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Old Sugar Hill house the perfect set for photo protraits.

For more than two years, an abandoned house near Sugar Hill has been brought to life by photographer Julie McGaughey.

The old house, built around the turn of the century, has been the romantic setting of several award-winning portraits. One portrait of an engaged couple, taken about a month before their wedding and titled "Country Love," recently won first-place award from the Southeastern Professional Photographers of America.

Ms. McGaughey has worked as a professional photographer in the Atlanta area for more than 20 years, specializing in wedding albums and environmental protraits. Four years ago, she moved her studio and residence to a cottage she purchased in Suwanee.

The photographer first noticed the old house about two and a half years ago when she was driving an engaged couple to Buford Dam to take some photographs. The house, which used to be owned by the Pirkle family, is located on Suwanee-Buford Dam road north of Georgia Highway 20.

"I just stopped right in the middle of the road when I saw the house," Ms. McGaughey said. What she saw was a one-story, frame house with gingerbread trim and a porch which ran along the entire front of the house. A barn and a trail leading into the woods were located off to the side of the house. She knew at first glance that the rustic setting of the house and barn would be an ideal backdrop for her romantic portraits.

"The home and location reek with warmth and intrigue," she said.

The house is also blessed with having true northeast lighting, which is an artist's dream, the photographer said.

"For artists, it takes northeast light to create perfect environmental protraits," she said. "With this location, there is even a dash of sunset. Everything is always golden."

The photographer uses the old house, which is located near her studio, as the setting for many of her portraits. The engaged couples and families she photographs there wear western or casual attire, in keeping with the mood of the setting.

The old house has become Ms. McGaughey's signature, known both locally and in professional circles. Her colleagues around the country have come to recognize the old house, which is the setting of many of the protraits she enters in professional photographic competitions. And many of her clients form all over the north Georgia area ask to have their portraits made by the old house, the photographer said.

But she soon may have to find a new setting for her portraits. Ms McGaughey recently found out the 275-acre tract on which the house sits is about to be sold to the city of Sugar Hill. The city plans to build a sewage treatment plant on the site after the sale of the property is completed within the next couple of weeks.

Ms. McGaughey said she tried to buy the house and some of the property from the large development company that purchased it from the Pirkle family but the price was more than she could afford. Buying the house and moving it also proved to be too expensive. Her only hope now is that the house be preserved by Sugar Hill once the city gains ownership of it.

Sugar Hill Mayor George Haggard said city officials are aware of the house but have not yet discussed what they plan to do with it.

"I would be in favor of preserving the house in some way," said the mayor, who was active in Savannah's preservation efforts before he came to Gwinnett.

But Haggard said the house probably will have to be moved if it's to be saved, because the city may need all of the property it's buying for the sewer plant. In any case, the mayor said he hopes to gain ownership of the house before it is further damaged by vandals.

So far, a fireplace mantel and a stained glass window have been taken from the house. The window shutters and doors have also been removed. And the inside of the house is filled with trash and debris.

Ms. McGaughey said she is saddened by the fact that the old house may not be saved but takes comfort in knowing it will be preserved in her portraits.

"It's nice to know a piece of the old house is going home with the public," the photographer said.

Linda Abell, "Picture this," Gwinnett Daily News, 8 March 1988.

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