Memories remain after fire destroys historic building

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ARLINGTON -- Several current and former Arlington residents remember the house fondly for the Christmas Eve drop-in receptions "Miss Mildred" hosted at her beautifully decorated home year after year.

Others remember the big front porch that was screened before the days of air conditioning.

Many people also recall the former home of Carl and Mildred Clements for the dairy that the family ran behind the home, which dated back to 1870 according to the 1994 book "Against Oblivion: A History of Calhoun County" by the Calhoun County Historical Club.

Unfortunately, the "Oldest House in Arlington" was destroyed by a fire on Dec. 27. DeeDee Lisenby, who lived in the home, said the fire started around 8:30 p.m. Lisenby was reading on her bed at the time when her 8-month-old black cocker spaniel mix puppy, Blaxi, indicated that she needed to go outside.

After going outside with the dog for about 10 minutes, Lisenby returned to her home to continue to read, but instead opted to grab a snack.

"I went to the kitchen and made a piece of toast with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry fig preserves that my niece made," she said. "As I was heading out of the kitchen, I heard a boom. ... The outlet behind the bed exploded just inches from where my head had been. I had a fire extinguisher beside my bed, but it didn't work. I tried to beat it out with my blankets, but it was already spreading up the wall."

Within minutes -- the home built with "fat lighter wood" and which included hand-hewn exceptionally large support beams -- was engulfed in flames. The Arlington Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. Neighbors who have lived on the street for decades couldn't believe what they were seeing and how quickly the fire spread.

"It just took off like you couldn't believe," said neighbor Chuck Cowart, whose house sits adjacent to Lisenby's. "It was very tough to stand in my yard, since my house is right next to it; to see it burn right to the ground."

After the fire appeared to have been contained around 10:30 p.m., the house caught fire again about 3 a.m. Dec. 28. Arlington Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Trey Mock said a preliminary investigation had cited an electrical wire shortage in the front bedroom as the cause, but a final determination will be made by a fire marshal's investigation.

"(The first time) it was well-involved upon our arrival," Mock said. "It was an old fat lighter house, and once they get going it's hard stopping them. It was stopped; all the walls were up after the first one, but it was still a total loss. It started again about 3 a.m., and that pretty much wiped it out.

"It kind of hurt all our feelings (because) we didn't save it," he added. "That's always our goal is to save something that we pull up on. This is the third in the city (recently), and the only one we lost in the last month."

The book "Against Oblivion: A History of Calhoun County" said the property sale of the home's land was in 1861 from Augustus Shewmake to Benjamin J. Boynton. The book stated it was "thought Mr. Boynton sold the property a little later to John B. Bostwick. In 1921, Carl M. Clements bought the home and modernized it in 1937."

Jeanne Clements Hall, 75, was raised in the home from 1936 to '55. Hall said her mother, Mildred, lived in the home until 1997. Mildred Clements left the home to live in a nursing home before dying two months later, Hall said.

"It was a log house, and they boarded it up," Hall said. "I think Mother debated about leaving the logs because she liked it. Then, they covered the whole thing with wood, and it had the wide boards for floors. It was kind of drafty, so they put carpet on it. It was a comfortable house, but it wasn't very big. It had six rooms with three of those as bedrooms, 20-feet-by-20-feet, and a big kitchen, two fireplaces, with one in the master bedroom."

Hall said two of her strongest memories of the home were its big front porch and its dairy located behind the house.

"We hung out there and played games," Hall said of the front porch. "One kid (George Gee) from Blakely, who came over a lot, said it was the country club of Arlington. We had a dairy in the backyard and they delivered for years. Then they started selling wholesale to Colonial Dairies out of Albany. People didn't like the milk from the grocery store because they said it was too watery because they were used to the raw milk from Clements' dairy ... 'You can whip our cream, but you can't beat our milk.' Mother said they borrowed that (slogan) from a dairy in Jacksonville. People would get the cream off the top and make butter from that."

The honesty of Arlington residents who bought milk from the family was another memory that stood out for Hall.

"They would just drive down there and get the milk that was bottled up and leave their name and how much they got," she said. "We'd send them a bill at the end of the month, and sometimes they would charge it. Some would pay right there and (the balance) was always perfect. There was no dishonesty; never a missing dime. Some people would call if they couldn't remember if they paid and asked if we could check if they paid."

Patsy Bostwick was raised in a home on Pioneer Street, just down from the house, and was friends with Hall.

"I remember more of the dairy than the house itself," she said. "What I remember about the house was the center of the house was the original stagecoach stop before there was an Arlington, and at that time it was called Lick Skillet."

Martha Dozier, who helped write "Against Oblivion," called the loss of the oldest house in Arlington "terrible."

"It was historically valuable," she said.

Lisenby also had fond memories of the home and considered living in it a "dream come true." The 59-year-old had lived in the house since March 10, 2007, a date she remembers because it fell on her birthday.

"To me, it was the most beautiful house in town -- inside and out," she said. "The hand-hewn logs underneath, the beautiful pine paneling that covered the old logs, the 6-inch wide tongue-and-groove flooring in each of the huge bedrooms, even the pink tile in the guest bathroom -- I loved it all."

Since the fire, Lisenby has been living five houses down from "Miss Mildred's Home." She plans to rebuild on the same site "just a miniature version of the house that was here." She hopes construction will begin in March to coincide with the anniversary of when she started to live in the home.

"It was just such a beautiful house with the screened-in front porch going 50 feet wide with the two chimneys on each end of the metal roof," said Lisenby, who was standing in the ashes of the house as she spoke on the phone Friday. "I don't know if we'll be able to afford two fireplaces and chimneys on each end, but it would be nice to make it look as much like the old one as possible."