Peco Forsman

Carpenter Crafts Scale Model for Church’s 110th Anniversary

Peco Forsman

     Creighton C. “Peco” Forsman knows a thing or two about creating works of art with wood. “I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” he said. Although he was born on a dairy farm outside of Silverhill, Forsman said, carpentry was always a part of his family. At a age 13, he and his family moved from the farm to their new home west of Silverhill. His father opened a cabinet shop there.

     When he graduated from Robertsdale High School in 1961, Forsman went off to school at North Park College in Chicago. College was interrupted by a six-year tour in the Navy, including time spent as a operating room corpsman in a hospital in Vietnam.

     Upon his discharge in 1969, Forsman returned home to work with his father in the cabinet business. He returned to college at Troy University (night school) and received his Bachelor of Science degree (magna-cum-laude), in 1977. He would leave his family business to work in sales, ending up at Alfa, where he retired in 2005.

     Forsman remained active in building wooden models, collaborating on several projects with Fairhope artist Dean Mosher, including a model of the Wright Flier for the 100th anniversary of the first flight in 2003. He has also worked with Mosher on several projects for the artist’s home, an icon in Fairhope which resembles a medieval castle.

     “We’ve known each other for a long time,” Forsman said, “and I consider him to be a good friend.”

     Forsman has also contracted with the Fairhope Single Tax Colony to build a series of models of the steamboats that transported residents across Mobile Bay in the city’s early days. Forsman has completed six models so far, which are on display at various locations around Fairhope, with the seventh nearing completion.

     Forsman’s latest project for Mosher is building a model for a maritime artwork, another project that is close to the former sailor’s heart. Yes, Forsman does know something about woodworking. It’s also safe to say he knows something about the history of his church, the Silverhill Evangelical Covenant Church, having served with his sister, Dixie White, as historian.

     “It happened by default sort of,” he said.

     In November 2012, the church will celebrate its 110th anniversary.

     The church’s story began with a donation of land in 1902 by Silverhill founder, Oscar Johnson. By 1903 a 30-foot by 50-foot structure was built for the Swedish congregation, and in December of that year, they were preparing for the traditional Julotta Christmas service when O.P. Forsman, Peco’s great-grandfather, moved to Silverhill from Kansas with his father, wife and 10 children.

     “They attended that first Julotta service, effectively doubling the size of the congregation,” Forsman said with a smile.

     The elder Forsman, who had been instrumental in organizing and building Lund Evangelical Covenant church in Kansas, became one of the leaders of the new church, which was the first Evangelical Covenant Church built south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Forsman said.

     The church was one of three Swedish churches in the early days of Silverhill. There was also a Swedish Baptist church, built around the same time as the Evangelical Covenant Church, and the Zion Lutheran Church, which was built in 1915 with the original structure remaining in the town today.

     “It’s hard to know who built their church first,” Forsman said. “Many people think the Baptist church was built first, but I don’t know. The churches were all part of the community back then, and they all worked together and coordinated services for the entire town.”

     The original structure served the church until 1957, when a new sanctuary was built. It remained in Silverhill until 1978, when the Blakeley Foundation was seeking to re-establish the historic town at Blakely State Park and asked to use the church building as an office space.

     The structure was split into three pieces for transport by helicopter to Blakeley. Only two survived the journey - one piece was dropped during transport.

     Plans were to rebuild the structure at the park, but before the pieces could be put back together, a monster storm known as hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979, destroying the other two structures.

     All that remains of the original church building now is the spire atop the Mary Grice Gazebo, which still stands at Blakeley State Park today.

     With the 110th anniversary of the church approaching, members of the Church Council wanted to do something to commemorate the original structure. Forsman was approached about building a scale model for the structure, effectively bringing his two loves together.

Peco Forsman stands in his shop in Silverhill with the scale model he built for the 110th anniversary of the church. A lone figure welcomes everyone inside the church. The pews and floor in the church were built from a piece of the original church which was destroyed during transport in the 1970s.

     Now completed, the model was built using heart pine, the same as with the original structure and is a 1:32, or three eighths of an inch to one foot, scale model.

     When the piece of the original structure was destroyed during transport, Forsman acquired a piece of the structure, which he kept for nearly 35 years before using it to construct the floors and pews in the scale model, he said.

     The shingles in the structure were also made of split cypress, just like in the original structure, using local wood, Forsman said. In all, he estimates the model includes about 5,000 shingles.

     The church is, for the most part, modeled after the structure as it appeared in 1910, Forsman said. The one exception is a painting of Jesus, which can still be found hanging in the structure today. The work was created for the church by famous artist Warner Sallman in the 1946 and thus was not a part of the structure in 1910, Forsman said.

     Forsman took a photo of the original painting and was able to make an exact scale on his computer using Photoshop, he said.

     In all the model took about two months to complete, working six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day, Forsman said. “It truly was a labor of love,” he said. “Working on it brought back so many memories from my childhood and raising my own family in the church and it is my hope that when people look at it, similar memories will be there for them also.”

     Forsman plans to have the completed structure on display during the town’s Heritage Day celebration Saturday, Sept. 17, 2012. He will also be a part of the walking tours and bus tour during the celebration, giving a talk at the church as part of the tours.

     Tickets will be available Saturday morning at United Bank, the historic People’s Supply Building, and the tours will begin from People’s Supply at 10 a.m. Tickets are free, but you must have a ticket to participate in the tours.

Printed in The Independent Newspaper
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
By John Underwood -
Click here to read the Independent News article.

Silverhill resident C.C. "Peco" Forsman

to present bay boats history at Fairhope library

     FAIRHOPE, Ala. -- The Fairhope Public Library has joined public libraries throughout Alabama in a statewide effort to read and discuss Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

     As part of that effort, Baldwin County native and Silverhill resident C.C. "Peco" Forsman will present a history and description of the Mobile Bay boats at 10 a.m. today and 6 p.m. March 4 at the library.

     The bay boats carried passengers, cars and freight and varied in size. Some boats were propelled by paddlewheels, while others were driven by propellers.

     Forsman’s presentation includes many historic photographs of the boats, which played a vital role in the development of the coastal communities in Baldwin County.

     In addition to his research, Forsman is constructing 10 bay boats for the Fairhope Single Tax Corp.

     The replica steamship Heroine, on loan from the corporation, is on display in the Colony Reading Room at the Fairhope library.

     The Heroine was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1862 for John Fraser and Co. and was used as a blockade runner for the Confederacy.

     The steamship’s last run as a blockade runner ended June 6, 1864. Sometime in the 1870s James Carney saw the Heroine and purchased it for passengers.

     The program is in conjunction with the Big Read: Alabama Reads and is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

Printed in Mobile Press Register
Friday, February 26, 2010
Click here to read the Mobile Press Register article.

Get to Know Peco Forsman

Silverhill resident blends love of history, model building

Published: in the Mobile Press Register on Friday, February 05, 2010

Birthplace: Silverhill

Hometown: Silverhill

Family: Wife, Irene

Occupation: Retired insurance agent

Activities: Model making, historical research

     SILVERHILL, Ala. -- When he was about 12 years old, C.C. "Peco" Forsman saw a teenaged friend whittling a piece of juniper wood into the shape of a lifeboat.

     "It fascinated the daylights out of me. He probably doesn’t even remember it now," Forsman said of Joe Boroco, who was 18 years old at the time. "Whether he knows or not, he inspired me to have a go at model-making."

     Making models from wood became a lifelong pastime for Forsman. Years later, the hobby would combine with his interest in history to make him a well-known builder of historical models, particularly those portraying the historic bay boats of Mobile Bay.

     "Fairhope was an island. We didn’t even have railroad," Forsman said. "Without the bay boats, the Eastern Shore wouldn’t have existed as it did."

     Forsman said he was born at his family’s farm just outside of Silverhill. He grew up in the small town and graduated from Robertsdale High School in 1961. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1963 and served until 1969.

     "I was an operating room technician for six years in Saigon and Da Nang, in Vietnam," Forsman said. After leaving the Navy, he worked at his father’s cabinet business for a few years, then owned a small country store for a time.

     He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Troy State University in 1977. Then he worked a while for Hill & Brooks Coffee Co., now called Leroy Hill Coffee Co, until 1980.

     It was on a trip home after college that Forsman met the girl who would become his wife. He met Irene at church.

     "She was just 13 when I met her. Eventually, we kind of hit it off and we got married two days after she graduated from high school," Forsman said. "We’re still together. We even still like each other. We’re really very lucky."

     In 1980, he went into the insurance business. Forsman worked for Alfa Insurance Corp. until he retired in 2006, he said.

     "I had a lot of wonderful clients, a lot of good folks and a lot of good times," Forsman said. "I have no regrets."

     In 2008, at the urging of his friend Dean Mosher, Forsman made a proposal to the Fairhope Single Tax Corp. to build a series of 10 bay boats important to the Mobile Bay area’s history.

     Mosher is vice president of the corporation. He’s also a professional painter known for epic-scale depictions of historical events, such as naval battles. Forsman had already built several boat models to help Mosher create his paintings.

     "Much to my surprise, the Single Tax folks said ‘OK.’ I had a commission," Forsman said. He spent the first six months researching the boats — their construction, their historical context, the people who captained them and so forth.

     "I don’t think anyone has researched the area’s bay boats as thoroughly," Mosher said of his friend.

     So far, Forsman has built the Fairhope I, Fairhope II, Pleasure Bay, the Baldwin and the Heroine. He’ll next complete the General Lee, Apollo, Manatee, Bay Queen and James Carney.

     The completed models are now displayed at the Single Tax Corp.’s downtown office, the Fairhope Museum of History and Thomas Hospital.

     Forsman will deliver talks about the bay boats at the Fairhope Public Library at 10 a.m. Feb. 26 and March 4, 2010.

Printed in Mobile Press Register
Friday, February 05, 2010
Click here to read the Mobile Press Register article.