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Barned Again, Re-purposing a Historic Structure

by Michelle Zupan, Hickory Hill on

Close the eye a moment and look at the picture fancy paints.  Every field in Georgia is there, every field in the South is there.  And in each, the figures are the same – the steady mule and the steady man, and the pattering feet of the children dropping corn.  In these furrows, lies the food of the republic; on these fields depend life, and health, and happiness.

— Senator  Thomas E. Watson, “Planting Corn,” Prose Miscellanies, 1912

Hickory Hill, the home of populist statesman Thomas E. Watson, boasts a lovely red barn – high peaked roof over a hayloft, tin roof, all of the trappings of a fine old Southern barn.   And, it once housed the finest of Charolais calves, ready for weaning.   However, it was not Tom Watson who raised the calves or constructed the barn.  It is a relative newcomer to the century plus landscape.  It IS historic, more than 50 years of age at this writing, but added by a subsequent owner of the land.  Watson’s barn fell victim to fire long ago.

What is one to do with a building that is historic, but not related to the period of significance or interpretation?  Our Board prefers that every capital expense be related to our educational mission.  We were not interested in a historic livestock program, it would be a terrible classroom…what we needed were potties.  Public potties. Not very educational, but eminently necessary when the grounds were running amok with 3rd graders.

Enter Barned Again!

The barn has undergone a dramatic transformation.  The north side morphed into the fanciest barn potties around, or so we have been told.  The south side is now a large exhibition space devoted to the history of Rural Free Delivery and the agricultural history of the Tom Watson Watermelon.  In between is a long space suitable for hand-made Hickory Hill benches and tables to seat small people working on nature or history projects.

 

The exterior is preserved, including the paint color. The interior reflects the barn in its heydey.  It has restrooms that accommodate field trip groups.  And, perhaps most importantly, visitors young and old find the space friendly and engaging.  A win-win for the site and the Board!

Michelle Zupan,  is the Curator & Director of Hickory Hill in Thomson, GA. She is the Chair of the AASLH Historic House Museums Committee

 

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