VARNELL, Ga.-- The annual Prater's Mill Country Fair is cherished by many, but its organizers are worried about its future.
Judy Alderman started the Prater's Mill Foundation in 1971. She said the lease for the property expires this year and she's not sure what's going to happen next.
"With construction and development there's been a wider interest in preserving Prater's Mill," she said. "People (are) realizing it is a treasure and needs to be protected by the whole community."
County Commissioner Harold Brooker said he is working with owner Ken Boring to preserve the Prater's Mill property.
He hopes about 18 acres of the mill site will become a county historical park dedicated to the late Jim Boring, who negotiated the original lease with Ms. Alderman.
"We're working real hard ... to make sure Prater's Mill fair is an ongoing thing," said Mr. Brooker.
Mr. Boring was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Prater's Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places and has received a number of recognitions. The area is steeped in history, from the time when Cherokee Indians fished Coahulla Creek to its days as a mill and community gathering place.
Mrs. Alderman first saw the old mill on a Sunday drive about 40 years ago.
"I thought it was magnificent," she said. "I just love the countryside and nature and the way you feel when you're there."
She started the fair to raise money to preserve the mill site.
"Never in our wildest dreams did we think it would get as big as it is and as well-known," said Jane Harrell, who helped start the foundation.
Mrs. Alderman said there were about 30 exhibitors at the original Prater's Mill Country Fair; now there are over 200 exhibitors and last year more than 9,000 people attended.
Over the years they've added buildings and features and repaired damage after floods and a fire.
The site is best-known for the fair, but Ms. Alderman said it's open to the public year-round and available for events such as family reunions, school field trips and weddings.
Ms. Harrell said Whitfield County at one time had about 27 mills. Prater's Mill is the last one remaining.
"It is a very important building to our history," she said.
For Betty Smith Bowlin, the mill is a chance to showcase the Goodner-Smith farm collection, with equipment dating back to the late 1800s, and books she's written about her family.
"I feel like every time I come I'm visiting my folks, because we have so many of their things here," she said.
ON THE WEB
See a history, a complete schedule of activities, maps and directions at www.pratersmill.org
PRATER'S MILL COUNTRY FAIR
* What: Outdoor festival of artists and craftsmen, musicians and Southern cooks
* When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
* Dedication: To Jim Boring, who leased the property to the Prater's Mill Foundation for 38 years
* Admission: $5, free for children under 12