Shirley mourns loss of local historian

SHIRLEY — Oil lamps in the parlor at the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House in Shirley will remain lit the next few nights to honor Darrell Deck.

When Cheryl Right, a volunteer at the Octagon House heard Deck had died, she lit the vintage lamps, spending some time in the room Deck had loved so much and renovated with such care.

She left them burning all night, a bit of comfort in the loss of a champion of Shirley history.

Deck, who died Monday at age 83 after a long illness, was a past president of the Shirley Historical Society and founded the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation. Friends and family said Deck was responsible for saving the historic home, 400 Railroad St., from being burned down as part of a training exercise for area firefighters and organized its transfer to the east side of town, where it remains today.

He’d had heart problems for years, but he’d been especially ill the past six months, said his daughter, Darlene Wilburn.

Deck, who was born in 1933 in Ogden before moving to Knightstown, was fascinated by local history, said his daughter, Deb Jefferson.

Upon saving the old farmhouse, Deck picked out the decor for the parlor, one of his favorite rooms in the house. He envisioned the cozy room serving as a site for small wedding ceremonies, said his children, who sponsored the needed renovations.

About two weeks ago, some family members brought Deck to one last board meeting for the Octagon House, and he got to sit in his parlor.

During the trip, friends took Deck by an old Knightstown blacksmith shop, where his father worked, and other cherished landmarks in the area, Jefferson said.

Deck grew up in the Knightstown area and moved to Shirley with his wife, June, who survives, in the 1970s after serving as a preacher in both Tennessee and Georgia.

He and a sister owned Granny’s Restaurant, and he also owned an antique store in Shirley at one point, said family friend Linda Westridge.

Deck was also active in civic organizations, serving on the March of Dimes board in Georgia and other boards in the Hancock County area throughout his life. He was known for his kindness toward others and his knowledge of local history, friends said.

The Octagon House was his baby, friends said. While at the Hancock County Courthouse one day in 1994, Deck overheard plans to donate the home to an area fire department for training purposes, friends said.

He decided he’d try to save it. Though people he told about the endeavor thought he was crazy, he found a group of about 10 others who were willing to help, Jefferson said. The group raised money and found a company that would move the house intact to its current location.

Moving the house was no small undertaking. It required prep work and near perfect weather conditions — roads and fields had to be dry.

The effort didn’t end when the house came off the truck, though. When it arrived to its new location, the windows and doors were boarded and the wooden siding was in shambles. Livestock and wild animals had tramped through the house and used it as a restroom, Westridge said.

It took years of work by the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation to get the house in the shape for visitors, Right said.

Deck worked with fellow Octagon House board member Virginia Harrell for years, hosting food fundraisers together to benefit the historic residence. Though he had been less involved in the last year because of his declining health his love for the house never waned, Harrell said.

“He was always interested in the community and what he could do to make it better,” Harrell said. “I miss him more and more.”

If you go

Arrangements for Darrell Deck will be by Condo & Son Funeral Home in Wilkinson. A viewing will be held 4 p.m. Friday, and funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Author photo
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.