Thanks to Chris NeSmith for the identification. Neal Wynn notes that it was built by the same Macon architectural firm that designed the John Evans House. It likely dates to circa 1897-1900.
Category Archives: Ashburn GA
This is a long overdue correction which replaces a post from 2011. Becky Shingler Anderson clarified some confusion I had about this house when I first photographed it. She wrote: This was the home of my great-grandfather, James Simon Shingler. It is not the childhood home of Betty Shingler Talmadge. Her childhood home is across the street. Sarah M. Cook added: This is the Sparrow’s Nest. It was the Shingler’s home. They owned Shingler Heights, five blocks of residential buildings and one institutional building in Ashburn, which was constructed from 1895 to 1937…Its most elaborate structure is “Sparrow’s Nest,” built by local turpentine and agriculture entrepreneur, J.S. Shingler. Many of the homes in the historic district were built by Shingler’s relatives.
Shingler Heights Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Thanks to Wayne Blue, who obtained this photograph from a grandson of John L. Evans, we now have an idea of what this Ashburn landmark looked like in its early days. I just heard from Lynette Robison that she and her husband have purchased the house and are in the process of restoring it. I was so glad to hear this, as it’s one of the most beautiful and important houses in Turner County.
On 30 June 2014, David Baldwin shared this fascinating history of the house: The house was built in 1897 by John West Evans according the the Ashburn Advance newspaper. Mr. Evans was associated withe the Betts Saw Mill in Dempsey, near Eastman, and he came over with the crowd in late October 1888 after the Georgia Florida and Southern railroad line connected north of Ashburn completing the line from Macon to Palatka, Florida. Mr. Betts and Mr. Evans married sisters Ella & Josephine Bohannon of Dodge County. He was originally from Hawkinsville. He attended Sparta Academy in Hancock County. His teacher was William Northen, who later became Governor of Georgia and who signed the charter establishing Ashburn as a city. Mr. Northen also served as President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention and would stay in homes like this one, as he traveled the state doing his duty. Mr. Evans was the first Postmater in Ashburn. He served in the Georgia Militia during the War Between the States. He died early.
I recently learned from Janet Brock and Joy Hobbs that this Victorian landmark, long one Ashburn’s grandest homes, is in immediate danger of being lost. They commented out of concern for the ongoing loss of local history, as many who follow this site often do and I was so alarmed that I posted an update about its status on the Vanishing South Georgia Facebook page. In just a few hours, over 16,000 people viewed the post and shared a collective sadness about its impending fate. One of the most poignant responses came from Debbie Dixon, the granddaughter of a former owner,: “This was my grandmother’s house. I spent my summers there and my mother grew up in this house. So sad they would do this.” Another comment from a county commissioner in another part of Georgia was more humorous: “Move the bank. Save the house!‘ Elaine Conner, who lived in Ashburn for thirty years wrote: “…it was used for many functions when the bank was a locally owned bank. Then a larger bank bought out Community National Bank and it now is South Georgia Bank…my heart breaks to hear it’s in jeopardy!!!” John Ingersoll notes that he knew an Emory alumnus “who was visiting the Thrashers after church Sunday afternoon when Pearl Harbor came on the radio. Oh, please do not move this historic structure.” So the history of the house is palpable and crosses generations.
The house is owned by South Georgia Bank, whose main office sits directly adjacent to the property; they desire to expand their drive-through banking facility and therefore want the structure removed. Apparently, they are open to essentially giving the house away to anyone who can afford the high cost of having it relocated. (My initial understanding of this was a bit incorrect; I don’t think they will literally give it away, but perhaps sell it low if they even can sell it. See Ben Baker’s comments elsewhere in this post). I don’t know if this implies an individual or a non-profit organization. And repairs not visible to the eye in this photograph could run upwards of $100,000. So it’s not a mission just anyone could take on. If you’re that person or organization, please contact the bank!
I spoke with Mayor Jim Hedges of Ashburn, who has been very receptive to input on similar local historical issues in the past, and he voiced his concern that he hopes it can be saved. He noted that the Downtown Development Authority doesn’t have the resources to move it and update it and that the Turner County Development Authority hasn’t shown a serious interest, either. He’s still working on possible solutions and he genuinely understands its importance to Ashburn. He’s open to serious suggestions. I have to say that Jim is unusual in that he responds to these issues quickly and honestly, something I appreciate since I’m not trying to politicize the issue to begin with. I’m just sharing information.
And here’s some valuable insight from Wiregrass-Farmer publisher Ben Baker: “This is a complicated issue. Moving the house will cost quite a bit. There’s no nearby location suitable for the house. There’s also the question of the original purchase contract signed between the people who sold the house and Community National Bank (now South Georgia Bank). Those selling the house believe part of the contract requires the bank to maintain the home. Still checking on that. The house is part of the Ashburn Historic District and doing anything to affect the exterior, or moving it, requires the approval of the Historic Preservation Commission (which I sit on.) The HPC is working VERY hard to find a way to preserve this amazing home, but absolutely does not have money to do so by itself. Moving the house, from what HPC has learned so far, means moving it in two sections. This begs another question, is the old building structurally sound enough to sustain that kind of work? Can it handle being sectioned? Can it handle being moved at all?”
And the reality is sad. There are houses like this throughout the United States in danger of being lost. Many are lost every day. They’ve been neglected in one way or another over time and the cost of renovating or stabilizing them is astronomical. Figure in higher utility bills, the constant need to repaint and other variables and it’s not any easy thing. Few people in small towns these days can afford such expenses and it’s really no one’s fault. Even the bank, whom many will want to blame, isn’t in the preservation business. I just hope that as people learn about the value of places like this there won’t be as many lost in the future.
As of 25 April 2017, I’m told that demolition is imminent.
David Baldwin writes: The house was built by John Samuel Betts. He and Mr. WW Ashburn starting buying property over here in June 1888, before the railroad connected north of Ashburn in late October, 1888. First Mr. Betts had a house at Wanee Lake, but later moved to Ashburn. I cant recall the exact date he built this house, likely 1890’s but well before 1900. He was mayor of Ashburn for twenty years and ran a saw mill that employed 100 people, 60 black and 40 whites. He was a great Christian but the saw mill went broke in 1912 due to over supply in the industry. He once told someone that the only thing he hated about being broke was than he was not able to help people as he had always done before. He died in 1918 and four town leaders spoke for him at his funeral at the Methodist Church. He was from Clayton, Georgia originally but they ran out of logs there and came to Eastman, starting his new mill six miles north of Eastman at a spot called Dempsey. He lost a son when the son was 20 years old. He knew Mr. Ashburn, J.S. Shingler, D.H Davis, Mr. Evans and all the town founders very well.
Betts, whose sawmill was the reason Ashburn came into being, was also the first mayor of the town. He commissioned a prominent architect, Peter E. Dennis, to design this home in 1897.
Jerry Shealy Powell adds: My grandfather, Lawrence Bunyon Shealy, was in the lumber business. He moved his family to Turner County between 1925-1929. Prior to moving to Turner County he owned a sawmill in Florida and others in Adrian, Camilla and Ellenton, Georgia. He purchased the Ashburn Lumber Company and managed a naval stores operation. In the middle 1940’s he bought the John Samuel Betts home and restored it. My father said he hand picked all the pine for the floors. For more than forty plus years the home remained in our family and was known as the “L.B. Shealy Home”. My grandmother, Ruby Clyde, outlived her husband and children.
Subsequent owners have done a nice job of maintaining the house.
Shingler Heights Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
This grand old home is in the process of being restored. When I photographed it I was under the impression that it was abandoned but have since confirmed that it’s being renovated and lived in again. David Baldwin writes:
The house was built in 1897 by John West Evans according the the Ashburn Advance newspaper. Mr. Evans was associated withe the Betts Saw Mill in Dempsey, near Eastman, and he came over with the crowd in late October 1888 after the Georgia Florida and Southern railroad line connected north of Ashburn completing the line from Macon to Palatka, Florida. He married Mr. Betts’s sister. He was from Hawkinsville, Ga. originally. He had attended the Sparks Academy as a boy in Sparks, Georgia. His teacher was Mr. Northen, who later became Governor of Georgia and who signed the charter establishing Ashburn as a city. Mr. Northen also served as President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention and would stay in the homes, like this one, as he traveled the state doing his duty. Mr Evans was the first Postmaster in Ashburn. He served in the Georgia Militia during the War Between the States. He died early.
This is the only house in Ashburn that is noted for being truly haunted. In 1935, a young lady who ran the local theater was leasing the second floor and decided to have a Christmas party. They hired a young black woman(Aza Martin) to cook the chicken. Supposedly the young lady got drunk and did not have the chicken ready. A young man with a bad temper carried her to the third floor attic and beat her with a wooden chair. Sheriff Story later found the chair with blood on it. At 3 am the boys of the party brought her body down to put it in the trunk of a car. Mrs. Evans, the daughter-in-law of Mr. John West Evans (deceased), opened her downstairs door and saw them bringing the body down the stairs. They took the body to a negro named James Worthy, a coal suite operator. He placed the near dead girl in his loft in his house. He was arrested in the following weeks but then let go. She continued to be reported missing. Finally,in March her body was found in Little River by some black loggers. Her mother identified her by the shape of her teeth and her dress. An inquest was held by main men of the town who determined the death was by unknown origin. The young man that committed the crime was reported to have tried to commit suicide between December and March, but survived. He went on to live as a Christian but no doubt he had to live with this crime all his life. The boys there that night committed to forever hold a secret as to what happened and as far as this writer knows they have. The murdered lady is said to haunt the house by those that have lived there. Milton Cravey was one.
The house is now a home again and restoration has progressed nicely.