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Funding to save Mills House not forthcoming

Arts council prepares to leave the facility

POSTED: March 29, 2011 7:00 a.m.

The old white house with the bright red door has always been there, sitting on the corner of a busy intersection, shaded by large, Spanish moss-draped trees.
But if a local group of concerned citizens can’t raise enough money, the old Mills House on the corner of Memorial Drive and Oglethorpe Highway might just disappear.
If funding comes through, however, the historic house will be moved to property near the Midway Museum, said Rachel Hatcher, Liberty Cultural and Historic Association officer.
“The structure will be relocated by professionals, but the need for volunteer work from the community will be a powerful tool in refinishing the interior as well as developing the relocation site,” Hatcher said. “It is clear that we are all stakeholders in the history of our community and the integrity of our county must be maintained in order for us to be able to tell our story to visitors and future residents.”
With only 50 percent of the funding for phase one secured — the project is scheduled to be completed in phases — it is likely the house will be torn down. 
According to the most recent estimate the group received, $60,000 is needed to move the house and $90,000 is needed for renovations.
Diane Kroell, interim executive director of the Midway Museum, said the total cost will depend on the number of volunteers who help with the project. Phase one would include the preparation of the new site and laying the foundation. Phase two would include the actual placement of the house, and phase three would include preparing the building for museum use, Kroell said.
“It would be placed in the Midway Historic District near the museum. The Mills House will provide much needed space for permanent exhibits as well as visiting exhibits,” Kroell said. “The rich history of Liberty County is immortalized in the homes buildings and other artifacts of our past. Tearing down homes and other buildings is like destroying our own history. Together let’s save history.”
The house also is frequently used by the Hinesville Area Arts Council, a nonprofit organization focused on developing the arts in Liberty County. The group is the only one that uses the house and allows others use of the facility for functions such as meetings, classes and baby showers. The Mills House will even be the site of an upcoming wedding.
HAAC member Barbara Meador, who takes adult fine art classes at the house, said its historical significance is something she treasures.
“When you walk in the front door, you just can feel the history,” Meador said. “Sometimes when we were doing projects, my mind would wander off and I’d be wondering about the people and all the adventures that I’m sure happened there. In such a crazy, fast-paced world we live in, something that majestic just seems to make you want to slow down what you are doing and enjoy the surroundings.”
Because funding has been tight, the group must soon move out of the building, which it has used since last April, HAAC Chairwoman Leah Poole said. The goal is to be completely moved out of the Mills House by June 1 in time to find a new location and plan for the upcoming arts season.
Poole said the group plans to discuss a new location at its April 12 meeting.
Since the HAAC is a nonprofit, Poole said the move will cause a hardship and will force the arts council to make difficult decisions regarding possibly reducing offerings.
“We, of course, want to continue to offer as many programs as possible and also keep them free to little cost; however, our space — or lack thereof — will obviously impact that,” Poole said. “Some of our classes — like the children’s art and adult art — would really be impossible without a space. Also, exhibits are much easier to plan in your own facility versus using or renting someone else’s and the costs associated with that.”
Hatcher said many community groups and concerned citizens have tossed around ideas and proposed clever ways to raise the funds needed, but nothing is set in stone.
“Many local historic associations and committees have committed substantial donations to the project, which has achieved approximately 50 percent of the necessary funding for phase one,” Hatcher said. “While the association cannot fully fund the project, we have committed our volunteer time to promote the preservation fundraising and seek local support.” 
Although it is unknown where funding will come from, it is clear the house has served as an architecturally historic landmark for years, something Meador said she will miss if it is gone one day soon.
“I know it is very costly to move something like that, but it really would be a loss for Liberty County residents,” she said. “We have had a lot of community affairs at the Mills House, and the combination of the building and the beautiful landscaping with the large, mossy trees has really added a wonderful touch to all of it. They don’t make houses like that anymore and we really need to preserve what we have.”

 

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