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Sumner enjoys peace and quiet of Rock House security job

Even before the Wrightsboro Foundation took over the Rock House in the mid-to-late 1960s, the facility was plagued by vandalism. But that all changed May 1 of this year.

"We just got tired of replacing windows and scrubbing graffiti off the walls," said foundation President Hazel Mobley.

Using stimulus funds through One Stop of East Central Georgia, the foundation now has a security guard on site 24 hours every day. Robert Sumner, Jr., of Dearing, is the security supervisor in charge of keeping the historical site guarded. Mr. Sumner said the One Stop program gives out-of-work people the opportunity to earn a paycheck.

"When they told me about it, I didn't have to think too long before I accepted it," Mr. Sumner said, adding that he was laid off from Pelzer a few months earlier. "It's peaceful and quiet out here, and surprising how we get to meet all kinds of people. It's nice. ... But it has to be a unique person who can work out here."

The remote area, which was ideal for vandals, also makes an eight-hour shift seem endless. The pavilion on the property, formerly used for picnics and gatherings, has been changed to an office for the guards, with air conditioning, a remodeled bathroom and a small kitchen stocked with a small refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot and sink. Mr. Sumner said he is learning about history and to appreciate the facility he is protecting. He's even grown accustomed to the ghost stories. Members of a local paranormal society are frequent visitors to the guards working the night shift.

"But I've got all their ghosts figured out," Mr. Sumner said, and provided his explanation of the different noises in the house, including rattling shutters.

A group of obviously drunken young adults came late one night and were surprised to find a guard on the premises. Mr. Sumner said there is no way of knowing if the group planned to vandalize the place, but "the guard ended up walking them around through the house for a tour, and then they left."

Not only do the guards deter vandals, but their presence encourages more visitors, according to Mrs. Mobley. Since the guard has been there, three different teachers have come with groups of students to tour the facility and have a picnic. They came from Warren, Wilkes and Richmond counties.

"Now that we have security, they feel safe and are able to come," Mrs. Mobley said. "Imagine, after it's been here all this time, now people are coming."

The security guards ask every visitor to the property to sign a guest book providing their name and address. Since the first of May, the book has filled with approximately 150 names with addresses from all across Georgia, South Carolina and as far away as Texas.

"What's surprising is we're having a lot of people from Thomson coming now," Mrs. Mobley said. "We're able to keep up with every person that comes, and we send them a card telling them we appreciate their visit and ask for their suggestions or donations."

Built in the 1780s, the Rock House is the oldest house in McDuffie County and the oldest stone dwelling in Georgia. The house was built by Thomas Ansley as part of the Wrightsboro Quaker settlement. According to a writing by Pearl Baker, the house was built of fieldstone after the fashion of the Quaker houses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with inside chimneys. A large basement room has a large fireplace, and there are four rooms on the middle floor, one with an unusual corner fireplace, and larger fireplaces in the larger rooms, capable of burning six-foot logs. The top floor is reached by a narrow, winding staircase and contains two loft rooms.

According to a write-up by Dorothy Jones, the Rock House and Wrightsboro are rare evidences of 18th century Georgia. Wrightsboro was the only Quaker colony in the State of any duration. Begun in 1770, it represented one of the first settlements in the back country of Georgia, and endured the conflict of the Revolution. Descendants of Wrightsboro are spread throughout the United States, and members of the Ansley family return to the Rock House each year for a reunion.

"Without all the work of Dot Jones, the Rock House still wouldn't be here," Mrs. Mobley said.

A cemetery down the road from the Rock House has more than 200 Ansley ancestors buried in it, according to Mrs. Mobley. In fact, the Wrightsboro Foundation has future plans of restoring the cemetery, also.

"We want the cemetery done right, because it is part of the Rock House heritage," she said. "We want to be able to draw visitors to view and understand the Rock House and the Quaker impact on America. That's what's missing, people don't realize the impact the Quakers had."

The plan - which has begun, now, with the stimulus-funded security guards and being placed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's list of Places in Peril - is to make the Rock House a destination for field trips that includes a visitor center and exhibits.

"These efforts will facilitate archeological work on the property, thus advancing the knowledge of McDuffie County," Mrs. Mobley said. "But most of all, we need to have a site that gives a sense of ownership by the community and the local governance."

Web posted on Thursday, June 25, 2009

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