Sam Burnham - Curator
Armuchee Creek creeps through the Appalachian foothills as it has for thousands of years. These hill are old, the eroded remnants of their former selves. The locals will tell you that Armuchee is Cherokee for “land of many fish” or something to that effect. When the Cherokee lived here the creek provided water, food, and transportation.
After the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears, this area was resettled and the creek remained important. Some 50-60 years after the last Cherokee left the creek found a new use. In the old village, what locals call “Downtown Armuchee,” stood a grist mill, a pants factory, a cooperage, and a cotton gin. All of these operations were powered by an early-technology electric generator that was powered by the creek.
A small dam ponded the creek near the iron bridge where Little Texas Valley Road crosses the creek. The mill harnessed the power of the pond overflow to turn the little generator and produce electricity. The amount of power generated was more than these small industries needed and several homes were added to the local grid. The residents of this small village were reading by electric light two decades before the TVA broke ground on their first hydroelectric dam.
The evidence of this fact is confirmed in a May 1916 publication of the Electrical Review and Western Electrician. The report in that journal was that the Armuchee Water Mill was unfortunately destroyed by fire. That sounds like a strike against local power but this was early technology and fire was a widespread problem in structures of all sorts. While fire is and will remain a threat, new technology and practices have greatly reduced that threat. Present technology also offers redundancy that make accidents less devastating.
In 1916 there was little more than lighting that would use electricity in a home. These days almost everything uses electricity. But modern technology has created energy efficient appliances and devices. Major utility companies have reported dips in demand as people choose LED lighting and other energy saving options. Modern technology also produces a lot more electricity than 1916 technology did.
Generating electricity has become more efficient as well. Most notably, solar panels have become more efficient and effective while also becoming more affordable. One kilowatt/hour of solar power is now cheaper than the same amount of coal generated electricity. This has made solar a viable option for use in community power.
More recently, the South Georgia town of Plains, longtime home of former President Jimmy Carter, now generates half of its needed electricity by a local solar farm. Let me specify that Plains is a small town. I’m not advocating running the whole state this way. There is still a real need for large scale power generation in places like Plant Bowen, Plant Vogtle, and by TVA dams throughout their system. But for small towns or even designated neighborhoods in big cities, community power is a revolutionary opportunity.
By generating power locally and establishing a micro-grid, like Armuchee at the turn of the 20th Century, we can lower our costs and build in resilience to protecting ourselves from disruptions. Armuchee historically used the creek and hydroelectric generation. That is possibly still an option. But in The South we also have an abundance of sunshine. Solar panels, partnered with the latest in storage units could make the needed power and store it for nighttime or in the case of (literally) a rainy day.
The resilience comes into play with the local micro-grid. For example, a few years back when a tornado cut through the Berry College and Glenwood communities, serious damage was caused to transmission infrastructure. The Armuchee area was without power for days. Had the old micro-grid still been active no loss of power would have occurred in the old neighborhood. That area was barely impacted by the storm. The mill and the grid would have remained intact. Even during the Blizzard of ‘93, a local crew could have hooked up individual homes in a day and power would have been restored quickly. Even a mechanical malfunction at the mill would be backed up by the storage units until repairs are made.
Local power can be a game changer for small towns. Poorer communities within cities can also benefit from this idea. The best part is that our local EMCs as well as the TVA or The Southern Company can get in on this. They need to hear from customers or members who are interested in bringing this sort of project to their neighborhoods.
Local power lowers costs while building resilience and investment in our communities. There is no downside to the proposition. By revisiting an old idea we can open possibilities for the future. We can build a future with better opportunities for businesses and residents. We can power healthy and sustainable economic growth while fostering a sense of community. Local power is the best way to illuminate the way forward.
Sam Burnham, Curator
A waterfront can be one of the most important assets a city can possess. Be it the sea, a river, bay, or harbor, people are drawn to the point where the land touches the water. If wisely developed and maintained, such an area can be priceless for a municipality.
Norfolk, Virginia is an excellent example. The city was gifted custody of the Iowa class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and they have brilliantly transformed it into a centerpiece in one of the town’s waterfront districts. The ship is partnered with Nauticus, a museum that commemorates the amazing history of “Wisky” as well as the economy and ecology of the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay region. A cruise ship port lies adjacent to the museum. That means tourists who tour the ship and the museum as well as the restaurants and stores that can be found along the neighboring blocks.
Norfolk is a modern city, much too busy for my taste, at least on a permanent basis. As a visitor, I really enjoyed this waterfront district. The streets and wide sidewalks were immaculately clean. There were people walking, biking, and riding those Lime scooters around. Get this, the scooters we saw not in use were all properly parked. People want to be in this part of town. There is a vibrant feel and there are jobs, homes, and entertainment all within walking distance of each other.
Some of the older architecture includes sites like the U.S. Customs House and the MacArthur Memorial. The latter serves as a repository, museum, and the final resting place of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. The building is the former city hall and can be seen from the main deck of the Wisconsin.
While I’m sure this district is pricey, the condominiums and townhouses we saw are of tasteful design and construction. They all seemed to fit what was going on around them and are built to reasonable scale. While it has to be tempting to try to maximize profits with obnoxiously huge high rise housing units, the waterfront in this district has avoided that blight. With easy access to the parks, museums, attractions of the waterfront and the jobs and entertainment along the city streets, this is a highly desirable area.
A few weeks ago we published the article To Go Back, We Have To Go Forward. We got some great reader feedback and I wanted to share some of it.
I believe the state and local governments should give tax incentives for people to relocate to rural areas. There is no way that the Atlanta traffic issues will ever be cured with more asphalt.
The technology is already here—with the large number of jobs that can be worked from home with computers, conference calls and teleconferences.
With the Atlanta metro area stretching over 60 miles north to south and over 40 miles east to west, there are a lot of smaller rural towns within an hour driving radius of that perimeter that could be host to an influx of workers taking advantage of any tax incentives offered.
Trouble is, do the small towns really want to lose their identity? When we moved to the Kennesaw/Acworth area back in ‘87 both towns were still sleepy small towns on the far outer edges of the city. Now the old timers complain about all the condos, apartments, and high density zoning of homes. The influx changes the small town character drastically and the local governments are always 25 years behind on the road and other infrastructure improvements needs from the increased population.
While I’d like to see some revival further away from Atlanta, there are great points here. We have to walk a tightrope that brings opportunity to small towns without ruining them. We’ve seen some really great places like Kennesaw absolutely destroyed by overdevelopment, overpopulation, sprawl, and greed. We can’t make that the model of renaissance.
Here’s an idea throw out Walmart, Lowe's, and Home Depot and you would see your towns thrive.
Although we can’t just evict big box commercial stores without cause, we do need to approach our economies with more than just price in mind. I was in Home Depot the other day (my local hardware was closed) and I talked to four employees before I found one who even know what hardware cloth was. Customer service, community oriented business practices, and quality are hallmarks of strong local businesses. The big box places are probably cheaper but overall value is more than just price.
I can’t tell you, Sam, how many artists would love those storefronts as studios, large and inexpensive by most standards, and with solar too, wow. Artists aren’t picky, and they help to revitalize places and see opportunities in places where others don’t. That’s what happened to Newburyport, the artists came after the downtown had been rescued and then over the decades other’s followed.
Our friend Mary is right. She has seen her hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts awaken from the dead. If the conditions are created then artists, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs will come. They will set up shop and not only create commerce but also be inspired by their surroundings. Picturesque villages will spawn music, theatre, and visual arts. We’ve seen it happen in so many other places.
Yes, tax incentives can help, but so can rural broadband, community power, civic responsibility, a strong sense of place, and appropriate investment in infrastructure.
Ideas are good. Conversation is good. This is how change comes. This is how problems are solved. This is how challenges are overcome. People talk, they share ideas, they find common ground. They move forward. And it’s starting to look more and more like heading forward will help us find our way back to our past.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire