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News Community LWV gets update on Cowee Heritage Center

Plans are for center to be self-sustaining in three years.

The community effort to preserve a piece of history is taking shape, according to Stacy Guffey who is coordinating the Cowee School heritage center transformation project. Guffey, who gave a presentation during the League of Women Voters’ November meeting, explained that preliminary plans have been drawn up and monetary contributions are actively being sought to ensure that the historic Cowee School receives proper preservation.

Future site of the Cowee Heritage Center, formerly Cowee Elementary School.Plans are for center to be self-sustaining in three years.

The community effort to preserve a piece of history is taking shape, according to Stacy Guffey who is coordinating the Cowee School heritage center transformation project. Guffey, who gave a presentation during the League of Women Voters’ November meeting, explained that preliminary plans have been drawn up and monetary contributions are actively being sought to ensure that the historic Cowee School receives proper preservation.

The Cowee School, which bid farewell to the last group of students when it closed its doors last May, was built in 1943 as a way of consolidating smaller school houses in the area. The building was constructed out of native stone and with the help of the community has been well preserved for nearly 70 years. As a centerpiece of the community, over the years the school has been used for much more than just a teaching facility, but has been utilized by residents in the area as a meeting place.

Guffey noted that the Cowee School sits in Cowee's historic West's Mill District which is already the home to landmarks such as the T.M. Rickman Store, Snow Hill AME Church, the Vonnie West House, West's General Store, and the Cowee Mound and Ancient Cowee Town Site.

“The Cowee School has been so much more than just a school house,” said Guffey. “It has been a community center, a playground for community children, classrooms for quilting circles, it has housed fundraisers for community restoration and cultural preservation. The people of Cowee have depended on the school for decades and it is our hope that we can make sure that the building is able to continue being the heart of the Cowee community.”

According to Guffey, the vision to transform the school first began in 2010 when the Cowee community caught wind that the school would go offline after a new facility was built. A county wide workshop was held in 2010 and all parties with a vested interest in the school were invited to attend.

“We had countless members of the community come out to voice their opinions about what they would like to see the facility be used for,” said Guffey. “We also received overwhelming support from organizations like the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, interest from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, all for their concern with what would happen to the building because they have already invested so much into the Cowee community.”

During the 2010 workshop, members of the community suggested uses of the facility that ranged from a recreation center for activities such as a walking track, community ball fields, and picnic area, to becoming a center for economic development for the Cowee community by being the spot for Farmer's Markets, arts, crafts and agriculture business incubation and entrepreneurship training. Along with viable uses for the facility, the community expressed the vital importance of preserving the historical significance of Macon County's oldest operating school. Community members asked that the school be used for a heritage museum for future generations, as well as meeting spaces and a performance venue to help the community keep hold of the culture and history that helped the school be sustained for seven decades.

According to Guffey, he worked with the community members’ requests for the project and divided the school grounds into sections in order to accommodate the majority of the requests that were given. “We made sure that the things that we have planned for the school will not only promote the preservation of the history of the Cowee area, but will also lead the heritage center to becoming a self-sustaining project that will help the community grow in the future,” said Guffey.

The goal for the Cowee Heritage Center is for it to eventually be able to stand on its own financially. While the project is being established, Macon County commissioners have allocated nearly $70,000 in funds to help get things started in the first year. Guffey assured commissioners that through partnerships with other parties and by individual contributions, the heritage center will become selfsustaining by the third year of operation. According to Guffey, he is currently working with an array of partners for the heritage center such as the Cowee Community Development Organization, Macon County Historical Museum, The Sequoyah Fund, Center for Cherokee Plants, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, and several other organizations.

With money being the greatest hurdle to overcome, the school is slowly beginning to transform into the heritage center. To date, Guffey said there have been several volunteer days to make sure the grounds are kept up and the building is winterized. $8,000 have already been raised from individual contributions and with fundraisers planned such as a supper and Cowee School alumni reunion planned for May 2013, Guffey hopes that the project will continue to move forward and be best prepared to serve people in the Cowee community.





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