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Newnan holds on to its traditional ways

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Ol’ timers here can remember when Newnan was 30 miles from Atlanta — a nice drive up through croplands and pastures to a city on the move.

The mileage, obviously, hasn’t changed, but the landscape, those fields and farms, pretty much link the two communities today with shopping centers, housing developments and commercial enclaves-without interruption, making Newnan an extension of Georgia’s capital city.

Nonetheless, Newnan has retained its laid-back living and its “smallness” atmosphere. Parking is free downtown, for example. The courthouse, built in 1904, is the centerpiece of Newnan which continues to thrive these days — there always seems to be folks moving about downtown. Shops are plentiful, and if you want something quick to eat, you cannot find a better place than the Redneck Café, run by Cile Smith.

Local businessmen, lawyers (including a growing number of legal minds accompanied by skirts) and local personalities, like David Boyd, the preeminently successful cartoonist, gather for small talk and coffee at Redneck’s. Newnan has charm. Newnan has feel and Newnan has pride. The streets are clean and there is an ambience that suggests the local gentry is hospitable if it is anything. Sam Jones, the genial publisher of the Times-Herald, is an enterprising newspaperman, quick to promote the good news about the county seat of Coweta. Sam is imbued with civic pride.

“Coweta” is an Indian name which means, “falls,” probably having something to do with the nearby Chattahoochee River. You may remember a long ago murder here which became the subject of a best selling book, “Murder in Coweta County.” What made the reading of the book so compelling was that the good guy — a sheriff, bent on upholding the oath of office and serving the people — brought the bad guy to justice. It was a classic case of the long arm of the law doing its duty, identifying a criminal and his heinous act and putting him behind bars-just like Marshall Dillon did in his time.

If you stop by Scott’s book store, across from the court house, and ask Earlene Scott for a copy of the “Murder in Coweta County,” she will find a copy for you. Whatever title you may want, she is likely to have on hand, including the latest best sellers. If she doesn’t, come back tomorrow, and she’ll have it waiting for you.

Browse Earlene’s spacious confines and you are charmed by the buzz of activity — she has a widespread base of loyal customers-and the notion that books are not dead yet. Hallelujah! Let’s applaud. I’m not ready for reading on a screen. Holding a book is as humbling as holding a newborn baby and should be given the same affection and attention.

A town with an imposing courthouse, a redneck café and a bookstore with a viable business leaves you with affectionate feelings. You wouldn’t think of spending time in Oxford, Miss., and not purchasing a title at Square Books. A lot of local folks in Newnan have the same feelings for Scott’s book store-those who can’t wait, especially this time of the year, to go home and start a fire and pour a glass of wine and enjoy a piece of literature. Long live books. Long live bookstores. Long live Earlene.

Doesn’t matter the shortcuts of technology, Newnan is a place which appreciates the new but is not about to give up its traditions and past. Next time you are headed south on Interstate 85, stop off in Newnan. You’ll experience the warmest of hospitality and will likely leave thinking, “You know, I might like to live here.”

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.