Built by William Earl Dodge (1805-1883) for use by executives of the Georgia Land & Lumber Company circa 1870, this is the oldest known house in Dodge County*. One of the “Merchant Princes of Wall Street” and a former New York congressman, Dodge’s association with the area came at the invitation of William Pitt Eastman (1813-1888), a New Hampshire industrialist with large landholdings in Georgia and the namesake of the town of Eastman. Eastman brokered a deal with Dodge to have the county named for him in exchange for Dodge’s funding of a courthouse. The only time Dodge ever visited the area was when the courthouse was dedicated. His sons administered his timber interests in Georgia and this community (present-day Suomi) was named Normandale for Norman Dodge. It was the site of the company’s massive lumber mill and once boasted a population of nearly 600.
Throughout the 1870s Dodge’s Georgia Land & Lumber Company purchased, through questionable deeds, 300,000 acres of prime virgin timberland in the area. Hundreds of rightful owners were evicted from family lands and for 44 years a series of armed conflicts, assassinations, and protracted court battles, embroiled the local folk in what came to be known as the Dodge Land Troubles. At least 50 people lost their lives during this turbulent period and by the time the debated deeds were finally settled in 1923, putting an end to the Dodge Land Troubles, the land was completely barren. Though owners slowly replanted or converted their lands to agricultural use, animosities remained.
*-A nearly identical house located next door (now demolished) was the home of company agent Captain John C. Forsyth, who was assassinated there at the height of the Dodge Land Troubles in 1890. A group of about eight local men hired a notorious North Carolina outlaw named Rich Lowery to carry out the deed. The conspirators were found guilty in a trial which garnered attention in all the national media, but Rich Lowery was never found, believed by some to have been murdered by some of his co-conspirators and disposed of in a cypress swamp.
Nearly three years ago, I reported that I had learned that this landmark, the most important surviving commercial structure in all of Telfair County, was being threatened with demolition. Soon thereafter, I learned that a local gentleman had stepped up and taken on its restoration. I’m glad to report that he has made a lot of progress, stripping paint off the brick and replacing windows. He has also done work on the interior, but it’s a slow process. I know there’s a long way to go, but how wonderful that someone chose to save this wonderful old hotel.