Story and photos by Mark Engel
They sit outside many of Greensboro and Greene County’s historical buildings and locations --- your own personal tour guide in the form of a solar box.
Each is complete with four short stories about the area that are available at the push of a button. Most are in the downtown area, easy to reach by foot.
You will find one behind the Greene County Courthouse in front of what is known as the Wyatt Jail, named after longtime Sheriff L.L. Wyatt. Just push a button and the narration begins.
“…Sheriff Wyatt lived here with his family,” says part of one of the stories. “He even deputized his wife and teenage son so they could help move prisoners…”
Another button tells a crime story of the day.
“…there was a poor, little old woman in Greensboro who sold milk every Saturday morning in a wicker basket. But they were jugs of liquor instead of milk. The jugs had been painted white inside to look like milk…”
Just around the corner, there’s another solar box in front of a small but ominous stone building that is known as the Old Jail (spelled “Gaol”). It offers both information and some good tales.
“…The rock-solid walls were built with local granite and are 2 feet thick. As the story goes, when the hangman pulled the lever to release the trap door, the rope broke…”
Another box is located a couple of blocks west of the courthouse. It sits in front of the old Greensboro train depot. One of the buttons explains how this boarded up brick and wood building was once the city’s most important economic generator.
“…the new rail system and establishment of Greensboro’s depot meant that this landlocked community could expand its access to Athens and Atlanta as well as having a direct connection to the Atlantic coast…”
Another button tells more.
“…the rail system and depot were also the impetus for new businesses to spring up, including the Mary-Leila cotton mill. This was the town’s first source of industrial jobs…”
In fact, the building next to the depot was once part of the cotton mill complex but is now the Oconee Brewing Company.
Not far away is the Greensboro cemetery.
One recent sunny afternoon, Vicent Pfab of St. Augustine, Florida was listening to the solar box in front of the historic cemetery.
“These boxes are wonderful. They’re informative. They give you a little piece, a taste of what Greensboro was like,” he said as he pushed one of the four buttons. The next narration came to life.
“…Greensboro city cemetery is truly a time capsule of the county’s history. It dates back to the 1700’s and is the burial place of pioneer settlers, noted political figures, community leaders and eight Revolutionary War soldiers...”
As he headed back to his car to drive through the cemetery and read headstones, Vincent said, “My father was a school teacher and he said, ‘if you don’t know your past, you don’t know where you are going.’”
The solar box project is a joint effort of the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCCVB - www.VisitLakeOconee.com), the Greensboro Office of Downtown Development (www.DowntownGreensboroGA.com) and the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission.
Kendrick Ward, who is with the Office of Downtown Development, says the first three boxes were created a few years ago by the GCCVB, then the city added five more as an activity for locals and visitors during the pandemic.
“During COVID, we saw it as a huge way for people who wanted to get out and walk,” she explained.
Currently there are eight boxes in the county located at the Wyatt Jail, Baber House (African American Museum), Historic Springfield Church, Greensboro Train Depot, Penfield Baptist Church, the Old Jail (Gaol), the Greensboro Cemetery and downtown at Main and Broad Streets.
Three more are being added - the County Courthouse, the Greensboro First United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.
For more information, go online to www.DowntownGreensboroGA.com or call 706-453-7674. The website also offers a Walking Tour brochure, historic videos, historical stories, and lists attractions.
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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 5 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.