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Snapshot of Buford Dam is history, times 10
Wall-sized photo dates back to 1955
June Porter, co-owner of Porter’s Inc. off Airport Road in Gainesville, points to a segment of the large photograph, which shows construction of the Buford Dam. The photograph is dated March 27, 1955. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The oversized landscape hanging in the break room of Porter's Inc. is as much a part of June Porter's family history as any aunt or uncle.

Yet the air of mystery surrounding it may be more fitting of a distant cousin, twice removed.

"There isn't a name on it anywhere," said Porter, co-owner of the sheet metal fabrication and welding company on Airport Road in Gainesville.

"All it has is this little plaque that says ‘Buford Dam, March 27, 1955.'"

The unsigned photo of Buford Dam under construction at the creation of Lake Lanier came to belong to the Porters in the early 1970s - the silver lining in a gentlemen's agreement gone bad.

"There was a bank right on the corner (of the downtown square) that either closed or moved. This guy was going to open up a restaurant there, so we did all of the work in it setting up the kitchen and all that stuff," Porter said.

"We had it all finished, but it never opened. He skipped town in the middle of the night and (cheated) everybody in town. Nobody got any money."

Back then, Porter says her father, Horace Porter, took the job in good faith. He didn't require any type of advance payment.

"Now you'd get a deposit up front, but back then you didn't," Porter said.

"We heard that the guy left town in the middle of the night in a private plane, but I don't know how true that is. He'd hired the (waitresses) and all. It was a real nice restaurant, but the guy never opened it.

"You couldn't remove your materials from the building, because the building was leased and belonged to somebody else and they wouldn't give their permission."

Instead of getting his kitchen equipment back, Horace Porter was given the option between the Buford Dam picture or one of several giant pictures of chickens.

"It wasn't a payment, but it was what we got," Porter said.

"I don't know who got the chickens."

Although they don't know much about the picture's past, the Porters have enjoyed the memories the 5-foot by 10-foot piece conjures up.

"We always liked it because it shows the beginning of the construction of the dam," Porter said.

"That was something to see back then because we didn't have anything like that."

The project, which began in 1950 and concluded in 1957, was equal parts interesting and amazing for Gainesville residents and surrounding communities as Lake Lanier began to take shape.

"We would go every Sunday to see how far they'd come with it. That was about all we had going on in town," Porter said.

"Everybody in town would go see how the bridges were coming along, especially the one on Dawsonville Highway. We'd walk across it a little at a time real slow because it wasn't finished. It just had the metal, so you could see the ground when you looked down. Boy was it high.

"Now it seems like it has always been there, but I remember what it was like before. That dam made Buford because there wasn't anything there until then."

Although the subject is obvious, that's about the only clear-cut answer the panoramic image is giving up. There aren't any other blatant clues about the origin of the picture.

"It's a photograph, but it looks like some of the trees and things have been painted on," Porter said.

According to the Library of Congress, panoramic photography was used primarily in the early 1900s by commercial photographers for real estate advertisements to promote tourism and as souvenirs for conventions and conferences.

While the construction of a dam capable of holding back more 160-foot deep waters is significant, it doesn't exactly fit neatly into any of those categories.

If you look close enough, you can make out faces of construction workers and even spy a few Ford trucks.

"We had one just like that," Porter said.

As much as it is mysterious, the picture is also resilient. Horace Porter originally transported the it from downtown to his shop on the back of a truck - uncovered in the drizzling rain. An unfortunate roof leak also sprinkled the picture with a little more water, but to the untrained eye, the integrity of the image doesn't seem to have been fouled.

While it isn't quite an elephant in the room, the giant picture is definitely a noticeable fixture in the business that Porter co-owns with her sister, Raymonia Baugh.

"We never really tried to learn a lot about its history. We were just happy looking at it," Porter said.

"It's a good conversation piece. If you have people come in that's hard to talk to, they'll notice it and then it's easy to talk. Everybody wants to know more about it."

After getting approval from the Porters, one visitor recently took the initiative to contact the Northeast Georgia History Center to gauge its interest in being the new home for the picture.

"We always knew this was something special and had talked about donating it. We just hadn't acted on it yet," Porter said.

"It's a piece of our history. ... We want to see it taken care of the right way."

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