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Carters Drug Store is Barnesville’s ‘˜ode to a Grecian turn’

In a town well over 100 years old there is bound to be suggestions concerning the origins of any particular architectural staple. Such is the case with the nostalgic and charming Carter’s Drugstore located downtown at 203 Main St. An example of diverse Southern architecture including Greek Revival and Italianate, the two story pharmacy and loft living space is one that has dutifully stood in the heart of Barnesville since nearly 1890, providing continuity and grace through the years since reconstruction. Rumored to sit on the same spot as a pre-Civil War pharmacy and hold within the basement the very birthplace of Coca-Cola, the largely taupe structure is ominous with its large, single plate glass windows, brick facade and colorful splashes of eggplant and olive green. As romantic history would have it, the building as it stands now was built after the burning of Barnesville in 1881 and boasts prominent Greek features such as a slightly triangular pediment roof (adorned with the word DRUGS, nonetheless), symmetrical construction and grand window columns. Slightly easier to build and much easier to maintain though, the truth of the structure is found in its Italianate heritage based firmly on Italian Renaissance stylings of Europe and the old world North. Originally covering the sidewalk with an aluminum awning, Carters was for some years a bit of a eyesore that did little to enhance the look of Barnesville during the 1970s and 1980s. When third generation Carter Virginia J. Carter took over the building was restored to its grand state and a new era in Main Street history began. Not to get ahead of oneself, Carter Drug Store was founded by Richmond Stonewall Carter in 1948. It originally entertained Gordon students and residents alike with both a full pharmacy and a full-service soda fountain. Its position as an apothecary was reemphasized though when Stonie and Grady Carter took over ownership in the mid-1960s. There are a handful of stories that still circulate today, giving proprietorship of the second floor to doctors, dentists and lawyers all of which who go unnamed and equally invalidated. All that would change though in 1979 with the birth of Virginia. Born and raised in Barnesville, Virginia J. Carter grew up working in the drug store helping her dad and uncle and learning the ins and outs of small business. She spent equal time playing on the second floor with its rotted roof, sloping floor and remnants of former tenants. ”Working in the drugstore gave me the bug though. It actually led me to pharmacy school. My dad and uncle held off selling or closing the business, waiting to see what I would decide to do for a future,” remembers Virginia. “I came back to Barnesville in 2003 after graduating from UGA and living in Athens. At first it was a bit boring but as I began running the store full-time and then exploring and actually buying the building, things got quite interesting.” Athens is known for its converted second floors, mills, warehouses and other spaces into trendy, upper-end lofts. Many of them are a fine mix between old school, original architecture and modern appliances and comforts. ”When I lived in Athens I would pass some of the lofts and think about how cool it must be to live in one. When I started back at the store the second floor became something new to me,” she said. “I started seeing it as a place to live where the commute to work was short and the space was personal to my tastes.” The transformation was not as simple as it sounds though. When Carter purchased the building in 2005 she tried desperately to rent out the second floor as office space. Almost every interested party looked at it as a living space and not an office space. This got Virginia thinking that perhaps she really could turn it into her dream loft ”No one was interested in going up a flight of stairs to their office each day. It also made customers and/or clients coming and going a bit of a inconvenience,” adds Virginia. So Virginia gave up looking for a tenant and approached the city about living there herself. It agreed and gave her a proper certificate of occupancy. ”I’m really into loft living now and I look at this place as a project. Yes, it has four really nice bedrooms and three full baths, but I think it could be so much more,” she said. “I really want to see more people come downtown and these second floors become real unique, enjoyable living spaces. Could you imagine us all (the neighbors) out on our rooftops or on our fire escapes, talking to each other or grilling out or sharing a glass of wine? How cool would that be?” Cool, indeed. Virginia speaks with ease about renovating the rooftop into a green space that could be shared equally between actual grass and plant life as well as solar panels and rainwater collection. It is not an idea too far off as areas such as Atlanta, Macon and Savannah are seeing more and more roofs being converted into outdoor living spaces that are not just good for the environment but also for the quality of life. The loft itself is nearly 2100 square feet and consists of four bedrooms, three baths, a kitchen with eat-in dining room, a parlor and entryway. The flooring is largely Berber carpet as years of abuse and abandonment took away the original hard oak flooring. The ceiling also took a beating; it now rests covered by drop ceiling and lights somewhat reminiscent of an office space ‘“ an obvious feature Virginia is not unaware of as every room is awash in warm, table lamps and candles. The kitchen with its very clean, simple island with built in stovetop is an easy space to work in with its ample countertop and level travertine tile floor. Accents of tin wallboard and backsplash give the space a antiquated, traditionally Southern feel while not taking away from the modernity of the loft itself. Virginia has created a space unique for Barnesville but one that is not isolated to only the Carters building. It is a fine example of modern living in the parameters of historic preservation ”I think it is a step in the right direction,” she said. “It’s a space that attracts people. Who doesn’t want to live downtown? Who doesn’t want the glow of the streetlights and the proximity to restaurants and work, even? I love it and I would love to see others embrace what is already here the way I did.”

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