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Freestanding chimneys are often the only reminders of past lives
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A set of stairs leads up to vacant property on Bradford Street where two chimneys stand. - photo by Tom Reed

Driving around Gainesville there are markers throughout the city that recall another life.

Freestanding chimneys pop up in neighborhoods, and an occasional staircase will lead to a vacant lot.

The most peculiar thing about the chimneys is that they are no longer used and are not connected to a structure of any kind.

But there are several good reasons for the freestanding chimney, according to Glen Kyle, the managing director of the Northeast Georgia History Center.

"There are a variety of different answers," he said. "Sometimes it's that the house was damaged or burned down and of course the chimney's not going to burn ... sometimes folks would be needing the building materials, if they were just tearing down the house. It's easier to tear down boards and things like that and reuse them than rocks from a chimney ... sometimes they would just leave it as a marker."

Kyle also explained that during and after the Civil War some of the chimneys had real historical significance.

"During the Civil War when Gen. Sherman was making his march through Georgia they came to be called Sherman's Toothpicks," Kyle said. "Because some of the houses that were burned between Atlanta and the sea ... would dot the landscape."

So the chimney served as a reminder, to those that saw the brick structure, that there once was a family and a history in that spot.

Several chimneys dot Gainesville, including one on Sylvan Wood Lane, two on a vacant lot on Bradford Street and one on a corner lot on Enota Drive and Yonah Avenue.

The chimney on Sylvan Wood Lane is made out of old stone and is not quite as tall as the other three chimneys. But it was connected at one time to a home, according to Jan Cooley.

"It used to be an old home place there," said Cooley, owner of property that surrounds Sylvan Wood Lane. "I wouldn't tear it down; there ain't no way I would tear that chimney down. I figure it's got personality probably; there is something to it. I'm into antiques anyway. I think that it had been reworked and had some work done on it but I'm not sure."

Johnny Vardeman, retired editor of The Times, said the old chimney may have been connected to a recreation area years ago.

"It was just a kind of a cottage and barbecue area backed up to one of the Green Street residences," he said. "There used to be I think two or three houses where The Times is now."

Kyle agrees taking these chimneys down isn't the best answer.

"Depending on how well it is put together, you are going to destroy a lot of the raw materials in the process of disassembling the chimney ... and it's not really worth the labor," he said.

The two chimneys located on the same property on Bradford Street now have plants growing out of the fireplace.

Another lonely chimney sits on 3.5 acres at the meeting of Enota Drive and Yonah Avenue. Dominion Development is planning 29 town houses on the property, and the fate of the chimney is unkown. The chimney is taller than the others and looks as if it could topple over at any moment.

Kyle said deterioration over time is why these chimneys may start disappearing.

"It was more prevalent in the past than it is now," he said. "People are taking historical chimneys, or the time and weather have finally got to them and pushed them over."

Kyle added that was exactly what happened to the chimney where his grandparents used to live.

"We used to the go to the old house place and the only thing that was there was a standing chimney," he said.

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