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Master plan for restoration of Gaither Plantation is revealed

COVINGTON - When Newton County purchased Gaither Plantation in 1996, officials knew there was potential untold for the historic site.

As District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing describes it, the circa-1850s cotton plantation is a "diamond in the rough."

On Tuesday night, the plan to make that diamond shine was revealed.

A master plan presenting options for future uses of the plantation was presented to the Board of Commissioners by consultants with Jordan, Jones and Goulding, who designed the plan with cooperation from the Friends of Gaither volunteer committee.

If the plan is implemented, the past and present will entwine in a way that preserves the plantation's history and keeps it relevant to today.

While the plantation is frequently rented for weddings and other private gatherings, the plan calls for more events to draw in the general public.

One idea is to capitalize on reports that the plantation is haunted with events such as a mystery dinner theater.

Workshops focusing on nature; arts and crafts festivals; Christmas candlelight tours and a nature observatory are other elements of the plan.

The entrance to Gaither would be moved slightly north so that visitors would enter at Crossroads Village, a replica of a historic town. The village is already taking shape, with a country store, an 1880s-era home and Harris Springs Church already on the property. A search is under way for an old schoolhouse to add to the village.

At Crossroads Village, visitors will purchase tickets for tours and hear a short history on Newton County.

Additions to the main home on the site would include a 5,000-square-foot museum that would house historic farm equipment and fields planted with crops that were typically grown on working plantations in that era.

A worker's camp would also be added, where volunteers could come and stay for free room and board in exchange for tending the fields.

Hiking trails, picnic areas and a lakefront pavilion would be added for recreation.

The goal of the plan was to create and preserve a place where the history and culture of a bygone era come to life; to maintain and enhance the vast natural resources of plantation lands; to develop and promote the recreation potential; and to develop an ongoing educational plan that encompasses all aspects of the plantation.

The plan covers 150 acres that will be available for use after Bear Creek Reservoir is built. A 150-foot buffer would be maintained around the reservoir.

A consultant with Jordan, Jones and Goulding estimated the cost of implementing the plan at $3 million, adding that grants could be available if Friends of Gaither receives nonprofit status.

The consultant recommended that the county hire a director to oversee and implement the plan.

An application has been submitted to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to place Gaither on the National Registry, the consultant said.

Ewing said he was pleased with the proposal, which will be looked at further by Friends of Gaither and the county in the coming months.

"We've worked for more than 10 years to get to where we are today," he said. "I want to express my personal appreciation to the Friends of Gaither who continue to meet monthly and keep this dream alive for the people of Newton County."

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.