The Challenges of Historic Preservation

By Stefanie Joyner


In recent years, Cherokee County has become one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia. People from all-over have relocated to our county for its beautiful scenery, the friendly people, its proximity to metro Atlanta, and its rich history. Cherokee County has many wonderful attractions and great schools, which have led to a record increase in development.

New construction often destroys historic buildings standing in the way. Hickory Flat Store, Barrett’s Store and Free Home Traditions were all community landmarks lost to new development. And now, with the widening of Highway 20, we’re losing entire communities such as Buffington and Lathemtown. So how can we preserve our history while welcoming newcomers?

All progress isn't bad; communities need to grow and evolve. But historic preservationists understand that you can have growth and history. Growth means new amenities and new neighbors. Honoring history means that the landmarks we love need to exist within that new growth. To have both we just need good foresight, planning, and negotiation skills.

Negotiation typically begins with a property owner about to sell 60 acres of land containing an historic homestead. He has property rights and the land is more valuable to a developer without the historic buildings.

We can try to convince the property owner that the historic buildings can be saved and integrated into the development. That doesn't usually work. So then we search for a new developer who cares about our community and will take the time and extra money to preserve those buildings. That's even harder. So let's switch gears and start with the government. Can they impose restrictions on those property owners or developers to save historic buildings? Well that gets into property rights again.

Historic preservation is never easy. It’s driven by emotion and profit, two things that rarely work with one another. But it can and does happen. The Marble Courthouse, Dean’s Store, and Canton City Hall are all examples of historic preservation success stories. There are also numerous projects carried out by private entities such as Sixes School or the Canton Cotton Mills.

All of these efforts required some element of negotiation between the property owner and the preservationist, who was sometimes the new owner, but not always. History Cherokee often becomes involved in these negotiations behind the scenes. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes not.

But knowing we can't save everything, what should we focus on? We're excited about our new history museum and the larger megaphone it will give us to tell our story. But how should we use it? As we move into the future, what should define Cherokee County? We want to know. Tell us what you think.

Opening in 2022, History Cherokee's Cherokee County History Center is a museum with the mission of preserving and sharing Cherokee County’s rich past from pre-history to modern day. Stay in touch with the latest happenings by subscribing to emails and newsletters at the bottom of this page.