By KATIE DUNN and LEANNE AKIN
JEFFERSON — Though its history delves deep into Jackson County’s agricultural past, the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm recently incorporated a bit of the 21st century into its outdoor museum.
Walking around her family’s farm last Saturday, Susan Chaisson used technology to bring its storied past to life. A new iPhone application, Tour Buddy, now offers visitors an interactive, multimedia tour of the farm.
The 30-minute tour takes people on a one-mile journey around the farm with narrated stories and period music at each stop. Previously, the farm was open only to tour groups by appointment. Chaisson said earlier this year that with the project, she hoped to make the farm more accessible to the public.
During a ceremony last Saturday morning at the farm, Chaisson, president of the ShieldsEthridge Heritage Farm Foundation, Inc., and other foundation board members unveiled the long-awaited sign project that included the iPhone tour guide.
Mike Beaty, a commissioner with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, James Thompson, from the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner and wife, Ruth, also attended.
Chaisson told attendees that the project was “16 years in the making” and that she was “proud” it had finally come to fruition.
Last October, the farm was awarded a $25,000 matching grant by the Appalachian Regional Commission to place informational boards throughout the farm. The interpretative program was developed following 16 years of research, design, layout, production and finally installation of new signs.
Inside the farm’s tractor shed sit three new signs, including a large map detailing the location of each of the farm’s buildings. This map has also been reproduced for new brochures. Additionally, new entry signs have been erected and new signs for each of the farm’s structures have been designed using stencils found in the blacksmith’s shop on the property.
The signs follow a timeline of the farm from 1798 through 1994 and include photographs and documents digitized with a grant from the Watson Brown Foundation Junior Board.
Chaisson said the signs integrate “the papers found here that were saved by my mother, father and granddaddy.”
Together, Chaisson and her mother, the late Joyce Ethridge, discovered an old wooden box in 1985 in the attic of the house Chaisson’s great-grandfather, Joseph Robert Shields, built in 1866.
The box contained a number of documents detailing the farm’s history, some dating back more than 200 years.
Chaisson’s family is the eighth generation to reside on the property, which her ancestors settled in 1799. The fields no longer brim with tobacco, cotton, corn, wheat and indigo, but the remnants of its vast operation now serve as an outdoor museum. The farm boasts 65 structures located on 150 of the farm’s 500 acres.
The grant also funded the development of a Web site that includes an interactive map that shows where each board is located on the farm, as well as interpretive and promotional information.
The site will be coordinated and linked to other Jackson County attractions, such as the Crawford W. Long Museum and the historic Jackson County Courthouse, according to Chaisson.
Burke Walker, with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, served as the project’s director. The introduction of the Tour Buddy application, he said, will expand the farm’s outreach to many, including international visitors that fly into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
A team of nine people helped tackle the sign project, including Walker, Chaisson, Josh Koons and Elizabeth Hargrove, both with Koons Environmental Design, Inc., Ian Firth, a landscape architect and historian, Ken Williams, a graphic designer, Carolyn Marquez, with Run Ruffian! Web Design, and Ron Evans and Dan Roth, both with Kudzu Graphics.
“This is a very significant project,” said Walker. The farm is one of the most significant historical treasures in the region, he said. And with the project’s completion, he said he believes the farm will receive additional exposure and the area will also benefit from more business fueled by tourists.
Visit www.shieldsethridgefarminc.org for more on the heritage farm.