A new chapter is beginning for Athens only National Historic Landmark, the Taylor-Grady House. 634 Prince is being rebranded as “Landmark Commons.”
A small group of volunteers was awarded the lease for the Taylor-Grady House by the ACC Commission. The new reference of "Landmark Commons" carries two important messages.
“Landmark” honors the fact that the house is Athens' only National Historic Landmark.
"Commons" is the ancient word communities have used for shared spaces open to everyone for purposes that benefit all – the future of Taylor-Grady House.
634 Prince Avenue will now be known as Landmark Commons. The property includes not only the Taylor-Grady House, but also gardens, the original outkitchen, and summer dining room.
The mission of Landmark Commons is to be an open door for all to experience an inclusive history through education, preservation and hospitality. This new approach to making Taylor-Grady accessible to all does not end the era of elegant weddings and gala events. But the new services will make possible a variety of meeting, training and small event spaces with special rates and accommodations for Athens’ nonprofit and civic services. Thirty nonprofit service agencies wrote letters of support for Landmark Commons to become the new lessee of the property. “Taylor-Grady House can still host elegant weddings, but Landmark Commons will give these agencies more opportunities to train staff and volunteers, hold local and regional meetings, and small professional conferences.” said board member Peggy Galis.
“One of our goals is to give agencies helping our citizens a resource they have not had before. It’s a bonus that we can also reveal a history that has not been told before,” said Gwen O’Looney, Board Secretary. From the beginning, the goal was to bring to life the African American past through historic interpretations, artifacts, and displays on the ground floor.
While the ground floor was not initially granted in the commissions lease approval, a goal of Landmark Commons is to raise funds from grants and private donors in addition to the space rentals in order to restore and repurpose this space for scheduled public access.
Practical and flexible rooms that are not part of a house museum are badly needed to make the house usable by all.
“Showing Athens that we really want to emphasize the African American history of Taylor-Grady will take time. Our success will depend on our actions. But we are determined to make Landmark Commons a place where all feel welcomed,” said Board Member Hattie Whitehead. As president of ACC Center for Racial Justice and Black Futures, Mrs. Whitehead will work from an office donated by Landmark Commons in Taylor-Grady House.
The first scheduled event at Taylor-Grady will honor Athens African American history on September 17th. The first five students that integrated Athens’ schools in 1963 will be honored for the history they made when interviewed for “The Forgotten Five,” a documentary sponsored by Clarke County School District and The Association for the Study of African American Life and History. A reception at Landmark Commons will end this historic day. “How appropriate,” said Lee Epting, “An Athens Historic Event celebrated in Athens’ National Historic Landmark.”
Landmark Commons will work with local historians and librarians to expand what is known about the enslaved and free men who contributed to the history of Athens and Taylor-Grady House. African American history and tourism are very popular across the nation. Recently, Historic Athens/Welcome Center, Hargrett Library and TRR Cobb House have featured some impressive exhibits and research. With planned restoration of the original Dovecote Kitchen, outbuildings and summer dining room, Landmark Commons can become an interactive experiential classroom for school groups, tours and community events. Access to the ground level of the house is not yet available but is needed to accomplish this portion of our mission. “When Athens-Clarke County begins their space allocation study, we are confident that they will agree there is no better use for the ground floor,” said Lee Epting when asked about ACC taking the only practical space in the house out of the space available to any tenant.
In April of 2022, Lee Epting spearheaded the effort to preserve the fifty years of curated furniture and fixtures. We are grateful to the Junior League of Athens for donating this collection to Landmark Commons. Love of the house led a group of citizens to work through a two proposal journey. Although a caterer who has used the house since its opening, Lee Epting is recruiting all of Athens certified caterers to get registered and feel welcomed. “We want to have a space accessible to and used by all our community. Taylor-Grady House will always be a premier wedding venue, but a spectrum of community events is our goal with Landmark Commons at Taylor-Grady House,” said Vice Chair Alex Sams.
Landmark Commons is planning to host large community events such as Historic Athens Porchfest, Community Caroling and a Christmas Open House. With the hiring of a House Manager, docents will be trained, and community wide events planned with group entertainment, activities and demonstrations. Website and more information to be released soon following the signed lease agreement.
“The Landmark Commons Board of Directors is excited to begin this new chapter for the Taylor-Grady House and surrounding property. We are committed to achieving our ambitious goals and invite community input as we move forward," said Smith Wilson, Landmark Commons Board Chair.
The officers and members of the Landmark Commons Board of Directors are: Chair Smith Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vice Chair Alex Sams at email@example.com, Secretary Gwen O'Looney at firstname.lastname@example.org, Treasurer Martee T. Horne at email@example.com, Richard Dunn, Sr. at firstname.lastname@example.org, Lee Epting at email@example.com, Peggy Galis at firstname.lastname@example.org, Charlotte Marshall at email@example.com, and Hattie Thomas Whitehead at Hattiewhi@aol.com.