Restoring history: Property owners want to repair old building

Just off of West Tipton Street in Seymour stands a long-neglected three-story brick structure.

The windows are boarded up, a pile of bricks and old tires sit out back and a portion of the roof needs replaced.

There used to be a similar-sized building connected to it on the south side, but it fell down years ago. That area is sunken in with some leftover bricks strewn about and grass and weeds grown up.

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The property at 208 S. Lynn St., which once was the site of the Lynn Street School for African American students and later became the Goodwill Center, needs some tender loving care.

A five-member Leadership Jackson County history project team plans to help provide that.

Terrye Davidson, director of the adult leadership program, learned from city officials that the property owners want to bring it back to life.

The timing was perfect with a history project set for this year, and Amanda Lowery, Luke Schnitker, De Gamroth, Ron Duncan and Daniel Taskey are leading the charge.

They are helping the Shelton family apply for 501(c)(3) status and grants, talking to local and state officials for guidance and assistance and organizing cleanup days. Meanwhile, the family is establishing a board to ensure the dream becomes a reality.

“Me and my mother and brother, we’ve all taken time and money and effort to keep the property in our family,” Kay Shelton Welton said of herself, her mother, Thelma Shelton, and her brother, Irvin Shelton.

“We’ve been hoping that someone would come along and take interest in it,” she said. “Now, we are seeing prayers answered, and we’re grateful, very grateful.”

Welton said she approached Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman with her vision of the property. The building, which was constructed in 1870, once was on the Seymour Heritage Foundation’s list of most endangered buildings because of its condition. That group is no longer active.

The building hasn’t been used since the 1980s, and Welton said they haven’t been able to keep up with maintenance of it.

They are glad to see someone step up to help save and restore the building.

“To see it go back together would mean a lot because it helped me a lot with my kids. I used to clothe and feed them from there,” Thelma Shelton said of the former Goodwill Center.

“I personally wore clothes from there,” said Welton’s nephew, Aaron Shelton.

The Community Center was run by Welton’s great-grandfather for a long time, starting in the late 1940s, until he died, and then her grandmother ran it for a while.

It was a place where people could come for food, clothes, furniture or help with paying bills. Everything was given away, Welton said.

“If someone came off the highway and needed a place to stay, we tried to help them find a place to stay,” she said. “My great-grandfather was a minister of the church next door. When it came to helping people, he didn’t care who it was. He along with several of the groceries and stuff like that around here would help provide food for people. Farmers would bring in food. People would bring food from everywhere.”

Thelma Shelton and other family members also helped at the Goodwill Center. Thelma said she remembers coming home from church one day years ago and finding that the south portion of the building had fallen down, most likely because of its old age.

A lack of funding forced the closure of the Goodwill Center.

“People donated a lot,” Welton said. “When we closed and put the fence up, they were still bringing stuff.”

Sixty years before it became the Goodwill Center, the building housed a school for African-Americans. It was started by John Newby and William Maddex.

For a period of 10 years, the school had more than 125 students. And at one time, the church next door served 219 families.

The Great Depression and later World War II, however, caused some African-American families to leave Seymour for jobs in larger cities, like Detroit and Chicago.

The school only had a handful students in 1929 when the state board of health condemned the building because it had poor ventilation, heating and lighting, no water supply and no sanitary system and was unsanitary.

The students moved on to other schools in the city, and the two tracts of property were purchased by the Maddex family. Shortly after, the Rev. Edgar Maddex and Adabelle King Maddex founded the Goodwill Center.

Duncan said he learned Maddex would take some of the donated furniture to Indianapolis to sell and use the cash to buy food and clothing and provide assistance to Seymour families.

“He would get it and give it right back to the community,” Duncan said.

A fire damaged the building in 1941, and for a while, the Goodwill Center was housed in the basement of the church. A year later, the building was turned into a dormitory for those building Freeman Field as a military base during World War II.

Since closing, the building has been used by the family to store various items.

Now that the Leadership Jackson County project team is involved, its first step is to help the family fill out applications for nonprofit status and grants. The 501(c)(3) application process takes a couple of months, Lowery said.

“We are a position now because we are in LJC to apply for grants on their behalf to get things already rolling for them,” she said.

Seymour Main Street also has stepped up to allow them to use their nonprofit status to apply for grants.

The group also is working with Indiana Landmarks officials to have architects assess the building and establish a plan.

But before that happens, the inside of the building needs to be cleaned out. They are planning to do that sometime in the spring, and the site also will be a Jackson County United Way Day of Caring project in May.

“My goal would be to evaluate what’s inside of the building and sort out what’s good, what’s bad, probably getting some dumpsters here, definitely getting a lot of manpower to come and help with the cleanup process,” Schnitker said.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s in the building that people would buy of value,” Duncan said.

They will work with the family and Indiana Landmarks to determine what to keep if it has historical value. Someone has donated a facility to store those items.

The Shelton family is in the process of establishing a board, called Friends of the Lynn Street Colored School-Center of Goodwill. That could consist of family members and members of their church, Bethel Community Church.

Welton said she sees the building becoming a community center type of museum.

“We want to see them remember the place the way it was,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of family history, but there are people who lived around here that have probably got a lot of pictures and stuff of the original colored families that were here.

“Hopefully, it’s a place where the community can come and have fun and do entertaining things,” she said. “By the time we get done, we’re looking at the younger folks and how they will come up and keep it up.”

It’s estimated to cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to restore the building. That doesn’t include adding onto it or cleaning up the area where the other part of the building once stood.

“We want to preserve it, but the family, they have a vision and they have an idea of it, and we just want to support them in doing it,” Gamroth said. “I think people forget, particularly when you get down to this part of the state, that there was a viable black population that was important to the community. I think rightfully so that part of our heritage needs to be here.”

Lowery said it’s important to promote culture and diversity in Jackson County.

“It’s something that we lack a lot of times,” she said. “We celebrated the bicentennial of the entire state (in 2016), and this is something that we can celebrate for (the Shelton family).”

In some cases, historical buildings have to be torn down, and then only plaques or pictures remind people of the history.

The Leadership Jackson County project team wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with the South Lynn Street site.

“There’s too much that we’re losing every time something happens. We’re losing another part of our history, and then all we have to look back at is a plaque or pictures,” Duncan said.

“I just hope in my lifetime that I get to see both buildings back up,” he said.

“That would be awesome,” Lowery said. “We are definitely looking at every possible resource we can tap into to help (the family) get this project done. Hopefully, we’re that go-between for the group and these individuals who can come together and help them put their vision in place.”