Members of a long-time Jonesboro family, as well as local historical officials, are readying to go to war over a request to build a funeral home on what they say is part of the city’s only remaining, undeveloped piece of the Battle of Jonesborough battlefield.
The Jonesboro City Council is considering a request from an investment company, Weisbaden Investments, LLC, to annex 10.45 acres of land, located at 8968 Fayetteville Road, and rezone it for commercial use, so a funeral home can be built on the site.
Members of the Huie family, including their matriarch, Lucy Huie, want the land annexed by the city as well, but for a different purpose. They say the land is of historical value to the city, and the county, and should be preserved, and used for educational purposes.
The family, along with Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., officials said the Georgia Department of Transportation recently conducted survey of their land, which is right next to the site of the proposed funeral home, while preparing to widen Ga. Hwy. 54. The surveyors found Civil War artifacts, including an unexploded artillery shell on the family’s land, according to Mary Huie Jolly.
“The Georgia Department of Transportation archaeological survey identified it as an archaeological site that is beneficial for learning about the Battle of Jonesborough, of which no significant part of the battlefield has been preserved in its original form,” Jolly said.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on annexing the land, and rezoning it for commercial use, at its next business meeting, on May 14, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at the Jonesboro Police Department, 170 South Main Street.
The funeral home proposal drew opposition from several residents, who supported the family’s position that the land should be preserved, during a city council work session on Monday. Historical Jonesboro President Barbara Emert also appeared before the council, to voice her organization’s opposition to any commercial development of the property.
Emert said the property, which includes some wetlands and natural springs, may also have some Creek Indian artifacts located on it. “We would oppose anything that changes it from its natural state,” she told council members.
No representatives of Weisbaden attended the meeting to explain the project to council members, or to defend it from the residents’ criticisms.
Emert said the city has lost much of its ties to the Battle of Jonesborough to residential commercial development in, and around the city over the years. Houses, shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations and parking lots now sit on spots where Union and Confederate soldiers once fought each other for the fate of a nation, she explained.
“There’s virtually no place you could point out and say, ‘This is part of the battlefield’ — and there’s not a house, or a factory or something sitting on it,” Emert said. “This is just pristine land, and it was part of it.”
She later said the extent to which a person could point out where key parts of the battle took place, basically amounts to standing in a parking lot. “You can go over to Walmart, or K-Mart, or someplace, and say ‘Well, they fought there,’ ” the historical preservation official said. “But, to be able to go and see part of a trench, or an embankment ... it’s a piece of dirt, but that’s the pile of dirt that was actually part of the battle.”
Jolly said that her family believes the site was not the location of the heaviest fighting during the battle, but they do believe it was used as an artillery embankment. “We have artifacts, and the unexploded artillery shell, and what’s thought to be an earthwork,” she said. She added that “even according to the GDOT survey, [the site] needs to be protected.”
The Huie family has commissioned a study of their land, to examine exactly how involved it was in the battle, according to Jolly. She asked the city council to postpone a decision until that study can be completed.
Some Jonesboro residents and businesses said they would like to see the city council approve only the annexation portion of Weisbaden’s request, while rejecting the rezoning part. Tanama Tanning Salon owner John Crane said he would rather see the city have zoning control over the property rather than leaving it in the hands of Clayton County officials, who currently have zoning control over it.
“This council has a greater interest in what goes on here, and close to the city, than the county does,” Crane said. “I believe you all would make more valid decisions, and more informed decisions, about what should, or shouldn’t, take place [at the property].”
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day said the annexation and zoning requests will be handled in separate votes by the council, so it is possible that council members could approve the annexation, but then turn around and reject, or even postpone, the re-zoning request. “The council always has the right to postpone any question before it,” she said.
The mayor later added: “I’m sure the council will take it [the opposition] under consideration, especially now that we’ve heard from the citizens of Jonesboro, and the family that lives next door.”
Council members did not give any indication as to which way they were leaning on Monday, during their discussions on the requests.