Restoring Chalk Level
UWG Community Helps Revitalize Historic Neighborhood
By Yolanda Rodriguez
For generations the Chalk Level neighborhood in Newnan has been home and haven to African-American families. Newnan Chapel United Methodist Church on Robinson Street was organized before the Civil War. Teachers, doctors, merchants and laborers were once neighbors in the community. Several of its streets are named for the early settlers and the prominent residents who followed in their stead.
Many of their descendants still live there. Some left and came back. Its houses, ranging from Craftsman cottages to Queen Anne beauties (the 1908 home constructed for Dr. John Henry Jordan has stained glass windows and a turret) are just across the train tracks from downtown Newnan.
But time has weathered Chalk Level. Many families moved out, the unintended consequence of desegregation. As the homeowners who stayed aged, they were unable to tend to their properties. In some cases, when homeowners died their heirs had moved away and were no longer interested in the properties. Crime, drugs, deteriorated houses and empty lots used as dumping grounds contributed to the neighborhood's slide. The community now has more renters than homeowners.
Yet there are residents who are not willing to give in to decay. They water their gardens and tend to homes on the tree-lined, curving streets. Neighbors share family stories. They remember what the community used to be and envision what it can be again.
"We ought to be able to live in moderately-sized and moderately-priced homes, and live in a good, decent neighborhood," says Rebecca Gibson '71 '86, president of the Chalk Level Association, who grew up in the home her father constructed in 1955. Like some of her neighbors, Gibson left Chalk Level and came back.
"We just have to take our neighborhood back," Rebecca insists. She earned her B.A. in political science and her Ed.S. from West Georgia. She retired as principal of Poplar Road Elementary School in 2008.
Recently, a group of UWG students studying housing and community development played a vital role in improving the neighborhood's future. Dana Ethredge '05 '09, a Newnan city planner, reached out to Dr. Hee-Jung Jun, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Planning, for assistance in preparing a community development plan.
A dozen students walked the neighborhood streets, talked to its residents, conducted a community survey and prepared a list of recommendations. The redevelopment plan the students produced is on par with anything that could have been done by a professional firm, city officials say.
"The students got the experience and the Urban Redevelopment Agency got a plan that would have cost a significant amount of money," explains Dana, who received her B.S. in political science and planning and her MPA from UWG. "Both groups were able to benefit from the process."
The URA is reviewing the students' recommendations to establish its priorities. Officials believe some can be implemented relatively quickly, including installing new and visually appealing signs for the entrance to the community, adding speed bumps and improving lighting.
The evaluation and planning process was hard but enjoyable, says graduate student Quinderious Roberts. He researched the neighborhood's history, analyzed the population and studied the area's circulation patterns.
"The best way to get accurate information about a neighborhood is to go there, meet the residents, and communicate with them," Quinderious states. "You can analyze all the data you want, but you will never gain perspective unless you conduct field research."
The students' other recommendations include converting the long-vacant Harold Warner building, once Newnan's African-American high school, into a community center and transforming the surrounding area into a neighborhood park. The former school building, named for a longtime Chalk Level educator, is on Savannah Street in the center of the neighborhood, a good location for a hub.
It's an affordable neighborhood with an eclectic assortment of houses. And many of the homes have character, much like those in Newnan's other historic neighborhoods. French doors, crystal doorknobs, built-in bookshelves and 12-inch crown molding are common. Some of the houses are constructed with hand-made bricks.
Modern urban planning promotes a mixture of housing types and income levels, a philosophy that will bring Chalk Level back to its roots. Variety has characterized the neighborhood since its beginning. By preserving and maintaining the historic community, UWG continues to make a positive impact on society while providing a chance for students to apply their knowledge to a real world setting.
Watch a video on restoring Chalk Level here.
Do you have a comment or opinion about this story's topic? Send your thoughts to West Georgia Voices.
- Chronicle Home
- In Focus
- Campus Talk
- I Am UWG
- West Georgia Voices
- Other News