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History in the Making

When people think of Georgia, certain images come to mind, like peaches, Southern plantations and Scarlett O'Hara. But there is more to Georgia than even Scarlett could have imagined.

Mall of Georgia at Mill Creek aims to capture the deep history and diverse geography of the state. The combination open-air and enclosed center offers not only shopping and entertainment but also an educational lesson on Georgia.

"The detail is what is interesting," says Joseph Molloy, senior architect with Atlanta-based Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc. (TVS), who is responsible for overseeing the mall's history program. "It will fill in the time when people are not shopping and help them learn more about Georgia."

Molloy was chosen to work on the history program for his knowledge of the mall, interest in history and previous research experience. The program combines historical texts, bits of trivia, murals and display cases to teach visitors about the state.

"The history program draws on the tourism aspect of the mall," Molloy says. "We hope people will say, 'The history program is fun, but now I want to go see Macon or go to Savannah.'"

Touring the state The program is based on the architectural layout of the mall. The history tour is designed to inform shoppers about different regions of Georgia as they walk through those areas of the mall: Atlanta, the Coast, the Plains, the Piedmont and Mountain regions.

In each court there are plaques containing historical texts about that particular region. The plaques are located on the second floor railings and are 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. There are 11 history plaques in total, including one in the food court that mentions Button Gwinnett, one of three signers representing Georgia on the Declaration of Independence. Also, a statue of Gwinnett stands atop the mall's tower welcoming visitors.

The historical tour begins in the Savannah court near Dillard's on the second floor. A walking guide takes shoppers through the texts, which are numbered in order.

"Every element has a number," says Molloy, who studied books, consulted professors and traveled to research Georgia's history. "We also have incorporated factoids, drawings and sketches in a museum-type installation."

Fountain of information Molloy found much of the program's historical information through the Atlanta History Center as well as the Georgia Department of Trade and Tourism in Atlanta and the Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Ga. Also, Tommy Barber, associate professor of history at the Lawrenceville campus of Georgia Perimeter College, contributed information for factoids, or "Did you know?" statements that are located on the wings of the history plaques.

"The factoids concentrate on the unique history, commerce, economy, environment and geography of Georgia," says Barber, a Georgia native. "We wanted to come up With interesting things about each region that people might not know."

In writing these pieces of trivia, Barber consulted fellow professors as well as environmental experts around the state.

"You don't know the greatness of the state until you see it," he adds. "I found out about relics from the Ice Age. We have rare species of plants that aren't anywhere else. For example, gopher wood is from before the Ice Age."

Exhibiting nature In addition to the fact boxes, murals throughout the mall create an interesting design element while adding to the history program. There are a total of six murals, including two in the Coastal area, two in the Mountain area, one in the Plains court and one in the Piedmont area. The Coastal murals, for example, include one picture of Savannah, and one water scene with a shrimp boat. The Mountain murals include one scenic view with deer, and one picture of downtown Dahlonega.

A display case in each region also depicts life in that region. The idea of adding display cases to the program came after the architectural team had a handle on the history texts. "We felt if we could do the texts, we could do other things too," Molloy says.

The display cases, or kiosks, are approximately 7 feet long by 6 feet high by 2 1/2 feet wide and will contain artifacts that relate to the region. "Each case has its own theme," Molloy says. "For example, the mountain case looks like a porch and includes a rocker, a quilt, a butter churn, and photos of local plants and animals. There will be museum publications, photographs of endangered species, and replicas of gold coins from the museum in Dahlonega."

Another example is the Piedmont display case, which contains books by Georgia authors and photographs of them. Also, on the end of each display case a compact disc player allows visitors to listen to a one-minute sampling of one of 40 individual cuts of music. Each cut of music relates in some way to Georgia, representing composers, musicians and singers who are from the state.

There are four large display cases, with one each in the Mountain region, the Plains, the Piedmont and the Coast. In the Atlanta court, there are four smaller kiosks, showcasing the history of the city. With two-dimensional elements such as photography, the Atlanta cases are based on the Metropolitan Frontiers Exhibit at the Atlanta History Center.

While the history program mostly carries shoppers through the main indoor part of the mall, another element also has been added in the plaza area of the village. There, 24-by-24-inch bronze plates portray important historical buildings from each region. The display is similar to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Molloy says. With two plates for each region, including Gwinnett County, there are 12 plates in all.

Living organism Just as creating the history program was an evolutionary process for TVS, the elements of the program itself will be ever-changing. "The Mall of Georgia is meant to be a living program, like a museum," Molloy notes. "Over time it can be changed. The musical CDs can be changed, and elements of the display cases can be switched out."

While gathering facts for the program was a challenge, Barber says, it was fortunate that the historical and geographical information needed was available. "We have so many hidden treasures in this state," he says. "We have done a pretty good job of preserving it."

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