Just one of the two paths that lead from the Carriage House venue to the lake-side gazebo and amphitheater where weddings, yoga classes and concerts have been held.
A new venture, new lives for women of Abba House
BY DENISE RAY. PHOTOS BY DENISE RAY.
The women who live at Abba House came broken, addicted and abused. The venue and the property upon which the facility sat was vacant and unused for two years. The transformation for both the venue and cottage inhabitants is miraculous.
Abba House Co-founder and current President Cathy Sharp, along with her husband Jim, purchased the property as a business venture when their thrift store businesses began to decline.
Last summer Abba House announced it would be closing its thrift stores on Ga. 400 in Dawsonville and Hwy. 9 in Silver City.
The Hwy. 9 property was cleared, revealing a lake and amphitheater; the residents cleared away the wreckage of their pasts. The business and the residents are born anew and together form a bright future as a venue/catering business.
The Carriage Venue, located just south of the historic square of Dawsonville, provides indoor options with a 4,000 square foot venue. The 6-acre site features a romantic lake-side gazebo, a stone amphitheater, and a 2,100-square-foot banquet room overlooking the grounds. The gazebo and amphitheater have been the site for weddings and can provide seating for 300 guests.
Currently the venue has luncheon offerings for dine-in or delivery between Tuesday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Carriage Venue is located at 348 Hwy. 9S, Dawsonville.
Residents of Abba House are trained to run the catering business as servers, food handlers, catering manager and marketing. The program is a minimum 15-month, faith-based residential treatment facility for women and their children. Its focus is to help women suffering from life-controlling issues such as depression, abuse, addictions, and eating disorders, among other issues.
Abba House was founded in 1992 by Christine and Jim Sharps in Okeechobee, Fl.. with the intention of accepting, encouraging, and healing women struggling with depression and addiction. Hundreds of women and their families have been set free to live productive lives, according to Chris Sharp.
“Disfunction occurs in families and healing occurs in families,” Sharp said. “We set it up as family.”
Residents share bathrooms, chores, and eat together.
Both Sharp and her husband have a history in Christian ministry. While in Florida, Jim was the Director of The Women’s Ministry of Faith Farm—a ministry with which Abba House had merged.
From its humble start of 10 women and children, Abba House can now accommodate 36 and has become one of the largest and most effective women’s ministries in the country, according to Sharp. Residents are expected to abide by the rules of the facility and will be written up should they choose not to abide.
“There’s lots of structure,” Sharp said. “That’s what an addictive person needs. Structure.”
Peach Brandy Cottage
After the Sharps purchased the property, Peach Brandy Cottage from Caroline Christie, they made several expensive renovations to bring the home up to code, including a $60,000 plumbing system. They added another bathroom with ADA specifications out of need and because they wanted to become licensed in Georgia.
With a giggle in her voice, the former dental hygienist shared how people often come into the house and want to shop, thinking that it’s another thrift store.
“Nothing’s for sale in here,” she added.
Original fixtures including a claw foot tub and two fireplaces remain in the historic house with a rocking chair front porch.
One item does not a moonshine still make.
In 1930, the original homeowners Boyd and Sallie Gilleland, built the house for their family of five children. The design was modified by Gilleland to include a secret room in which peach brandy—also known as moonshine—was made. The secret room was accessible by a secret passageway, tucked away in the back of a closet of their eldest daughter, Susie’s room. Access was gained through a movable wall partition.
“He did his business back here, over the kitchen,” Sharp said in the large room upstairs. “The kitchen chimney is the same as the one he used, so you couldn’t detect anything.”
Attic space is L-shaped, according to Sharp, so the gentleman would use that area to hide. He could also enter and exit the house from there.
“They were good people,” Sharp said of the original homeowners. “That’s just what they did to survive back then.”
When Prohibition ended, Gilleland shut down his operation and money was used to start his three sons with a business: Amicalola Lodge, the Dawsonville Hardware store, and the Gulf service station which is now City Liquor.
The irony of recovering addicts and alcoholics living in a former distillery is not lost on Sharp.
“God has a sense of humor,” she said with a chuckle. “It all belongs to Him, anyway.”
Gilleland worked in the Dahlonega mines and eventually became the Tax Collector in Dawson County.
After he died, “Thunder Road” as Hwy. 9 was known back then was paved. Sallie opened their home to workers, making hospitality part of its history.
The house was built on a 20-acre working farm with cattle, a barn, lake and crops. It is listed in both the Georgia Registry of Historic Places and the National Registry of Historic Places as The Boyd & Sallie Gilleland House.
Abba House is a faith-based residential treatment facility for women and their children located in Dawsonville, Ga. Program participants work at the event venue next door, learning skills that can be used for employment once they transition out of the program.
A large upstairs room where the still once stood is now a gather space and play area for the residents of Abba House and their children.
A secret passageway in a bedroom closet that leads to a hidden room where original homeowners made peach brandy. After Prohibition ended, money from the operation was used to establish businesses for the three sons. The businesses are still in existence today.