Wayne Waters 2016-12-08 01:52:01
Barrow County This is one of those spots on the map that can’t help but develop and flourish. It has benefited from its surroundings as well as the prosperity within its own borders. Close proxim ity to a major city—Atlanta; down the road from a major university—University of Georgia; beautiful landscapes and communities filtered with economic growth— this is Barrow County. LOOKING BACK Barrow County was formed in northeast Georgia by an act of the Georgia Legislature on July 7, 1914. Its 168-square-miles were taken from parts of Gwinnett, Walton and Jackson Counties, resulting in a county with one small section extending beyond 1-85 at its northwest border, and its southern border dipping below Georgia State Route 316, a primary route running between Atlanta and Athens. Barrow County is named for David Crenshaw Barrow, an influential chancellor of the University of Georgia during the first quarter of the 20th century. One of the youngest of Georgia’s counties, Barrow includes six incorporated cities, all but one older than the county itself including its county seat of Winder, established in 1893. The Barrow County Historical Society and Museum is in the old Barrow County jail in Winder, built in 1916 and one of 16 sites in the county that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was renovated and opened as a museum in 1993. The museum features the original “hanging tower” (never used, says Ray Mattison of the Barrow County Historical Society), three original jail cells, and hundreds of historical artifacts. MODERN BARROW Barrow County is booming. Its population has grown by 50 percent since 2000 to reach a current level of a bit more than 75,000, almost perfectly split between males and females. “Barrow County has an outstanding quality of life,” says Mike Renshaw, Barrow County manager. “We’re blessed to have Fort Yargo State Park, so there’s a lot of good outdoor recreation. Chateau Elan is an outstanding winery and resort. Public safety is assured by the municipal police department and the sheriffs office. They do an excellent job, and the crime rate is quite low. Plus, our school system is very good.” A quality education system is an important Barrow County asset. The county has eight elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools, including a charter high school and the Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology. There are eight colleges and universities in nearby Georgia counties. Barrow is served by the Piedmont Regional Library System, a 10-branch system with libraries in Winder, Auburn, Statham, Braselton, and elsewhere. Excellent healthcare is available in Barrow County’s four major medical centers and clinics, including Winder’s Barrow Regional Medical Center and the newly opened Northeast Georgia Health System hospital in Braselton. Farming and agriculture are big components as well. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, more than 300 farms occupying almost 30,000 acres can be found in here. With very little crop production, Barrow's main agricultural output is livestock. The business climate is another valuable asset for the community. The Barrow County Cham ber of Commerce is very active in the com m unity, as is Barrow County Economic Development. “Barrow County and the Board of Commissioners have created a very business-friendly climate in order to attract industrial and commercial development into the county,” notes Renshaw. “That’s a major priority of the Board of Commissioners here. We also have an industrial park — Park 53 — which the county has invested very heavily in during the past 24 months. We’re very excited about the opportunities that is going to provide going forward. Our economic development department is working every day to attract businesses and get them to relocate to Barrow County.” Industrial Revenue Bond (IRB) Financing and an inventory tax exemption are among the most common incentives available, though there are others. Barrow County Economic Development also works with the Georgia Department of Labor, Georgia’s Quick Start program, and Lanier Technical College to recruit, staff and train employees for industries locating within the county. Distribution centers and logistics are the largest industry cluster at present, with women’s specialty retailer Chico’s FAS, Inc.’s, distribution and call center being the largest Barrow County employer other than the school system. Designated as Georgia’s Innovation Corridor, Highway 316 which travels through Barrow County from Atlanta to Athens has been one of the county’s most impressive economic boons. This 15-mile trade area supports businesses that range from fast food icons like McDonalds and Zaxby’s to major retailers like Belk and Target. New businesses are anxious to take root in this vastly growing enterprise. There is also a general aviation airport located near Winder that is operated by the Barrow County Airport Authority; however, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is only about one hour away. WINDER (COUNTY SEAT) Winder sits in the heart of Barrow County. Geographically, it’s nearly 13-squaremiles are in the central part of the county, and as the county seat, it’s the center of government. The city gets its name in honor of John H. Winder, the general manager of the Seaboard Air Line Railway. John Winder became something of a local hero in 1893 when he agreed to relocate railroad tracks originally planned to run four miles south of Jug Town, the community’s name at the time, to a tract of land running right through it. The original settlement at this lo cation was called Snodon, but the name was changed first to Jug, then to Jug Tavern, likely due to a popular tavern that was built here. That heritage is still evident in a number of ways, most conspicuously perhaps in Winder’s popular Jug Tavern Festival, held every September, which brings thousands of visitors to the city. Winder has a beautiful historic downtown lined with a variety of shops, eateries and other businesses. “The City of Winder offers the quaint, small town feel,” says April Plank, city clerk, “with a growing number of downtown small businesses, a unique history, life-long residents and an internal playground for those families who like to get outdoors. We are excited about our continued growth.” The county seat is also home to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow, a library and a new 67,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Lanier Technical College campus. There are plenty of recreational offerings. Fort Yargo State Park is located in a rustic natural enclave within the city limits and features a 1792 log fort, more than 20 miles of hiking/biking trails, a 260-acre lake with swimming beach, cabins, campsites and the 54-acre Camp Twin Lakes/Will-A-Way, a special haven for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other challenges. Winder’s 66-acre Victor Lord Park, meanwhile, provides several baseball/softball fields of various sizes, one lighted multi-use soccer complex, six lighted tennis courts, three concession stands, three playgrounds, three pavilions, an outdoor walking trail, a gym and more. Winder doesn’t neglect its golfers, either. It is home to two 18-hole golf courses. It’s no surprise Winder has seen such a surge of people deciding to make it home. A convenient location, great quality of life, enticing recreational opportunities, an agreeable business climate, a good educational system , a quality infrastructure including a multi-million dollar streetscape improvement plan—what more could you want? The population growth in Winder is a sure indicator that the city has much to offer and is doing things right. As of 2014, more than 15,000 people called Winder home, an increase since 2000 of more than 46 percent. Talk about votes of confidence. BRASELTON The Town of Braselton actually spreads out into four counties: Barrow, Jackson, Hall and Gwinnett. Its Barrow County piece is situated in the northern part of the county close to I-85, and it has two exits off the northeast/southwest-running interstate. Families have many options in choosing those important qualities of life such as housing and education. Notes Town Manager Jennifer Dees, “We have small-town values and almost 100 events a year, most of them family-oriented. There’s always something to do. It’s a great place to have a family and watch a small-town parade, but also have world-class amenities like at Château Élan.” Château Élan Winery and Resort and the adjoining Château Élan Golf and Residential community is probably the city’s most widely known attraction. It brings more than a million people a year to Braselton. The city has been recognized by the National League of Cities as a City Showcase and was named America’s Dream Town through an Internet poll. It’s also been designated a Georgia WaterFirst Community and a Plan First Community, recognitions by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for Braselton’s well-managed water resources and for its excellence in overall community planning. “We pride ourselves on being business-friendly,” says Dees. “We try to expedite the licensing and permits that are required. The city provides its own water and sewer and there are no property taxes, no city tax.” One of Georgia’s newest hospitals can be found in Braselton. Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton provides nothing short of exceptional healthcare for the surrounding area. Braselton’s downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is thriving. The Braselton Town Hall was a former home of a prominent Braselton family, for which the town, officially incorporated in 1916, was named. Many downtown buildings date from the late-1800s and early- 1900s andhouse a goodvariety of businesses. No wonder Braselton is the seventh fastest growing community in the state. Its population has grown from about 7,500 in 2010 to approximately 12,000 currently, according to Dees. AUBURN Sitting in Barrow County’s southwestern sector, Auburn gets its name from the red clay prevalent in the community that was once used to dye cloth. Auburn gained prominence in the late-1800s, however, as a railroad hub after the Seaboard Railroad Company established a terminus for its work crews. The railroad still makes its mark in Auburn even today as a growing community of about 7,500. A historic red train caboose has been restored and is open to the public in a prominent spot downtown in R.H. Burel Park, across from Whistlestop Park, two of Auburn’s five municipal parks. “We’re building several small structures to be available as storefronts for micro-retailing in Whistlestop Park,” says City Planner Alex Mitchem. “We have a tremendous number of home-based businesses, people who have products to sell but don’t have a storefront. We thought we’d provide them something they can use year-round.” It has three undeveloped rail sites available for development and also a business park. Auburn has several major projects ongoing, according to Mitchem. A new Bicycle Trail Head will include a fountain, seating and eventually a welcome center with restrooms. “We’ve received a grant to renovate the old R&R Building on College Street into a community facility for hosting meetings and conferences,” states Mitchem. “Lanier Tech is also going to use it for classes, as well. We’ve got the funding and the plan has already been approved.” Another current project is a two-phase 20-acre sports complex. The next phase will create four more baseball and softball diamonds, one multi-purpose field and trails throughout the 20-acre park. Auburn has developed in recent years a Downtown Overlay District, a Downtown Development Authority and is now a certified Main Street Community. The city, which lies in both Barrow and Gwinnett Counties, offers tax credits for new businesses coming into the community through an Opportunity Zone, a Georgia Department of Community Affairs designation. Even with all the economic development efforts in Auburn, it’s the quality of life that really makes the community shine. Good folks get together regularly, whether at the weekly Farmers’ Market, monthly movies at Whistlestop, browsing the shelves at the Auburn Public Library, revisiting the Auburn Museum, at the numerous festivals and events scheduled throughout the year, or simply round and about town. All in all, Auburnites call it “Old Southern charm with a vision for the future.” CARL A mere mile or so southeast down US Highway 29 from Auburn, sits the little community of Carl, named in 1906 in honor of Carl Pate, newborn son of the area’s prominent general store owner. Previously, the town had been called Dillard’s Cross Roads and then Lawson. Carl is a little over one-square-mile, and the population is a bit more than 200. Mayor David Brock understands perfectly well the appeal of a small community like Carl. “The Town of Carl is a charming little town,” he says. “The town folks want to keep it this way. The best part of Carl is the wonderful people who call Carl home and its grassroots government.” Small it may be but Carl has a couple of significant businesses. The largest one is the Schuetz Container Systems plastics manufacturing plant on Bankhead Highway. But perhaps the best known business is The Carl House, a restored antebellum house that serves as a special event facility, often for wedding receptions and ceremonies. The venue can seat up to 225 for a ballroom banquet-style dinner. Its own well-kept acreage is surrounded by over 30 acres of pasture land. Even though The Carl House has an Auburn address, the Town of Carl rightfully claims its namesake venue. STATHAM The three-and-a-half or so square miles of Statham lie in the eastern section of Barrow County, about 13 miles west of Athens. Settlers established a community here around 1784 but it wasn’t until the railroad came through in the 1890s that significantly more people came to live here. Statham was officially founded in 1892. Statham came to be known as the Sunflower City, and its 2,620 or celebrate the Sunflower Festival every September Street downtown. Statham has about a dozen restaurants and a dozen or more retailers, including several antique dealers along Railroad Street. The Statham Industrial Park offers lowcost manufacturing and ware-house space and the city has several manufacturing/industrial businesses. There are also several construction contractors in Statham. Statham is blessed with several com-munity parks including the City of Statham Community Park, Robert Bridges Park and Hillman Rainwater Park, as well as good schools, churches, and a wide variety of cultural and recreational opportunities. Statham promotes residential and business development with its low taxes and a state-of-the-art water system. Statham is also home to The Georgia Club, an upscale planned community with resortstyle amenities and exceptional meeting and event spaces along with its golf club lifestyle. BETHLEHEM Just a few miles south of Winder, a small community took the name Bethlehem in 1902 at the suggestion of Judson L. Moore, a well-known gospel songwriter who lived there and was a member of the Bethlehem Methodist Church, which had been established in 1796. About 2.3 square miles, the street names in the town are all names from the story of the birth of Christ. Not surprisingly, Christmas is Bethlehem ’s biggest celebration. A live nativity scene is held each December in the town square, Christmas carols are sung by the First United Methodist Church of Bethlehem, which sponsors the festivities, and the story of Jesus is narrated. It’s long been popular for people living in this area of Georgia to come to Bethlehem during the Christmas season to enjoy the seasonal activities and in order to have their Christmas cards stamped with the Bethlehem cancellation marking or get specially inked stamps reading, “Christmas Greetings from Bethlehem ” applied to them. Bethlehem has the second-largest commercial employer in the whole of Barrow County. Harrison Poultry, Inc. opened operations in 1948 and now em ploys about 1,100 people. The Luther & Susie Harrison Foundation, Inc. associated with the company has donated considerable monies into the community through the years, including for the Apalachee High School football stadium. Shopping and retail can be found at the Gateway at University development close by along with medical facilities, restaurants and specialty shops. Bethlehem has a city park with a gazebo, picnic pavilion and walking trail. A small library is located in city hall. The Town of Bethlehem offers free garbage and recycling service to the approximately 670 residents within its city limits. “It’s a small-town atmosphere but close to Athens and Atlanta,” notes Town of Bethlehem Clerk Kathy Bridges. “It’s a very low crime area and a nice place to live.”
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