Take a Sneak Peek tour of Historic Westville’s new Columbus site
After several years of stops and starts, staff changes and a recent six-month weather delay, opening day is finally near for Historic Westville Columbus.
Directors of the living-history village that takes visitors back to the 1850s gave media a sneak-peek of the attraction Thursday ahead of the June 22 opening.
The main delay in opening was due to special polymer and red clay roads that were built to accommodate 80,000-pound emergency vehicles throughout the village while still looking like dirt roads.
Rain that descended on the Columbus area in the fall and continued into March kept work from moving forward on the roads.
“From October all the way to March, if it wasn’t wet, it was cold. And polymer is very weather-dependent, it has to be a certain moisture density in the soil, it can’t fall below 42 degrees while its curing ... we had to wait until we got a warm streak in the spring,” said Terra Martinez, chief of operations at Westville. “All of that was so we wouldn’t have black asphalt in the village.”
What to expect
Visitors to the village can expect a world that is steeped in history, but with modern conveniences such as electricity and plumbing.
The village was started in the 1960s as a way for guests to experience life and culture prior to widespread industrialization. Curators have preserved authentic structures to give visitors an avenue to interact with paid interpreters, who don period costume and wield artifacts that date back to antebellum South.
After a decade of underperforming ticket sales, the board of trustees for Westville decided in 2013 it was time to move the village from the town of Lumpkin, and in 2015 it was decided that Westville would move to 35 acres on South Lumpkin Road in Columbus.
Now, several years and $7 million later, 17 19th-century structures have been restored and arranged to form the town just south of Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center and the National Infantry Museum.
“I look at this a cornerstone of culture for Columbus because there is nothing like it for 100, 200 miles,” said Executive Director Allen Sistrunk. “Interpreters really bring this village to life and that’s what’s special.”
The acreage currently contains several churches and homesteads, the two-story former Chattahoochee County Courthouse and a blacksmith’s workshop, as well as woodworking, mercantile and boot shops and a medical office, among other buildings. Ramps on each of the structures allow for full accessibility.
Seven interpreters such as dressmakers, quilt makers, blacksmiths and carpenters work at the village, demonstrating 19th century techniques and tools to create objects by hand.
Chelsea Cogan, a dressmaker interpreter at Westville, is in charge of the dress shop and has created clothing for other interpreters.
“We try to tell a story of what people wore, basically, all the way from the plant fiber to the finished product; so we go through sewing, weaving dyeing, all of that,” Cogan said. “One of the reasons why clothing itself speaks to me personally is everyone wears clothing ... and it’s just one way to really get into how people used to live and their everyday lives.”
What about the gingerbread?
One of the things that made the Historic Westville Lumpkin location so memorable was that staff cooked over an open hearth and fed the visitors. The biscuits, gingerbread and lemonade that provided generations of visiting school children a respite on hot days won’t be available, at least at first.
“Those are the three things people remember, if they don’t remember anything else,” Martinez said. “But all of the stuff that was done in Lumpkin. Code doesn’t allow that here in Columbus.”
To bring the former Lumpkin restaurant up to code, Martinez said the original floors would have to be taken out and other work would have to be done to the tune of $200,000.
“Our hope is that we can find a third party that can make (the items) using our recipes and still do the demonstrations of cooking over the open hearth, so you still get to have all of your five senses engaged, and then you can come over (to the restaurant) and buy it.”
There is still a lot of work left to do to complete the entire village, according to Sistrunk. His background is in public horticulture, and he said the lack of landscaping will be addressed in the future.
“We’ve only just begun. What you see here is a humble beginning,” Sistrunk said. “We’ve got so much left and there is so much promise.”
Fourteen structures still remain in the old Lumpkin location. Assuming engineers OK the buildings to be moved, they will be used to create an antebellum plantation area with a cotton gin, cotton press, barn and slave cabins, as well as buildings for a rustic frontier area, according to Martinez.
Extensive termite damage has been mitigated and several buildings will be wrapped to prevent water damage while funds are raised to bring those buildings to the new site.
Original plans were for five phases, but moving the remaining 14 structures from Lumpkin and completing Westville in one final phase is ideal, Martinez said. And that is entirely dependent on funding, which has to come from fundraisers, foundations and private organizations.
The site gets no state or federal funds, according to Martinez.
“We’re starting a new capital campaign to amp up fundraising again,” Martinez said. “The good thing is all the major infrastructure work has been done — all the sewage the electric, grading has all been completed, so it won’t be nearly the cost of this initial phase.”
Fundraising is key, because the worst thing for historic buildings is for them to be vacant.
“The longer the buildings stay at Lumpkin the more at risk they are of deterioration,” Martinez said.
Opening day starts at 10 a.m. June 22.
After that, Historic Westville will be open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.
The attraction is located at 3557 S. Lumpkin Road, south of Oxbow Meadows and the National Infantry Museum.
There will be no admission charge for opening day, June 22.
After that, admission is $10 for adults and $5 for school-age children, and free for children younger than 5. Admission for active duty military, seniors and college students is $8.
Timeline of Historic Westville
1920s: Col. John Word West of Jonesboro, Georgia collects buildings and artifacts for “The Fair of 1850”
1966: “Westville Historic Handicrafts” is formed in Lumpkin
2001: Name is changed to “Historic Westville”
2009: After a decade of declining visitation, Historic Westville begins to look for options to ensure future viability
2013: Tripp Blankenship, then chairman of Historic Westville’s executive board, announces possible relocation from Lumpkin to one of two places: Columbus or Stone Mountain Park in east Atlanta
2015: Columbus Council votes to cede 35 acres next to Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center to Historic Westville
2016: Ground is broken on new site of Historic Westville on South Lumpkin Road
2017: First structures are moved to their new home in Columbus
2019: Opening day of first phase of Historic Westville Columbus set for June 22