J.C. Burke and his signed fiddle. Burke has had a booth for 28 years at the roadside attraction on Highway 515.
By Ralph O. Dennis
A historical landmark in Jasper is getting a face lift and a new start. Market 96 flea market will hold its grand re-opening on April 7. How can a flea market be a historic site? The flea market was opened sometime in 1984-85. Arthur Lee Prather opened it on the corner of County Highway 96 (now Allred Mill) and what is now Hwy. 515. Up on the hilltop was a grove oak trees that soon became the market. He named it 96 West Oaks Flea Market. The sign still hangs over the west door of the main building.
As time progressed, the property that had been in the Prather family since 1910 remained a flea market. After Lee passed away, his sons took over and kept it in operation to generate an income for their mother. Through the years, the buildings grew from a covered over cement slab to the buildings that are there today.
History abounds in this market. Three vendors have been there for over 25 years. J. C. Burke has had a booth there for 28 years. He and his band (Hickory Wind) came out and played one night “on the concrete floor and the open air” and they have been here ever since. His specialty is rebuilding fiddles- not violins- but fiddles. He has one that was originally made around 1900 that is a copy of the famous Stradivarius violin. He completely rebuilt it. On one occasion, he was visiting with a childhood friend and classmate, Mr. Charlie Daniels (yes, THAT Charlie Daniels). When Mr. Burke showed the fiddle to Charlie, he signed it. Mr. Burke is a retired U.S. Navy veteran having served in Korea. He has also been inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame- That is history!
Another vendor, Mr. Leon Richards said, “I’ve been here so long my feet have grown to the floor.” He recalls that he rented his first 8 foot table on Thanksgiving 1993 for $3. He then expanded to seven tables. Now he has a booth in the main building. His specialty is watch and clock repair. He told the Progress about repairing a grandfather clock. For the repair he had to search all over the country for parts. Once the repairs were made, the clock was so precise that it would only lose 5 seconds a week. He said that was “railroad approved” time keeping.
Other vendors have their specialty and each has some very interesting stories about some of their “treasures”. Just talking to them is worth the visit.
Now, we come to 2018. Steve (grandson of Arthur) and his wife, Amanda, bought the Market. Their son Jacob is there working each weekend while their oldest son, Jordan is backpacking through New Zealand. Steve was born in Pickens County and grew up working at the market. They have been working hard to bring the market back to its glory days. When they took over there was much work to be done. Feral cats, 30 of them, were rounded up and disposed of. Dumpsters were brought in to clean up the property. It took nine 30-yard roll off dumpsters to clean up the trash that gathered over time. They brought in nine tandem (the big ones) dump trucks of gravel for the parking lot and more is needed. Much of the work is still ongoing and will continue. A new roof has also been put on the main building.
On April 7, 2018, the grand re-opening will be held. Activities will begin at 8 a.m. The formal ribbon cutting with the Pickens Chamber of Commerce will be at 11:30 a.m. There will be all types of activities for the entire family throughout the day. All types of food and refreshments will be available. Come by and meet the vendors and enjoy the festivities.