As a tourism professional with considerable experience in product development, and more community events than I can count, I was immediately struck by the wonderful opportunity and potential that Old Richland offers to Twiggs County and the surrounding counties. This place is truly a community treasure, both historically and culturally.

Twiggs County was my home for much of my youth (ages 5 to 14). Although many years have passed, I frequently think of the people and the places in the county that are so dear to me. For the past 40 years I have worked in the tourism industry mostly in Roswell, Georgia, part of the north metro Atlanta area.

Over the years, being involved in my own city of Roswell, working with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Tourism team, and having the pleasure of serving on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Tourism Society, I have visited many historic structures. Rarely have I gotten more excited than considering the potential for Old Richland.

Old Richland is steeped in stories of early Georgia settlers, many with descendants still living in the area, the Civil War, and the evolution of the community as a whole.
Culturally and historically, Old Richland is exciting because of its beautiful architecture and it’s relatively unspoiled rural setting just minutes from populated areas. The suspended balcony where slaves once sat in worship is amazing. The church played a big part in the early establishment of Christianity in Georgia. The original doors and steps leading to the balcony have survived the years. The fact that the church was actually built in the early 1840’s by William Sessions, a free slave who apparently built several churches in his lifetime, is enormously important and tells the story of early Blacks’ contributions to the architecture of the South. Little is known, so I hope the trustees can research and discover more information about William Sessions. All these areas of importance lend themselves to wonderful education programs and field trips that will benefit the students of Twiggs and surrounding counties. Curriculum guides could be developed for various age levels and the building used as an on-site classroom.

Standing in the sanctuary, I heard a horses winney as a carriage pull up to the front steps. I could hear voices, some with slightly different accents and dialects greeting others as they arrived…. Yes, I was day dreaming of how it might have been in the mid 1800’s. I immediately knew that Old Richland is far too important to ever be abandoned. Continued restoration, preservation and development as an important historical site is a must. This structure, having survived 170 years, is the perfect location to tell the stories that reflect the families and the area and region.
Storytelling events, historical and cultural re-enactments, musical performances, art exhibitions, holiday celebrations, community gatherings, weddings, reunions, and so much more could fill the annual calendar. It is also a marvelous resource for genealogical research, and I do hope that archival information can be collected and preserved along with the building itself.

Old Richland is not only important to those who have family and friends connections to the previously active church but is a tremendous asset to the entire county, region and the State of Georgia.
It embraces history, culture, architecture, and celebrates our Christian faith, the very foundation of our unique American heritage, culture and diversity from 1811 through today.

This project of developing Historic Richland Church should not be thought of as simply a preservation project, or a cultural project, or an educational project – although it is all of those, it is so much more!
It is truly an economic development project that can provide significant returns to the community in the future.

The Richland Restoration League is working diligently to complete currently planned restoration projects and raise funds for other needed projects. As the planning session progressed, I became aware that most of the work has been accomplished by a small but dedicated few, mostly decendents of the Church’s families. My experience with projects of this nature tells me that broader involvement and support will be required to bring Old Richland to the place of greater visibility and prominance that it once held.

There are grants available to assist with restoration and development plans, but often the donor requires matching funds from the community and expects broad community involvement and participation. The State of Georgia Economic Development Department Tourism division has product development grants, marketing assistance, and expertise that may be requested by application. Many corporations and foundations fund projects with historical, cultural, and educational importance. There are state and national humanities grants that may be applied for, as well as grants from Arts organizations. In conclusion, The Richland Resotration League is doing a great work with more excellent plans in progress. But again I emphasize, if this treasure is to be developed to it’s potential, broad community involvement is required. It’s an ambitious project but it can be done. It must be done.
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Dotty (Spillers) Etris is Executive Director of the Roswell (Georgia) Convention and Visitors Bureau. She can be contacted at,
detris@roswellgov.com
http://www.visitroswellga.com/

Old Richland Church - A Community Treasure
by Dotty (Spillers) Etris

Recently, it was my great pleasure to be asked to participate in a long term planning and development session for Historic Richland Church. I accepted immediately and must say that I was delighted to be involved. Since I spent my early years in Twiggs County, Old Richland was familiar to me, but little did I know. Since several members of the session were relatively unfamiliar, our planning session began with a visit to Old Richland.
Dotty Etris