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Historic houses give rise to town square in 'Olde Morrow'

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Napier House, a 26-room Greek revival mansion built in Macon, Ga. in 1842 by Confederate Colonel Leroy Napier, had seen better days, according to Betty Lou Brown, executive director of the Historic Macon Foundation. The once elegant estate was slated for demolition in a few months to make way for the expansion of Central High School in Macon.

"This was the second time it was moved to meet the needs of today's educational system," said Brown, noting that the house lost two of its wings and its English basement during the first move in 1921. "We knew this was coming, so we took steps to try to save this house."

The Historic Macon Foundation marketed the property on www.historicproperties.com for $1, hoping that someone would save the house before it was destroyed.

On Tuesday morning, the house will make it's way up Interstate 75 -- in four pieces -- to become part of Olde Morrow, the city of Morrow's latest development project.

For the last 18 months, the city has been collecting historic properties across the state that would have otherwise been demolished, and is using them as the centerpieces of Olde Morrow, an 19th-century-themed town square, which will include new developments such as retail stores, hotels and condominiums.

Next week, Olde Morrow will have acquired seven donated, historic structures with plans for several more acquisitions. Over the next five to seven years, plans for the pedestrian village include an old-fashioned "five-and-dime" store, a walk-through fountain with a tree stand for Christmas displays, and a replica of the Tara Home, which will serve as a "Gone With the Wind"-themed bed and breakfast.

Jeff Eady, Morrow public works director, said the project is a challenge, because they are moving in the structures, first, and doing the civil engineering later. However, he said the city is excited about the project's economic potential.

"It's a huge undertaking," said Eady, noting that it costs anywhere from $35,000 to $200,000 to move a structure, depending on its size. "We have a few hundred thousand dollars tied up in it, easy. It's a little on the reverse side that we like to do things, but to get people to know that we are doing it and not just talking about it, John [Lampl, Morrow City Manager] convinced us to move the house here first."

Lampl said the project has the potential to generate millions of dollars for the city. "There's nothing like it in Clayton County," he said. "If you look around throughout the county, there is no other town square like this. This is part of a long-term redevelopment plan for Southlake Mall," which Olde Morrow will border.

At the completion of the project, Lampl said, Olde Morrow will have a market value of about $40 million. He added that the project also has significant historical value. "We could have waited, but none of these buildings would be standing," said Lampl. "We've preserved a significant portion of Georgia history."

"This is an amazing situation," said Steven Acenbrak, director of civil engineering for the project. "It's a fantastic opportunity to bring some of these house from the remote regions of Georgia and centralize them here. It's recycling at it's best."