With four markers added in 2019, the Bulloch County Historical Society increased the number of free-standing historical markers it has erected to 25, including 13 within the city limits of Statesboro.
Just the 13 freestanding markers placed in the city limits cost $42,900, one-third of the $132,734 the nonprofit organization reports it has spent on lasting, tangible projects within Statesboro since 2012. Also included in that total were a separate program to place smaller bronze plaques on historic buildings, another effort that provided street-name markers throughout city-owned Eastside Cemetery, and several other projects.
The Historical Society’s executive director, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters, and her husband Bill Waters, who chairs the historical marker program, hosted Statesboro’s mayor, city manager, several other city staff members and the three new City Council members at lunch Tuesday in the couple’s home. These guests received a scrapbook with photos representing the installation projects.
“This booklet talks about projects that the Historical Society has done for the city,” Virginia Anne Franklin Waters told the group. “There are many other things we’ve done for the county. But this is all in the city, and these are physical, meaning you can go touch them.”
Intangible projects, such as the society’s annual puppet show for third-graders, were not included in the spending tally.
Markers aren’t cheap
The Historical Society custom orders its freestanding markers from Sewah Studios in Marietta, Ohio. Molten aluminum is poured into molds to cast them, complete with raised lettering, and the background is then powder-coated tobacco brown and the lettering topped with 24-karat gold leaf.
With post and installation, each marker costs on average $3,300, Waters reported. So, the cumulative cost of the 25 markers, including the 12 at locations outside of Statesboro, is more than $80,000.
Last year, the new historical marker that received the most attention was the one at the Statesboro High and Industrial School site in Luetta Moore Park. Descendants of William James, who founded the school for African American students early in the 20th century, traveled from other states to take part in two days of dedicatory events.
But the Historical Society placed three other free-standing markers in 2019 with less fanfare.
Hospital and Blue Front
Also unveiled last fall, the Bulloch County Hospital marker stands at the curb beside Ogeechee Area Hospice on East Grady Street. Its placement recognizes the hospice grounds and adjoining property as the site of the public hospital that operated from 1937 until 2000. In latter years called Bulloch Memorial Hospital, it was replaced by East Georgia Regional Medical Center after the Bulloch County Hospital Authority sold the hospital into private ownership.
The “Blue Front” marker was placed without ceremony on the edge of a downtown parking lot on the corner of West Vine Street and South Walnut Street, across from the original Vandy’s Bar-B-Q restaurant. About half the size of the Statesboro High-Industrial School and Bulloch Hospital markers, this designates an area where businesses owned and operated by African Americans were concentrated during segregation, in the first half of the 20th century.
“By the close of the 1950s, most store fronts were empty, and all businesses had left by 1970,” the text on the first side concludes. The reverse lists several of the remembered “Blue Front” businesses, including B&P Barbershop, Fred Pughsley’s tailoring and dry cleaning, John Hagins’ restaurant, B&B Laundromat, Nath’s Billiards, R&R Pawn Shop and M.E. Alderman Roofing Company.
Another half-size marker was erected last fall within Eastside Cemetery, commemorating the burial of William Charles “Willie” Heddleston on March 8, 1890, as the first in the cemetery.
Statesboro Streets and Parks Superintendent Robert Seamans said he requested this marker because many people wanted to know who was the first person buried at Eastside. Seamans’ department maintains the cemetery, and he volunteers as a member of the Historical Society’s board.
Several years ago the society provided the full-size, Eastside Cemetery marker that stands near the entrance.
The Bulloch County Historical Society also funded, at a total cost of $20,823, the placement of street-name corner posts within the cemetery. Done in stages over several years, this was completed about two years ago for the portions of the cemetery already in use. The grid of named streets makes giving directions to burial sites much simpler, Seamans said.
In an earlier year, the Historical Society created a focal point for the city’s Renaissance Park. The organization purchased the sculptural courthouse clock tower replica – which had originally been made for the 1990 National Championship football game at Paulson Stadium – and a boulder, affixed with a bronze marker, which city employees installed in the park. The materials cost paid by the Historical Society was $4,332.
Other society-funded projects, from 2012 until now, include the restoration of the Jaeckel Hotel sign at City Hall, for $4,695, and the installation of City Hall lobby historical displays, with lighting, for $6,062. The society also purchase a uniquely designed sculptural eagle from the Eagle Nation on Parade series and had it placed at Statesboro Regional Library, with a pamphlet explaining the history the sculpture depicts, for $17,924, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters reported.
The society’s efforts may be nearing a saturation point for freestanding historical markers, Bill Waters said in an interview.
“We’re getting close,” he said. “I would suggest there are probably four or five more that I could think of.”
But the program of placing smaller, less expensive bronze plaques on buildings of historical interest could extend further, he said. This effort has cost about $6,000 total for the 18 plaques placed within Statesboro so far.
The marker purchases and some of the society’s other projects are funded by an endowment from the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation. Other donations and member dues help support the society’s efforts.
Mural in progress
Right now, the society has two artists from Charleston, South Carolina, painting a large mural, facing City Hall from 48 East Main St. across the drive-thru alley. Costing about $25,500, the mural will depict the arrival home by train of Bulloch County’s 50 delegates to the Dec. 1, 1906, bid meeting in Savannah that confirmed Statesboro as the location for the First District A&M School. After evolving through other identities, the school became Georgia Southern University.
“We appreciate having elected officials and others that work with us who know that understanding and commemorating your history is a part of economic development, it’s a part of daily life that really matters in the city,” Historical Society President Brent Tharp told the group.
The Historical Society leaders did not ask for any contribution from the city, but they did invite the officials who haven’t already joined the organization to become members.