TWIN CITY — Twin City, formed from two towns more than 90 years ago and holding onto their buildings like a time capsule, seems like it would be a shoo-in for the National Register of Historic Places.
But it has taken a resident with an artist’s vision to do the research and paperwork for the nomination. Eileen Dudley has exhibited her paintings at shows and festivals from her native Pennsylvania to Florida. Her 2005 portrait exhibit at Statesboro’s Averitt Center for the Arts was called “Amazing Face.”
She and her husband, David Dudley, bought their Twin City home almost 23 years ago, when he joined the faculty at Georgia Southern University, where he now chairs the Literature and Philosophy Department. Looking for a place large enough for their children and his wife’s paintings, they found the story-and-a-half Davis-Proctor House.
About a decade ago, the Dudleys considered a career move that would have taken them out of the area. When they put the house on the market to gauge interest, a real estate agent suggested marketing it as a historic home.
The move never happened, but they learned that the house, identified as a Georgian cottage or Folk Victorian in style, was 10 years older than they had thought. It was built in 1890 for the Elder Robert H. Barwick, a Primitive Baptist minister who led in founding the Bethany Homes in Vidalia and Millen.
Eileen Dudley started taking steps to have the house listed on the National Register and succeeded in December 2010.
“I enjoy challenges, I guess,” she says.
A 1995 Emanuel County Historic Preservation Society survey identified 182 historic structures in Twin City, and the number, by Dudley’s count, has since topped 300 as more buildings reach the 50-year threshold. Taking the survey as a starting point, Dudey began work two years ago to have much of Twin City listed as a historic district. She hopes the National Register status for this district will be granted this year, Emanuel County’s bicentennial year.
Doing library research and interviewing residents, Dudley completed a nomination form more than 50 pages long. Containing brief biographies of influential past residents, descriptions of homes, businesses and public buildings and a short history of Twin City and its predecessor towns, the form is accompanied by maps and hundreds of photographs.
A vision of reinvention
Yet Dudley does not consider herself a history buff.
“Actually, I didn’t like history when I was in school,” she confessed. “But I enjoyed doing this because it was more like a treasure hunt, and one thing led to another and hearing people’s stories. For me now, if I think of history as just somebody telling their story, whether it’s the story of a town or the story of a nation or the story of a family, that’s what makes it interesting.”
She instead associates the title “visionary” with herself as an artist.
Dudley’s vision is that Twin City can reinvent itself and repurpose some of its old buildings, the way that other towns have done, from her original home town, Bethlehem, Pa., to Buford, Ga.
Buford, in Gwinnett County, has turned defunct industrial buildings — including a 1911 shoe and horse collar factory from the town’s past life as a leather manufacturing center — into art galleries and antique shops.
“I thought if they can do it, why not here, and more and more people are looking for things close to home to do, and we have George L. Smith State Park. Why not reinvent ourselves or revitalize ourselves based on our history?” Dudley said.
Although Twin City is far from having an artists’ colony like Buford’s, it does have an artist with a foothold in each of its historic communities. While Dudley’s home is in Summit, she rents studio space in Graymont.
Graymont and Summit
Both towns got their start in the late 1800s when demand for timber spurred railroad construction. Summit was named around 1886, when the Rogers & Summit Railroad was built, supposedly as the high point of the line. Railroad developer W.M. Wadley leased the line to landowner James Rountree for permission to lay the tracks. Graymont followed in 1896, when brothers Matthew, Dennis and Frank Durden, had the rail line extended and established Citizens Trading Co. This was a mercantile store that sold “everything from cradles to caskets,” Dudley says. Funeral supplies were stocked on the second floor.
Summit was incorporated with a state charter in 1898, and Graymont in 1904. Centered one mile apart, they were referred to as “twin cities” before their merger, Dudley noted. In 1920, the census showed Summit with 566 people; Graymont had 417. That winter, the Georgia General Assembly rescinded the two city charters and approved the new charter for the merged Twin City effective in January 1921.
Buildings well more than a century old survive from both former towns.
“SUMMIT, GA.” is frosted in the transom window over the door of the long-defunct Summit Bank, dating from 1904. A tin commissary has been dated from 1898. One gable-front store building might be older than Summit’s name, as Dudley’s submission gives “circa 1860-1870.”
In Historic Graymont, the big, brick Citizens Trading Company building, dated from 1900, now houses Stitch-n-Print, an embroidering and screen-printing business. Among other early buildings are the erstwhile Graymont Bank and Post Office, where “AD 1901” is inlaid in gold-color brick, the somewhat older Graymont Drugstore building and a former livery stable.
Between the two former towns is what Dudley calls Twin City’s shared civic area, centered at Emanuel County Institute, the public high school and middle school. The civic area also contains several churches, the old jail from around 1900, and the 1937 water tower.
But the oldest building in town, the Rountree log cabin at Carilee Coleman Park, reportedly dates from about 1830 and has been on the National Register since 1997.
Dudley said Twin City’s economic losses helped preserve its early buildings. The timber industry faded, the railroad folded, and the tracks were taken up in the early 1950s. By then, Twin City was losing retail trade to stores in Swainsboro.
After ups and downs, Twin City had 1,742 people in the 2010 census.
“The trains building the town and then abandoning the town made Twin City like a time capsule, because as Swainsboro has grown, they have removed historic properties to put up new neighborhoods or businesses … but Twin City, because the trains left, it became a much less transient community,” she said.
The Georgia Historic Preservation Division is reviewing the nomination for submission of the Twin City historic district to the state’s National Register Review Board. That board could approve it in August, after which staff members will edit it, supply archival quality photos, and submit it to the National Register of Historic Places office in Washington, D.C., said Gretchen Brock, the National Register Program manager in the state division.
The national office will subject the application to a 45-day review. But virtually all state-approved nominations are accepted, Brock noted.
Since the program opened in 1966, Georgia has added 2,064 listings to the National Register, including more than 600 districts as well as individual buildings. The program, Brock said, makes properties eligible for tax incentives for rehabilitation projects but places no restrictions on what owners can do with their properties.
Ordinarily, the nomination process could take 18 months to two years, but Brock said state officials are doing what they can to get the listing approved during Emanuel County’s bicentennial year.
“Mrs. Dudley did a fabulous job with the research for Twin City,” Brock said. “She really did a great amount of work, so we don’t see much need for revising.”
A public information meeting is slated for 7 p.m. Aug. 7 at Twin City’s City Hall, as part of the regular City Council meeting.