PHRambling

Before COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made them unavailable, there were several gathering places for large groups in Pleasant Hill. There was the Pleasant Hill Community House, Adshead Hall of Fletcher House for Assisted Living, meeting rooms in the lower level of Uplands Village Wellness Center, the Pleasant Hill Baptist Mission Center, the Pleasant Hill Community Church, and Heritage Hall. Now that there has been a gradual easing of the epidemic allowing for gatherings of 10 or less, masked with social distancing, the only meeting place available to the general public is Heritage Hall on Church Drive. Heritage Hall has been used for over 70 years in a variety of ways.

When the Pleasant Hill Academy closed in 1947, the American Missionary Association (AMA) of the Congregational Christian Church sold the land north of Main Street in Pleasant Hill to Cumberland County in order to have a public high school and then later an elementary school on its grounds. Using the $45,000 obtained from the sale, the AMA constructed a building to house a wood working shop, an iron forge, workrooms for crafts, and a sales room. It was built by Earl Clark, grandson of Amos and Helen Wightman, who had petitioned the AMA in Boston, MA, for assistance in educating the children in this area. That led to the founding of the Pleasant Hill Academy in 1884 by missionary teacher (Father) Benjamin Dodge. Earl Clark supervised all maintenance and repair of the Academy and oversaw the woodworking program there. Clark and other local workmen followed plans drawn by the AMA’s architect. When the building was dedicated August 20, 1950, it was called the Community Crafts Center, but was soon familiarly known as the Craft Shop.

The director of the Community Center was William A. Boyce, son of Alexander Boyce, bookkeeper and manager of the Academy. The Community Center had four components: an arts and crafts program begun by Margaret B. Campbell, art teacher at the Academy; a wood working industry under Earl Clark’s direction; a farmers’ cooperative led by Bill Boyce; and the thrift shop — a continuation of the Academy’s  “Grab” managed by Earl’s wife, Flossye Rackley Clark. Arts and crafts moved into the Craft Shop and included hand carved animals, lathe turned wood articles, dolls, bowls, plates, baskets, and woven articles. Margaret Campbell would spend a morning a week teaching young patients at Old General Hospital to braid rugs, cut, paint, and string beads. Sarah Boyce (Alexander’s wife) started a weaving industry, which employed six women. Pleasant Hill Crafts became known far and wide and were on display in the Craft Shop showroom. Clark’s wood projects consisted of furniture and cabinet making, building construction, and repair. Many homes in Pleasant Hill treasure pieces made in the Craft Shop including the Pleasant Hill Community Church, UCC blessed with a communion table and two chairs, which graced its sanctuary for over 50 years. For several years a Kandy Kitchen served food and prepared preserves and jellies for sale in the Show Room. 

The Craft Shop flourished in the late ’40s and the early ’50s in its place along the Bristol to Memphis Highway running through Pleasant Hill. Then the new highway 70 bypassed Pleasant Hill. A log cabin, moved from Smyrna, to be a showroom for Pleasant Hill Crafts on the new highway was not successful. In 1961, the AMA ceased subsidizing the Community Center and deeded the Craft building and its land to the Pleasant Hill Community Church in September 1962. Since the marvelous products of the Craft Shop were still being bypassed, the church tried leasing the building to outside craft enterprises in 1969 and 1973. These also were not successful. The Community Church had become burdened with the maintenance and repairs of the several buildings turned over to it by the AMA. In 1975 no tenants had been found for the Craft Shop and $11,000 would be needed to make the heating system operable. At a congregational meeting, it was decided to sell the building to Uplands Retirement Village for one dollar, stipulating that 600 square feet would be retained for use as church offices. An auction of the contents of the Craft Shop, including machinery and tools, netted $2,433.28. Uplands’ board decided to name the Craft Shop to Heritage Hall “to honor all those whose sacrificial devotion in time past created the facilities and privileges of the present.”

The church offices moved out when their building addition was completed in 1995. Uplands used most of the building for its administration offices and Home Health Care Clinic providing a meeting room, poolroom, and kitchen for use by the church and the community. The Craft Shop’s splendidly paneled Show Room with fireplace was the charming office of Uplands’ Executive Director until the building had practically been abandoned in 2016 when the renovated Wharton Nursing Home opened as the Wellness Center. The offices of Uplands Village moved from Heritage Hall to the lower level of the center on Lake Road. The pool players continued to play billiards in Heritage, Uplands Summer Day Care Program, and a few small groups met on a regular basis or reserved it if the larger venues were not available. Now it has become a center of activity once again as book discussion groups, AARP Tax volunteers, craft activities, and benefits are taking advantage of the Hall, kitchen, and rest room facilities.  

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