Society
4:51 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

Draffen's Department Store Demolition

For the past several years, the building that once housed Draffen’s Department Store has sat vacant on a street corner in Calvert City. Boards cover its front windows and “Keep Out” signs warn people away from its unsteady walls, but at one time, the store operated as one of the city’s chief centers of commerce. Yet money counts more than memories in the preservation of buildings, and Saturday, Calvert City will lose another historical landmark to demolition. Casey Northcutt has more.

I’m standing at the intersection where train tracks meet South Main Streetin Calvert City. Cars pass by as a construction crew prepares to level the building that once housed Draffen’s Department Store. Fifty years ago, this section of town bustled with activity from grocery stores and from a pool hall, and at the center of the neighborhood stood Draffen’s.

Now, almost all of the old stores have been demolished, and Draffen’s will only last until Saturday. No one, including the city’s mayor, Lynn Jones, seems happy about watching the store devolve into a vacant lot. Too many of Calvert’s other historical buildings have been destroyed that way.

“I think most people forget that historical buildings, they’re more than brick and mortar. There are memories inside those walls, and it’s the memories that make the buildings precious. It’s for the memories, I think, that all of us will sadly see the walls come tumbling down to the Draffen Department Store.”

Jones has his own childhood memories of Draffen’s toy aisle and of its huge cash register with keys the size of half dollars, but his memories can’t save the building. In the past few years, water damage seeped through the structure, making it unsound. When the building inspector condemned Draffen’s Department Store, the local government could not find a legitimate reason to purchase it from Tom Anthony, the current owner, and renovate it.

“The city couldn’t justify taking tax payer’s money and putting $250,000, $350,000 into a building that has no real benefit for the tax payer, and I think that’s sad because if it were, that move would already have been made.”

Loyd Ford, president of the Calvert Area Development Association, or CADA, said the organization tried to buy the building from Anthony about four years ago and renovate it into a multi-purpose center. However, it could not garner enough financial support from citizens to completely refurbish the store. Ford took it personally.

“I’m just as disappointed about this as I am anything I ever failed at, and I’ve truly failed at saving the building. I worked for weeks, months, actually I guess, close to a couple years, trying to get something worked out about this building, and I just never have been able to do it.”

Anthony, who restored the Broadway General Store in Paducah, and his demolition manager for the Draffen store declined to comment on this story. Loyd Ford said the draffen’s department store bears historical significance, in part, because much of the area’s development came from inside its brick walls. Luther and Mert Draffen built the store in 1922 and ’23 and sold everything from corn to thimbles. While they ran a successful business, the brothers also became involved in the community. Luther in particular, played a key role in the development of Kentucky Dam. Ford said the Luther Draffen’s work helped bring the Jackson Purchase out of the Depression, and he did all of this from his store.

“All of the work and the letter writing for the dam and the phone calls came from that upstairs office in the Draffen Store building.”

Yet, despite the building’s importance, wrecking balls will soon tears its brick apart, and it will disappear, just like Calvert’s old movie theatre and drug store. Ford said most of the buildings constructed before 1960 no longer exist.

Lynn Jones attributed this to the city’s ambition.

“As those cultural changes happened, I don’t think in Calvert City that we saw those old structures as being something we needed to keep, we saw their being torn down as progress, and they were almost all gone before we realized that progress is wonderful, but maybe we need to take a new look at how progress is developing and make our plans a little better.”

But those plans will not include Draffen’s Department Store or any of the old buildings that have long since turned into empty lots. Calvert natives will have to make peace with that fact. Mert Draffen’s granddaughter, Jane Franks, already has.

“When you have good memories, and when you have a good childhood, you can let things go that happened.”

And within the span of a single day, Draffen’s Department Store will be gone.

For WKMS news, I’m Casey Northcutt