The Quest to Save Mockingbird Hill Village

The City of Augusta preserved a collection of miniature buildings as part of an expansion of the Highland Avenue Water Treatment Plant.
The Quest to Save Mockingbird Hill Village
The Highland Avenue Water Treatment Plant staff includes, from left, Allen Elliott, assistant plant manager; Debra Beazley, water production superintendent; Robert Mobley, plant superintendent; and Roberta Tyler, administrative assistant.

When upgrading the Highland Avenue Water Treatment Plant in 2009, the City of Augusta, Georgia, faced an obstacle.

A community of miniature buildings from the 1940s, called Mockingbird Hill Village, stood in the way of expansion. The “village” consisted of a Southern mansion, a church with a stained-glass window, a log cabin, a grist mill with a waterwheel and various other miniature buildings constructed by firefighters. As part of the $65 million water plant upgrade, a new filter building would occupy the hillside site.

Working it out

“Citizens were not happy,” says Allen Saxon, assistant director of facility operations. “People were more upset about losing the village than they were about the inconvenience caused by our closing a busy street near the plant during construction.”

Many people had childhood memories of Mockingbird Hill Village, and the Augusta Utilities Department (AUD) decided to preserve it. Parsons, the project contractor, held public meetings to gain input. Today, the restored village rests in front of the plant’s new administration building.

Art on the walls

Since then, artwork has been added to the 60 mgd (design) conventional surface water treatment plant. After the upgrade, plans were to brick the walls and plant shrubs around the facility. Instead, the AUD collaborated with The Art Factory, a nonprofit arts education group, to paint 13 murals on three walls surrounding the clearwells.

Professional artists were commissioned to paint the murals on the three walls seen by the most motorists each day. One mural tells the story of water upstream of Augusta, showing rain and rivers that become a lake formed by a dam and flows to the Savannah River, the source of Augusta’s drinking water.  

A second mural is an abstract showing a distribution system of pipes and valves delivering water to homes and factories. A highlight of the third mural, which shows wildlife along the river as it flows to the ocean, is a turtle basking on a rock formed by an actual outcropping of the mural wall.

On a wall containing six 12- by 30-foot panels facing another busy road, six artists painted a water-themed mural of their own design. The artists were chosen from a pool of 45 applicants who responded to the request made by The Art Factory.  

The six panels on another wall were painted by students from secondary schools and Augusta State University, members of the Boys and Girls Clubs, or by citizens as a volunteer project. Each conveys a water theme; one features historic floods in Augusta.

Saving money

The water plant provided paint and supplies for the murals. Despite its cost of more than $700 for a 5-gallon bucket, the city chose Nova Color Artists’ Acrylic Paints for their durability, brightness and resistance to flaking.

Compared to re-bricking the wall, the paint was a bargain, Saxon says. Early in the project, people complained about money being spent for artwork, but when they understood the savings, they were happy. “We have had a lot of positive community feedback about Mockingbird Hill and the artwork,” says Saxon. “People appreciate it.”


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