This past year was a year of milestones, new beginnings and exciting events in the north Gwinnett area. Here, we take a look at the top stories of 2021.
*Stories are listed in chronological order. Click on any title to read the full story.
In mid-March, the Emmy award-winning Netflix series “Ozark” filmed scenes along Main Street in historic downtown Buford. The production company started moving in its equipment on March 16, 2021, and wrapped on March 18. In front of the former West Main Trade coffee shop, a large sign proclaimed Buford had temporarily become Boone, North Carolina, and storefronts along Main Street were transformed into businesses in the town of Boone. The scenes filmed along Main Street are expected to appear in the fourth and final season of “Ozark,” set to premiere Jan. 21.
North Gwinnett’s lone garden club, the Stonehedge Garden Club of Buford, commissioned and donated a 16-foot metal art piece to the city of Buford. On May 11, the club hosted a ceremony on Main Street to dedicate the artwork forged out of iron, aluminum and copper in the shape of a daylily, which is also capable of moving with the wind like real flowers. The creator of the piece, artist James “Jim” Bradford, said he “wanted the statue larger than people to show nature is bigger than us all.”
American Legion Post 127 celebrated the grand opening of its new facility in Sugar Hill on May 22, 2021. Close to 70 people from the American Legion, as well as members of the local community, attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility, as American Legion Post 127’s commander, Gary Evans, hosted the ceremony to officially dedicate and open the much anticipated Sugar Hill location.
In June, the North Gwinnett Co-op celebrated 30 years of serving the north Gwinnett area. The faith-based nonprofit started in 1991 as a ministry that provides assistance and spiritual support to those in need in the local community. It was originally founded by Sugar Hill United Methodist Church and operated at first in the founders’ basement. Since its inception, the ministry’s support has since grown to include multiple church congregations, local businesses, other nonprofit organizations, schools and members of the community who donate and volunteer, as well as those who do both.
Starting with raw land covered in grass with very few amenities, the Sugar Hill Community Garden was transformed over the past decade into a haven for local gardeners. Founded in 2011, the garden began as a labor intensive project for 17 community members who wanted to create something special. In late June, the city celebrated the garden’s 10th anniversary and its most recent revitalization efforts with a rededication ceremony.
Each year, the Gatorade Player of the Year awards program recognizes elite high school athletes nationally. On July 7, 2021, Dylan Lesko, a right-handed pitcher and infielder for the Buford High School varsity baseball team, was awarded the 2020-21 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year award. Winners are selected based on their “athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character.” This was an historic moment for Buford and the Gatorade program alike, as the award is generally granted to seniors, and Lesko is the first-ever junior to receive the award.
In August, Buford First United Methodist Church celebrated a milestone 150-year anniversary. Begun in 1871 as a group that met under an arbor, the congregation moved into a log cabin that became the town’s first school. On Aug. 14, 2021, local historian Mary Alice Beard led an hour-long, guided “heritage” walking tour from the location of the original log church to the present day facilities. The celebration weekend included a Saturday evening concert and hymn sing and church services on Sunday morning, followed by a potluck lunch.
The driver of a tractor-trailer truck attempted to cross the railroad tracks in downtown Buford at the intersection of West Main Street and Little Mill Road on Sept. 2, 2021. The truck became stuck and was struck by a Norfolk Southern train. The truck was hit by the train and was sliced into two pieces. The trailer and its load of Milwaukee tools were scattered on the Main Street side of the train, while the cab of the truck was on the Little Mill Road side of the tracks. The driver was unharmed as he was able to escape the truck before impact.
As the final seconds on the clock became history, a single point separated the two teams that competed for the GHSA AAAAAA State Football Championship on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. Following a field goal kick by Langston Hughes that fell short with just 3 seconds left in play, the Buford Wolves brought home their third consecutive state title with a 21-20 victory at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. With Buford’s win, coach Bryant Appling became the first football coach in GHSA history to win three consecutive state championships in his first three years as a head coach. Beginning in fall 2022, Buford moves into Class AAAAAAA.
Buford City Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Downs announced his retirement on Nov. 18, 2021, effective at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. At a Buford Board of Education meeting on Dec. 13, 2021, Buford City Schools named Melanie Reed as the sole finalist to succeed Downs. Reed, who has been in education for 30 years, has been employed by Buford City Schools for 28 years, having held administrative positions for 20 of those 28 years. She was most recently named deputy superintendent in 2021 after being promoted to assistant superintendent in 2019. Reed previously served as principal of Buford Middle School and Buford Elementary.