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Heritage center holds nuggets of towns history
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A collection of photos, scrapbooks, documents and other items displayed in Braselton’s Heritage and Visitor’s Center offers people a glimpse into the town’s history. - photo by KATIE DUNN

BRASELTON — Preserving history can sometimes prove impossible.

Take, for example, the ongoing battle in Virginia between preservationists and Walmart over the retail giant’s plans to build a store where the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness occurred in May 1864 and claimed 28,000 lives.

Inside Braselton’s Heritage and Visitor’s Center, however, the past and present peacefully coexist.

While the town has grown significantly since its incorporation in 1916 — it now encompasses four counties — pieces of Braselton’s small-town beginnings still remain.

An assortment of photos, documents, scrapbooks and other memorabilia, some dating back to the town’s incorporation, fill the shelves and walls of the two-room building on Frances Street.

Built in the 1920s, the structure first served as the home economics classroom for Braselton High School, which opened in 1921.

Later, the center harbored the Braselton-West Jackson Library until September 2006 when the town opened a new facility off Ga. 124.

In July 2008, the building was renamed the Heritage and Visitor’s Center. People can now tour the center on an appointment basis.

Braselton Town Manager Jennifer Dees said most of the collection focuses on the Braselton family’s influence on the town.

Much of the memorabilia was donated by Herbert B. "Kit" Braselton, the 12th child of Green Braselton. There are also items donated by Nell Braselton and Leta Braselton.

Green Braselton and his brothers, William Henry and John Oliver, were instrumental in developing Braselton and today are recognized as its founders.

Several of the items housed in the center were taken from the Braselton Brothers Store, located at the intersection of Ga. 124 and Ga. 53.

Built in 1904 by the brothers, the store at one time offered dry goods, clothing, women’s hats, groceries, haircuts and more.

It also served as the town’s post office, freight depot office, Braselton Bank, Chamber of Commerce and Braselton Commission Company, which was the brothers’ wholesale business. Later, a furniture and hardware store were added. Today, the Braselton Antique Mall occupies the building.

Several of the store’s ledgers, as well as advertisements and newspaper articles about the store, have found refuge inside the heritage center.

The cursive shorthand that spans the ledgers’ pages, documenting prices, people’s accounts and goods, is in stark contrast to the computerized world of today.

"To me that’s just kind of wild that that’s how they kept all their accounts and knew what they were doing," Dees said.

Though the high school was torn down — all that remains are the stone steps that once led to the building — several items from its heyday are also on display in the center.

Among the memorabilia are photos from several of the school’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and scrapbooks detailing the school’s annual commencement ceremonies and the names of individuals in each graduating class.

The high school gym’s original scoreboard, a popular attraction for former Braselton alumni, was rescued when the gym, once located at the corner of Harrison and Frances streets, was torn down in 2002.

"People who come through here who went to the Braselton High School always think that’s just one of the neatest things that we still have that," Dees said.

The building also pays homage to some of Braselton’s more recent milestones and memories. Among those, the "Basinger days."

In 1989, actress Kim Basinger purchased Braselton for $20 million. But due to personal financial problems, she sold it in 1993. Several news articles and photos documenting the event are displayed.

There are also mementos from the town’s industrial and commercial landmarks, including Chateau Elan and Mayfield Dairies.

Dees said the town council chose to name the building the Heritage and Visitor’s Center to honor the town’s past, its present and future. A giant display board depicting future plans for a town green in the downtown historic area is also part of the collection.

Some people say history never changes, but each time Dees shows a person or group through the center, she usually learns another piece of the town’s storied past.

"I love to bring people in here," she said. "The amazing part is when someone comes in here, I usually end up learning more than I teach anyone because the people that are interested usually know a whole lot more about the things in here than I do."