Land Near Historic Vann House Protected (GA)

Murray County, Georgia, 1/5/04: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, working with Murray County and the Friends of the Vann House of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, acquired an important tract of land from Paul Jackson and Tom Kinnamon, local developers. Located in close proximity to the historic Chief Vann House at Spring Place in Murray County, Georgia, this 45-acre parcel is one of the most important archaeological sites in the southeastern United States.

“It’s really gratifying to see a community come together in this effort,” says Rick Wood, project manager for TPL-Chattanooga. “This was an important parcel to acquire. Not only will the acquisition of this tract enhance the accessibility and interpretative resources of an historic landmark- the Vann House- but it will also ensure its ongoing protection.”

“TPL was a wonderful organization to work with,” says Tom Greeson, Chairman of the Fundraising Committee. “Protecting the land around the Vann House isn’t just good for those who have property up here, but it’s good for all Georgians.” Greeson says Murray County dedicated the county’s allotment from the Georgia Greenspace funding and the rest came from private donors, including a sizable donation from the Trust for Public Land.

“There had been a lot of speculation about what might happen to this piece of property,” Greeson continues. “Seeing the Trust for Public Land get involved was a welcome development. A lot of people are resting easier now, knowing that this important property will be protected forever.”

But the real success story is how one community came together to raise the funds necessary to help save the land.

“It wasn’t easy,” says Tim Howard, who headed up the fund raising efforts. “But everyone chipped in, even the school children. For example, schools across the county were given change jars and were challenged to see which class and which school could raise the most money. The effort was called Change for the Chief and raised $3,500.00.”

Howard continues to say an elementary school class put on a play about the Vann House and the lives of the Cherokee in Murray County, with all proceeds being donated to the Land Acquisition Fund. The class play raised approximately $1,200.00.

“And, when Arminta Swilling (a dedicated tour guide at the Vann House for many years), requested not to have flowers at her funeral but to give donations to the Land Acquisition Fund, her friends and neighbors contributed more than $1,000.00 to the cause.”

Tyson Haynes, Commissioner of Murray County, is also pleased with the recent turn of events. “I’m extremely delighted with the support the citizens of Murray County have shown for this project. And I’m happy that TPL is working with us. We have had a vision of protecting the properties adjoining this historic jewel, and this acquisition, along with others that are currently in the works, give that vision a real head start.”

Often considered the “Showcase of the Cherokee Nation,” the Vann House is a certified site of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Built by African slaves at the behest of Chief James Vann, this two-story dwelling was the first brick house in the Cherokee Nation and is one of the best-preserved plantation homes in the country.

The area surrounding New Echota and Chatsworth was the starting point for the Indian Removal Policy that forever changed the cultural landscape of North Georgia and the Southeastern United States. As part of the Old Federal Highway and an important waypoint of the Cherokee removal from North Georgia and East Tennessee, the recently acquired 45-acre tract will be invaluable in interpreting the story of the Vann House and its role in African-American and Cherokee history. The property will eventually become a part of the Vann House Historic Site managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Despite the historic and cultural significance of the Vann plantation, much of the land surrounding the house has been developed for residential and commercial use. But thanks to the Trust for Public Land and others, this is changing.

“We set out to protect the Vann House,” recaps Haynes. “Our goal has always been to help preserve the viewshed of this important landmark while providing additional educational opportunities. Friends of the Vann House, TPL and the community at-large really stepped up to the plate to help make this happen. And whenever you combine citizen activism with protecting our heritage and preserving green space, it’s a win-win for everybody. This acquisition is testimony that we continue to make a great deal of progress in protecting those special places that define us as a community, but there’s still a great deal more to be done.”

About TPL: Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate — applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. Across the nation, TPL has saved more than 1.4 million acres of land. The effort to protect the Vann House is part of the TPL’s Tribal Lands Program-an initiative specifically designed to meet the land conservation and cultural heritage preservation needs of our Native Americans.