Vera Johnson has fond memories of living in Charlotte Court, Lexington's old public housing project. She grew up there as a child and later lived there as an adult with children of her own.
"We had so much fun as kids, because everybody was always doing things together," Johnson said Saturday. "In the summer, parents would bring their TVs out on the porch at night because it was so hot and there was no air conditioning, and we could play outside until the wee hours. Even when I brought my girls back years later, there was still that closeness of community."
A lot of similar fond memories were recalled and retold Saturday as many former residents of Charlotte Court got together in Douglass Park for Charlotte Court Family Days, a reunion that will continue at 11 a.m. Sunday with food, games for the kids and many chances to renew old acquaintances.
Charlotte Court, which was between Newtown Pike and Georgetown Street in north Lexington, was home to many low-income families before it fell on hard times. The project's 350-odd apartment units were demolished in 1999 and eventually replaced by almost 100 single-family, owner-occupied homes.
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Today, Charlotte Court exists only as a memory for those who lived there.
All those on hand Saturday agreed that Charlotte Court in its heyday was a warm, close-knit, safe place to live and raise a family. Only later, they said, did the community decline amid drugs and violence. But even after many years, former residents' memories and ties remain strong.
Carmaletta Perkins and Gerri Mayberry ran into each other Saturday and immediately hugged joyfully. They hadn't seen each other in about 10 years, they said.
Clayton Mayberry, 49, let out a whoop when he laid eyes on Paul Routt, now 94, who was a maintenance man in Charlotte Court when Mayberry was a young boy.
"He used to follow me around when I was working and want to carry my tools," Routt laughed. "I remember him and all those kids."
For his part, Mayberry recalled that "Mr. Paul," who was an avid fisherman, taught him and other boys in Charlotte Court to catch worms at night by flashlight so they could keep him supplied with bait.
Clayton Mayberry and his sister, Juanita Mayberry, were involved in getting Charlotte Court Day Family Day organized.
"Some people had been trying to do it for quite some time," Juanita Mayberry said.
The two recalled that their family lived at 626 Charlotte Court — "We lived in the new part," Juanita said — and loved it. Both eventually left — Clayton joined the Army; Juanita moved to Atlanta — but their emotional ties to the neighborhood remain as strong as ever.
"Whenever anyone asks me about Charlotte Court, I always think about that book that Hillary Clinton wrote, It Takes A Village," Juanita Mayberry said. "Charlotte Court back then was like a village. There were two-parent families. People were close. Everybody took care of everybody. If somebody's mama said, 'Go in the house and tell your mama what you did,' you had better go and tell your mama."
Clayton Mayberry recalled that kids in Charlotte Court in the 1960s and '70s had to make up their own games, including one they called "Knock, Knock, Run."
"You would knock on somebody's door and then run," he explained. "They would come to the door and you'd be gone. Kids don't understand that now, but we had lots of good times."
"Everybody was cool in Charlotte Court," Carmaletta Perkins said. "I still miss it."
The good times in Charlotte Court began fading away around the mid-1990s, Vera Johnson said.
"Up to then, I could let my girls walk around to their cousin's and hang out because it was safe," she said. "People had pride in their yards. We had flowers and grass. And then the whole climate changed, and it ended up being dirt and trash everywhere."
Johnson believes drugs probably were the root cause. But Charlotte Court was never the same.
"Somewhere along the way, people just lost their sense of family values and community," Johnson said. "It's sad."