Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Nichole and Gray Burch of Acworth pose for a portrait on their wedding day at the Duluth History Museum, the 1898 Strickland Building on Buford Highway Saturday. The groom Gray Burch is the Great, Great, Great Grandson of Alice Harrell and Henry Strickland Jr., lived in the home back in 2003.
DULUTH -- For 11 decades, the plantation-style, three-story Strickland House that presides over Buford Highway, a stone's throw from downtown Duluth, has been a chameleon in terms of purpose. On Saturday it served as wedding chapel, and the groom was a flesh-and-blood link to the cherished home's origins.
Built in 1898 by Alice Harrell Strickland, Georgia's first female mayor, and her husband, the home has morphed from Duluth's first hospital (where children grappled whooping cough and diphtheria), to an antique store, an architect's offices and the longtime home of Frank Ziegler, a mid-century Georgia Tech and Philadelphia Eagles football star. Braves legend Dale Murphy even rented a back apartment for a couple years in the early 1980s.
On Saturday the home got gussied up for matrimony.
In the shade of ancient oaks, beside the whiz and whir of highway traffic, the great, great, great grandson of Strickland, Acworth resident Gray Burch III, lit a unity candle with his new wife, Nichole, who held a bouquet of lavender roses. The ceremony was simple and sweet. But to Burch and leaders of the Duluth Historical Society, the significance of the wedding was grand.
"I've been coming here ever since I was a kid. It means a lot to me, this place," Burch said. "I really hope it never passes out of the family."
Burch's family (whose fingers were crossed during the ceremony that a freight train didn't come roaring down the nearby Southern Railroad line) still owns the home and leases it to the Historical Society, which recently unveiled a community garden on the three-acre property. It was listed on the Georgia Register of Historic Places in 1999.
In 1921, Strickland was elected to lead Duluth at age 62, only a year after women gained the right to vote.
Burch, who engineers chicken processing equipment, met his wife in an Alabama poultry plant, where she worked in sales. He lived at the home while studying at Georgia Tech, and swears one night he saw a bed lamp swinging on its own.
"This place has happy ghosts," said Judy Ann Wilson, Duluth Historical Society president. "It's a lovely old home."
The groom's mother, Robin Burch, recalled summertime sleepovers at the home, where the girls would slip onto the roof and read books. To see her son married on the property was gratifying, she said.
"I think it's a privilege to have that much history," she said, "to be able to claim it and be a part of it."