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Community Support helps to halt sale of historic Pine Grove School Property

Dozens of Macon County residents poured into the Macon County Courthouse on Tuesday night, urging county commissioners to reconsider entertaining an offer from a private citizen to purchase a piece of Macon County history, the old Pine Grove School. 

The Pine Grove School has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s when it was built to replace an older schoolhouse that had burned down. It served as a vital educational center until its closure in 1949. The building then continued to serve as a polling place and eventually fell into disrepair by the early 2000s.

Families who still live in the Sugarfork area of the county were represented during the meeting, with Marci Holland speaking on behalf of four generations of families whose families date back to the origin of the two-room school’s construction. Holland urged commissioners to not consider the $100,000 offer to purchase the property a developer in Florida had made, and to not consider any additional offers while members of the community work to organize and form a nonprofit to again maintain and preserve the property. 

The initial offer to purchase the property, located at 38 Peeks Creek Road, for $100,000 was presented during the March meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. However, at the request of the commissioners, the offer was tabled pending public input. A public hearing was scheduled for the April meeting of the board to further discuss the matter. Just prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, the offer to purchase the property was withdrawn, however members of the community still spoke during the scheduled public hearing to express their support in preserving the building and “the history lessons she still has to teach the children of Macon County,” as community resident and History teacher Julie Tastinger stated.

County Attorney Eric Ridenour provided the board with background on how the county came to take possession of the building in 2021 after the nonprofit who had managed it for close to 20 years disbanded.

In 2003, the Macon County Preservation Society took ownership of the building and formed the Pine Grove School Restoration Society to restore it. The restoration efforts were successful, and the renovated building opened its doors as a neighborhood center in 2006.

The reopening of the Pine Grove School was celebrated with an open house, attended by former students, neighbors, and friends. The building has since as a gathering place for the community, hosting various events and activities. The restoration society disbanded in 2021, which returned the property to Macon County, since the property continues to be used as a voting precinct by the county.

The public hearing also included comments to commissioners regarding the importance of preserving the building in honor of the community members who lost their lives during the Peek’s Creek disaster of 2004. This September will mark 20 years since Hurricane Ivan wrecked the Cullasaja Community.

On the night of Thursday, 16 September, heavy tropical rains had inundated Macon County for several hours. At 10:00 p.m.  near the peak of Fishhawk Mountain, approximately 6.5 miles southeast of Franklin, a layer of soil liquefied and began flowing down Peeks Creek. Due to the very steep terrain and abundance of loose surface material, a large debris flow formed and moved down Peeks Creek. The massive debris flow destroyed about 15 homes in a matter of seconds, killing five people and seriously injuring several more. As is the case with most debris flows, the conglomeration consisted of very little water by the time it reached the houses. A memorial for those who lost their lives in the disaster was erected on the Pine Grove School Property and community members feared that if the building was sold, that memorial would be lost. 

The Macon County Board of Commissioners commended the community members for showing up to speak on behalf of preserving the school and made the unanimous decision to halt any current or future decisions to sell the property to allow the community time to reorganize. The board of commissioners also pledged to continue to work with the community to ensure the long-term preservation of the Pine Grove School building for future generations.

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