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A love affair with Barnesville

By Walter Geiger The big house on Thomaston Street built in 1920 by local industrialist Walter B. Smith beckoned to Jean and Charles Dukes. They were drawn into its orbit when Jean’s mother Charlotte Edwards died suddenly in 1981. The couple went to Zebulon to be with her father Red Edwards and never really went back to their Atlanta home. ’Our children started school at Barnesville Academy. We were all so involved with the school, we got involved with Barnesville. We knew a lot of people from school and our kids were making friends here so we were drawn to Barnesville,’ Charles said. Jean’s grandmother was from Yatesville and she was no stranger to Buggytown, having visited often as a child. She had no idea she would move into the home of a Buggy magnate. ’Barnesville looked the same as it did when I was a girl. It called to me,’ Jean said. It was the summer of 1983. Mrs. Roland Radford, a widow who had last lived in the house, had died in 1981. The massive house was vacant and looked it. ’We rode by and looked and said ‘˜Who would buy that house, it looks like an apartment building’. The next week we rode by and said ‘˜Who would buy that house with that mustard colored trim’. The next week we rode by and said ‘˜I wonder if anybody has bought it’. The next week we rode by and said ‘˜Let’s buy it’. We did and we have loved it,’ Jean related. The grounds were so overgrown, Charles worked in them for several days before finding an ornate fountain in the backyard. The magnificent home, which hardly anyone had been in socially for years, leant itself to entertaining and was put to that use quickly. ’We moved in in August 1983. Two months later we hosted the wedding of my nephew, Buddy Edwards. In February 1984 we had the first benefit for Barnesville Academy. This was the perfect place for these things,’ Jean said. Indeed it was and the Dukes were generous with it. There were a total of nine benefits for BA, 10 for the American Cancer Society, 10 for Lamar Arts, two weddings, three wedding receptions and countless other events for brides, Elderhostel, Gordon College and the historical society in addition to the annual Christmas party for St. Ann’s Church,’ she added. They were generous with the house and their talents. Often, Jean’s calligraphy or Charles’ photography were prominent among the items auctioned at fundraisers. To say the Dukes have been heavily involved in the community would be an understatement. They were instrumental in getting the Hwy. 36 truck bypass built to get big rigs off Thomaston Street. Charles worked hard through the historical society to get the Depot renovated and now it is home to the gallery of Lamar Arts with which they have been heavily involved. They have been a driving force behind the establishment of Griffin Choral Arts. Both love classical music. Jean has played the piano and organ at her church for 30 years. ’GCA was a natural for us. I like to sing and she is a great organizer. We have enjoyed it,’ said Charles whose deep bass voice is an anchor point for his fellow singers. As much as they love their home, it was often empty during the summer months as the Dukes family enjoyed various adventures ‘“ most of them on bicycles. In 1986 they biked 4,632 miles from Portland to Barnesville with three kids and a friend on three tandem bikes. They rode 3,200 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine in 1998. Another trek took them from Vancouver to Mexico in 1999. Additionally they have biked across New Zealand, Iceland, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Austria and did a boat/bike trip through France. Jean and Carolyn walked 175 miles of the Appalachian Trail, stopping after Carolyn came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Charles followed along in a camper. Buggy Days has always been a big party weekend at the Dukes home where thousands have watched the annual parade over the years. ‘I remember years when our bicycle friends filled every room with sleeping bags,’ Jean said. Sadly, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Their kids are long grown and out of the big house and the time has come to downsize. The house at 530 Thomaston Street is on the market. They will soon move to a new home at Town Center in Suwanee, a planned community. ’It’s not a place for the elderly or an assisted living place. It is vibrant with shops and condos. In fact, we will be the oldest ones there,’ Charles was quick to add with a laugh. The place is not perfect, however. ‘Suwanee does not have Barnesville’s people. When we were up there, nobody spoke to us or smiled at us until we did so first. Then 80% responded,’ Charles said. Going from a mansion that is 8,500 square feet not counting the basement or carriage house to a 1,742 square foot space means its time to cut the clutter. Jean has three pages of notes on a legal pad of which family members want what. There are a lot of destinations for furniture, art and other treasures. Their oldest son, John, lives in Powder Springs with his wife Denise. Daughter Alyson Hiding is in Duluth with husband, Dave. Son Joe and his wife, Julia, live in Charleston, S.C. Daughter Sara Beth lives in Columbia, Md. and daughter Carolyn is in Cambridge, England. There are a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren in the Dukes clan as well. There are a host of memories from their adopted hometown as well. Charles is proud of his work with the Depot but noted the city ‘had a big input’. Having taught English at Georgia State in Atlanta while there, he relished his stints as interim headmaster at BA, teaching fifth grade in the Lamar school system and doing educational work at the prison just across I-75. ‘Having taught fifth grade was great experience for the prison work because that is about the level at which most prisoners were comfortable,’ he noted. There are also special memories of friends who have gone on. Jean brought up the names of Louise Jackson, Jack and Betty Ann Tuttle, Cass Dayton and Carolinda Wahlstad. Charles has warm remembrances of hardware store operator Roger Brown to whom he steered a lot of trade while renovating the huge home. ’Roger would send you a bill once a year if he remembered to. Sometimes you would have to remind him. He was used to billing farmers who only had money at harvest time,’ he recalled. There have also been changes during their time here: the loss and downsizing of the textile industry, huge expansion at Gordon and the blooming of the local school system which once struggled. At first, the Dukes sought to stay in Barnesville and looked at a house down the street before settling on Suwanee and its proximity to two of their children. ’We have this love affair with Barnesville. We never thought we would move. Our purpose was to downsize,’ Charles said. Jean says she will miss their friends but added it is so much easier to keep up now through social media. ‘That’s the hard part about moving. It is the people who make Barnesville and we have and have had dear close friends here,’ she said. They will also miss their church, St. Peter the Rock. ‘Churches are important to a community. I like the fact that Barnesville’s churches are not at each others’ throats and that they support each others’ events. As long as a community’s churches are doing good, everybody is doing good,’ he concluded. A reception honoring the Dukes will be held Friday, April 11 from 5-7 p.m. at the Depot. Hosted by friends, the public is invited to attend.

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