Our Town: Forsyth County Historical society saves treasures of the past

The Great Recession slowed the rolling tide of housing developments that for years made Forsyth County one of the metro area’s fastest-growing regions. While old farmhouses gave way to brick and stone homes on half-acre lots, the county’s Historical Society worked to save the few that remain.

One of them, the Sherrill house, is the society’s latest cause. Members have worked with the county to salvage the dilapidated structure off Old Federal Road that once sat in the center of a major crossroads. Today, the rolling hills nestled in the crook of the Etowah River are slated to be a 200-acre county park, but in the early years of the 20th Century, it was part of a small community with a tavern and inns.

“This was one of the first areas settled in Forsyth,” said Martha McConnell, who co-chairs the society with her husband, Jimmy. “It was called Hightower and was a little metropolis.”

The tavern that was once part of the settlement was moved to the Cumming Fairgrounds and restored. The other structures have long since been lost, and the area remained agricultural, supporting a dairy at one point. The Sherrill house, erected in 1907, is a remnant of the county’s rural past, but it suffers from sitting idle for the last 20 years: the wraparound porch roof is sagging; windows are boarded up; missing planks in the floor and porch are covered with plywood patches. But the silver metal roof, brick chimneys and bones of the structure are good.

“It was days away from being demolished when the Historical Society stepped in to save it,” said Jimmy McConnell, who was born and raised in Forsyth. “We finally got things ironed out with the county and now have a 5-year construction lease and 15 -year occupation agreement. We plan to have a Native American and pioneer cultural center here when it’s completed.”

But before a center becomes a reality, there is much work to be done. Volunteers have been cleaning up the two acres around the house and salvaging what they can from several outbuildings that were torn down. Then they’ll start on the house itself, which sits on a strong foundation accented with marble.

“We’re planning on doing a lot of repairs,” said Martha McConnell. “The floors are all tongue and groove and have been painted. The windows were broken. Our job now is to get volunteers and the money to fix it.”

At the same time, the society is searching for items that may have belonged to the house. A local resident produced a pair of original shutters; another donated the coat tree that once stood in the hall.

“We know the items in the house were auctioned off, so we’re trying to track them down,” said Martha McConnell. “Once we get things in shape and some of those items back, we can tell the history of this community in this house.”

Information about the Historical Society, its projects and how to volunteer or donate: historicforsyth.com.

Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or call 404-514-6162.