It began three years ago, when friends and local historians decided to write down stories about Athens. Specifically, about houses in town, including details such as who built them, what they looked like, who lived in them and what became of them. They would work with an archivist--who was already familiar to many of them--to find supporting documents and images.
Two of those who were critical to the project's completion, Mary Anne Martin Hodgson and George Marshall, died while the book was in process, but the remaining writers, and George's widow Charlotte, have soldiered on.
And now, with the finish line looming large, the 11 essayists who have contributed 18 essays to the lively compendium of "The Tangible Past" are confident the work is, really, going to be finished. By December, there will be a tangible book, filled with images, some not widely viewed, and with connect-the-dots stories that help tell the bigger story of Athens.
"It's a model for further investigation," said UGA archivist Steven Brown, who provided essential illustrations. "The acculation of minutae is creating a narrative."
On Wednesday, at the Richard Russell Special Collections Library, historians Milton Leathers, Charlotte Marshall, Gary Doster and UGA's Brown talked about the book, their ideas about it and stories about Athens. As they talked, a power point presentation displayed images of people and places. Most of the people are long dead; many of the houses are as well. But others have endured--or at least parts of them have, with a mantel here, a doorway or window there, ending up in another house.
"The book is the result of people pursuing their own interests," said Charlotte Marshall. "We have given you what we know and what we have heard from our mentors."
She said that Athens is unique among Georgia communities. It was created differently and has remained different. It was founded not as a trade center but as the home of the university, drawing people from other parts of the state and country. Since its inception, Athens has a greater tolerance of differences than almost any place.
The book should be ready for purchase in December. It's going to be stunning.