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'Years in the making:' Vision for the historic Sherrill House comes into view
sherrill house
Jimmy and Martha McConnell, co-presidents of the historical society, have overseen the renovations of the Sherrill House since 2013. The Forsyth County Historical Society continues to upgrade the house and have plans to turn it into a multicultural heritage center.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, to officially unveil newly added amenities at Eagle’s Beak Park, 8420 Old Federal Rd., Ball Ground, GA 30107, including an inclusive playground, a 1.25-mile paved walking trail with Trail of Tears historical signage, scenic river overlooks and picnic pavilions.

Sitting quiet off Old Federal Road, a white house made of old wood and history greets those who escape to Eagle’s Beak Park to kayak, hike or put their toes in the Etowah River.

The Sherrill House, built in the early 1900s, has been a project “years in the making,” and the Forsyth County Historical Society is once again making headway on renovations.

Jimmy and Martha McConnell, co-presidents of the historical society, have overseen the renovations since 2013, when they had to clean out the house and fix the roof and foundation.

Since then, Jimmy said they, along with other volunteers, have removed a drop ceiling, fixed the chimney caps and maintained landscaping.

Martha McConnell said the last of the work includes plumbing, heating and air conditioning and electricity.

“Everything else will then be cosmetic,” Martha McConnell said. “You know, just fixing up the place so it looks nice.”

With current inflation rates, Martha McConnell said the estimates of projects have also gone up, which means they need to continue to raise funds to preserve the house and subsequently, hundreds of years’ worth of Native American history. 

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The Sherrill House.

What’s the history of the property?

Martha McConnell said before the Sherrill House was on the property, it was Native American farmland.

In 1804, the United States government had plans to build a road from Augusta to Nashville, Tenn., winding through Native American territory.

James Vann, who was half Native American and half Scottish, acted as a translator between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation, because he could speak both English and Cherokee.

As a condition of the settlement between the government and Native Americans, James Vann was allowed to build three houses of entertainment along the road, taverns on the Chattahoochee and Etowah rivers, and another “where the Tate House is” in Tate, Georgia.

In 1809, Martha McConnell said Vann returned to the tavern on the Etowah, called Buffington’s Tavern, to “settle some business.”

As he was “making threats,” someone shot and killed him inside the tavern. Martha and Jimmy McConnell said they have reason to believe Vann was buried further up Old Federal Road at Blackburn Cemetery.

The tavern, which now resides at the Cumming Fairgrounds in the Indian Village, was a center for trade, entertainment and government agreements as many settlements were made between the Native Americans and U.S. government on the property, according to Martha McConnell.

While Vann did not live in the tavern, and the original house on the property was torn down around 1900, Martha and Jimmy believe the property is “one of the most historical spots in the county.”

“It’s rich in history,” Martha McConnell said. “A lot of negotiations went on that property that had a lot to do with this making of the country, between the [Native Americans] and the [United States] government.”

“[The Sherrill House] tells the [Cherokee Nation] heritage,” she said. “Just down the hill [from the house] was the beginning of the Trail of Tears.”

According to the National Parks Service, “Georgia moved first to remove [Native Americans].”

In 1832, all land owned by the Cherokee Nation was “surveyed and distributed by lottery to white residents.”

“This happened in spite of the fact that the [Cherokee Nation] has been guaranteed the right to their land by previous treaties and by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling,” according to the NPS. “The state of Georgia and [then] President Andrew Jackson ignored [the Cherokee Nation] rights.”

Martha and Jimmy said they also believed Fort Campbell used to sit on the land, which were stockades that held 28 Native American families “until it was time to start them out on the Trail of Tears.”

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James Vann was killed in the doorway of Buffington's Tavern, which used to sit on the land where the Sherrill House currently is.
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The old Frogtown Store used to sit at the end of Old Federal Road and host a number of traders.

Enter the Heard family

Martha McConnell said that what is now known as the Sherrill House started off as a Heard family property.

Cynthia Heard married Eli Sherrill, and the couple built the structure in 1904.

Their son, Earnest, married and lived in the house until “they weren’t able to farm there anymore.”

Since then, the 225-acre property has remained “more-or-less intact all these years.”

Forsyth County Government purchased the property in 2009 as part of a “voter-approved $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond,” as previously reported by the Forsyth County News.

The property includes Eagle’s Beak Park, which has recently undergone renovations.

The county will be unveiling a new playground, paved walking trails, picnic pavilions, scenic overlooks and Trail of Tears signage at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Eagle’s Beak Park on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The park is at 8420 Old Federal Road in Eagle’s Beak Park, located in northwest Forsyth County, also has amenities such as a canoe/kayak launch on the Etowah River, a 1.3-mile nature trail and restroom facilities.

What’s next

Since the area is “rich in history,” Martha said she would like to see the Sherrill House turn into a multicultural heritage center.

Not only did the Cherokee Nation live on the land, but Black residents as well, and everyone “played their parts in the history of the community.”

Martha and Jimmy McConnell said their dream is to have three rooms in the Sherrill House to pay homage to the three ethnic groups that lived in the area and created the Forsyth County community.

Martha McConnell explained that she wanted to have a room with Native American artifacts to pay tribute to those that were forced from their land in the 1800s. She also wanted to include a room for the Black families that lived in the area.

Jimmy McConnell said they also wanted to have a room dedicated to the U.S. presidents that historically spent the night at Vann’s tavern on the property including Monroe and Jackson.

The couple said that the overall goal is to create something that people who visit Eagle’s Beak Park will want to stop by and “learn a little something.”

“We’d like for this project to be a part of Eagle’s Beak Park,” Jimmy said. “We want it to be used by the community; a good community project that ends up being something where people can learn the history [of Forsyth County].”

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents the area, said she held a similar vision for the property.

Mills, a long-time resident of Forsyth County, said her mother graduated high school with Don Shadburn, who wrote “several books about Native Americans.”

“I can remember [my] mom taking me and my sister … riding in a car with Don Shadburn and he was showing us all the graveyards of Native Americans,” Mills said. “I can just remember as a young girl seeing some of those sites along that area of Old Federal Road.”

Alongside fixing up the Sherrill House, Mills and the Historical Society said they hope the property could be home to other historical houses in the future; a place where Forsyth County residents can learn about their ancestry, the history of the county and those that made it what it is today.

“Always when we’re moving forward, you need to take the past with you,” Mills said. “I don’t think you need to get stuck in the past, but I think that you learn from the past; you learn from your history. And for us to not take that with us, not honor it in a respectful fashion, would be such a mistake. Not just for us, but for our future generations.” 

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Volunteer opportunities

While the Historical Society is grateful for monetary donations, Jimmy McConnell said anyone can “stop by to help out” with the project.

Those looking for volunteer opportunities or projects, such as Eagle Scout projects, can contact Martha and Jimmy McConnell at info@historicforsyth.com.

Donations can be submitted to a GoFundMe by clicking here.

“Any donations are appreciated,” Jim McConnell said. “It doesn’t matter how much. Anything is appreciated.”