County leaders embracing planning for Gwinnett’s bicentennial

Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center programming director Jason West, center, talks to county commissioners about the county’s history during a meeting last week to discuss planning for the county’s bicentennial in 2018. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Gwinnett County commissioners Lynette Howard and Tommy Hunter have jokingly offered to shoot each other if it will help make the county’s bicentennial in 2018 a memorable occasion.

The tongue-in-cheek offer came during a brainstorming session commissioners had with officials at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center last week. The gathering was held to get the ball rolling on planning the county’s 200th birthday party.

At one point, historical re-enactments were suggested. Howard had already joked earlier, during a history lesson on the county, that she and Hunter were the modern-day equivalent of Gwinnett’s and McIntosh’s political rivalry. Gwinnett famously died after a duel with McIntosh.

“How about the duel?,” Howard asked while shaping her hand like a gun, pointing it at Hunter and pretending to shoot him.

Hunter quipped, “I’ve got the pistols.”

Such is the enthusiasm Gwinnett’s leaders are throwing into making the upcoming bicentennial an affair to remember during what could be a year-long celebration a few years from now.

Gwinnett was one of three counties that were created on Dec. 15, 1818. The others were Gwinnett’s neighbors, Hall and Walton counties, EHC Programs Director Jason West said. The three counties share a common bond that goes beyond shared borders and the same birth date, however. Each is named for a Declaration of Independence signer from Georgia.

Last week’s meeting ran for an hour as the commissioners, West and EHC Executive Director Steve Canon, and curator Cammie Fulmer casually threw around a long list of ideas.

The concepts thrown about ranged from putting out a different fact about Gwinnett history for 200 days leading up to the anniversary, to pouring money into recreating Fort Daniel and a replica Native American village, to an expansion of the county historical marker program and a “Button Gwinnett Ball.”

“If you’re going to get a signature project built, you need plans on the table right now,” said Commissioner John Heard, a proponent of recreating Fort Daniel and a Native American village.

A “homecoming” for people whose families lived in the county in the past, and the creation of a historic trail marking key sites from the county’s history were also thrown around. An interactive traveling exhibit on the county’s history and programs designed to celebrate the contributions of the county’s multicultural diversity are other ideas being discussed.

“This will give us an opportunity to celebrate every corner of the county,” said Hunter, who said he thought the county should do a project that will last long after the bicentennial.

Hunter also heavily hinted that he wanted a fireworks show included in the festivities. Fellow Commissioner Jace Brooks suggested county officials try to get the 2018 Gwinnett County Fair involved in the bicentennial celebrations.

“That would give us a place to showcase our agricultural history,” said Brooks, who also suggested photo and other art contests and exhibits.

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said Dacula Memorial Day Parade organizer Marvin Atherton has offered his parade-organizing expertise to help the county stage “the mother of all parades.”

Nash said another possible idea for the birthday would be to find a way to tie it into current discussions on transportation in the county. She said the minutes of meetings for the county’s original government authority show the county’s early leaders primarily dealt with road planning and transportation in Gwinnett.

“It’d be really cool to take the county and do as close of a facsimile of where those original roads ran,” Nash said. “Some of them match up with early maps.”

Some of the basic ideas for organizing the bicentennial celebrations include forming either a committee or commission, or even a combination of both groups, to plan and stage events. Officials are also interested in getting historical and community groups involved in the organizing process.

“We are very proud of our past and we are very, very excited about the opportunities to see us mark the 200th anniversary of Gwinnett County,” West said.

Nash also said she has approached her counterparts in Hall and Walton counties about doing a joint event to celebrate the anniversary. It remains to be seen if such a combined event will happen, though.

“They aren’t as enthusiastic as I am, so I’ve still got to work on that a little bit,” Nash said with a laugh. “They kind of looked at me puzzled and (Walton County commission Chairman Kevin Little) said ‘Well, that’d be kind of cool.’”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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