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A man on a meticulous mission
Robert Allison took his love of Clermonts history and recreated it
Robert Allison uses ice cream sticks, tin foil and string to help create his miniature Clermont. Plans are in the works to display the buildings at Clermont Days on Sept. 20.

About two years ago, Clermont resident Robert Allison suffered a debilitating stroke.

To keep his mind sharp, Allison's doctor said he needed to stay busy and find something to do.

So Allison did just that, using memories of Clermont in the 1930s and '40s as inspiration to create the town in miniature. He now has about 80 percent of the old town built.

"Dr. (Hank) Lewis told me that I had to have something to occupy my mind," said Allison, who was a Clermont city councilman for eight years. "It has worked wonderful; I guess you could say this has saved my life ... the stroke just left me gone."

Lewis said he knew Allison loved recalling old stories and looking at old photos, so creating the miniatures seemed natural.

"Every time he has come to me he has brought me old-time pictures," Lewis

said. "He'll start to reminisce about all the people that used to live there and he knows everybody and he knows their parents and grandparents and what they did for a living. It seems to be the one thing that it's one of his pleasures in life ... and has an appreciation for it.

"So, I encouraged him to do a little hobby. It has a charm and a quaintness to it that is neat, in a way."

When the stroke hit, Allison, 71, was sitting in a parking lot in Clermont on the school bus he had driven for 30 years.

Barbara Allison, Robert's wife of nearly 49 years, said at first the couple spent time at the library to give her husband something to do.

"He just had to have something to do and we spent hours at the library," she said. "Trying to find pictures of Clermont and there wasn't any, so he said ‘I'll just have to build Clermont.'"

And that is exactly what he did.

He recreated every building, by hand, from Main Street through downtown Clermont including his grandparents' home, old smokehouses, filling stations, a hotel, cotton gins and a theater - just to name a few landmarks.

Just recently, Allison completed the old Clermont School.

Allison, who also owned an auto repair shop for years, said he had never done anything crafty before and never expected he would be creating miniature homes and buildings from scratch. He uses ice cream sticks, tongue depressors, tin foil, string and small rocks to make the small buildings. But actually, anything laying around could be appropriated into the crafty construction.

"I painted ... I drew and made the woods," he said.

But through his therapy and discussing the tales of the past, Allison teaches a priceless history lesson to all who stop by.

Clermont resident Jimmy McDonald said he is grateful for what Allison has been doing.

"There is a lot of stuff here that was gone before I came around," he said. "I set and watch Main Street every night, that's why I love what Robert's doing."

Through watery eyes, Allison can tell you about when his father, Charles Allison, died after an accident at New Holland Mill. Allison was only 15 when he died, and his brother had just been born.

His other stories include one about an unidentified teacher at Clermont School who wouldn't stop ringing a bell on the schoolhouse steps, a man who drove a loaded-down wagon pulled by goats called the Goat Man and how a heavy-set woman was lowered over a balcony and placed in her coffin after her passing.

"He (the Goat Man) went all over the United States, I reckon," he said. "He had goats pulling his wagon. And he had pictures he would sell for advertisement where the Dairy Spot is now. He had 10 to 15 goats, had some behind letting them rest. He just wanted to be like that. He was supposed to be a pretty wealthy man."

One of Allison's favorite memories is getting his moon pie that cost a nickel before school each morning, and riding a horse and wagon with his father to Quillian's Corner.

As he finishes the history lesson he ends it with "Clermont was just a nice place to be."

So what's next for Allison? Well, he still has 20 percent of Clermont to finish.

"I've got the farms, all the farms around here to do, to look like when I was a kid," he said.

There also are plans to exhibit his miniatures at Clermont Days on Sept. 20.

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