By Diane Glidewell
Spurred by the disappearance and deterioration of Butts County landmarks, a meeting was held on Thursday, May 13, to discuss plans and strategies to create a historic district for Jackson.
Special guests at the discussion were Corinne Thornton, Region 4 specialist with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs' (DCA) Local Government Assistance Division, and Cindy Eidson of the DCA Office of Downtown Development. Thornton and Eidson work with communities to guide and advise them in such undertakings as creating historic districts. They have recently worked with the Mainstreet revitalization program in Griffin.
Thornton explained there are various programs available which might apply to Jackson. The Mainstreet program is for cities over 5,000 in population. Better Hometowns is a program designed for cities with populations of 4,000 or fewer.
Bill Mauldin, who organized the meeting, said Jackson had worked on being placed on the National Register of Historic Places several years ago. Jackson Mayor Charlie Brown told Mauldin the University of Georgia had conducted a survey but he had never received a copy of the results. In response to Thornton's inquiry about what is currently driving interest in preservation, Mauldin replied, "Just last week another [historic] house was burned. We are losing them left and right."
Cheryl Hilderbrand said that the members of the Quality of Life committee formed from the March 11 Economics of Education Summit feel that preserving what is in Butts County should be a priority both to improve life for Butts County citizens and also to attract tourism.
"We can give you all the tools, but we can't make it happen," said Thornton. "You need political involvement and a champion to make it happen."
"Are there grants available?" asked Butts County Commissioner Keith Douglas.
Eidson explained that grants are few and far between but there are low-interest loans. Much of the funding is dependent on use, and on turning preservation into economic development.
"Being on the National Register is a very important recognition tool and a very important honor, but it doesn't protect anything from being torn down," said Thornton. "There is no requirement to open a building on the National Register to the public."
Local governments have the authority to create local historic districts and have the authority to determine what regulations they will enforce for the districts. Generally, local governments enforce exterior design restrictions for buildings in the district and are more lenient on some codes for buildings designated historic than for new construction.
"The biggest thing is letting people know what you are doing and why," said Thornton. "Public awareness is the key."
Thornton and Eidson suggested starting with a small area, probably the area immediately surrounding the Butts County Courthouse, and working to have it designated as a historic district by talking with each of the building owners and anyone in the public interested. The plan would be to be successful with a small area first, and then expand.
"We have never worked where people didn't say, 'We tried before,'" said Eidson.
Thornton and Eidson promised to check on what work had already been done in Jackson by the University of Georgia.