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Westville relocation focus of upcoming Lunch N Learn

VALLEY — On Friday, Jan. 24, Bradshaw-Chambers County Library will be hosting a Lunch N Learn program about the recent relocation of historic Westville from Lumpkin to Columbus, Georgia. Project Director Ryan Clements will address the topic “Moving History: The Relocation of Historic Westville” during the noon hour. To make a reservation for a complimentary lunch at 11:30 a.m. contact the library at (334) 768-2161 or email programs@chamberscountylibrary.org.

Clements is vice president of Aaron & Clements, Inc., the company overseeing the project.

Historic Westville, an 1850s-era education and living history attraction that began its relocation to south Columbus in 2017 and re-opened on June 22, 2019. The site is open Wednesday-Sunday to the public and offers school programs and field trips. Plans to expand interpretation and to move other buildings from the Lumpkin site are being set in motion as funding allows.

The history of Westville is connected to Lt. Col. John Word West (1876-1961), a history professor at North Georgia College in Dahlonega. He was born during a time of change in Georgia brought about by the Civil War.

During his childhood, he spent many hours listening to his grandparents talk about a way of life that was disappearing. Later, he would translate those experiences into his own museum, where he could preserve old stories and old skills. In the late 1920s, he opened “The Fair of 1850” in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta.

One of the buildings at the fair was his grandparents’ log house, a place where he had spent so much time in his youth. Old-fashioned crafts such as woodworking, cloth making, open-hearth cooking and shoe making were demonstrated at that fair. He tried and failed to get the state to take over what he’d started, but five years after his death, citizens from Stewart County decided to create a new industry — heritage tourism — at a time it was moving away from its agricultural-based economy. In some respects, Stewart County of 1950 still existed in 1966.

Key in the salvation of the West collection were the actions of Dr. Joseph Mahan, curator of the Columbus Museum, who took on the salvaging of West’s legacy as a personal mission. Lumpkin citizens got behind what he wanted to do and donated 59 acres to the cause. Westville Historic Handicrafts opened on the site in June 1966. Old buildings from Jonesboro were moved there in the ensuing years along with many West artifacts. In 2001, Westville Historic Handicrafts became Historic Westville with a goal of expanding from handicrafts to interpreting living history, demonstrations and crafts, while telling the story of Georgia history.

In recent years, Westville’s leadership began looking for a new site. The Lumpkin site was closed in 2016 in anticipation of the move to Columbus.

On Friday, Clement will be talking about that move and the future plans of Westville.

There will be a continuing emphasis on the history of south Georgia during the 19th century and the retelling of unique and diverse stories of the people who made south Georgia their home.