One of the few remaining homes along Main Street in Acworth is the James McMillan home. It sits on the corner of Collins Avenue. It was built in 1879 by James “Jim” Wilson McMillan, who moved to Acworth from the Mars Hill community in the 1870s. McMillan was a third-generation Cobb County native. His grandfather, George Washington McMillan, acquired a gold lot adjoining Pumpkinvine Creek in the Cherokee land lottery; he moved to the Mars Hill community with his wife, Sallie Huie, and their four children, in 1833.
Jim McMillan was part of the first generation of Acworth pioneer families, who began trading an agrarian lifestyle for the city life of a merchant when he moved into town and went into the general merchandise business with his brother-in-law, Jesse Lemon.
McMillan purchased an existing two-room antebellum home and 5 acres of land from the McEver family. Shortly before his 1879 marriage to Emma Alice Lemon (1861-1913), he spent $1,500 enlarging the home. Then, he spent nearly $1,500 building the porch and decorative gingerbread trim. The lot included a barn, a garden space, an orchard and a large pasture.
After selling the business venture with Jesse Lemon, McMillan formed McMillan Brothers general store, with his brother, Robert Lee, in 1896. McMillan also was president of the S. Lemon Banking Co., which shared a building with the general store.
His business on Main Street first was located in the present day Wild Blossoms storefront, and it later moved to what is now Henry’s Louisiana Grill. After the move, the Acworth Post wrote, “ranking as one of the largest merchandise stores in the community, McMillan Brothers has given much valuable service to the community. …. The store was 60-feet by 100-feet, with its stock valued at $50,000.”
The two-story, red brick building was designed in a department store style. The downstairs area contained heavy and fancy groceries on the left, and, on the right side, there were dry goods, notions, men’s and women’s shoes, as well as clothing. The millinery and furniture departments were housed upstairs.
Jim and Emma raised their 10 children in the home, and the McMillan Brothers business prospered. When the Great Depression hit Acworth, banks closed and credit was gone. Debts owed to the McMillan Brothers by farmers for seed, groceries and fertilizer could not be paid. Money was scarce, and McMillan Brothers had to close. Unlike many, McMillan chose to sell his home rather than to go bankrupt, so all the store’s debts were paid off with the proceeds of that sale.
Once located next to the First Baptist Church, the house was sold to the Osborne family, and the property eventually was passed to the church. Slated for demolition to make way for the church’s expansion, the house was moved one block north to its present location in 1980.
By the time my husband and I purchased the McMillan house in 1996, it had fallen into considerable decay. Built of heart pine, the 116-year-old home still was quite sturdy, and we determined that she had good bones. While undergoing an extensive restoration, we had the pleasure of meeting the fourth and fifth generations of the McMillans. Three sisters from the fifth generation generously shared photographs, letters, personal reflections and other memorabilia. These gifts are treasured, and they are the source of much of this home’s history.
From a personal memoir written in the 1950s by Lillian McMillan, the eighth of the 10 McMillan children, we learned much about life in Acworth at the turn of the century. She offered reflections about family members, her siblings and parents, plus their traditions and customs for Christmas and on Sundays. We even were able to host several gatherings with the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-generation McMillan descendants. At almost 150 years old, the McMillan home still retains much of her original beauty and charm.
– Abbie Parks, an Acworth resident, co-authored pictorial essays on regional history and collaborated on a book celebrating Acworth’s 150th birthday that featured anecdotal history and family photographs.