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Braselton seeks to put museum in welcome center

christy.smith@gwinnettdailypost

BRASELTON - Booker the cat lounged across the front porch of Braselton's former library all his life, greeting patrons at 65 Francis St.

Booker lived at the library, keeping the place free of rodents and pests. When the old library closed its doors for good in October, Booker went home with librarian Bev Adkins.

Those doors will open again.

Town officials intend to give residents and newcomers a place to view Braselton's historical memorabilia and learn about local attractions.

Rep. Tommy Benton petitioned the Legislature for a $75,000 grant to develop the former library into a heritage/welcome center. The money would come from the state's general fund. The request is included in the proposed budget, on which legislators are expected to vote in two or three weeks.

The 100-year-old, 843-square-foot structure sits empty since Braselton's new 6,100-square-foot library opened on Ga. Highway 124 in October. Town officials got the idea for a heritage/welcome center when they created a historical display for last summer's festival.

"We got a good response, but it was a lot of work for a one-day display," said Jennifer Scott, town manager.

The building served for years as the home economics classroom of the now defunct Braselton High School. It's historic past and intimate size could be a good match for the boxes of memorabilia that residents like Councilman Ralph Richardson have stashed away in attics and closets.

"I want the memorabilia safe and enjoyable," Richardson said. "It's not doing anybody any good in my basement and attic. I must have 10 to 15 boxes of memorabilia."

Richardson, whose first job was bagging groceries in Braselton Brothers' store, has collected items from Braselton's past since he was a boy, back when people took junk to the city dump. His collection includes Braselton Brothers' store scrip, calendars and advertising circulars, leather billfolds from the cotton gin, a train depot sign, bags from the old mill, wooden nickels commemorating the Braselton Brothers' store's 100th anniversary, high school yearbooks, the famous traffic light with a bullet hole and Braselton's first traffic light, which still works, manufactured without the yellow caution light.

"Every time I'd see something laying in the dump, I'd get it," Richardson said. "A lot of it came to me from my mother and grandmother."

To acquire the $75,000 grant, Braselton had to present matching funds, according to Rep. John Heard, chairman of the committee that distributes the cash. Braselton's match includes the building, property and tourism funds controlled by the Braselton Visitors Bureau Authority which has an annual budget of about $250,000. The money would pay for repairs to the old building and develop display areas. The floor dips, it needs a new roof and a good paint job. Useful shelving from the former library remains in the building.

"It's one of the oldest buildings we have that is still usable," Richardson said.

The city will develop the heritage center, with or without the grant, Scott said, although legislators could elect to grant the town a portion of the $75,000.

Braselton was incorporated in 1916 by William Harrison Braselton, who married the daughter of Hoschton's founder. The town came to national attention in 1989 when actress Kim Basinger, in partnership with Ameritech Pension fund, purchased it for $20 million. The partnership planned to establish Braselton with movie studios and a film festival. Basinger later sold her portion.

Allen Duck worked in the former library building as a teenager and was a member of Braselton High School's last graduating class. He is glad the building will be preserved.

"I worked there in 1979 for Annette Braselton," Duck said. "It was a very enjoyable experience and I would hate to see the little building torn down. Making it a history center would be fantastic."

As newcomers to Braselton, Richard and Karon Pinion would find any exhibits informative.

"History is important," Karon Pinion said. "It helps people identify with the community."

Bev Adkins, librarian, said she missed the old building's atmosphere, where two-year-old Booker wandered freely.

"It was such a homey, cozy place," Adkins said. "I'd like to see it used. We have such fond memories. It's a building with character and history. I imagine it with rocking chairs, or a swing, and ferns on the front porch."

Richardson hopes the center's opening will encourage people to look through drawers and closets for historical items.

"People may have things not seen in 50 or 75 years or more," Richardson said. "We can put on a good display there that future generations can get a lot of use out of."