Community Voices: Alpharetta creates history room

Alpharetta & Old Milton County Historical Society

Alpharetta & Old Milton County Historical Society

Every artifact in the History Room will tell a story. Like the barber’s chair.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s and into the 1970s, we had a barber shop in the middle of town,” said Connie Mashburn, historian of the Alpharetta & Old Milton County Historical Society. “It was sort of a meeting place, like you’d see on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ and it was a one-man business.”

“When the barber didn’t have hair to cut, he’d get out a guitar, and the other guys would come in and they’d play music,” Mashburn said. “His name was Hoke Wallace. His daughter, Hazel Reese, donated the barber’s chair to us. It’s a neat old chair like the ones I’d see as a kid, with leather and chrome and a little handle that jacks it up and lowers it, and it even has a child’s plank that goes across the arm rests.”

Get Mashburn started on the subject of history, and expect to sit a while listening to tales of old North Fulton County and before that, Milton County (not to be confused with the city of Milton, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary). The county was merged into Fulton in 1932. Alpharetta was the county seat.

The idea of a History Room in Alpharetta City Hall started in 2008 during the 150th anniversary of the city’s founding. Out of that celebration came historical markers, reenactments, volunteers in period dress, a walking tour of old homes, a book: “Alpharetta and Old Milton County: The Early Years” – and a surge of interest in local history.

When building its new City Hall, which opened in December 2014, Alpharetta reserved an L-shaped space of 1,200 square feet for the History Room. Malone Design/Fabrication of Decatur has been awarded city contracts totaling about $300,000 to create the mini-museum, to open in April.

“It would not be an understatement to say that, without the efforts and advocacy of Connie and Council Member Donald Mitchell, there likely would not be a History Room project,” said Assistant City Administrator James T. Drinkard.

The room will tell the history of the community in five parts, from the days of the Cherokee Indians to the 21st Century. There will be explanatory graphics, interactive exhibits and much of what the Historical Society has been assembling for the last 35 years – the barber’s chair, and also inventory books from an 1834 store, a grist mill’s grinding stone, payroll records of a 1930s-era chenille piecework factory, even a moonshine still.

“We’ll talk about the cotton business and what happened to it when the boll weevil came,” Mashburn said. “We’ll also talk about how the poultry business basically helped save this area economically after cotton’s demise.”

Those most interested in local history aren’t newcomers, but their children.

“The second generation of adults whose families moved here in the 1970s and grew up here, they have more interest in the city,” Mashburn said. “They didn’t hear stories from their parents, because their parents didn’t really know the history of Alpharetta. … I think the longer you live in a city or an area, the more interested you’ll be in learning more about it.”