HISTORY OF WYNNE-RUSSELL HOUSE

The Thomas Wynne House - long known as the Wynne-Russell House - was built in the 1820's by Mary (Prince Benson) and Thomas Wynne and is reported to be the oldest pioneer home in Lilburn with important historical significance. The Wynne Plantation was a large one - between 500 and 600 acres.

 

Thomas Wynne served in the War of 1812 and his father and his wife's father and grandfather all served with the colonists in the Revolutionary War. Wynne died at age 50 (1839) and his wife and nine children and ten slaves farmed the area until Mary Wynne died a year after the Civil War. She was a remarkable pioneer woman to attempt this on such a large plantation with nine children under 18 years of age. The stamina, will and fortitude of Mary Wynne is evident in her successive generations. One of their sons, James Wynne, died in the service to the Confederacy. A daughter married Joseph Nesbitt, son of William Nesbitt, the first sheriff of Gwinnett County. Their daughter, Emily Harriett Wynne, married James Washington Smith and moved to Decatur. The Smiths are credited with the donation of land for the Rock Springs Presbyterian Church that stood on what is now Rock Springs Road and Piedmont Road. Their son, William Smith, married Mary Ella Mason and in 1888, the legendary 'Miss Tullie Smith' was born of this union. The old Smith landmark has been restored by the Atlanta Historical Society in honor of Miss Tullie Smith as the last descendant to actually reside in the 1830 Smith homestead for her unselfish community work and her determination to hold the land though alone, and her determination to interest people in the development of Decatur. Miss Tullie's youngest sister, Mary Willie (named for Mary and William) married Dr. Curtis J. Proper. Their four sons distinguished themselves in World War II in service to their country.

When Mary Wynne died, her son, Rober Reed Wynne, and his wife, Martha Ann (Russell) inherited the house and continued to live there where 12 children were born. In 1878, they moved to College Park and sold the house to Nathan Russell, Martha Ann's youngest brother and son of James Russell, designer of Fairview Presbyterian Church in nearby Lawrenceville during 1878.

After the death of Nathan Russell, his son George Allen Russell and wife Mary lived in the house. "Miss Mary" Russell lived in the house until 1971 when she died at the age of 97.

Architecturally, the Wynne-Russell House is a good example of the Georgia farm homes of that era. Originally there were no interior dividing walls, each story being one large room broken only by the stairway. The kitchen, a small building to itself, stood away from the house as a fire safety precaution. The house has three arched fireplaces - a style not used much after the 1820's and the bricks are handmade from the Georgia red clay. The roof is cedar shake. The fieldstone and red clay brick chimney were set and made by slaves and the random width planked floors and blown glass windowpanes are typical of the farmhouses of the area. Certain portions of the house were added as late as 1884 including the L-shaped kitchen and front porch.

The land to which these pioneer settlers came, Gwinnett County, was created in 1818 from a portion of Jackson County and land ceded to the State of Georgia from a treaty with the Creek Indians. Legend says the Creek did not live here but used the area as a hunting ground. Settlers came in 1821 to the western end of the county and an area which later became Lilburn. They came in ox carts and covered wagons having moved through the Carolinas from Virginia where in the 1700's, they arrived from Europe. These people were of Scotch-Irish descent (the Wynne's descendants have been traced as far back as Wales). They came to inhabit the land either drawn in the land lotteries or purchased for as little as $1.00 per acre from lottery winners. The land was mostly forest land, rich in hardwoods and field pines which served the settlers well in constructing homes, and the rich soil left clear permitted farming, the later years in the production of cotton.

 

In 1893, the railroad came through the settlement and a village was laid out and a depot constructed. The name "Lilburn" was given to the village which later became a thriving town because of the depot and the cotton gin. In the 1920's, fire destroyed most of the business section of Lilburn, the boll weevil did its damage to cotton farmers, and in 1929, the whole country was caught in the Great Depression.

 

Lilburn passed into obscurity left only with two stores and a post office to prove a town had existed. A rural atmosphere prevailed with small farms dotting the countryside - non-farmers sought employment in Atlanta, 18 miles away, but nothing seemed to change - through the 30's, 40's, and early 50's.

 

In the late 1950's, new homes were built. Atlanta boomed and growth came. Once again, people came into the Lilburn area. Farms were subdivided, idle acreage was converted into row upon row of new homes. By the 1970's, the western portion of Gwinnett (the Creek Indian lands) had become a bedroom community for the vast number of people working in Atlanta. Shopping centers, new schools, new roads, and by now, new industry had followed the people to Gwinnett. It was obvious that soon, the whole western end of our county would have no visible signs of having been in existence prior to the 1960's. when the building boom first hit. In order to teach our children and grandchildren that someone came earlier and made the path 160 year ago into newly opened Indian lands, fought in wars to preserve this land and contributed to its development, the community of Lilburn has worked to preserve the oldest pioneer home in Lilburn for future generations.

Faye Moore

1980