Fayette County’s smallest municipality in terms of population, Woolsey, is the place “Where life is slower and simpler.” It is also the place that boasts the most unique town hall anywhere in the area. Though it serves as the location of the town’s governmental office, a step inside also provides a striking look at the community center and council chambers, more akin to a museum of Woolsey’s history, and one that has become the site of numerous public and private events.
With a 2010 population of 158 residents, Woolsey may be small, but the idea to transform the old Mercantile Building into the Town Hall and Community Center was anything but.
Woolsey in the 1890s was a larger municipality than it is today. Known then as Woolseyville, the town, like so many others dotting today’s more rural landscape, was once a draw for the area, given its location along the railroad line where Ga. Highway 92 is located today. It was through Woolsey that the Atlanta-Hawkinsville Railroad Company shipped crops north to Atlanta.
The $233,000 restoration of the old Mercantile Building to become home to the Town Hall and Community Center along Hwy. 92 South was funded by revenues from the county’s 2017 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax). The town just had its one-year anniversary of the project’s completion.
The Mercantile Building was constructed in the 1890s and was last used as a cabinet shop in the 1970s. It sat vacant since that time, said Mayor Gary Laggis. It was about 15 years ago that store owner Josephine Ballard donated it to the town.
Laggis said the idea of restoring the building for use as the Town Hall and Community Center was not new. The town had fundraisers for the project, then the county included it on the 2017 SPLOST. The renovation began in January 2018 and was completed later last year in November, Laggis added.
With an eye focused on historic preservation, Laggis and Councilman Jack Gilson said the vision for the project would have anyone walking through the front door getting the impression that they were walking into an old mercantile establishment.
That mission was accomplished. And for those who appreciate the history of a small town and the people who care about it, a walk through the front door is stunning. The attention to every detail is unmistakable. This restoration was a work of love.
Both inside and out, as much of the original building as possible was used in the restoration. Citing an example, Gilson and Laggis said the front porch was rebuilt to accurately represent the original porch where it is said kids would play marbles. Inside, there is a jar on one of the bins with several of those marbles that were found during the renovation.
As for the building’s interior, it is nothing short of a work of art accomplished with loving care. Original wood can be found covering walls and the ceiling. The shelves, which run the length of the building, are originals from the old store and the trim found throughout the building is the original recovered wood.
The large meeting room is filled with framed original documents and receipts from the store and other local businesses, along with old photos, a map of the railroad line, the old wood stove that heated the original building and a reproduction of the then-44-star American flag from 1893. Though equipped for use today, even stepping into the kitchen and restrooms is like taking a step back into times past.
And though the visual impression is unmistakably that of a century-old building, the facility used for both local government activities and as rental space, has a capacity for up to 80 people and is outfitted with everything needed to conduct meetings, weddings, graduation parties, HOA meetings and a host of other private events.
Woolsey today for most may be a pass-through along Hwy. 92 for those traveling north or south. But the history of this little town is alive and well, and clearly on display for anyone who might want to take a minute, to take walk back in time. The view is nothing short of extraordinary.
For information on renting the community center call 770-719-8711 or email firstname.lastname@example.org