Russ Page, a tireless advocate on behalf of historic sites in the county, will get a chance tomorrow night to make a case for funding from current and future Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue of three projects in the county .
The first is preservation of the historic mill on Rose Creek just downstream from the iconic Elder Mill Covered Bridge off SR 15 (Greensboro Highway) southeast of Watkinsville.
The second is a collection of archeological sites on both sides of the Oconee River southeast of Barnett Shoals Road. Included are an old mill town, a still functioning hydroelectric dam, and Native American and prehistoric settlements.
The third is a five-mile-long walk along the Apalachee River on the county’s southwest. The trail would start at the county’s Heritage Park and continue south of the U.S. 441 bridge and would include an unused railroad bridge across the river.
Page will be talking to a Historic and Scenic Sites subcommittee of the county’s Recreational Affairs Committee and the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee. The meeting starts at 5:15 p.m. at the community center in Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.
At Page’s suggestion, the Board of Commissioners included funding in the 2009 SPLOST currently being collected for historic preservation, but it lumped the money with funding for parks and recreation generally.
Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry told the Board of Commissioners in June of last year that of the $1.1 put into 2009 SPLOST funding for “recreational, historic and scenic facilities,” he had spent only $5,600 for historic preservation.
Again in response to Page’s advocacy, the Board included $250,000 in the 2015 SPLOST voters approved in November.
And it told Gentry to allocate $250,000 from the 2009 SPLOST specifically for historic and scenic projects.
Page has asked the BOC on several occasions–the most recent on Jan. 6–to appoint a committee to review proposals for possible SPLOST funding, but the Board has taken no action.
At its meeting last July, the Recreational Affairs Committee discussed forming a subcommittee for just that purpose.
That subcommittee met in October and again in November. Gentry invited Page to make a presentation to the group tomorrow night.
Subcommittee members are Christian Cotton from the Keep Oconee County Beautiful Commission, Leslie Hunsinger and Bill Gohdes from the Recreational Affairs Committee, Peggy Sommer and Melissa Piche from the Oconee Historical Society, and Rob Peecher and Steve Nedza from the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee.
Page calls all of his proposals “hidden treasures.”
In a document he distributed to the Board of Commissioners earlier this year, he said each has “remained hidden for decades and even centuries.”
The goal, according to Page, is to “bring them alive again and visible to the citizens of and visitors to our county.”
Most people, for example, have no idea there even is a mill at Elder Mill Covered Bridge, Page said, and few have seen the insides.
|Inside Elder Mill|
The mill, privately owned, is a three-story building built on the banks of Rose Creek.
The outside of the building is weathered, but the insides are amazingly well preserved. (I have had the good fortune of touring the mill.)
“Most of the equipment looks like the last mill worker left on Friday and just never showed up on Monday,” Page wrote. “It’s all still there.”
Included are the large canvas straps or belts that ran the mill. Outside the mill the corrugated piping which brought water from the creek to turn the mill is still visible.
Barnett or Barnett Shoals or Rutherford
Page’s second hidden treasurer is in the triangular piece of Oconee County jutting into Clarke and Oglethorpe counties on the eastern side of the Oconee River and opposite that triangle on the western side of the river as well.
The eastern side includes a mill town consisting of remnants of 40 buildings, according to Page. The town is sometimes called Barnett, sometimes called Barnett Shoals, and sometimes referred to as Rutherford, he said.
|Ruins On Oconee River Site|
It is possible to cross the river on a walkway under the still operating hydroelectric dam, according to Page.
On the western side of the river is another mill, sometimes called McCree’s Mill and at other times called Crawford Mill, Page told the commissioners in his documentation of the project.
The western side of the river had been Indian Territory at the time that the eastern side was being settled by Europeans.
Citizens of Oconee County now can only access the Apalachee River along 50 feet of frontage at the far end of Heritage Park.
Page’s proposal would make the river less “hidden” by providing access along the five miles stretching south from that point.
|Bridge Over Apalachee|
Those using the trail would pass under an old railroad bridge, “which is a very beautiful site itself,” Page wrote in his document.
The end point would be at a place called Apalachee Beach.
Page told the commissioners that the most urgent need is for action on the mill.
The owner died in December, he said.
“I am afraid if we do nothing it will be sold,” Page said.
All of the land for the three projects is in private hands, but Page said he has talked with the landowners who own the most significant sites.
“They are willing to work with us on the possibility of having this whole historic area available to the public,” Page wrote.
Page has said that it is difficult to estimate the costs of his three projects.
Some land owners would want to be compensated for an easement on their property, and others have said they donate the easements, Page has written.
The mill and its six acres would almost certainly have to be purchased. The land and building are assessed at $136,433, according to Oconee County Tax records.
The county would have to invest in repairs and upkeep of the mill itself, Page wrote.
Page had argued for all three of these projects when he made his pitches to the county in the runup to the 2009 and 2015 SPLOST referendums.
(All of the pictures used here were taken by Page. Click on any one of them to enlarge it.)