Old South Restoration Project Draws Ire of Historians

Roundup: Talking About History

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 25, 2004):

Gwinnett County (Georgia) spent $242,000 restoring the 1840s Yellow River Post Office and nearby slave quarters, but some historians now suggest the historic integrity of the buildings has been compromised.

Richard Laub, director of the heritage preservation program at Georgia State University, said the structures, which were completed in November, may create"a false sense of history" because modern materials and techniques were used.

"It looks like they threw a lot of money at the project, but they made it look new; they lost a lot of the authenticity of the structures," Laub said."I'm glad the county did make some overtures to historic preservation, so it's not a total negative. But the way they carried the project out is not up to preservation standards."

Laub also serves as chairman of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation awards committee.

Historic preservationist Tommy Hart Jones, who surveyed the post office and slave quarters for the county in 1998 as a private consultant, said he was dismayed that the county had moved the wooden post office about 60 feet and replaced much of the siding on the two buildings.

"It's all wrong," Jones said."I was extremely disappointed. They dismantled [the post office] and moved it. They ruined the historic value of that building by moving it. I almost cried when I heard that."

County officials say the work falls within recognized preservation guidelines. The county-hired architect, David Novack, even applied to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation for an excellence in preservation award for post office and slave quarters, but the application was rejected.

Bill Lunceford, development manager for Gwinnett County parks and recreation, said the county followed Secretary of the Interior guidelines in overseeing the restoration.

"It was falling down," he said."We had two old structures on the verge of disappearing, and we restored them as historically as possible. They were on the verge of becoming a pile of boards. The guidelines are not black and white."

But Laub said even with the loose guidelines, the restoration effort doesn't pass muster.

The 1840s post office was immortalized in the books"In Care of Yellow River" and"Weep Not for Me, Dear Mother," collections of letters written by Eli P. Landers, a Confederate private in the Civil War. The wooden post office building, located near Lilburn, doubled as a general store and served as the heart of the surrounding community. The slave quarters building was one of the few surviving structures of its kind, if not the only one, in Gwinnett County.

Developer Scott Hudgens gave the buildings to the county in 1996. The post office and slave quarters were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. They were renovated last year as part of a multiphase project to make the site a living history museum.

But the county has had to revise its plans since adjoining property it had hoped to acquire started being developed. The buildings remain vacant. The county plans to show the buildings to groups.

Last year the county moved the post office, originally set in a bend of Five Forks Trickum Road, because someday much of the road will be widened or straightened. The county has dedicated money from the 2001 sales tax for straightening the road between Ronald Reagan Parkway and Killian Hill Road, but county transportation officials couldn't say yet whether that portion of the road would be straightened.

Dale Jaeger, a consultant who helped draft the master plan for the restoration effort, said there weren't good options if Five Forks Trickum Road was to be widened or straightened there. There are historic buildings on both sides of the road, she said, and if one had to be moved, it made sense to move the post office while it was being dismantled.

Laub said material that should have been saved was replaced by inferior modern material....

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