History comes alive downtown
A large downtown building in Russellville has been listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
The Alabama Historical Commission has listed the old Clark's Department Store on the register and a plaque commemorating that designation will be placed outside of the building.
Shane Lawler, a native of Haleyville, bought the 14,000 square feet building from Gerald and Betty Kiel, of Russellville, in July.
Lawler never planned on buying such a building, but he said he fell in love with the old Clark's store after Kiel showed him around.
"There is so much history and character in this building," Lawler said.
The three downstairs portions of the building are rented to local businesses, but the charm is in the upstairs, he said.
The sink that was once used to clean newborn babies who were delivered up there by a local doctor still hung on the wall until recently.
The door to Dr. A.L. Owens' dentist office still bears his name as well as the chair that generations of local patients sat in.
"All of the areas that were used by doctors were painted green," Lawler said. "I found out that was because green was supposed to be a soothing color."
The upstairs is filled with old items from the department store and includes Christmas decorations that were once used by the City of Russellville. Many local people remember one particular item.
"They had an automated Santa Claus in the window there at Christmas time that would move," local historian Frank Bishop said.
The rocking Santa is still there and Lawler plans to put it back on display.
In fact, Lawler hopes to use a number of the antiques found in the century-old building as decorations once he completes a renovation project upstairs.
He hopes city zoning officials will permit him to make a loft apartment out of the front rooms of the upstairs. If so, he said he plans to use two large rooms there, one that was a doctor's office, to rent out for special events.
One of the rooms contained a stage and could have been used for Boy Scout meetings and such over the years.
"Clark's had just about anything you could want there," Russellville resident Cecil Langcuster said. "And I remember that upstairs. Dr. Owens was a fantastic individual. A lot of people used him as their dentist."
Lawler has spent several months cleaning and making repairs, but he knows the complete renovation project will take some time.
"It is not easy, but I love this," he said. "I hope the city will let me use this as an apartment and that would give downtown a presence again, especially at night.
"I think if lofts went into some of these buildings it would encourage some stores to move down here and stay open later and it could be great place for a restaurant. I want to see downtown thriving again."