Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Clinton Tan Yard

In 2008, The Georgia Trust placed the Old Clinton Historic District on its Places in Peril list. Within Clinton, located just north of Macon, lies the site of an early 19th century tan yard, reportedly the only significant historic leather tannery and industrial site investigated south of Virginia to date. The site faces many threats, such as neglect, vandalism, nearby development and destruction caused by the elements.

The town of Clinton was incorporated in 1816 and, as the original county seat of Jones County, was a booming city prior to the Civil War. The tan yard contributed to Clinton's industry and operated from the early 1800s until July 1864 when Union soldiers burned it, resulting in a total loss. Clinton couldn't compete with Macon's railroad and increased development, and with the loss of the tan yard, Clinton steadily declined following the Civil War.

Funded by DOT TEA grant money, recent archaeological excavations and studies of the tan yard site conducted by Cypress Cultural Consultants, LLC and the LAMAR Institute revealed bricks, rocks, grist mill stone, artifacts and topographical evidence of heavy foot traffic, wheeled vehicles and/or large draft animals. Dan Elliott, of the LAMAR Institute, wrote in an email about the site that Clinton’s “role in early Georgia economics, politics, and society is greatly underrated … an excellent example of an early federal-town that could be resurrected through historical archaeology and public interpretation.” Thus, the potential for heritage tourism opportunities is great, and could significantly contribute to the revitalization the town of Clinton. The evidence that has been found at the tan yard proves that the site is not only significant, but worthy of any efforts to protect it.

With the promise of SPLOST funding for the preservation of the tan yard site, the idea of creating an archaeological park at the site, including 13 acres of the original town with historic buildings, is under consideration. Looking to other archaeological parks and sites (such as the 2009 Place in Peril, Fort Daniel) for examples, the park will preserve the site while serving public and educational purposes.

Many preservation and archaeology professionals have already been active in the dialogue over the Clinton tan yard archaeological site and heartily support the Old Clinton Historical Society’s efforts in pursuing an archaeological park. If you would like to join the discussion of future plans for the site, please contact Kate Ryan, Programs Manager at The Georgia Trust, at, or respond directly through our blog.

There will be a meeting at the tan yard site on October 10th, 2009 at 11am for an open discussion and brainstorming session on what can and should be done to protect this significant area in central Georgia. If you are interested in attending, please contact Kate Ryan. The meeting will coincide with the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society (OAS) and Old Clinton Historical Society’s Artifact ID Day from 1-4pm. The OAS identifies artifacts for the public for free, allowing individuals the opportunity to tell the OAS the location of where artifacts are being found so that future studies could be conducted.

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