The Places We Call Home: DuffDecember 27, 2018
By BILL POWELL
DUFF — Some leading Duff citizens feel optimistic about their little town heading into 2019, and it’s easy to see why.
For starters, when caretakers of the Mayo Cemetery talked publicly about dwindling donations in May, some people — one as far away as California — whose Duff roots run deep contributed toward continued upkeep.
Then there is the Duff Conservation Club, where bookings have tripled since a 2016 major remodel. This year was another good one.
Add in the dismantling of an old, vacant house or outbuilding here and there and the laying of new asphalt around town, and you get a sense of the optimism.
Duff’s “main drag” is the east-west County Road 350S, the north-south intersecting route County Road 650W and the small loop between them known as Nicholas Street and Second Street that has always been Duff’s “downtown.”
Andy Long Sr. says that main drag was just resurfaced for the first time since 1996. He should know, having lived in his late grandfather’s (John Hochmeister) yellow house in the downtown the past 30 years.
“I know, because that’s when I put my roof on,” says the Sternberg Automotive Group wrecker driver. “I was happy to see the new asphalt go down.
“The whole little town got repaved this year. The county still does love us.”
Just a dot along the backroads, Duff history shows the town once developed a school, a baseball diamond with a community team, a blacksmith shop, a clay mine, a couple of stores and churches, a train depot and an Odd Fellows Hall.
Duff native Hugo “Chad” Songer, a senior judge, filled two books — “Duff: A Continuum” and “Dufftown” — with tales of unique souls who grew up in Duff as, one by one, the depot, the Odd Fellows Hall and the stores vanished. He wrote that the town’s isolation spawned a certain lawlessness and, more importantly, strong ties between neighbors. Stories abounded of townsfolk coming together to plant or harvest for a farmer taken ill.
Songer’s research showed an original pioneer settlement “was named after Colonel Bazil B. Edmonston, from Buncombe County, N.C. He was a founding father of the county, and was called Colonel Duff, presumably after Dufftown, Scotland.”
Dufftown was slightly south of the present Duff. It was settled in 1833 by Scots (Osborns, Lemonds and others) coming west from North Carolina.
Then, in 1882, the railroad came through, and one of the enterprising North Carolina settlers, Robert C. Small, platted lots on the north side of the tracks crossing County Road 650W.
Small’s lots took off and became the unincorporated town seen on maps today. Old Dufftown faded away on the other side of the tracks.
Songer said last week the railroad “created Duff and deserted her like an old girlfriend cast aside.”
But the old girl did OK for herself. And, addressing the concept of paved roads, let alone new asphalt, Songer said: “We never had those in the old days.”
South of the Dufftown area was the New Antioch School, one of the one-room schoolhouses in the Duff area. It gave rise to something called the New Antioch Fish & Wildlife Conservation Club that, in 1940, became the Duff Conservation Club that still exists today.
The name says conservation club, but the remodeled hall’s function today is mostly as a community center and meeting place, says president Keith Whitsitt, who is also superintendent of the Duff Water Corp.
“A lot of people are renting it for their family get-togethers,” Whitsitt says. “If you’ve got 50 or 60 people coming, it’s a good place. We’re renting it out a lot more than what we’ve ever done before.”
The club has also done well the past several years with an annual ham shoot in October that also features donated raffle prizes, Whitsitt says.
Whitsitt’s late father, Clarence Whitsitt, is fondly remembered in Duff as proprietor of a hopping-busy Whitsitt’s General Store that had a meat counter for to-go sandwiches, a metal cooler for chilled pop and designated “liars’ benches.” It closed and was removed from the main drag in the early 1990s.
“That was where everything came to, to get discussed,” says Keith Whitsitt. And Whitsitt’s father and mother, the late Juanita “Neet” Whitsitt, were a Duff power couple.
Keith’s sister, Linda Cline, who lives not far from Songer in the Duff suburbs southwest of the unincorporated town, remembers when being the daughter of the man with the mercantile was a big deal.
“When I was in high school,” she says, “the kids said, ‘Her dad is the mayor of Duff!’”
When Linda and her husband moved back to Dubois County from the Indianapolis area, Keith talked her into becoming active with the conservation club. She is now the secretary.
She said the remodeling work board members commissioned in 2016 — it included getting rid of all the dark-varnished wood inside the building — was a definite improvement.
“Ever since we did that,” she said, rentals have “doubled. Tripled. It’s 100 percent better. We have gotten nothing but rave reviews on it since it’s been done.”
Keith and Linda’s brother, Jerry Whitsitt, is caretaker of Duff’s Mayo Cemetery. Linda helps him, too, and assisted in putting out the word earlier this year that donations were needed for mowing, upkeep, attorney fees, electricity and water. Without church affiliation, the Mayo Cemetery relies solely on public donations and the sale of cemetery plots.
The Mayo Cemetery was established in 1879 by James Mayo Sr.
Members of the Whitsitt family have been on the cemetery’s board since 1960, and they have been at the heart of the Duff Water Corporation since its founding in 1968, with Clarence Whitsitt serving as superintendent and secretary/treasurer before his son.
In another Duff nod to changing times, Keith now makes use of automated meter-reading technology. He uses a hand-held meter-reading device to download monthly consumption data.
“He drives by, points, and the computer picks it up,” Linda says, giggling before adding: “We’ve become high tech!”
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