New coat now worn by one of county’s oldest structures
Despite a precautionary hurdle that delayed some long-awaited improvements at downtown Ellijay’s historic Tabor House last month, the over 140-year-old Spring Street landmark now sports a gleaming coat of fresh white paint thanks to a local church’s commitment to doing good work in the community.
Owned by the county and home to the Gilmer Historical Society since 2008, the Tabor House was one of four sites scheduled to be painted during an Impact Work Camp that brought 65 members of five Churches of Christ, including the one in Ellijay, together the second week of July to do no-charge outreach work.
Prep work began Monday, July 11, with adult and teen members of the churches scraping old paint from the exterior of the over 2,500-square foot two-story.
Before the actual painting could start, work came to a halt due to a concern that the decades-old structure might contain lead-based paint.
“It was brought up in a workshop,” said county commission chairman Charlie Paris. “David (Clark, the county attorney), expressed concern. We just didn’t want to take any chances.”
Paris said it was later determined that lead tests had been done on the house by Rod Thomas, who runs the historical society museum along with his wife, Leslie, and that no evidence of the hazardous paint was found.
“They had done three tests and had not found any,” Paris said.
The five-day work camp was drawing to a close by that time, greatly reducing the size of the assembled paint team.
Minister Jeremy Green said the county ultimately made a donation to the church to cover the cost of the paint. Application of the new coat was spearheaded by church member and local painter Tito Rodas, who worked with friends, family and fellow church members to finish the job.
“It was really simple and everybody pitched in their time and effort. Everybody was excited to get it done,” said Green.
The $2,000 expense was much less than what the county had previously been quoted for the job, Paris said.
“They provided the paint at their cost and the county (agreed) to reimburse them,” he added. “The prep work had already been done, (so) we got by for much better than what it would’ve been if we’d hired somebody to come out and do it.”
A ‘heartwarming’ effort
As he watched the 12 to 19-year-olds from the five churches partner with adult volunteers to scrape peeling white paint from the weathered wood siding, Gilmer Historical Society member Rod Thomas said the last time new paint was put on the house was in the 1990s or early 2000s before it was owned by another Ellijay place of worship, the Church of God.
“We’ve been trying for about 7 years to find a way to get this (done),” he said.
“It’s been on the county’s agenda to have it painted (for several) years, but it’s just not been in the budget,” said Green.
The historical society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that sells assorted books and mementos in its gift shop, relies primarily on donations and membership dues to keep the downstairs display room and an upstairs Civil War library running.
“(It’s tough) to get enough donations from memberships to pay for utilities and for the normal maintenance and repairs you have to do here,” Rod said.
Believed to be the oldest standing home in the city and possibly the entire county, the Tabor House was built in 1870 by Dr. Edwin Watkins Sr. and later lived in by members of the Cox and Tabor families.
One literally takes a trip back in time when they enter the Gilded Age-era homeplace.
“We’ve (incorporated) things we were able to salvage from some of the county’s other historical facilities like the light fixtures from the (now demolished) Perry House,” said Leslie Thomas, who currently serves as the historical society’s president.
A number of volunteers and longtime local residents swear the place is haunted.
“We have a little girl, probably six or seven years old with long blond hair, who has appeared at the top of the stairs,” Leslie said. “When one of our volunteers went upstairs to see what she was doing, nobody was there. That’s happened twice.”
The historical society periodically holds exhibits and other events, including ghost tours and a current showing of artwork drawn by the Rev. Charles O. Walker, author of the Cherokee Footprints book series, that will run through summer. Visitors are welcome to come in for a free guided tour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.
“I wish we knew a way to generate some more interest in the community,” Rod said. “There’s so much history out there that’s not been touched – things that people have stuck back in a drawer or back in the closet somewhere. I hope folks will eventually get to the point of showing us that history.”
While chipping away at its roughened planks on a 90-plus degree summer afternoon, Mark Pettit, a local retired football coach and teacher who now serves as an elder at the Church of Christ, expressed support for TLC being shown to the old downtown mainstay.
“I’m as guilty as anybody (for not doing so), but we need to take a little more pride in our past,” said Pettit. “This gives us an opportunity to do that and it gives these young people a special opportunity to totally give without expecting anything in return.”
Even though they weren’t able to help paint the house themselves, Green said he and others at the Ellijay church have kept the visiting youngsters from Rome, Valdosta, Columbus and Augusta updated on the project.
“We sent pictures of the house (being painted) to all the kids and they felt like all that work they put in the first two days had come to fruition. They were able to see it through,” Green said. “They’re looking forward to seeing it when they come back to town.”
The Thomases are happy that several of the Ellijay teens who attended the camp have already stopped by to see the finished work.
“It’s very heartwarming to see young people doing this kind of thing. Absolutely fantastic,” Rod said. “I don’t know if we have that many young people who would.”