Old Soldiers Just Fade Away …
The only other wooden survivor of the Gay Nineties in the business section of Corning stands at the S.W. corner of Second and Pine. Built by Dr. Robert Prichard in 1892, as an office for himself and a home for his bride (nee Ada Adams the property is now owned by Pocahontas Federal and has been vacant for more than a year . . . it has just about reached the end of the trail.
Nineteenth century Corningites recognized the dangers of fire in a wooded town, so one of the earliest offices set up by flue inspector to insure that flues were as fireproof and safe as possible. In spite of the precaution, the business section suffered many fires, some of which were halted by heroic work of the Volunteer Bucket Brigade and others by sheer luck - the wind shifting at a providential moment. Fireproof materials were needed and in the early 90's the town was blessed by the arrival of W. H. and George Clark, brick makers, who set up a kiln and drying yard and dug clay for their product across the street from Court Square. The county jail was built with Clark brick. The large, two-story facility on the alley West of the present facility, served until 1915.
The first brick business building appeared on First in 1895 to house Barnett Brothers Mercantile and Ferguson and Wheeler and H. W. Lasater occupied the building after the Barnetts moved to Leslie. Since 1906 the place has been the East anchor of Hop Alley. The half baked adobe type of brick used can be noted in the walls, but the brick masons knew how to make the walls strong and bicentennial may find the site unchanged.
The Northwest corner of Second and Pine enshrines two more faded old soldiers-the two-story Polk Bank built by W. D. Polk in 1896, the upstairs was a home for Mr. Polk's bride (nee Laura Skinner) and a picket fence for family use enclosed the rear of the lot. Before 1900, Mr. Polk had moved his family to the mansion he had built in the West part of Corning and another two-story brick adjoined on Second street to the North. A mercantile establishment used he first floor and the second as the Corning Opera House. Mr. Jim appeared on stage in 1900 when he led Kitty Matthews class from the wings, overwhelmed by the glamour, the stage struck lad passed the exit after the first round, but was given the hook by an alerted Miss Kitty the second time around, "You would scarce expect one of my age to march in public on the stage."
The demand for Clark homemade brick could not be filled by the confined quarters on Court Square so the Clarks purchased a farm North of town and moved their factory to Brown's Crossing, the point where the wagon road turned right from the Iron Mountain railroad. When the clay gave out at this place in the early years of' the 20th century, a third site was acquired East of the railroad near Corning Lake.
The Barker brick, for many a year the office of Dr. N. J. Latimer, is a two-story structure. The upstairs used for law offices, was built by Tom Barker, a Gay Ninety Mayor of Corning around 1895. In 1897 as mayor, Barker passed more law and order legislation than all the mayors of the preceding decade and the Gay Nineties ended on a drab note. No more Hot Times in the Old Town Tonight - We went dry. Now owned by Hulen Tribble, the old timer has been transformed into an ultra modern apartment residence. The exterior has been unchanged but once you step inside you leave the 19th century behind. The Tribbles should be given Public Benefactor medals for preserving the historical landmark.
Nearing Court Square, the Baker Abstract Company occupies the Gay Nineties brick built by Attorney G. B. Oliver and used as his law office for many years.
The firm's business has forced Benny Baker to enlarge the original structure, but he also has a sense of history and lower Second Street still wears a final trace of the years when Lower Corning was a business section of town with offices and stores and hotels around the Square, Since an abstract company uses the courthouse for much of the time, bicentennial may find the Baker heirs, doing business at the same old stand. But why not finish the first too years before tackling a second century?