Conard captures the history of Cornelius
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Jack “Jackie” Conard always has had a knack for history, especially the history of his hometown – Cornelius. For years, Conard would hold history meetings in the living room of his rustic house that has sat on North Main Street for decades.
“We would get together and talk about the old days,” Conard said of the weekend meetings. “We talked about how people used to rush out to the street to watch one car go by and now thousands of cars go by my house every day,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Old photographs cover the walls of Conard’s house and are beginning to creep up to the ceiling in a vine-like fashion.
On Thursday, Oct. 20, Conrad and the Cornelius Presentation Comminssion brought those history lessons to life in “The History of Cornelius: THe Conrad Collection.”
Three hundred of Conard’s thousands of photos taken around Cornelius are on display for the exhibition, which is being held in the Cornelius Arts Center until Nov. 12.
While Conard has snapped many of the photos in his collection himself, he has accumulated most photos of his collection through local residents who have allowed Conard to copy their old family photos and keepsakes.
Conard attributes the richness and depth of his collection to the families that have donated their family treasures.
“I promised all those who contributed to this collection that they would never be forgotten,” Conard said.
Among the pictures in the exhibit are old photos of the town before Interstate 77 bifurcated the town and Lake Norman was created. Old photographs of members of the Cornelius Boxing Club grace the walls, as well as a picture of a group of Cornelius residents crossing the Catawba River on a barge sometime around the turn of the 20th century. There are also photos chronicling Cornelius’ first fire department, as well as photos showing the evolution of the town’s main downtown area.
Eighty-six-year-old Lilyan S. Hunter, a seventh generation Cornelius resident, was thrilled that Conard was able to keep the small, innocent town of Cornelius alive through his extensive collection.
If Conard hadn’t collected all these pictures over the years, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy them today, said Hunter, who is worried about where the town is headed for future generations.
“I’m concerned about it, I think our history might be somewhat lost,” she said.
Hunter and her sister, Mirriam S. Whisnant grew up on the Potts Plantation in Cornelius, and her family has owned that land since it was settled in 1753. The life of their family and friends is just one small segment of the history chronicled by Conard.
Longtime friend and lifelong Cornelius resident Martha Jenkins says Conard has collected photos and history of many of the families that have called Cornelius home over the years. Compiled in hundreds of binders stacked in his house, Conard has created a family tree of most of the old families who have lived in Cornelius, Jenkins said.
“Cornelius is just an old mill town,” Jenkins said as she looks at the pictures on display. “When the lake came through and I-77 was built it became this kind of modern vacation community.”
Conard has always been fascinated with cameras. His mom loves to tell friends and family how they would find artistic snapshots of the sky or of rocks in the photos developed from their family’s first camera. We didn’t know who was taking the pictures until we found it was Jack sneaking away with the camera, his mother smiles.
“He’s been interested in photos and history all of his life,” his mother said. “He’s been collecting pictures and talking to people for years.”
While the Conard Collection is only going to be on display for a month, Cornelius Historic Preservation Committee member Becky Partin says she is looking for a permanent place to house the exhibit.
“Short-term we are thinking of placing the exhibit in Town Hall,” Partin said. However she says she would love to have a permanent historic center for the town to house the collection.
“I’ve been working on the project since July and this has been the most fun project I have worked on,” Partin said. “His (Conard’s) dream is to tell a story … We’ve heard a lot of stories and it means a lot to people.”