History gets a facelift in Locust Grove

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

When someone gets a makeover, people usually take notice. Something as simple as a new hairstyle or new clothes can be all that’s needed to turn heads.

Locust Grove Mayor Robert Price and Mallory Andrews, Main Street Director for Locust Grove in the newly-restored auditorium on Hwy. 42. Special photo

But what happens when such a transformation is more than a century in the making?

Residents in Locust Grove are about to find out.

The newly-restored auditorium at City Hall, 3644 Ga. Highway 42, will be unveiled with a ribbon-cutting set for March 14 at 4 p.m. The celebration will continue at 7 p.m., with a “Music and Memories” fundraiser hosted by the Locust Grove Heritage Foundation and headlined by the Mackie Creek Band.

Tickets for the fundraiser are available on a “first come, first served” basis. Reserved seats are $15 each, and general admission tickets are $10.

The $200,000 remodeling project was funded through a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Mallory Andrews, Main Street Director for Locust Grove, says the endeavor was long overdue.

“The auditorium’s just been sort of sitting there, unused and in poor condition,” says Andrews. “The mayor and I just really wanted to focus on making this space more accessible and more usable for the community.”

The need for improvements to the building was highlighted last year, when City Hall hosted the Miss Locust Grove Pageant. Andrews says although there was enough space for the event, the lack of a heating and air conditioning system made some attendees uncomfortable.

The renovation includes a $40,000 heating and air conditioning system and a new elevator for City Hall. Another $20,000 went toward redoing the floors in the auditorium.

Andrews says the city enlisted the help of Maryellen Higginbotham, professor of Historic Interiors at Georgia State University, to uncover the original colors on the walls and ceiling in the building.

“We took samples in order to find what the original paint color was, and then we matched the historic paint to Sherwin-Williams and repainted the space,” says Andrews. “The chairs had already been refinished, but they’re the original chairs. But, they’re in really great condition.”

The building was first constructed in 1904 as part of the Locust Grove Institute. Andrews says although it has endured its share of changes over the years, its historic feel has remained intact.

“It’s really retained most of its original floor plan,” she says. “The stairs have been redirected, but you can still tell where the original classrooms were. Those are now used as office space.”

Locust Grove Mayor Robert Price says prior to the renovation, some aspects of the building hadn’t had a major upgrade in decades. He adds that past students of the institute have visited City Hall in recent months to get a glimpse of the updated facility.

“They can’t believe how good it looks now,” he says. “This building will be good for the next 30 to 40 years, without having to do a whole lot to it. We couldn’t have done it without the people of Henry County and Locust Grove voting the SPLOST in.”

The auditorium hosted its first “Music and Memories” in 2008, says Locust Grove Heritage Foundation President Warren Holder. He says organizers had to obtain special permission to host the event there at that time, because it didn’t have an elevator.

“That particular building served this community for educational purposes for almost 100 years,” says Holder. “So many people attended school there. What better place to preserve?”

He adds that “Music and Memories” will provide a fitting venue for the community to relive Locust Grove’s past.

“There will be people that will get up and tell stories about going to school here and growing up here,” says Holder. “At the same time, we want people to come there and have memories, so that that night will become a memory tomorrow.”