May 8, 2013

Vann House at a crossroad

It’s been standing for nearly 210 years. For nearly 60 years it has stood as a monument not only to the volunteers who rescued it from neglect but to the Cherokee who built it so long ago.

The Chief Vann House in Spring Place in Murray County, a brick, two-story plantation house built by a Cherokee chief, has been a state historic site and one of the region’s top attractions since community members decided it was worth saving from the ravages of time in the mid-1950s.

Now it needs the community again to help it survive in a climate of austerity for the state’s parks and recreation sites.

As reported in this paper last week, state officials are pushing for state parks and historic sites to average 75 percent self-sufficiency by 2015, and only be 25 percent funded by taxpayer monies in a plan called Direction 2015, or D-15. That means park officials will have to start running their sites more like a business.

Local officials and concerned citizens already have taken the initiative and gotten together to deal with the mandate. The main problem they’ve found is how does a site make sufficient revenue if it is only open three days a week. Since 2009 the Vann House has been open Thursday through Saturday only.

The group came up with several suggestions, including increasing admission fees, increasing the number and types of events at the site each year, and diversifying retail sales. More advertising, especially along I-75 and in area motels and restaurants, was also mentioned.

While these are all valid considerations, not much can be done without more people becoming involved. There are only one full-time person and four part-time people working at the site. So if two workers are on site, one has to manage the house while the other gives tours, leaving such necessities as upkeep undone. And with a house more than two centuries old sitting on all that acreage, there is a lot of maintenance to do.

Volunteers — including those who will take the time to be properly trained — are what is needed here. Only then will the Vann House be able to follow through on other suggestions, such as being open more days, especially Sundays, and holding more events.

If you have other ideas for the Chief Vann House, or would like to contribute as a volunteer, give the officials there a call at (706) 695-2598.

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