BLAIRSVILLE — A dream came true this weekend for a group devoted to celebrating the memory of Byron Herbert Reece, a beloved Appalachian poet and novelist whose works reflect his mountain life and heritage.
The Byron Herbert Reece Society opened the Reece Farm & Heritage Center off U.S. 129, south of Blairsville and one mile north of Vogel State Park.
Initially, the Chattahoochee-Oconee Forest Interpretive Association wanted “to pass the property onto the state as part of its parks system,” but the economy stalled and “the state had no interest because it was not in position financially to utilize the property,” said John Kay, society chair.
“That’s when the (society) was organized,” he added.
The organization, formed in 2003, was able to work out a transfer of the property to Union County, which has leased it to the society for development.
A ceremony attended by some 160 dignitaries was held Saturday at the 9.3-acre site, the remaining piece of what used to be 100-plus acres belonging to the Reece family.
The grand opening took place Sunday, with families and others taking advantage of a one-day only offer of free admission.
The complex features a welcome center and gift shop/museum; the “Poetry Trail” highlighting Reece’s poems representing the four seasons, inscribed on stone boulders; Mulberry Hall, the poet’s writing studio; five barn buildings housing 13 exhibits of home and farm life; and the Reece Gallery & Theater in the loft of the main barn.
The Reece Gallery & Theater features TV replays of the documentary “Voices ... Finding Byron Herbert Reece,” which won a Southeast Emmy Award from the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The purpose for the center “is to educate people not only about Reece as a writer, poet and novelist but also to
introduce people to the Appalachian agrarian life that he and his family lived,” Kay said.
“We’re honoring not just Reece the man, but his way of life.”
He worked as a subsistence farmer on his family’s property. His love of literature and gift for writing led to the publication of four volumes of poetry and two novels, all of which received national critical acclaim.
A Reece Society brochure states that “plagued with illness, Reece took his own life at the age of 40.”
The organization was able to secure several grants, including one for $671,000, for the new heritage center.
“The partnership (with Union County) has been very helpful because a lot of the grants require governmental groups to be involved,” Kay said.
The complex also features a pavilion that’s available, for a fee, for family reunions, weddings and other events. Future plans call for an amphitheater on a slope extending from Poetry Trail to Wolf Creek.
Vickie Satterfield and her mother, Jane Satterfield, said they were drawn to the event because they were familiar with Reece’s family and his works.
“Several of our neighbors years ago claimed to be his cousins,” Jane said.
They said they were impressed by the complex.
“It’s good to see all the black-and-white photos in (the museum),” Vickie said. “They were very nice. ... We’re glad that people have not forgotten him because he was very special.
“He was somebody like us ... he was born about the same time that my dad was, and my dad was from the country and lived this kind of lifestyle.”