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Building a model community

Clermont native re-creates the town of his youth, in miniature

POSTED: May 31, 2011 12:30 a.m.
/For The Times

A view of the model of Clermont created from memory by longtime resident Robert Allison.

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He may have never been a school teacher, but Robert Allison has spent the last six years putting together a very detailed history lesson.

It has taken more than 100 hours, but Allison has finally completed a model community, replicating how Clermont looked during his youth.

"When I started, I couldn't find very many pictures of old Clermont, so I said, ‘Well, I'll just make it from memory,'" said Allison, a lifelong resident of Clermont and a former town councilman.

Relying on his memory and recollections of other community members, Allison has completed a mini-town that includes more than 300 buildings, figures and accessories.

He began making the models at the suggestion of a doctor, who suggested that Allison begin a hobby after suffering a stroke in 2003. He started in 2005 with the historic Clermont Hotel.

"At first, I was just gonna do a few of them, Allison said. "But it kept growing."

He says he used "ice cream sticks, cardboard, tongue depressors" and anything else he could find to build the various structures and pieces of the town.

He may have used a hodgepodge of construction materials, but Allison's town is anything but haphazard.

Take the top off the "calaboose," or jail, and you'll notice that Allison took the time to build a couple of cells for holding miniature prisoners.

"It was 12-by-12, the best I can remember," Allison said.

And maybe even more interesting than the town itself - including structures complete with porches and even landscaping - are the accompanying stories.

"Years and years ago, a man came by my house talking about the calaboose. I wasn't even interested in this stuff at the time. He said that him and a friend got in trouble and the police grabbed them and walked them down Main Street to the calaboose.

"When (the police officer) stopped to unlock it, they grabbed him, took his gun and locked him in jail. Somebody found (the officer) later that evening and he resigned."

Another jail-related story involved a prisoner's cousin using a truck to pull the front off the building to free the captive.

Allison's stories about happenings from years past aren't limited to just the jail.

One building in particular, which features a wagon on the roof, stands out from the rest and sparks a memory of a teenage prank turned into a business opportunity.

"Sam Hamilton had a blacksmith shop. One Halloween, some boys decided to take one of the wagons he was working on and put it on the roof. They came back and said they was the ones that did it and said they would take it down. (Hamilton) said, ‘No. Let that stay up there. It's good advertisement.' It stayed up there about a year."

Some of Clermont Mayor James E. Nix's family history is documented in the town model. His father's old cotton gin, the family store and the home where Nix was born all are represented.

"I remember a lot of this because the town didn't change a lot for years," Nix said.

"A lot of it changed when I left for college around '63 but up until then, except for a little remodeling on the houses, not much had been done."

Last week, the complete model community was on display at the Clermont Gym. The gym is on the property where Clermont's former elementary and high school stood. The school is also represented in the replica set, complete with a teacher standing on the doorstep ringing a bell and kids lining up to march inside.

"It was a high school and grammar school together," Allison said.
In the late 1950s, the older students were transferred to North Hall High School, but the younger students stayed behind, Nix said.

"I drove one of the last school buses out of this school when they transferred all the kids to Wauka Mountain (Elementary School)," said Allison, who had a 30-year career as a school bus driver.

"They closed the grammar school down at Christmas break. It was a sad time. The kids were all crying."

Although the entire model won't be on display again for a while, portions of it will be available for viewing in the Clermont Historical Society office at 640 Main St..

Fittingly, Main Street runs through the center of the model town.

"What is now Main Street was the main highway," Nix said. "They built (U.S.) 129 to bypass Clermont around (1960)."

Prior to the bypass, that road was a crucial component to travel in Northeast Georgia.

"In the fall on Saturdays, everybody was going up to the mountains and it would be bumper-to-bumper traffic all through here," Allison said.

"Even when I was a youngster, traffic get backed like that. You couldn't hardly get on Main Street from the side roads it was so bad," Nix added.

"For people in Atlanta, going up into the mountains towards Blairsville, Hiawassee and places like that - this was the route they took."

The Clermont replica provides a snapshot of how things used to be, when you could trade a basket of eggs for a sack of sugar at the general store, or stand on your porch and wait for the postmaster to deliver your mail astride his horse.

"There's been some good changes, but I'd rather have it how it used to be," Allison said.

And yet there are enough remnants of yesterday to keep Allison attached to his hometown.

"It's still a good, quiet place to live," Allison said. "Everybody gets along. I wouldn't go anywhere else."



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