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Longtime Braselton employees witness lasting changes
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BRASELTON — Welcome to Braselton, population: 312.

The town only had a few hundred residents when Terry Esco became police chief in 1990, but he has seen the area grow since he began working in Braselton.

“There were only 312 people in the city and we were only in one county — Jackson County,” he said. “There were only three town employees: the water and sewer guy, the clerk and me. Everyone had to just pitch in.”

Things have changed in big ways since then.

Esco graduated from Jackson County High School, which was located in the primary school building on Ga. 53, and worked in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for nine months before taking the opportunity to be the police chief in Braselton.

Esco celebrated his 19-year anniversary with the department last week and along with longtime Braselton employee and Town Manager Jennifer Dees, has seen the town grow from a sparsely-populated area to a center of industrial growth.

Small town look and feel

In the early 1990s, the traffic light at the intersection of Ga. 53 and Ga. 124 was the only one in town, and Esco called the old community center building and then a double-wide trailer his “office.”

Dees, who began working for the town in 1997, said the town had grown from 312 to about 500 when she started, and the industrial and business sectors were limited.

Calls for police service were few and far between — compared to the 12-15 calls a day the department gets now on average — but Esco said he enjoyed working with the locals and helping people where he could.

He worked at the department during what he called the “Kim Basinger years,” when the actress was rising in popularity and was rumored to have bought the town of Braselton in the early ’90s.

“You can’t buy a town,” Esco clarified. “Kim Basinger took investment funds and bought property from the Braseltons.”

When Basinger came to town, the press followed, resulting in the actress taking to visiting at night and driving around town with her brother to avoid the cameras.

“I knew when they were here but no one else knew,” Esco said.

From one county to three: annexation and growth

Though Braselton sits alongside Interstate 85, the town had only one subdivision for many years and didn’t have large-scale growth until 2001.

The Vineyards, a subdivision located near the Pilot station on Ga. 53, was the only residential area in town and it would be several years before more would pop up in and around Ga. 53, Esco said.

The town spread into four counties based on the way water and sewer lines were built nearby, he said.

“They ran sewer lines and we would annex it in,” Esco said. “But none of it developed for a long time.”

In March 2001, the police department started hiring full-time employees and transformed it into a “24/7 department” to match the growth happening in town.

“That’s when we started answering calls from the other three counties,” Esco said. “That was probably one of the highlights of my career — when we became a 24/7 department.”

As the population began to grow, so did the business and industrial sectors in Braselton, Dees said.

“Now we estimate population at 6,000, we have two grocery stores (we didn’t have any in 1997) and we’ve become the home of Mayfield, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, Whole Foods, Progressive Lighting, Year One and PetCo,” she said in an e-mail.

Drivers pass distribution and manufacturing sites for those businesses and others on Ga. 124, an industrial corridor parallel to I-85 that continues to add industrial space for large-scale businesses.

It was the location of Ga. 124 and other features that brought so many businesses to Braselton, she said.

“We are geographically very desirable and we have infrastructure available,” Dees said.

And in the future, Dees said she expects the town to continue to be an industrial center.

“I think we’ll see additional retail and industrial growth as well as an influx of medically-related businesses,” she said.