ATHENS, Ga. (Feb. 13, 2017) - Fifty years ago, the house that now stands as the Athens Welcome Center was loaded onto a flatbed truck and moved one block to avoid the wave of urban renewal sweeping downtown Athens.
That stone's-throw of a drive across Dougherty Street became a marathon of sorts for a handful of dedicated preservationists. Moving the Church-Waddel-Brumby House set into motion an effort to reclaim historic structures across Athens, and 50 years later that spirit continues. Founded in 1967 to “save the oldest house in Athens,” the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation is celebrating its golden anniversary throughout 2017 with a slate of events for all Athenians.
"It may sound cliché, but I truly believe Athens-Clarke County would be a different place today if it were not for the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation," says Amy Kissane, executive director of the organization. "We grew out of a time of dramatic change—when historic buildings, long taken for granted in our cityscape, were being torn down and replaced with new ones as a sign of 'progress'."
Since its founding, ACHF has kept historic preservation at the forefront of our civic conversation. The advocacy that started with saving the Church-Waddel-Brumby House continued with the saving of the Franklin House, Fire Hall No. 1, the Wray-Nicholson House and others. ACHF conducted historic home tours and downtown tours and completed National Register nominations throughout the 1970s and ‘80s to bring attention to historic resources, efforts that helped the organization work with the city to establish a historic preservation ordinance. Today, this allows neighborhoods to seek protection of their historic resources.
Whether it's through programs, workshops and tours or publishing architectural guides or hosting events highlighting important historic properties, education remains a key focus of ACHF’s mission. The organization’s revolving fund for loans and grants and its Hands On Athens program allow ACHF to contribute directly to preservation efforts, something most recently illustrated by successfully stabilizing the historic house and bridge at Beech Haven.
And then there’s the historic preservation awards. “The annual awards ceremony at The Morton Theatre is one of our signature events, part celebration and part thank you” said Kissane, noting that ACHF has given out more than 350 awards over the years. "Bringing attention to these projects and recognizing those who are responsible is an honor. We get to share in their community spirit, their sense of stewardship and their creative vision and it’s empowering…a reminder of the value of historic preservation to our community."
Events in 2017 highlight both the history of the organization itself as well as the effect preservation has in our community, looking toward ACHF's next 50 years. Upcoming events include:
- Founder's Day Proclamation: 10 a.m. March 16 at the Church-Waddel-Brumby House. Event will feature a proclamation from Mayor Nancy Denson and a reception, as well as the debut of a new "History of Preservation" tour.
- Historic Preservation Awards: 7 p.m. May 22 at The Morton Theatre. Special 50th anniversary edition of the awards show will encompass special guests and honors for the occasion.
- Golden Jubilee Dinner: June 4 at the Lyndon House arts Center. Event celebrates the history of the organization and features a keynote speaker to help focus forward to the next 50 years.
- Exhibit: "The History of ACHF": June 5-Aug. 25 in the Rotunda of the UGA Special Collections Libraries. Exhibit includes rare items from the library's archives that help tell the story of ACHF.
- Rabbit Box ("If These Walls Could Talk"): 7 p.m. July 12 at The Foundry. A special collaboration with the Rabbit Box storytelling event, this month's focus will draw from stories of Athenians who were in Athens during the tumultuous 1960s and their relationship with the historic buildings in Athens.
- Mid-Century Modern Tour/lecture series: Oct. 6-7. In conjunction with a lecture series, "The Art of the Retro," this event explores the architecture and design of homes from the time of ACHF's founding, the 1950s and ’60s.
- Heritage Holiday Gala: Dec. 3 (neighborhood to be announced). After taking a year off, this much-anticipated holiday home tour returns with a new neighborhood to wrap up the year-long anniversary celebration.
Jennifer Lewis, chairwoman of ACHF's 50th anniversary committee, said the range of events came after brainstorming with board members about what makes events memorable and also asking, "Why do we celebrate milestones?"
"Sharing inspirational stories, gathering in unique places and having a celebratory atmosphere—these elements became themes to guide our brainstorming of events with a goal to educate, advocate and celebrate," she said. "Whether it's the 1960s-themed New Year's party we held to kick off the year, our Jubilee Dinner this summer, collaborating with other great Athens organizations or creating new tours, we have something that will appeal to all who love Athens."
Contact: Amy Kissane, 706-353-1801 or firstname.lastname@example.org