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History Center marks 10th birthday with museum event

POSTED: May 8, 2014 11:56 p.m.

The Northeast Georgia History Center’s mission has been preserving the past and sharing those stories with all generations.

Thursday night, its star exhibit was itself.

The center at Brenau University in Gainesville held a 10th anniversary reception for members featuring music, food (including a cake in the shape of the museum) and — in good museum fashion — tours.

People mingled among exhibits, chatted with docents and dined at tables set up throughout the 10,000-square-foot building at 322 Academy St.

“If you don’t have a history, what have you got?” said 83-year-old Doris Herrin, who survived Gainesville’s devastating Tornado of ‘36.

The tornado, which killed more than 200 people, is remembered in a permanent exhibit, including a wall-size photograph of the shattered downtown square.

The history center’s own roots trace to 1981, when the Georgia Mountains Museum began operating out of an old fire station on what was then South Green Street.

James Mathis and his wife, Frances, had a particular passion for giving history a home, convincing the city to allow free use of the building.

“It started growing and growing, almost beyond its bounds,” said Glen Kyle, history center director.

That led to the notion of establishing the history center.

The Mathises were joined by other early community leaders, including then-museum President Gwen Mundy and local radio pioneer John Jacobs, who “thought this would be an incredible asset for the community,” Kyle said.

“And so, they went to work. Over the course of several years, they raised enough money to build the (center).”

Part of their efforts involved working with then-Brenau University President John Burd to use a site on the college campus.

The $4 million building finally opened to the public on May 8, 2004.

Robert Winebarger, who was the museum’s first director, remembers those days well.

“It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done,” said Winebarger, who left Gainesville for the city of Roswell, where he serves as a historic site coordinator.

Basically, he was given six months to turn artifacts in the museum basement into exhibits.

“He put in a lot of work and got the exhibits ready on time,” said Kyle, director since fall 2007. 

The main gallery, “Land of Promise,” tells the history of Northeast Georgia, including its poultry past and the Army Corps of Engineers’ building of Lake Lanier.

The center, which has some 10,000 visitors per year, opened the Freedom Garden in May 2007.

The garden features the “Circle of Honor,” a series of monuments recognizing veterans by name and including their military rank, branch of service and years in service.

“It’s not a memorial to those who died in military service,” Kyle said. “It is a living testament to everyone who offered their lives or gave their lives to preserve freedom. It’s a celebration.”

The center also sponsors classes and events, such as the monthly “Family Day.”

Much of the museum’s activities revolve around a couple of permanent outdoor exhibits: a blacksmith’s shop and Cherokee Indian Chief White Path’s cabin.

Even permanent galleries aren’t completely unchanging, Kyle said.

“You’re always trying to find ways to improve interpretation and visitor experience and make use of new objects you happen to get,” he said.


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