Sedley craftsman preserves Town House’s legacy

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

SEDLEY—Only a Lilliputian could dine inside its walls, but nonetheless, its beauty can still be admired for years to come.

A detailed model of the historic Town House, formerly located on the corner of South High and Barrett streets in Franklin, has been completed by E.B. Gayle of Sedley after two years work on the project.

Although the structure was originally built in 1904 for R.A. Pretlow, it was later bought in 1947 during an auction by well-known organist Hal Lyon, who renovated it and used it as a hotel.

Gayle worked for Lyon at Lyon’s State Theatre at the time and some at the hotel—the reason he was interested in recreating the building — and was &uot;standing right beside him&uot; when Lyon bought the property.

&uot;I don’t remember how much he paid for it,&uot; he said.

In a written collection of his memories of the Town House, Gayle wrote, &uot;I ran movies in the afternoons and nights, but in the mornings, I worked with one of the carpenters, remodeling the house…

&uot;…After the Town House opened for business, Mr. Lyon would sometimes call me at the theatre and say, ‘Come up here after you close up. We have a honeymoon couple coming in at 12 or 1.’

&uot;I would go up there and act as bell boy. I had to take guests to the room and sometimes ice down some champagne for them or anything else they wanted.&uot;

He also recalled the first thing one would see when they walked in the door was a &uot;huge chandelier with lights and Mr. Lyon playing the organ.&uot;

The building was purchased by New York residents Norman and Paula Buisch in 1991 and later in the spring of 2006 by Ernest Hefferon, who was renovating the structure.

Gayle had begun visiting the property in the summer of 2006 to watch the progress of restorations.

&uot;I knew if I was going to do it, I’d need to start getting some measurements,&uot; he said about his next modeling project.

The contractor agreed to let Gayle come inside so he could begin his work in miniature.

&uot;When I walked in the door for the first time in fifty-some years, it was one funny feeling,&uot; he recalled. &uot;The desk in the lobby was still there, and so was the stairway.&uot;

Little did Gayle know that he’d never see the place again.

The structure caught fire July 25, 2006, and suffered such extensive damage, it was deemed unsafe and razed that same day.

&uot;I don’t think I could’ve done it halfway decent if I hadn’t have gotten in there and took those measurements,&uot; he said. &uot;I had estimated some things, but some I hadn’t figured right.&uot;

The model is scaled to 3/8 of an inch, and is made of poplar and some of the original pinewood from the Town House. A close up photo of the completed project, with just the right perspective, leaves one speculating whether or not they are looking at the real thing because of the fine detail.

Each piece of siding was applied one piece at a time and the shingles, one strip at a time.

&uot;There are 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of siding on that building, and more shingles than that,&uot; he said.

Gayle, 80, has built about 21 models of historic buildings, and home places for family and friends, since his retirement in 1984 as a pipefitter from Union Camp Corp. Some of the buildings he has re-created are the Rochelle-Prince House in Courtland, Sunnyside Plantation near Courtland, the Black Creek School and the Raiford Hospital in Sedley.

&uot;I built my shop before I retired because I knew I’d need something to do,&uot; he said.

He wasn’t sure what his next project may be, but made no bones that he was looking for something to do.

&uot;I’m getting restless,&uot; he said. &uot;Maybe I’ve got one more left in me—we’ll see.&uot;