The event was the first annual Art in the Park exhibit at the Taylor-Brawner House in Smyrna and it was better than fried apple pies. I was invited to participate by one of Smyrna’s great citizens, Lillie Wood. Well, not actually invited. It is more like I picked up the phone one day and was informed I was going to be a part of the art exhibit right after I was told I was also going to be speaking to her Smyrna Golden K Club. It’s not like you get to vote on this stuff with Lillie Wood. Saying “no” is not an option with her. You just say, “Yes ma’am” and “where and when?”
Lilli and her husband, Pete, who was a longtime member of the Smyrna City Council, have seen their beloved city change and change for the better. Not only is Smyrna a modern and bustling town with over 50,000 inhabitants, it also has had the good sense to preserve a part of its past, including the Taylor-Brawner House and Brawner Hall, which sits adjacent to the house on Atlanta Road.
I must admit I was not aware of the enormous effort made by local citizens to save an important part of the city’s heritage. Mike Terry, a fourth-generation Smyrna resident, has written a book on the experience, titled “A Simpler Time.” It chronicles the Taylor and Brawner families and the creation of Brawner Hospital, at one time one of the leading psychiatric hospitals in the nation.
If you want to see the good deeds that good people can do when they put their egos aside for the betterment of the community, “A Simpler Time” is a quick and informative read. While it is a genealogical account of two of the area’s leading families, it is also a story of dogged determination to restore a part of Smyrna’s history. The book can be ordered through the Taylor-Brawner House Foundation, 3480 Pinetree Drive, Smyrna, 30080. All proceeds go to the Foundation to maintain the restored home.
While the times in Smyrna in the late 1800s and early 1900s may have been simple, the challenges of saving and restoring two iconic structures were anything but that. After the hospital closed in 1999, the Cobb-Douglas Community Services Board indicated their intention to purchase the 12-acre Brawner campus with no assurance any of the buildings would be saved. What followed was a legal tug-of-war between the City of Smyrna and the CDSB that ended with the city purchasing the property in 2001. Then came the decision of what to do with the land. Sell it to investors? Build a performing arts center? A tennis center?
The decision was made by the city to construct a park — which it did — to save Brawner Hospital — which it did — but to jettison the Taylor-Brawner House. That was when a group of concerned citizens stepped in and said they would take the responsibility of restoring the house. City officials made clear they did not have funds available for the restoration and were skeptical the volunteers could do it. A serious underestimation.
In the spring of 2005, the nonprofit Taylor-Brawner House Foundation began what would be a 4½ year restoration of the 1890 historic home. The task was completed in 2009, with the indefatigable warriors raising $450,000 and recruiting over 500 dues-paying members. One of the ringleaders in that effort was, of course, Lillie Wood. Who could ever tell her “no?” I speak from experience.
The Art in the Park exhibit is an effort — and a good one — to raise awareness of the beautifully-restored Taylor-Brawner House as well as show off the works of area artists. The exhibit runs through tomorrow. The volunteers and artists would love to see you.
According to Barbara Kincaid, who was among the original group of people involved in the restoration effort, and who helped put the exhibit together along with noted artist Marsha Savage, the show has brought a lot of people to the Taylor-Brawner House this past week, including many newcomers to the community. She says the chances are good that this could become an annual event. If so, that means I had better get busy on some more paintings. Lillie Wood will no doubt be calling me with my marching orders. Saying “no” will not be an option.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.