horse race on One Mile Road, between Downing and Memphis? How about an event at Campground? with some of the Gypsies who reportedly frequented the area? Are there photos of slaves working a farm or driving a wagon? or of the dedication of the Slave Memorial placed at Campground Cemetery? How about pictures of a family cemetery that is long unused, but not forgotten? These may all be long buried subjects, but alas they are in fact, our history. Let us share them at the Downing Depot Museum. We’d love to hear from you.