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House targeted for demolition and its occupants have ties to Gainesville history
John Pierce
John Pierce

There’s some uncertainty about when the white, clapboard house overlooking Jesse Jewell and Queen City parkways was built.

But one thing seems sure: The house, noticeably perched on a hill at the busy intersection, has rich ties to Gainesville’s history, including the tornado of 1936.

And, according to records, the history of the Pierce House — as it has been called — extends beyond the property through the people who lived there.

The house at 551 Jesse Jewell Parkway is “significant because it is an excellent example of a Folk Victorian that maintains its integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” states a document prepared by a historic preservationist with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The home, slated for demolition under a new owner, is “commonly associated with John A. Pierce, a prominent builder in North Georgia,” the document states.

Pierce is attributed with putting up buildings at Riverside Military Academy, Brenau University and Shorter College, as well as the city hall in Gainesville.

According to the tax assessor records, the house was built in 1910, the document states.

However, Beth Sutton, the niece of the last occupant of the house, Catherine Gibbs, said the house was probably built in 1896, the document says.

A handwritten deed chain provided by Sutton shows that her great-great-grandfather, Lafayette W. Pierce, bought the property for $775. He had moved from Massachusetts to Georgia’s warmer climate at his doctor’s request, moving first to Savannah and then Gainesville.

He sold the property in 1905 to his son, John Pierce, who had joined his father in Gainesville after the death of his wife.

In Gainesville, John Pierce met Audie McHugh, and they married on April 20, 1895. His two young children, Mildred and Harold John, came to live with them in Gainesville.

John Pierce died of a heart attack in the house on Nov. 10, 1929. Audie ran a boarding facility out of the house through the 1940s and until her death on Aug. 6, 1947.

“The only major change to the house came after the 1936 tornado in which the attic was converted to a second story,” the document says.

The tornado, which killed more than 200 people, devastated downtown Gainesville.

After Audie Pierce’s death, the house passed to a granddaughter, Gibbs.

Gibbs 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.”

The property is about to enter a new era, as family, preferring not to comment, has been going through artifacts pulled from the house.

“The property was issued a demolition permit to remove the house and vegetation,” Gainesville planning manager Matt Tate wrote in a recent email. “The site will eventually 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.”

Brent Hoffman, commercial real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway Georgia Properties, said the property’s new owner is assembling it along with other nearby properties under the same ownership to be sold for commercial uses in the future. Hoffman called it a “valuable, high-visibility” location for whichever businesses end up there.

Hoffman added that the wood from the property will be recycled.

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