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Demo workers busy Tuesday at century-old house on busy corner
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From left, Stanley Gibbs, Dwight Morrison and Earl Morrison, with Morrison's Tree Service and Grading, watch the demolition of the historic house on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville on Tuesday. - photo by David Barnes

Demolition began in earnest Tuesday on the historic Pierce House overlooking Jesse Jewell and Queen City parkways in Gainesville.

Dust billowed in the air as heavy equipment tore at the house’s distinctive white, clapboard siding, bringing it to the ground.

“Gainesville’s in a stage of changing right now,” contractor Jerry Carder said. “Folks have got to accept the fact that change does not come easy. It does bring tears, heartaches and grief, but when you see the end results, it brings a lot of pleasure.

“And I think that piece of property is meant for something bigger and better, and it’ll bring a lot of joy to a lot of people down the road.”

Gainesville planning manager Matt Tate has said the site eventually “will be graded and lowered to bring it closer to street level. The property is zoned for commercial purposes, but there is no specific use proposed for the property at this time.”

Property owner Milton Robson confirmed as much.

“I would like to just find somebody who wants me to build them something — build to lease,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a good corner. We just have to wait and see what interest we get in it.”

For more than a century, the house at 551 Jesse Jewell Parkway served as a family home.

It not only survived the tornado of 1936, “the only major change to the house came after the … tornado in which the attic was converted to a second story,” states a document prepared by a historic preservationist with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The house is “significant because it is an excellent example of a Folk Victorian that maintains its integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” the document says.

The home is commonly associated with John A. Pierce, a prominent builder in North Georgia involved in projects at Riverside Military Academy, Brenau University and Shorter College, as well as the city hall in Gainesville.

In later years, the house was occupied by Catherine Gibbs, who had lived with her grandparents in the house since she was 5 months old — or after her mother’s death in 1920.

She continued to live in the house until her death in 2012.

“I hope I don’t ever have to move,” she said in a 2000 interview with The Times. “I’ve been here too long.”

Gibbs also spoke of growth in the city, including road improvements that affected the family directly.

“We used to have a front yard,” she said.

After her passing, the house went to her nieces and nephews, who would face a new road project.

In 2014, Gainesville officials said they were looking to move forward with major improvements at Queen City and Jesse Jewell parkways, including adding turn lanes.

Family issued a statement at the time concerning the matter.

“Right of way was previously obtained from this property to construct the intersection at its current size. Each time right of way is removed, the overall lot size is decreased and the marketability of the remaining property is also diminished.”