It takes prayer and a village to revive a small town square. That’s what a group of community-minded Petersburg folks have found to be true while on a mission to revitalize their town.
“People are so excited about what’s happening here,” said resident Cathey Hargrove Fullerton.
Petersburg was once a thriving community with a hardware, grocery, clothing and drug stores. It had a bank, schools and a library, as well, but when the railroad stopped coming through town, the schools became centralized and industry left, many residents looked to the cities for employment, and the town began its decline.
Despite the town’s state, many people still love Petersburg and remember when the town thrived.
Several businesses on the square came and went over the years, but the square retained the Town Hall, fire department and post office, along with the beauty shop on the north side of the square.
Years ago, Vivian Sanders, a much admired, retired high school English teacher, moved the town’s all-volunteer library from the local elementary school to the square. Mrs. Sanders and Gladys Tudor helped to get things started, Fullerton said.
While attending a tea held for Sanders, former student Fullerton asked her friend, Peggy Foster, about giving her art lessons. Within a month, in August 2017, a group of women gathered for art classes at Peggy’s home, and they began to form a bond.
They wanted a place to display their artwork, and local resident, Hal Sanders, generously agreed to let the group use his building. The building served as a bank until it went belly up during The Great Depression and never reopened as a bank.
A number of people in the community were inspired and pulled together to spruce the place up, restore exterior woodwork and make needed repairs to the interior.
A large mirror was donated, and others pooled their talents to frame pictures, sew curtains and set up a Facebook page.
“If we wanted something, it just showed up,” said Pat Bowers, a retired teacher and area resident.
“We know God is behind this, and we’re just all so happy to be part of it,” said Fullerton.
“We have so much fun ... we’re just friends with a common goal,” said Deborah Hardin.
“We have no ulterior motive; we just want a sense of community,” Fullerton explained.
Entry to the gallery, now named The Wooden Indian Art Collective, is through massive carved wood and glass doors. Walking into the gallery, a customer is greeted to a tastefully decorated gallery, accented with shiny refinished wood floors and oriental area rugs.
Paintings are tastefully displayed against exposed brick walls, and ornate woodwork frames a door that leads into the former bank’s all-rock safe. The old safe’s rock ceiling is held up with thick railroad ties.
In an alcove, more paintings are displayed, decorative painted flower pots, exquisite hand-made wood trays and more are displayed. In addition to holding classes for her friends, Peggy plans to hold classes for children, pre-teens and adults.
“We want to give people something to do,” said Foster. The gallery is open Friday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The community’s next project was to open another store, named Junk & Stuff – “I wanted something to make people smile,” said Fullerton, referring to the name of the store.
The large wood doors have been artfully painted, and the interior of the store is packed with all sorts of treasures, ranging from antique furniture, rocking horses, dishes, decorative pillows, dolls, jewelry, tack, chick feeders and much more. The store is open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
During the Parks & Recreation Board’s annual Christmas Parade, both of the buildings were decked out with lights, lending a more festive atmosphere to the celebration.
Bake sales are being held every Friday on the square with donations used to help restore the all-volunteer library. Painting has begun on the library façade, and once the library is finished, the group has their eyes fixed on more projects. Plans are to paint all of the buildings three different colors.
“We want to preserve the buildings,” said Hardin. The group was quick to point out that they really don’t have hopes of becoming another tourist attraction like Bell Buckle. “We’re not trying to thrive – just survive,” said Fullerton.
In April, the town will hold its Spring Fling, where anyone in the community can set up a yard sale. Vendors are welcome to set up tents, and the Pickin’ and Grinnin’ musicians will entertain onlookers.
The Parks and Rec Board continues to organize the town’s events, including the Pickin’ & Grinnin’ gathering on the second Saturday of the month and open mic on the last Saturday of the month.
In addition, an acupuncturist from Murfreesboro comes to town once a week, and another store, The Thread, is expected to be opening this spring. Mid-century 1950s painted furniture and jewelry will be showcased there.
“We hope to have everything up and running by spring,” Fullerton said.