Can you imagine going to work each day in an office where the furniture and other items happened to be nearly one hundred years old?
That's exactly what Elma Shipp did every single day she worked for the city of Douglasville as the city clerk. For approximately thirty years she went to work each day and sat at a desk the very first city clerk used beginning in 1875. She also inherited a potbellied stove and other items.
Yes, during the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s Mrs. Shipp dealt with that potbellied stove in an attempt to heat her office. As soon as the coals would turn white her office would be too hot. She would open a window to try and balance the temperature only to have someone arrive from the cold. The visitor would invariably add more coals to the stove starting the process all over again.
Another hold-over from the early days was a semi-circle of straight backed chairs with straw seats. When Mrs. Shipp began her job she soon discovered the city clerk's office seemed to be the gathering place in town. Pretty soon the visitors headed off to other places since Mrs. Shipp stayed too busy for conversation.
One of the reasons why the city clerk's office was visited so much has to do with Mayor's Court which is no longer in existence. The clerk recorded all of the cases and though most were minor they did add some excitement to small town life and blemished some respectable names.
The dockets indicate convictions for fighting and failure to pay city taxes which ranged from twenty cents to one dollar a year. Failure to pay meant working on the city's streets, and if this sentence was refused you could find yourself with a week in jail and an additional three dollar fine.
Around 1965 the city moved into new offices at the corner of Church and Pray Streets, and Mrs. Shipp received new furniture. She could finally retire some of the items that had been In the city clerk's office since 1875, but she chose to do something else altogether.
Elma Ship created Douglasville's first attempt at preserving history.
Mrs. Shipp set about making an exhibit out of furnishings and articles in an upstairs office that wasn't being used. She called it the "Yesteryear Room" because she attempted to make the room just as she had found the city clerk's office on her first day of employment in the late 1930s. Several folks around town considered to be "old timers" told her she had succeeded.
Many stated it was hard not to visualize Douglasville's first city clerk feeding the stove a little coal and rubbing his hands over it to ease stiff fingers before beginning the day's work.
It only cost Mrs. Shipp about $50 to get the room done as most of the items were already in place, and what she didn't have she purchased from a second hand store. The "Yesteryear Room" contained a potbellied stove, hand-crank phone, and even a copper spittoon. Upon the desk she placed a turkey quill, an iron horse-shaped stamp bearing the seal of Douglasville, a pair of wire-rimmed eyeglasses, a corn cob pipe, iron bookends and a kerosene lamp.
The only modern thing in the room was the fluorescent lighting.
The item that really interests me is the mention of a ten foot wide oak desk that had been used by every city clerk up to that time. It sat up higher than a normal desk - almost like a counter. There were no nails used in its construction. All of the joints were dovetailed.
The desk was at least 91 years old in 1966 which means today it would be 138 years old. Here is a picture of the desk as it appeared in Fannie Mae Davis' book with Nick Davis, a city manager sitting at it:
I know that eventually the "Yesteryear Room" was dismantled, but what happened to everything - the desk, the potbellied stove and even the docket books for the Mayor's Court?
Seriously....Where are they? Especially that desk...
The picture at the beginning of this post shows Jake Dalrymple and N.L. Sparks in the "yesteryear room". If you look closely you can see many of the items mentioned above including the cantankerous potbellied stove. That picture appeared in an "Atlanta Journal and Constitution" Sunday magazine article published about Mrs. Shipp close to her retirement in 1966.