In response to a resident’s anxiety over a preservation project and a possible road closure near her home, an advocacy group overseeing the matter issued a statement Wednesday aiming to ease concerns or questions she and others may have.
The Healan-Head Mill Historic Preservation Trust — which is advocating for the preservation and restoration of a crumbling 170-year-old gristmill off Whitehall Road near Lula — recently asked the county to close sections of the small road near Ga. 365.
Whitney Smith-Thompson, who has lived on the road her whole life, said she felt there had not yet been enough input from area residents like herself concerning the possible road closure.
“There needs to be a community meeting,” Smith-Thompson said. “There should be someone who comes to talk to us about it. I agree that preservation of the mill needs to happen; I just think there’s a better way of going about things, so we don’t feel like outsiders in the process.”
But, architect and committee member Garland Reynolds said anybody who wants to get involved is welcome.
“Anybody who wants to join us can do so and have an active role in the process,” Reynolds said. “Anyone is welcome to join us.”
He went on to say that the group’s only intent is to preserve the mill and “make it available for future generations to see and experience.”
According to the statement, the mill is “in danger, because it is in the path of the rapid development along Ga. 365. Unpaved Whitehall Road passes through the center of the mill site between two of the historic buildings.”
The blacksmith shop is in the road’s right of way, and the committee voted recently to request closure for that portion of the road. A request is also in the works to add turnarounds north and south of the mill and to block the road for about 700 feet.
The statement goes on to say that all development preservation efforts “will be held to the highest standards of master planning, architectural design, landscaping and engineering. When fully completed, this historic site will be a popular place for families and students to visit and learn. It is expected to become a popular stopping point for travelers going either north or south.”
Funding for the project comes partly from Hall County government’s most recent iteration of the voter-approved special purpose local option sales tax, and partly from a trust set up many years ago by Gainesville businessman W.L. Norton.
Hall County bought the mill and some 4 acres surrounding it off Whitehall Road at the North Oconee River in March 2003, using grant funding from the Trust for Public Land.
The advocacy group is a nonprofit offshoot of the Hall County Historical Society. It has rallied for the structure’s preservation since 2003.