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Our front porches: More than community, a family
In Chicopee Mills, nearly every house has a porch that has seen generations grow up around it
Becky Stephens sits Thursday morning on her porch in Chicopee Mills. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan


Becky Stephens talks about different homes in the Chicopee neighborhood.

A lot can happen in 45 years.

Children become parents. Neighbors become good friends, pass on, and new families move in.

And a neighborhood such as Chicopee, south of Gainesville with its quiet, tree-lined streets and tidy brick houses, settles in, accepts the new with open arms and sees its older residents into their golden years.

Becky and Eugene Stephens have lived in the neighborhood for 45 years. Once, they watched their three children play in the street in front of the house. Today, they watch their oldest grandson mow the lawn.

"It's just peaceful and quiet most of the time, and my children enjoyed it; it was a safe place for them," Stephens said. Their screened-in porch overlooks a shady lawn and a narrow street that ends at the outfield of the community ball park. Each home in the neighborhood is slightly different, with additions, new porches or different trim added over the years.

But overall, Stephens said, it's a neighborhood of people who look out for each other. And that's why she and Gene have stayed throughout the years.

"(Gene's) mother and daddy lived in this house and we bought it from them when they moved. His mother and dad had worked over there," Stephens said of the home."The mill built 'em, Johnson & Johnson. But they built them and kept them up nice. They're nice houses."

The neighborhood was built across Atlanta Highway from Chicopee Mills, a factory for Johnson & Johnson, constructed originally to make surgical gauze, cheese cloth and bunting. The company built 400 homes in 1926, all with either three, four or five rooms.

That was a big deal for mill workers who moved to the area from rural Georgia, where many at the time grew up with no heat or indoor plumbing, said Stephens' neighbor, Joe Holcomb.

Holcomb, now in his 80s, has lived in the neighborhood since he was 2. He still has some "scripts," tokens given out by the company that employees used to buy goods at the neighborhood stores.

"It was a close-knit community. Back then there were few telephones - it was a close-knit community because everyone who lived here, one member of the family at least was working here (at the mill)," he said. "The children, we had to be careful what we did and where we did it because it would be known."

Today, Chicopee Baptist Church sits on the site of what was a company-owned barber shop, beauty shop, grocery store and service station.

"Living here, we didn't realize what we had," Holcomb said. "We thought everybody had it."

Today, Stephens sits on her porch, rocks her rocking chair and recalls neighbors, past and present.

"They've added on to that one, and over yonder they added on," she said, pointing across the street to two modest brick homes flanked by flowering trees. "There's a lot of rentals. They rent down next door - they've been there about 18 years, so they like it, too."

She pointed to another home up the street. "And a young couple bought this one recently, last year, and they've done a lot of remodeling inside. They've kept everything original. It's real nice."

Today there's fewer children in the neighborhood, but she still recalls her own riding bikes up and down the street.

"They played all the time. We had a lot of children. There's not a lot of children here now. They worked on bicycles, built bicycles, built cars, like soap box derby (cars), and they'd come down the hill. The fence wasn't there then and sometime they'd go on down to the ball park," Stephens recalled. "School was over there and they could walk to school. You could stand here and watch them come across the ball park, make sure they got home."

Today, with more younger neighbors moving in, she said there's not as much porch sitting as there used to be. But Stephens said she still enjoys sitting and being a part of the neighborhood.

"I love to. I sit out here more - the older ones did," she said. "My neighbor, before she died, she would just sit out on the porch as much as I did. She had a swing and she would just swing. And the younger people work and don't sit on the porch as much."

But even with fewer porch sitters these days, Stephens and Holcomb said the neighborhood is a fine place to take in the trees and listen to the kids playing after school.

"But this is just a nice neighborhood," she said. "I don't want to live anywhere else - I just love it here."

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