Old cameras abound in the high school gymnasium-turned-repository that is Spring Hill Antique Mall. Though the numerous cameras’ technologies are obsolete, particularly since the demise of film, their curious designs nonetheless invite collecting. I wouldn’t recognize a rare model, but there must be enough connoisseurs out there to merit the inclusion of so many styles in a place like this.
It’s an overcast day, and I’m exploring what I’ve come to regard as a bit of a treasure: the local antique mall. When I hear the phrase “antique mall,” I picture dusty piles of refuse so beyond usefulness that even a thrift store wouldn’t accept them. But the Spring Hill Antique Mall is not that; in fact, it’s the opposite: a storehouse of lived-with objects as diverse as the personalities who arrange them, painstakingly and carefully, in booth after booth after booth. There are no “piles” of anything; the place is better organized than my home office. The objects here tell stories. They teach us about bygone eras. And luckily for us, distracted as we are by the trappings of modern life, all that’s required is a little attention, and those voices begin to trickle out from the past and into our imaginations.
Speaking of imagination, the old gymnasium’s charm is never far from the antique-browsing experience. One almost hears the squeak of sneakers on the honey-colored maple flooring, or the echoes of crowd noise rising and falling through the decades. The backboards have been stripped of their rims but hang nonetheless, guarding both ends of the court, as if the scoreboard might fire back up for one more game. Foul lines, baselines, and center-court serve as references for the locations of various pieces. A personal favorite is the printer’s cabinet pictured in this article, which stood right behind me as I took a picture of center-court. This printer’s cabinet is only one example among many of the kinds of unique objects on view at Spring Hill Antique Mall.
Another candidate for favorite piece is a massive armoire, both refined and imposing, that stands just outside “the paint” (to use basketball lingo), where the baseline meets the free throw lane–to the right of the backboard at the end of court opposite from where basketball fans would’ve come up from the street to watch the Spring Hill Raiders play thirty years ago. I’m only guessing at the materials used, but the armoire looks to have been built of either mahogany or dark walnut, each panel’s borders inlaid with a warm, deep-yellow wood, much like satinwood, which is, in turn, carved into shallow-set maple leaves and vines; the shadow seeping from one of the piece’s partially open doors suggests a spatial depth commensurate with the armoire’s broad, convex face. It’s an altogether grand piece, positioned like a basketball team’s power forward in a gymnasium that I can’t help but think has an equally grand history.
From a yellowed set of pool balls, suggesting years of billiards in a smoky dive bar, to elegant chandeliers and service trays, implying lifetimes of gracious hospitality, the whole range of civilized human experience is represented by the objects here. And perhaps it could be argued this is the case in many antique malls, but not just any antique mall can claim such a charming location, nor can they all boast of such careful organization–the booths at Spring Hill Antique Mall are laid out in a way that leads the observer through them, like a curated gallery exhibition, complete with showcased items and supporting details in the margins. Some booths are themed, like the one featuring vintage ladies’ clothing and accessories, and others are more eclectic, like the one featuring an electric guitar amplifier on the same wall as dozens of old-timey farm implements. There are enough books to fill a library: I was amazed to find a collegiate sociology textbook from the 1950s in near-mint condition, and flipping through its pages, I ran across a few handwritten notes in pencil. They were only study notes, but it felt like I’d accessed a letter from the past.
Indeed, my entire time at the Spring Hill Antique Mall was like reading one giant, complex letter from the past–a letter requiring multiple viewings to come anywhere near absorbing all its contents. An hour, if that’s all you have, affords a snapshot, provided you move through the vast room with a mind set to maximum receptivity. However, many hours could be spent, and I suspect things would still be missed. Yet isn’t that part of what makes a great attraction–its ability to sustain repeat visits, yielding up something new every time? After only one visit, it’s easy to see why this treasure ranks high on TripAdvisor’s list of best things to do in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The ranking is justified, because the shop’s proprietors have taken an ordinary idea–that of the antique store–and made it into an extraordinary experience.