Geranium Festival to highlight Polk Building restoration

Project will include museum about city’s history

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

After years of wear and tear, a piece of history in downtown McDonough is getting an update for this year’s Geranium Festival and beyond.

The Polk Building, at 34 John Frank Ward Blvd., is being refinished and will reopen May 20. It will serve as a museum dedicated to the history of the area.

The 1942 mural painting “Cotton Gin Mill” by the late modernist artist Jean Charlot has been restored and will be available for viewing in the Polk Building at the Geranium Festival. File photo

The reopening will be part of the festivities for the 40th annual festival downtown, said McDonough City Administrator Keith Dickerson.

“It’ll be a very soft opening so that people will understand what we’re trying to do,” he said. “During the festival, we will have the museum designer, Mark Walhimer, on site describing the facility and proposed additions. We will have a few items on display.”

Dickerson added that city aims to open the facility officially at the end of November.

“The museum will be an interactive museum telling the history of McDonough and the area back to the Creek Indians,” he explained. “We will have motion-activated screens, a 65-inch touch table, holograms and other items.”

City leaders are working to get the word out to local residents about the project, which will cost between $700,000 and $1 million, and is being paid for by funds from SPLOST IV, said Dickerson. He added that a number of repairs have been made to the building thus far.

“The entire roof had to be redone,” said Dickerson. “It had big holes in it. There was asbestos and lead paint, and we had to fix all that. The county had used it as a juvenile court building, and we had remove all those walls, all the offices. Then downstairs, we had to clean it up and get all the mold out of the building.”

The Polk Building, Dickerson said, was constructed in the early 1940s, during which time it served as a post office. He said the building contains a great deal of historical significance which city leaders wanted to preserve.

“It’s an iconic building that’s been on the Square a long time,” he said. “When you’re telling the history of McDonough, why not put it in a building that has a lot of history and character?”

Another element of the Polk Building which is in the process of being restored centers on a large mural by French artist Jean Charlot. Dickerson said the mural will be cleaned and preserved this week to enable visitors to view it.

“We’re going to keep it right where it is and maintain it,” said Dickerson. “Once the Geranium Festival has passed, we will go into full reconstruction mode. At that point in time, we will begin installing wiring, getting the air conditioning fixed, putting in windows and getting walls repaired. The space will be similar to what it was when it was a post office.”

Dickerson said the restoration will help to educate the public about McDonough’s past, present and future.

“Telling the story of McDonough is very important because the people and events that shaped McDonough tell the story of why we are where we are today,” he said.