By Curt Yeomans
Historical Jonesboro started in 1968 as a project of the Jonesboro Women's Club when its members took an interest in the city's history.
Forty-years later, it owns two plantation homes, and an old jail in Jonesboro. It also has become the keeper of Clayton County's history, and host of several events throughout the year, including an African-American day, and a Native American Festival.
Stately Oaks Plantation, which is operated by Historical Jonesboro, also is the site of the annual Battle of Jonesboro re-enactments. The group will celebrate its 40th birthday on Saturday at the plantation, located at 100 Carriage Lane, Jonesboro.
"We're here to preserve the heritage of Clayton County, by using documents, relics and buildings to educate the general population about that history," said Barbara Emert, president of Historical Jonesboro. "It's amazing that there are a lot of people who live in Clayton County, but don't know its history."
The birthday festivities begin at 10 a.m., with an open house at Stately Oaks. There will not be guided tours of the 1839 plantation house, but Historical Jonesboro volunteers will be dressed in 1860s period costumes and stationed in each room of the plantation to explain what guests are viewing.
Cake and ice cream will then be served from 11 a.m., to 3 p.m., and the day will be capped off with a "fun night" for Historical Jonesboro members and their families. The film "Little Women" will be shown on the lawn in front of the plantation house.
"We were going to show 'Gone With the Wind,' but we figured no one would want to sit on the ground for four hours to watch a movie," Emert said.
The ante-bellum period, particularly the imagery of "Gone With the Wind," has become a key part of the county's tourism industry. The fictional plantation known as "Tara," the home of Scarlett O'Hara, was located in Jonesboro, and the name shows up often in the central part of the county.
Tara Boulevard, Tara Road, Tara Stadium and Tara Elementary School are some examples of how the name has been ingrained in the county. The other athletic stadium in Clayton County is called Twelve Oaks, named after another plantation in the book and film.
Emert said it is smart to incorporate "Gone With the Wind" in the county because of the worldwide popularity of the book and film.
"People come to Clayton County from most states, and all around the world, to see Jonesboro, because it was where Tara was located," she said. "These people eat in Clayton County restaurants, stay in Clayton County hotels, and shop in Clayton County stores."
Emert said "Gone With the Wind" is not the end-all, be-all of Clayton County history, though. "If you talk about Clayton County history, you have to start with the Creek Indians; they were our first residents," she said. "Then you have the early settlers, and then the railroad came through the county, which was very important to our development. Finally, [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] was established.
"Our history is still tied very closely to transportation."
Historical Jonesboro is working with the Clayton County Board of Commissioners and the Clayton County Business Bureau to host a month-long celebration in November to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Clayton County's founding.