Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Walnut Street

Holiday block party brings back fond memories for residents

Thaisi Da Silva/TimesDaily
Jenny Ozbirn and her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie, share a kiss Thursday night during a block party in the Walnut District in downtown Florence.

By Brian Hughes
Staff Writer
Friday, July 3, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

FLORENCE - Mason Ingram, spry at 88 years old, took in a block party Thursday, reminiscing on the street he lived on as a boy back in the 1920s.

Scanning over Walnut Street, now part of a historic district in downtown Florence, he pointed to the bungalow he lived in for 17 years before joining the military.

"The children who live here now, they don't realize that when I was their age I took my cow to school," he said of the former Coffee High School. "I would leave it outside and it would cut the grass."

Flash forward seven decades, and it's apparent why Ingram proclaimed, "My, how things have changed."

The first sign? The artificial snow machine that spit out white flurries behind him as he spoke about his days spent there during the Great Depression.

But that's what the organizers of this block party wanted - a tribute to the history of the street and appreciation of its evolution.

When Billy Ray Warren, a Florence historian and Walnut Street resident, moved here in 1971, there was only one child on the street. Now, there are 22.

"There was a 50-year gap in the time it took to build this neighborhood," he said, standing in front of a cornucopia of American flags. "Because of that, there's a lot of diversity in the homes and makeup of the neighborhood."

That diversity was on full display this pre-holiday night.

A few children rode tricycles less than a football field's distance from an old shuffleboard court recently discovered by the neighborhood. Back then, kids weren't allowed to play there, said Walnut resident Jimmy Hill, who co-wrote a book with Warren about the history of the street.

In a way, the Walnut Historic District looked like a mini-city, as police barricades blocked off the party from incoming traffic.

Lisa Beumer, another home owner there, said they paid a $10 fee for the permit.

"They used to have these Fourth parties all the time but they stopped having them a while back," she said over the phone. "A few years ago, we started it back up again as a way for everyone to come together."

Ingram approved of the move.

"It looks great," he said. "It's certainly different, but it's amazing what they've also been able to preserve here."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

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