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Old homes dot the North Georgia landscape reminding us of generations past
Sewell Blackstock steps up to the front porch of his great-grandfather's house. - photo by Tom Reed

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The worn pine boards that hold them together are twisted and warped after decades of exposure to the elements.

For some, their foundations are still solid but the structure may lean. Or, metal roofs are rusted, peeling back to reveal the simple wood frame beneath.

These abandoned homes dot rural corners of Hall County and Northeast Georgia, often at the edge of a cow pasture or along a country road. Sometimes, they're found not far from suburbia, too.

Despite their worn exterior, they still hold memories of families raised in them, even though their former owners are long gone.

Realtor Sonia Garrett, who has worked in Hall County for 13 years, said she doesn't run across these properties very often. Often, the family has stopped paying taxes on the property, which means it will be sold at auction, she said.

"I think a lot of it might be that the family has even forgotten about it. It may be property that they own but they aren't paying attention to that house, maybe they live out of state," said Garrett, who works with Prudential Realty. "I did have some property once upon a time that I found over on Atlanta Highway; and the people lived in California, and it had belonged to her grandmother. (Hall County) would send her a tax bill and she would just pay, but she had never seen the property, which sounds crazy, but ended up we sold it for $400,000." But not all of these homes are the result of family moving away.

Take the homes that dot the landscape around Blackstock Road, on the east end of Hall County just off U.S. 129. The family can trace its roots back in that area to at least the early 1800s, according to Sewell Blackstock, who was born on that road and now lives two houses down from that house.

Once the main road between Jackson and points east, west and south - Blackstock said many people used to drive their ducks, chickens and pigs to market in Augusta along that road - all that remains of its history are old, weathered buildings and family members to tell it.

A run-down house just off U.S. 129 stays there because of its history, he said.

It's the home his great-grandfather returned to after fighting in the Civil War, raising a "good many" kids there.

"History, really," he said of the family's reasons for keeping the house, despite its ramshackle appearance. "Like these boards here - you just don't find pine like that anymore."

The two-story home has wooden pegs holding together pine boards about a foot wide. "You can't find those at Home Depot," Blackstock jokes.

The first floor has a humble living space and a kitchen off the back, while the second floor has a few sleeping spaces carved out of its small space, with pine walls going up about 3 feet from the unfinished wood floor. The ceiling hovers about a foot over your head once you walk in the front door.

"I can remember as a kid and my granddaddy growing tobacco for himself," he said of the house, which is now mainly used for storage. "He'd have it drying downstairs."

Across the street is an old store his cousin, Cecil, ran with his father for years.

"I don't know what's in there now. My dad and Cecil used to run that store, just selling staples and kerosene and tobacco and meal and flour," Blackstock said.

And across from the corner with the old store is a white wood frame house with a wide front porch. Several outbuildings, chicken houses and a stately old barn dot the property.

Blackstock has a photo of the barn that looks to date to the 1920s but even in that photo, he noted, the barn still looks old.

Behind the white house is a shed made of chestnut logs, and sitting back on the fenceline is the home's outhouse.

"It's a three-holer - got room for all of us," he quipped. "In case you got company."

Blackstock was born in that white house, he said, and it's where his father passed away. His mother moved in with family after her husband died.

"My mother thought she'd come back. She didn't let any of the kids have it," he said.

Unfortunately, that day never came, and the house still sits, unoccupied.

That's the burden of being born into a family with farmland and generations of homes built on it: You can have the house built by previous generations, but you have to fix it back up.

For now, though, the property remains held by the family, waiting for the day when it can be fixed up by a grandson or granddaughter. Blackstock added that he wouldn't mind selling one of the old family homes, but to someone who could move it and restore it.

If family members move away and stop paying property taxes - or, there's no one left to pay the taxes - the property is put up for auction, according to Hall County Tax Commissioner Keith Echols.

"What we do, once the 90 days is passed, which just passed March 1, the final notices that I send out to the property owners telling them that if they don't pay by April 1 that it's going to be turned over to collections."

At that point, he said, the tax assessor's office starts proceedings for a tax sale on the courthouse steps.

"They find the new addresses and find who and if the property has transferred hands," he said. "Then we notify the right people and then, if there is a mortgage on the property, the mortgage company gets notified and they normally pay the taxes to protect their interest." The first tax sale this year for Hall County will be in July.

So far, Echols said, the rate of unpaid property taxes is about the same as last year. "It's about 4,000 pieces of tax bills not paid yet."

The taxes aren't the only cost of keeping up these old buildings, though.

Next door to the old Blackstock store is a corn mill owned by Blackstock's cousin, Cecil. It stays in the family - and may still work, Blackstock said - but the cost of fixing it up is the roadblock.

"I don't know, it hadn't worked in years - nobody's tried," he said. "I wish I had the money to really fix it up and keep it looking nice."

Ashley Bates contributed to this story.

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