Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crawfordville - Crushed Orange

Crushed Orange
I fell in love with Bill's Grocery the first time I saw it. I fell in love with its fading Orange Crush mural, the green lettering above the windows, and the idea that at one time this was a thriving grocery where a community gathered, in good times and bad. But when I first saw this building a little more than a year ago, something didn't feel right. The outside facade was still standing but the inside had been gutted, leaving essentially an empty shell. I left that day wondering how many more of these buildings were scattered across Georgia. Since then, I've traveled across the South and seen buildings of all shapes and sizes, each with their own story to share. But with all the miles I've traveled, I can't say I've found a place that has been more special to me than Bill's Grocery. I made it a point to travel through Crawfordville whenever I had a chance, even if it added thirty minutes to my trip, just so I could check on Bill's Gro. Each time I went, the building seemed to be in worse shape, as if it was slowly dieing. While I secretly longed for the building to be gone, because it didn't deserve to end up like this, I still held on to the hope that it could possibly be preserved and restored one day.

During one trip, I met a man who lived down the street from the grocery. I learned that Bill died twenty years ago, and ever since, the grocery has been empty. And the slow death of the building, which I had seen over the last year and attributed to time, had really been the work of the county which planned to replace it with a handicap accessible extension to the courthouse across the street. Local citizens were fighting the county but didn't have the resources to win a drawn out legal battle. He asked me if I could help, and I said I'll see what I could do. It was the worst feeling in the world. I was helpless. Here I was, on track to graduate with a masters degree in accounting and become a C.P.A., yet I couldn't do anything. All I could do was take pictures of a building that wouldn't be here a year from now. While the demolition was delayed, at least temporarily, it was only a matter of time before the building became a memory. Last month, I went through Crawfordville on my way to Milledgeville. Bill's Grocery was gone. All that remained was a fenced off foundation with a pile of bricks that had once been so much more. I took a couple of bricks and a piece of the mural with me but I didn't feel any better. A part of me was gone.

Crawfordville - Orange Crush

Orange Crush
Crawfordville, the county seat of Taliaferro County (pronounced Toliver) is a dieing town. To see this for yourself, check out local Athens photographer Daniel Fell's work. You'll get the point. The town, most famous for being the birth place of Alexander "Little Aleck" Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, proudly displays this fact on a building mural that welcomes the occasional traveler who's passing through town. Halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, the city at one time thrived because of its location. But with construction of I-20 a few miles south of town, Crawfordville has become just another poor, rural town over the last half century. Taliaferro, the smallest county in Georgia, has a poverty rate of over 30%. Other than its notorious speed traps along I-20, the county has little industry and a very small tax base. Unfortunately, this economic reality means county leaders and citizens see little value in preservation, even though the past is really all they have to hold on to.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Farmington - Carson's Super Market

Carson's Super Market
John Cleaveland, a local artist and carpenter, owns the building and uses it as a studio. Farmington, which is a 30 minute drive from Athens, has seen land prices sky rocket as the college town, with its Atlanta mindset on growth, continues to creep closer to this community of 3500. John, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 1986, lives across the street from the Super Market with his wife and son. Land was cheap when he moved out here fifteen years ago but he wouldn't be able to afford it today. With NPR blaring inside the studio, John gave me a tour of his workshop showing me several paintings of rural landscapes he's working on. He sells his work in Asheville but I have a feeling he'd have no problem selling it in Athens or Atlanta. I asked him how he did this for a living and he gave me some great advice. He doesn't do it for a living. Carpentry pays the bills but this is what he loves to do. I hope to find a similar balance between a career in accounting and my passion for the South and photography. The murals were restored a couple of years ago and John plans to touch up the front and other side of the building when he gets the time. Can it get any better than this?