Historic Preservation

The City of Lavonia recognized the importance of historic preservation in the early 1980’s when the Chamber of Commerce initiated efforts to designate three residential and one commercial district in the National Register of Historic Places. Receiving the Better Hometown Community designation in 1999 helped to renew the preservation concerns of the community. By gaining certification as a Certified Local Government, by enacting a Historic Preservation Ordinance on June 7th, 1999, and by adding an updated sign ordinance on May 3rd, 2003, City leaders took steps to insure that our children would have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the same treasures and cultures as our forefathers.

Local designations require property owners within the local historic district who are planning any changes to the exterior appearance of the property, site, or structure go through the process of design review before being granted a building permit by the City of Lavonia. A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is issued by the Lavonia Historic Preservation Commission to property owners whose changes meet design guideline.

Historic Lavonia

In 1878, the Elberton-Airline Railroad had reached a point known as Aquilla, Georgia, a Post Office at the intersection of the South Carolina-Carnesville Road. At this point, a Station was planned for the Railway and consequentially a town. The property belonged to Samuel H. Knox, but before the plans could be carried out Mr. Knox died, leaving minor heirs.

As clear title could not be obtained, the site was moved one mile south onto the property of Abner Burgess.

J.H. Jones, President of the Elberton-Airline Railroad, J.H. Grogan, retired Methodist minister. T.J. Bowman, Architect of Elberton County, J.H. Vickery, a merchant from Habersham County, and Abner Burgess had a survey and plat made by R.W. Cleveland, a Certified Surveyor from Elberton, on July 12, 1878. The plat had four streets named for the four town promoters: namely Jones, Grogan, Bowman and Vickery. The name given the town was the name of the wife of J.H. Jones, Mrs. Lavonia Jones.

Lavonia Jones

Lavonia Jones

Historic Landmarks

Lavonia is proud to have three residential and one commercial National Register Districts within the city limits. One of the unique assets of Lavonia is the fact that the town square is virtually unchanged from the original design of the town. Most of the buildings that were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are still standing and in “near original” design and appearance.

Lavonia Carnegie Library

Lavonia Carnegie Library

In March 1909, the Woman’s Club petitioned Mr. Andrew Carnegie and the town council for the erection of a building to house what would eventually become known as a library. Mr. Carnegie granted $5,000 for erection of a building with the council providing $500 a year for ten years for books and upkeep. Thereafter, the city was to have complete control. The present Carnegie Library was completed in 1911. Mr. R.T. Poole donated the lot for the construction site and the first Library was started. On October 1, 1974, the Lavonia Carnegie Library became a branch of the Athens Regional Library for operating purposes.

The Library is located on Highway 77, south – just down the road from the Post Office. Visitors are encouraged to stop by and visit this historic landmark. Although the facility is of a historic nature, operations of the library have kept time with changes in today’s technology oriented society.

Lavonia Depot

Lavonia Depot

The coming of the railroad was the beginning of the town of Lavonia. The depot was the center of the town at that time, being located in front of Weldon Park which houses the Gazebo. Around 1909 the women of the town decided the depot was spoiling the beauty of their little city so they petitioned to have it moved to its current location on East Main Street. However, rather than move the old depot it was torn down and moved to Vanna, Georgia for their use and a new facility was constructed for Lavonia. In October 1912, the current facility was ready for use and the first freight unloaded in the new freight office was a crate of cabbage shipped to W.S. Haley.

Currently the Depot houses the Lavonia Welcome Center, is home to the Lavonia Downtown Development Authority and Better Hometown Program. The Lavonia Depot has been completely renovated to his 1912 beginnings. Thanks to local citizens the depot is housing some artifacts from the period as well as artifacts from Lavonia’s past.

The Lavonia Depot is open everyday Monday thru Friday from 9:00 to 5:00 at 1269 East Main Street, Lavonia, Georgia 30553. Contact numbers are (706) 356-1926 or (706) 356-5725.

Burgess Cemetery

Burgess Cemetery

Burgess Cemetery, also referred to as Lavonia City Cemetery, was named for Mr. Abner Burgess. Mr. Burgess, one of the founders of Lavonia, donated a little over an acre of land to create Lavonia’s cemetery. Today the cemetery contains over 29 acres and continues to be maintained by the City of Lavonia.

In summer 2009 the first Burgess Cemetery Tour was conducted by the Lavonia Historic Preservation Commission. Later in 2009, the HPC was awarded a Cemetery Grant for the purpose of producing a Burgess Cemetery Brochure. The brochures are available at the Lavonia Welcome Center. Maps, with identified grave sites, may be seen at the Lavonia Welcome Center located at the Depot or at the Lavonia City Hall.

In June 2010, the Burgess Cemetery Committee received a Grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation, TRR Cobb House in Athens, Georgia for the repair and restoration of monuments in the historical section of the cemetery. This project was completed in October of 2010.

We encourage you to visit the cemetery during your visit to Lavonia, it is a wealth of Victorian art and design.

Unusual Happenings from Lavonia Gem of the Piedmont, compiled by the late Marie Haley Williams in 1977, reports this incident:

A Gypsy died in a gypsy camp near Knox Bridge on August 17, 1908, and was buried in Burgess Cemetery. She was born in England almost a hundred years ago. . .and had been in USA almost 50 years. For many years thereafter when a number of her clan died, the remains were brought to Lavonia for burial to be near their Gypsy Queen. Many times the clan would take a week in arriving for the burial of one of their members. The last group to gather was in town for almost a week, arriving in limousines with leopard skin upholstery and diamonds galore. Apparently, the last of the Queen’s Clan was laid to rest as there have been no more pilgrimages since the 1930’s.

Information on future Cemetery Tours may be obtained from Vivian Young at 706-356-1932. Those interested in purchasing cemetery lots at Burgess Cemetery may contact Angie Greer at 706-356-8781.

Old Lavonia Elementary School

The Old Lavonia Elementary School, located on Highway 77, south and directly behind the Carnegie Library, was constructed in 1940. Later, in 1970, an annex to the elementary school and lunchroom were built on the site of the old high school building and in 1956 an annex was built on a corner of the athletic field as a part of the Elementary School building. Today the facility houses the Boyd Outz Learning Center which works also with the After School Outreach Program.

A new addition to the Elementary School this year is the Lavonia Elementary School Sidewalk Brick Project –

Thanks to the leadership and dedication of Mayor Ralph Owens and Russell Gillespie the sidewalk project will create a lasting memorial to the history of Lavonia and to the students who attended the old Lavonia High School which was in existence from 1920 to 1964. Representatives from each class have joined together to notify their classmates and to make this successful. The bricks are laid in the sidewalk in front of the old High School location.

Ag Building/ Lavonia Historical Center/ Canning Plant

The Old Lavonia Elementary School, located on Highway 77, south and directly behind the Carnegie Library, was constructed in 1940. Later, in 1970, an annex to the elementary school and lunchroom were built on the site of the old high school building and in 1956 an annex was built on a corner of the athletic field as a part of the Elementary School building. Today the facility houses the Boyd Outz Learning Center which works also with the After School Outreach Program.

Vander Home

This is now a private residence. Located on Highway 77 south, toward Hartwell, is the home of the late Samuel Ernest Vandiver, Jr., former Governor of the State of Georgia. His wife, Betty Russell Vandiver still resides in this historic home originally built by the Yow family. Governor Vandiver served the State of Georgia as: Adjutant General; Civil Defense Director; Lieutenant-Governor; and, in 1958 was elected as Governor.

Upon completion of his term as Governor, the Vandiver family returned to their home, Twin Hollies, on Hartwell Road where Governor Vandiver lived until his death in 2005.