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House gets new home
Historical dwelling to be center of park once county moves it from Sugarloaf extension's path

By Camie Young

Senior Writer

camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com

LAWRENCEVILLE - The house, already so full of history, stood in the way of progress 23 years ago.

Its savior came in the form of a young couple who moved the boards, one-by-one, and rebuilt the house five miles away.

But when surveyors came by last year and placed a stake by the front steps, the family wondered if it could be saved again.

This time, the savior is coming in the form of the Gwinnett County government, the same government that is planning the road that could have meant the house's destruction.

But this rescue, this time, will be permanent.

The Isaac Adair House, a white federal-style home built in 1827, will be moved back to Lawrenceville and will become a park and educational center, officials say.

While the old boards will be placed on a fourth foundation, this time, the building will have a permanent home.

"All houses tell their own stories," said Jennifer Collins, supervisor of Gwinnett's heritage and preservation program. "It's coming full circle. It's coming back to Lawrenceville."

Board-by-board

Phyllis and Marvin Hughes had already dug the foundation for their dream house when they walked into the flea market one day in 1984.

While Phyllis shopped, her husband wandered around the old house and immediately felt the history.

When the couple learned the old landmark would be demolished so a shopping center could be built, their dream shifted.

Instead of a brand new model, the Hughes purchased the Isaac-Adair House, which was built in 1827. They labeled the boards, dismantled the house and moved it to Chandler Road, about five miles away, but free of the intrusion of development - at least that's what they thought.

Most of the moving happened in Marvin Hughes' pickup truck, although the couple hired movers to take the sills - 12-by-12 structural beams that were long, single-cut whole pieces from trees - and an old commissary building.

For 15 years, the couple lived in a one-bedroom apartment above a barn while they rebuilt their home. The apartment became cramped when their daughter Rachel arrived.

"Rachel is one of the few kids that can say she was raised in a barn," her mother said with a laugh.

But while the adults worked, Rachel drew pictures and played in her swing set. Her job, they agreed, would be to keep herself occupied.

"We were like the most unlikely people to ever take this on," Phyllis Hughes said, adding that while her husband had built houses before, she had never tried construction until she was handed a crowbar and asked to start taking apart boards.

"The house just kind of happened to us."

The bricks for four fire places were made by hand in the early 1800s and still have the imprints of animals. The doors, the mantles, the floor boards and the long support beams are all the originals, and the family even worked to match the original paint colors and stencils of the time.

They kept the four parlors downstairs and the four bedrooms upstairs and added a modern kitchen and bathroom at the back, so preservationists can simply take off the addition to make the house more timely.

"It was like a house museum. That's the way we designed it," Phyllis Hughes said.

The woman who began restoring the house when she was 28 said she wasn't sure how the house would look when the job was done.

But she knew it was fate when the house was finally standing.

"They built the house to catch the wind through these doors," Hughes said, pointing at the front and back doors. "We thought that would never happen."

But the first time they opened the doors when the house was finished, they felt a breeze just like the original architect had envisioned.

"The job they did is incredible," said Bette Conaway, a park planner. "It's square. It's beautiful. They preserved it in an incredible way."

The Hughes' labors were rewarded when the house was placed on the National Register for Historic Places, which meant the house couldn't be demolished because of road construction.

But that wasn't the reason they did the work. The house had become a part of the Hughes family, and they had no idea what the future was going to bring.

"We thought we were saving it by putting it in the middle of nowhere. ... We were devastated, to say the least, when they put that up," Phyllis Hughes said pointing to the stake at the house's front steps that indicates where the center of Sugarloaf Parkway will be. "We didn't know what would happen to the house."

A permanent home

For county officials, there was never a question the house would be saved. The only problem was how.

So transportation officials turned to the Department of Community Services, the agency that is in charge of county parks and holds other county artifacts such as the Historic Gwinnett Courthouse, the Lawrenceville Female Seminary, the Yellow River Post Office and Freeman's Mill.

And the excitement was palpable from the first moments.

"These are very rare. I was excited from the moment the DOT called us and said, 'Will you come look at a house?'" Conaway said. "It was great that it was removed privately because even now for it to be a county asset is incredible."

The agencies have come together with a plan, an entire complex devoted to history.

Because the Lawrenceville health clinic has recently moved into a renovated Wal-Mart, the former location will soon be torn down, and officials decided that spot - which connects to the Lawrenceville Female Seminary building - would be perfect.

Officials have documents that outline the layout of the former plantation on Duluth Highway at Hurricane Shoals Road, so they plan to copy the design, building replicas of the detached kitchen, well house, barn and other period pieces and replacing the old commissary.

With a staff already stationed at the seminary, which serves as the Gwinnett History Museum, the entire block would be devoted to history.

"It's going to be an amazing feat for us," Collins said. "This is maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity."

But there is still the issue of the move, and this time, the boards will stay intact.

In October, crews will move the house to a temporary pad to begin construction of the road. Then, next summer, the house will begin its journey down Sugarloaf Parkway before the road opens to the public.

That way, Conaway said, there won't be utility lines and cables in the way.

But there will be obstacles once the house reaches Ga. Highway 20. Conaway said officials will have to arrange a day with the city to take down some of the traffic lights and other impediments to take the home to its new location - its fourth and final foundation.

And while the Hughes are sad to let the house go, they are glad it will remain preserved, a treat for all to share.

"It's been such a roller coaster for us," Phyllis Hughes said. "Maybe we were there to put it on hold until something else could happen. ... I think it'll be a nice setting for it."

SideBar:

'Maybe we were there to put it on hold until something else could happen. ... I think it'll be a nice setting for it.'

Homeowner

Phyllis Hughes