Walter and Aileen Drew moved from Greenville, Ohio to the Atlanta area in 1970 with the dream of starting a corrugated box company. Walter, a World War II veteran and Aileen, a farmer’s daughter, mother of two and quite the seamstress, arrived in the big city and rented an apartment and some warehouse space. When they outgrew the apartment, they rented a house. When they outgrew the warehouse, they built a bigger one. Then they bought a house. Then they bought apartments and rental houses and built another warehouse. They were rocking and rolling when, in 1984 they bought 15 acres in the country between Snellville and Grayson on which to build Mrs. Drew’s dream home.
The only thing Walter used the house for was sleeping; a lover of the land, he was out the door at sunup and rarely in before dark. As more land became available around their 15 acre paradise, they bought it and eventually grew the estate to a little more than 50 acres. A large lake, a rolling landscape dotted with ancient oaks, and a house on the hill. The American Dream… on steroids.
Sadly, Walter’s life ended in late 2004 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. While Mr. Drew’s health was failing, Mrs. Drew would literally hold him up while he forged ahead with his weed trimmer, maintaining the shoreline in his unending desire to keep things tidy.
Mrs. Drew continued to manage the business and the estate, but her mobility became more labored after a major stroke a few years later. When keeping up with the property at large became too much for Mrs. Drew, I began helping with property maintenance. Shoring up unused and neglected structures, trimming trees and shrubs, maintaining the lake, mowing and picking up trash. I enjoyed the work, but soon was lured in by the beauty of the land. The lake, the trees and the wildlife were captivating. The more time I spent there, the more time I wanted to spend there!
As much as it pained her to do so, Mrs. Drew finally had to come to terms with selling her beloved home and land. The thought of a developer getting control of the property was too much to bear. You don’t have to have lived around here very long to know what would happen; in the typical profit-driven model, bulldozers would blast through, sweeping the land clean of more than 100 years of nature’s efforts, in an attempt to squeeze as many homes in as possible without regard for the collateral damage to the surrounding community. So, at the end of 2016, the work I had done for Mrs. Drew became the most expensive volunteer effort of my life. I guess you could say I “bought the farm”, and began exploring ways to preserve the land and build community.
When I told Mrs. Drew that I wanted to buy her property, she asked what I’ll do with it. It was the first time I’d really thought hard about it. All I knew was that I didn’t want to see the systematic destruction we have seen over and over again. And after careful consideration, I realized that my goal with the property was twofold; to preserve the landscape as much as possible, giving it life into the next century, and to use the opportunity to cultivate community.
I’m certainly not a real estate developer. Therefore, I’m assembling a team of professionals to help me create a plan for the property that will best allow us to preserve our backyard wilderness and protect it for future generations to enjoy. This is home. I’m not leaving.
We owe a big debt of gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Drew for their steadfast stewardship of their land for more than 30 years. Immeasurable tens or even hundreds of thousands of hard-earned dollars were spent on property taxes and maintenance, not to mention countless hours of labor. Certainly, they gleaned benefit from their efforts, but as surrounding property owners, we were all the beneficiary of the protection they provided against the relentless sprawl of subdivisions in our corner of the county.