Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Visit 8 Historic Sites Without Leaving the County

If I asked you to name three or four historic places right off the top of your head I'm certain you could do it. Even the least historically minded of us are familiar with history hot spots like Mt. Vernon, the U.S. Capitol, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Historic places often add a little excitement and variety to a vacation. Who hasn't visited a lighthouse while at the beach or toured a museum or two when away from home? What we often forget, however, are the historic locations in our own backyard.

How many of us head off to Atlanta or some other nearby location when we want to "SEE" something?

What about the historic locations right here in Douglas County?

We have eight different history hot spots of our own that are worthy of being “SEEN” and all have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. This week I thought I’d share a few details about each location.

Basket Creek Cemetery is adjacent to on Capps Ferry Road not too far from the Chattahoochee River. The first burial was in 1886, and it’s still in use today with approximately 110 burials to date. At the turn of the century the Capps Ferry Road area was a thriving African American community including single-family houses, saw mills, tenant farms and churches.

The Basket Creek Cemetery is a prime example of the West African custom involving grave mounding to honor deceased family members and friends. Poorly maintained mounds are seen as insults to the dead and are poor reflections on the community as a whole.

When you visit the cemetery you quickly notice each grave is represented with a mound of earth, and the entire yard appears to be swept. Twice a year for the last 123 years the congregation at Basket Creek have maintained the graves and continue to pass along the skills to the next generation.

The Douglas County Courthouse built in 1956 and located at 6754 Broad Street is also on the National Register. Since 2002, the Old Courthouse building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building passed muster to be added to the prestigious list because it was built in the International Style of architecture, a style that emerged in the 1920s and 30s and matured following World War II.

Today, the 1956 courthouse houses the Old Courthouse Museum which exhibits a wealth of artifacts and information regarding the settlement of Douglas County and the growth of Douglasville.

Beulah Grove Lodge No. 372, Free and Accepted York Masons and Pleasant Grove School is owned by Pleasant Grove Baptist Church . A Times Georgian article found here states, “Pleasant Grove was a rural community where most of the residents were sharecroppers. Members of the church’s Board of Deacons were trustees for the lodge, and Jack Smith—who donated the land—was believed to be a Mason. Smith was a freed slave, born in 1832, who purchased 50 acres of land in 1868 and another 50 acres in 1889, giving two acres of land to the church, school and cemetery.”

The building had a dual purpose in that it served as a lodge building and school beginning about 1910. Currently there are plans to restore the building.

The John Thomas Carnes Family Log House can be found at Clinton Nature Preserve, and is one of the best maintained log cabins in the Atlanta area. The approximate date for its construction is 1828. Members of the Carnes family actually lived in the home through the 1950s.

In the 1980s the family donated 200 acres to Douglas County with the provision that the land is to remain in its natural state as much as possible. The Old Courthouse Museum on Broad Street has an excellent collection of items that belonged to the Carnes family on display.

The William T. Roberts House was added to the National Register in 1989, and today it serves as the headquarters for Douglas County’s Cultural Arts Center . In a previous column I quoted a source stating the Roberts home is “one of the few structures in Douglasville which embodies the characteristics of a period style…with its air of classic Greek architecture, the low sweeping line of a grand front porch, and an entrance of mahogany doors enriched with the serenity of stained glass….”

The Sweetwater Manufacturing Site has been on the National Register since 1977, and its historical significance dates from before the Civil War. The Sweetwater Manufacturing site is also known as the New Manchester Mill. It was built along Sweetwater Creek in 1849.

The building was five stories tall and was powered by a waterwheel. Towards the end of the Civil War Union soldiers were ordered to shut the mill down and arrest the employees who were then shipped north. Today all that remains of the mill are the brick walls and millrace that led to the factory’s waterwheel.

Douglasville Commercial Historic District has been on the National Register since July, 1989. While some are very quick to dismiss the commercial area of downtown Douglasville as just another railroad town, it is one of the best examples we have in the state of Georgia.

 Most of the buildings in the district are original and exhibit various styles of architecture including Victorian, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Romanesque, Italianate, Beaux Arts Classicism and Tudor Revival. When you delve into the history of the downtown area and the backgrounds regarding a large majority of the men who were featured so prominently in its development it cannot be denied that Douglasville was a “New South” town following Henry Grady’s call for the development of industrial capitalism to replace the plantation system.

The Pine Mountain Gold Mine is located on Stockmar Road in Villa Rica, Georgia. While most students of Georgia history learn about the gold discovered in Dahlonega they are told that it is considered to be the beginning of Georgia’s gold rush. It was actually Villa Rica that led the way with gold being discovered in 1826, four years earlier than Dahlonega.

The miners who discovered the gold in Villa Rica elected to be a bit quiet regarding their find since Georgia had a law at the time declaring any discovery of minerals including gold would have to be handed over to the state. Once the law was repealed in 1829 the mining operations went public. The mine was active until 1936.

The discovery of gold in Villa Rica was significant historically because the knowledge helped to speed up the settlement of the lands previously controlled by Creek Indians.

So, the next time you are in the mood for a little history think about exploring Douglas County first.

You never know what you might find!

This column first appeared at Douglasville Patch on July 11, 2011.

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