Treasures of Buford history
A Baseball World Series trophy, early signs from historic Buford, and artifacts from the Bona Allen tannery that made saddles for the horses of film stars Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, rare photographs of historic events and detailed information about the creation and construction of Lake Lanier: It’s all at the Museum of Buford.
Begun in 1986 in the corner of a historic building in downtown Buford by Randy Wood and Sandra Sumner, the Museum of Buford holds the keys to the treasures of Buford. Now housed in 2,500 square feet on the ground floor of the Buford Community Center, the museum is filled with numerous treasures that tell the famous and not-so-famous stories of this north Gwinnett County town.
Curator and fifth-generation Buford native Lynn Bowman eagerly shares his passion about all things Buford with visitors to the museum. Bowman has carefully kept the history of the town alive. Yet he’s always seeking more: more photographs, more letters, more memorabilia and more stories to bring the history of this Atlanta suburb to life.
“My great great grandfather John Bowman settled here in 1818 before there was even a Buford,” Bowman said. “And I’m the youngest of 125 great great grandchildren who descended from John Bowman.”
Bowman can cite chapter and verse of the success of the Shoemakers semi-pro baseball team that won the World Series in their division in 1938; they also won the prestigious Denver Post baseball tournament championship in 1940. Trophies, photographs, telegrams and newspaper clippings tell the tale of a team from the Bona Allen Tannery and Shoe Factory that were runners up for the 1936 and 1937 championship before its 1938 title.
The Bona Allen Tannery, which opened in 1873, was for years the heart of Buford as the area’s largest employer. As the country’s largest producer of horse collars, hand-tooled saddles, shoes, bridles and postal bags, it eventually made materials for Spalding to manufacture baseballs and baseball gloves.
“Buford even attracted the attention of Hollywood when both Roy Rogers and Gene Autry had custom-made saddles by Bona Allen,” Bowman said. “Over the years other cowboys, rodeo stars, and even members of the cast of ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Gunsmoke,’ all proudly rode saddles made in Buford.”
The museum’s archives include thousands of photographs, letters, business ledgers, news clippings, school yearbooks, report cards, church bulletins and an ever-growing library available for research, both historical and genealogical.
“We have good records of many of the businesses here from way back,” Bowman said. “You’d be surprised about the amazing information these documents hold about the lifestyle, culture and history of Buford. We call it ephemera – the bits of everyday life that many people simply toss out: letters, birthday cards, receipts – that have their own stories to tell.”
Much of the museum’s collections are in storage because even the move into the Buford Community Center’s ground-floor space isn’t enough to allow everything to be displayed.
During the pandemic, as with many organizations, the museum was closed. Bowman is working to re-open it three days a week for three or four hours – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The City of Buford currently opens the museum for many evening shows and events scheduled inside the Buford Community Center and Theatre.
Now there’s another younger generation of descendants of those early residents, plus many more long-time families who have shared their treasures, letters, photographs and family histories with the museum.
Bowman encouraged members of the community to share their family histories and documents with him as a way to continue to build the history and legacy of Buford.
“Everyone’s history is important and that’s what our museum is about,” he said. “Years from now, our descendants will be looking though copies of our emails, printed-out photos taken digitally and family records and imagine what life was like ‘back then.’”
The museum’s mission statement is simply, “Preserving all things Buford.”
The museum is staffed primarily by volunteers from the Buford Lanier Woman’s Club, but Bowman is desperate to “grow our population of persons willing to share their talents and time in the common effort to preserve and pass along our community’s rich history.”
For more information, to share items for possible inclusion at the museum or to volunteer, visit www.museumofbuford.com.
All Photos: courtesy of The Museum of Buford