History comes alive

By Michael Davis

To some it may look like a pile of old junk n metal and aging wood scattered around the floor of the barn at Heritage Park in McDonough.

But the barn is a museum, and to 78-year-old Marion Hall Simpson, that pile represents a good portion of his life.

"This is an upright grist mill," Simpson said as he rounded up pieces of the machine, trying to put the beast back to rights.

"I can't tell you how many sacks of meal I pulled up in this," he said. "It could grind 25 or 30 bushels an hour, but sometimes we didn't run it that fast."

The old mill was brought to the Heritage Village Barn Museum to become part of a display of Henry County's history. Wednesday, Simpson and about a dozen others who have donated pieces of Henry history to the museum n old farm equipment, Depression-era household appliances, aging photos and antique ads n came to tell their stories.

Simpson's mill, operated by his father and grandfather, ran on Keys Ferry Street. The mill shut down in 1969 and Marion Simpson reopened the building as a feed and seed store, selling produce on the side. The mill works sat dormant in the store for decades until Freda Turner proposed the construction of the museum.

"When he told me he was selling his little store ? and this mill was in the back of the store, I says, ?What's going to happen to the mill?'" Turner recalled.

Simpson's answer that the once-mighty corn grinder would likely get tossed out didn't satisfy Turner, who approached county leaders with the idea of creating a museum.

"I didn't think in 2000 it was going to have much of a chance," she said.

But through private donations, sales of Turner's book, a history of Henry County compiled from old newspaper articles, and cooperation with county officials, the museum became a reality.

Park officials are still putting the final touches on the exhibits at the Heritage Museum.

Interior designer Christine Trent asked exhibit donors to write down their memories of the pieces for future plaques to describe the displays.

To younger generations, some of the items seemed on the archaic side.

"On just a personal note, I'm interested to see what some of this stuff is," said 31-year-old District III Commissioner Jason Harper.

The museum is not yet open to the public. While Trent works on the displays which include documents and fabrics stored in a climate-controlled room, a horse-drawn buggy built in 1900, and the last bail of cotton ginned in Henry County, she's hoping for input from the public on the significance of some of the items.

She asked anyone who can contribute to stories behind some of the items to contact the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax division at 80 John Frank Ward Blvd.

Mary Carmichael Hay, whose grandfather opened and operated a hosiery mill in 1927, described in writing the significance of the mill's whistle to the townspeople.

"The mill whistle could be heard all over town and would signal the beginning of the work day, the noon lunch hour and the end of the day," she wrote. "The town clock was set by the mill whistle."

Ray Swann, a genealogical society member who helped to bring some of the items to the museum's attention, surveyed the historical items with pride.

"It was a great dream of Freda's and mine, and some more. I gave a right smart of stuff here," Swann said. "The biggest thing we wanted to do here is to leave something so people coming along behind us know how we lived."