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Rex Village makes historic preservation list

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With many of its standing structures pre-dating the American Civil War, the historic Rex Village exists as a vital link to Clayton County's past. The recent construction of a Rex Road bypass, however, has influenced the county to find ways to restore structural and economic integrity back to the area.

This week, the county won a major victory in its effort to restore prosperity to the village. On Wednesday, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation listed Rex Village as one of 10 historically valuable sites in its 2011 list of "Places in Peril."

According to Georgia Trust President and CEO Mark McDonald, the list was established six years ago, in order to raise public awareness of significant historic restoration projects, taking place throughout the state. He said the organization's top-ten list of locations that are most-worthy of preservation, was established from a pool of 26 nominated sites.

"We promote and protect our historic buildings, communities, and sites all across the state of Georgia," said McDonald. "We have seen every year the national attention that this [list] brings. That raises attention on those sites ... It also means the Georgia Trust will dedicate a lot of time to those places on the list."

The 2011 list of "Places in Peril" includes: Zion Church, built in 1848 in Talbot County; Rex Village in Clayton County; the 1911 Craigie House in Atlanta, which housed the first Georgia chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and the second chapter in the country; the 1797 John Ross House in Walker County; the Harrington School of St. Simons Island; the Medical Arts Building in Atlanta; the Fairview Colored School in Floyd County; the Martin House in Muscogee County; the historic buildings of Sparta, Ga., in Hancock County; and the Berrien County Courthouse in Nashville, Ga.

A full listing and description of the Georgia Trust's "Places in Peril" list can be viewed at www.georgiatrust.org.

Last year, Rex Village became the subject of national attention when genealogists, hired by The New York Times, traced First Lady Michelle Obama's lineage to Melvinia Shields, a slave girl who grew up in the village. Prior to that discovery, according to Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott, the county sought ways to revitalize and market the aging village, which houses the historic Rex Mill.

Wainscott said the designation of Rex Village to the Georgia Trust's "Places in Peril" list adds credibility to the county's revitalization efforts, and may open the doors for state and federal assistance.

"There is a lot of work to determine if your property is viable for historic redevelopment," Wainscott said. "This 'Places in Peril' designation is a critical step that underscores that we are on the right path. We want to protect the core structures of these buildings to make sure that they are going to be here for the next 100 years ... Our toolbox has just increased dramatically."

Wainscott said that the Georgia Trust will eventually bring in experts from the state's Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Division to assess the condition of the village's buildings and determine an economic strategy for the area. He said placement on the list may also help the county achieve grants to assist in its redevelopment.

"The goal is not to turn this into one big, behind-the-glass museum exhibit," Wainscott said. "People need to be able to touch, see, and be a part of that era. It would be our hope that Rex will have [an] economic return for the community and the county as well."