Anytime an historic building is reduced to rubble in Cherokee County, I mourn the loss.

As someone who has lived here my entire life, it is difficult to see some of the changes that are done in the name of progress.

One element of early life in Cherokee County that has almost disappeared from the landscape is the old general store.

Many of those stores, like the Hickory Flat store and Bell’s store, were at crossroads in smaller communities.

Some like the E.M. Barrett store in Holly Springs, was established to serve the small town around the store.

The loss of the Barrett store was especially heartbreaking, because a gentleman owned the store and had worked on renovating it and getting it rented to serve the community once again in the years before the city decided to seize it using the powers of eminent domain and tear it down.

The owner did receive compensation, as I understand, but he did not want to sell and wanted to see it continue as the landmark of that community.

But now it is gone, and really nothing will bring it back, just like others that have been flattened in various parts of the county.

So, all we can really do is remember it in photographs and books and tales of bygone days.

I know Holly Springs has for more than a decade pursued a dream of building a city center like other towns in Cherokee County.

Holly Springs was the last town to be incorporated in Cherokee County, when on Aug. 14, 1906, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill establishing the community as a bona fide city.

In 2006 for the city’s centennial celebration, leaders commissioned a history book about the city be written. Many of the city’s longtime residents and officials were part of that celebration, which gave a renewed sense of community to Holly Springs.

I find it interesting in the city history book’s preface that it talks about what the next 100 years might bring.

“In the past 100 years, Holly Springs has lost several of the catalysts for its initial development — farmers no longer stare at the heat waves shimmering over cotton fields anymore in Holly Springs, or anywhere else in Cherokee County,” the book reads.

“Freight and passenger trains no longer stop at the Holly Springs depot. The gold mines which ringed the northern arc of the town are closed, their entrances concealed by kudzu, and the old marble quarry is under thousands of cubic yards of dirt hauled in by subdivision developers,” the writer states.

What remains, he wrote, were some of the old buildings, where the farmers and townspeople gathered, including of course the old train depot, Barrett’s store and a few others.

Fortunately, the Holly Springs train depot seems destined to remain and help define the city as it moves forward. At least, I hope that is the case. It is still the identifiable icon of the city and used by many groups as a meeting place.

When I was a young reporter. I attended city council meetings there, but eventually the city moved to newer and more refined quarters.

In the mid-1800s, in the early days of Holly Springs as a settlement, even before the railroad came through, several roads crisscrossed what is now downtown. One was Hickory Road, named because it connected to Holly Springs to Hickory Flat, one of the oldest settlements of the county.

Before the railroad came through, the road from Canton to Hickory Flat was the way the farmers traversed the county with their crops for sale.

But after the railroad came through in the late 1880s, after the Civil War, Holly Springs gained an important place in commerce and trade. It was the closest railroad depot to Hickory Flat.

In those years before the town incorporated, Holly Springs really flourished, as more and more people settled in the town. A cotton ginnery was established. Soon, there was a sawmill and a grist mill, as well.

And then there was the green marble, which by 1884 was being quarried, cut and finished at a marble mill operation in Holly Springs.

There were several stores lining the street when the town was incorporated, including a large general store owned by Hardy Delay on the property that later became Barrett store. Delay’s store burned down in 1925, but he constructed a new store immediately on the site.

Not long after, the store was sold to E.M. Barrett and has sat there ever since, an historic remnant of the past days of prosperity in downtown Holly Springs.

Now it is gone, but I hope will not soon be forgotten. And perhaps one day, when Holly Springs realizes its dream once more of a vibrant downtown, some structure will be built that will remind us of Barrett store and those days of our past.

Rebecca Johnston is a native of Cherokee County and a retired managing editor of the Cherokee Tribune.

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