Fine coffee to fine art and lots of cool stuff in between. You’ll find it all around historic downtown Winchester. Our town square is currently under an exciting multi-million dollar renovation. So don’t mind the construction. All the shops, restaurants and boutique’s are open and ready for visitors!
Plaques Tell History of Winchester’s Downtown
One of the plaques now located at the Winchester Square reads, “In 1838, merchants Sharp and Loughmiller charged $30 for twenty-four pairs of shoes purchased here for ‘poor and destitute Indians’ passing through Winchester on the Trail of Tears. In 1863, the Union Army took over the upstairs office of newspaper publisher W. J. Slatter. Sprague, Handly & Cooper became Winchester’s first large department store here in 1898. The Sprague building burned in 1934, and the new building was occupied by Kuhn’s until 1979.”
Everyone who lives in Franklin County has at one time or another walked around the square in Downtown Winchester. But, when making a trip to the Courthouse or going to shop or dine, one probably doesn’t ponder about all the history that the Winchester Square holds.
The places where the buildings on the square stand have stories and memories connected to them. And if the buildings could speak, each would also be able to tell tale after tale of all the interesting events and people it’s seen over the years.
According to Bill Cowan, executive director of the Winchester Downtown Program, some of the buildings have been standing where they are now since the early 1900s with the oldest dating back to around 1880.
Recently, several plaques containing narratives of the historic occurrences that took place on the square have been placed at these buildings.
“My favorite sign is probably the one on the C & D building that tells about the Bell Route used during the Trail of Tears,” Cowan said. “I guess this particular one is my favorite because I’m interested in the time period but also the tragic story of all that the Native Americans endured at that time.”
With the plaques up, historical facts about Winchester, that even the biggest history buffs in Franklin County may have been unaware of, are available for all to see. But who was it that uncovered all this history? Cowan mentioned the Winchester Historical Preservation Committee deserves the credit in providing the information that went onto the plaques.
“Joy Gallagher, chairman of Winchester Historical Preservation Committee, and the other members had already compiled the history of the square into a book,” he said. “We were able to use that book for the pieces of information that you see on each plaque. Some of the stories are really interesting.”
The board that heads Winchester Downtown Program Corporation (WDPC) agreed to the purchase of the plaques as a way to conserve the area’s history. Therefore, a portion of the WDPC’s grant funds, which come from the sales tax money generated in Winchester’s nine-block area, was allocated for the plaques. It’s estimated the 30 or so plaques cost around $8,000.
Cowan explained more plaques are expected to be purchased and placed on buildings in other parts of downtown Winchester.
“Some might think almost $20,000 is a lot to spend on this type of project, but when the topic of purchasing these plaques was brought up during a WDPC committee meeting, most everyone was for it because, as Winchester Mayor Terry Harrell put it, ‘If we don’t go ahead and do it now, it probably won’t get done.’”
As Cowan sees it, this and the entire enhancement of downtown has been beneficial because it’s gotten people interested in spending more time on the square, as well as allowed the community to “gain a sense of ownership” of downtown.
“The downtown is coming together great and placing plaques at the buildings is just part of putting our final touches on the buildings that have been improved as part of the Winchester Downtown Project,” Cowan said. “At the same time, this will help in preserving the unique history of downtown. I invite everyone to go out to the square and take some time to look at the plaques and learn a little bit about the area.”