News Column

History comes alive at Vann House

July 26, 2014

By Jeff Harrison, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.

July 26--SPRING PLACE -- In the early 1800s, the 1,000-acre plantation belonging to Cherokee Indian leader James Vann was a bustling place.

From the two-and-a-half story brick home at the property's center, to various sheds and cabins spread along the grounds, workers were always doing what was needed to produce food, live comfortably and survive.

This weekend, the mansion and plantation -- now a Georgia historic site -- relived its heyday.

Saturday, to commemorate the 210th year of the Chief Vann House -- at the intersection of Ga. Highways 52 and 225 in Murray County -- and the 56th anniversary of its restoration, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Friends of the Vann House hosted an annual Chief Vann House Days celebration.

"This event provides us a great opportunity to show off the house and teach everyone a great deal of history," said Tim Howard, Murray County historian who works with the Georgia DNR in conducting programs at the historical site. "Here, we can show people, somewhat, how it really was to live back in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's an educational experience, and is all about preservation."

Nearly 200 years after the Cherokee nation was forced west by state and federal troops on the infamous Trail of Tears, the Vann House grounds were once again teeming with activity.

At one corner of the estate shots rang out, and cannons boomed.

Bob Cullinan, a Friends of the Vann House volunteer, was there demonstrating 19th-century black powder weapons.

"We like to show folks a combination of artillery that would have been used in the militia, and what would have been found in the average home, to fend off dangers or hunt," he said -- just before his flintlock musket sent a bullet speeding into the woods. "The kids love it simply because we're dealing with guns and things that go boom. And a lot of the older gentleman love to stop by -- as they're usually ex-military and are fascinated by the arms."

A few steps away, volunteers Dawson Oliver and Aaron Howard showcased one way the Cherokee harvested food, before guns arrived on the scene.

They took turns firing hardwood darts at a bale of straw, using blowguns made from river cane.

The blowguns, created by drilling through the cane with a small arrowhead attached to a stick, were deadly enough to take down squirrels, rabbits and other small game.

"They were actually very effective. Because of the length, the guns were extremely accurate and the darts were made very, very sharp," Oliver said.

Said Howard: "All of the kids love coming over and shooting these guns and pretending to be hunters."

Another demonstration reminded visitors that life in the 19th century required some serious work.

Volunteer Ethan Hart used an antique froe, a tool with a metal blade designed to split wood, to slowly cleave a hunk of wood into shingles -- he used a wooden club to pound the the blade through the wood.

"You can make a single shingle in about 20 to 30 seconds. But you would need to make a few more than that. It would take several thousand swings," Hart said.

He asked the crowd: "Aren't you guys glad you live where, and when, you do?"

Also spread around the plantation grounds were demonstrations of people quilting, spinning, rug-making and weaving.

Volunteers provided tours of the Vann House and walked visitors through its history.

A short film about the site and interpretive exhibits were in the welcome center.

"Everyone always sees something they've never seen before when they visit," Howard said. "All of the people I've talked to today have been having a really good time."

For more information about the Chief Vann House and programs conducted at the site, call (706) 695-2598, or visit online.


(c)2014 The Daily Citizen (Dalton, Ga.)

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Source: Daily Citizen, The (Dalton, GA)

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