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Partial view of  Lloyd Delany's Model of Downtown Gleason, Circa 1945 - 1953

Table model is shown against wallpaper background with the old Gleason School being rotated 180 degrees so the front of the school can be seen in photo.

 

The Man who "Built" Gleason: Mr. Lloyd Delaney

by

James H. Johnson

GleasonOnline.com

 As most citizens of Gleason know, the town has an illustrious history.  It is well known for  its involvement in the  sweet potato  industry and the role played by Gleason businesses such as the Margrave Plant Company and the Steel Plant Company and  such well remembered individuals such as J. D. Bradberry, Frank Margrave, Claude Steele and Dudley "Butch" Sanders. It is equally well known for its involvement in the clay mining industry, being considered the Ball Clay Capital of the Nation.  The "golden years" of Gleason were also days when trains came through town multiple times a day, with passengers often stopping over go to the  Opera House, then located above the old Ammon's Drug Store, and staying in Gleason's elegant Whitworth hotel, complete with Grand Ballroom for dancing and other types of  entertainment - which could be had for only two dollars a night. 

In days past, the City of Gleason was able to support multiple eating establishments, on occasion, as many as two banks, multiple grocery stores and a wide range of other thriving businesses, that have sometimes been situated in various locations, that have come and gone over the years.  These changes have been well documented in a wonderful, now out-of-print, book Oakwood - Gleason: A Look Back. This book was compiled by Joyce Wray and her committee on the occasion of "Homecoming '86" and has for almost 30 years served as a useful history of the Gleason, Tennessee community. 

While this history of Gleason (which can now be accessed on the history pages of GleasonOnline.com) provides a detailed verbal description of the history of Gleason up until 1986, it does not fully capture the ways in which the Gleason landscape or the Gleason "Skyline" has changed over the years in terms of businesses and buildings that have come and gone, or have been modified over time. 

As I accidentally learned from a phone call that I had made to someone, in an unsuccessful attempt to find a picture of the old Gleason movie theater (previously located on Cedar street in the Margrave building), there is someone in Gleason who has quietly and without much fanfare been laboring over the years to develop a visual representation of the City of Gleason from the past.

The man's name  is Mr. Lloyd Delaney, who has lived in Gleason most of his life and has been in a position to observe the multitude of changes that have taken place in downtown Gleason over the decades. 

Upon contacting Mr. Delaney, and arranging a interview with him and his wife Robbie, I learned that he had, indeed, created a model of Gleason depicting the downtown area as it appeared during the mid 1940's to the early to mid 1950's.  He was kind enough to provide a showing of what he had built over the years, allowed me to take pictures, and provide me with detailed information regarding many of the buildings.  

Comparing Mr. Delaney's model of  the downtown Gleason of this era with the present day downtown Gleason,  the magnitude of the change over time is striking - although the basic layout of the town has remained intact. 

In speaking with Mr. Delaney, it became obvious that creating this old time model of downtown Gleason had been carefully  undertaken with attention to detail and insistence on authenticity (at the level of insuring that even the shape of windows included in some building were period specific).  

When asked what prompted him to pursue this project, how he initially got started, and what motivated him over the years to complete such a task he provided the following information, noting that he would need to provide a little history to put it all in perspective. His responses to these questions are provided below:

 While I had lived in Gleason all my early life, in 1953 my dad, mother, and I had to move to Lansing, Michigan for my dad to work. We lived there  until the fall of 1966, at which  time we moved back to Gleason. I married a home town girl,  and we had two boys.

 

While the town was all intact when we moved from Gleason, during the time we were gone a fire had burned two or three buildings on Main street.

 

Soon after we moved back,  the third floor of the old Whitworth hotel was removed, resulting  in it looking as it does today. Somewhere around 1970  the old train depot was torn down. Within a few years the old Bank of Gleason was torn down. Then in the Spring of 1982, after school was out, they tore down the old school, where both of my sons graduated,  and built the new school that can be seen today.

 

 In the late 1990's, the old Richee Grocery and Hardware store, which was actually owned by a number of Gleason businessmen over time,  was torn down and in about 2005 the old City Hall and  pool hall were demolished. The old City Garage (also known as Horn's garage) was also torn down as well.

 

 As you can see, in span of 50 years or so the landscape of the City of Gleason has changed a great deal from what it looked like in the mid to late 40's and 50's.

 

I began to develop the idea of building a model of the City of Gleason sometime around 2005. This idea related in an interesting way  to my lifetime love of trains - which was enhanced by my aunt and uncle buying me my first train for Christmas back in 1949.

 

As I began to think more and more seriously about this idea of building a model of downtown Gleason, I found some kits that were designed for making model buildings at a small train store in Paris. I bought some of these kits to get started but they  didn't really look like what I wanted to build. The man in the train store suggested that I make my own and showed  me how to go about making buildings from scratch.

 

In 2006, I first made a model of the old Gleason depot. Next, I built the old Whitworth Hotel, one of Gleason's most historical landmarks. It was all made by hand; no kits or parts of kits were used.  Again, It took a year to  make.   If you don't enjoy working with your hands and if you are unable to remember exactly what you are doing, you do not need to start a job like this!

 

From there I continued building the town of Gleason, working mainly during the winter months (November through March), as keeping the lawn mowed and tending to the garden took up most of my time during the other months. All told, working on this project spanned the years from 2006 through 2012.

 

Making a model of the old Gleason  School was one of the last tasks and took over 150 hours to complete; making that model was special as both of my sons had graduated from this old school.

 

The last thing I made was a model of the old Wards Chapel school house;  I went there for six years, until it closed down and then went to school in Gleason until we moved to Michigan, where I finished high school in 1956.

 

Regarding what motivated him to continue working so long and so hard to complete this task, Mr. Delaney again put things in perspective. Here, he noted:

 

Given all of many changes that I have observed over the last 50+ years, that have so drastically changed the look of downtown Gleason,  I wanted to help people know how it looked back then - at a much earlier time.

 

I hope this will help others learn more about the history of the City of Gleason.

 

As noted earlier, Joyce Wray's  book Oakwood - Gleason: A Look Back, provided an excellent detailed verbal presentation of the pre 1986 history of the City of Gleason.

Mr. Lloyd Delaney's visual depiction of downtown Gleason, as it looked during the mid 1940's to the mid 1950's, is another significant contribution to the City of Gleason.

Mr. Delaney's  painstaking efforts over a period of six or more years has clearly shown his love for the City of Gleason and his strong desire that the citizens of Gleason  learn about and remember the history of their community.

Selected Examples of Gleason Downtown Buildings

Circa 1945 - Mid 1950's

 

 

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