FREETOWN

Having lived in Freetown for most of their lives, Ron and Saundra Cornett have a lot of good memories of the small northwestern Jackson County community.

There were several businesses in the town, including barber shops, grocery stores, a post office, a drug store, a bank and a hotel. There also were canning and shoe factories and a sawmill, and there was a depot when the railroad ran through town.

For entertainment, there were movie nights on Saturdays, and people would go to Reva’s Restaurant before or after basketball games at the gymnasium in town. People also used to look forward to the big carnival each summer at the Freetown July Festival. And some townspeople were in a band.

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But nowadays, many of those things are gone. Only about five businesses remain in the town.

For the Cornetts and others who have lived in town for a long time, those are now just memories.

“It’s discouraging to see it has lost its luster that we used to see when we were kids,” Ron Cornett said.

“When you’re kids, you think everything is OK. You look at your surroundings, and you think it’s all right,” he said. “But when you get older and you see these things start to deteriorate and go away and not come back, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Cornetts, though, are happy to see that a few people, including Russell and Donna Fritz, have put forth an effort to improve the town. But not only does it take people to make improvements; it also takes money.

“They’ve done their best. Everybody appreciates what they’ve done and everything,” Ron Cornett said. “But I don’t know what it would take to get (the town) back.”

So what keeps the Cornetts in Freetown?

“It’s just home,” Saundra Cornett said.

“This has been our home for years and years,” Ron Cornett added. “The people are nice.”

Ron Cornett was born in Muncie and lived there a short time before the family moved to Indianapolis. His father was drafted into the Army and trained at Camp Blanding in Florida before serving overseas during World War II.

By the time his father returned home, the family had moved to Freetown, and Ron Cornett was in first grade.

While living in Freetown, the Cornetts both said they remember attending the free movie shows when they were young. They were put on by the merchants in town, and Lawrence Noe, who ran a service station, ordered the films and operated the projector.

Ron Cornett said people would arrive several hours before the show, and you could purchase popcorn from a stand or have your picture taken in a photo booth.

Before the feature movie, there always was a series. Ron Cornett said his favorite series was “Green Archer.”

The Cornetts also remember going to the Freetown July Festival in the summer. Before the carnival rides became popular, Ron Cornett said there was a horse-pulling contest, in which a horse would be attached to a sledge and pull concrete blocks as far as it could.

“Farmers would come in from all over the county with their teams,” he said. “They were beautiful horses. It was a show. I used to like to watch that.”

At one time, the Timberlake family that lived in nearby Clearspring brought an elephant named Judy to the festival.

“It was something for people around here to see an elephant,” Ron Cornett said.

The Cornetts first met each other at church, and they began dating their freshman year at Freetown. They graduated from high school in 1958 and got married soon after. In November, they will celebrate their 57th anniversary.

Saundra Cornett worked at the shoe factory in Freetown, while Ron Cornett worked at Arvin Industries in Columbus for a while before serving with the Army National Guard for six years.

He later worked 4½ years at H.O. Canfield in Seymour before retiring after 30 years at Cummins Inc. in Columbus.

The school later changed to an elementary school, and it closed in 2010. Five generations of Ron and Saundra Cornett’s family had attended school in town.

While it was sad for the Cornetts to see the school close, they were glad to see the building remodeled to house the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department. Ron Cornett was on the Pershing Township Advisory Board during that changeover.

“We have an excellent fire department and firemen and EMTs and very much appreciate them,” he said.

During his 14 years on the advisory board, Ron Cornett also was involved with a steering committee that obtained a grant to redo the Freetown Community Center. That contains a gymnasium where the school used to play its basketball games.

That building is special to Ron Cornett because his grandfather helped build the gym years ago.

At a glance

Did you grow up in one of the small communities in Jackson County? Do you still live there or close by? If so and you would like to share your story, email zspicer@tribtown.com or call 812-523-7080.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.