These old workhorses get harder to find every day.
Category Archives: –JEFF DAVIS COUNTY GA–
Though its appearance has been altered by the addition of shed rooms and vinyl siding, this is among the oldest houses in Jeff Davis County. The date of construction is unclear but is thought to be just prior to or just after the Civil War.
Wyley J. Byrd (1825-1908) was a pioneer settler in the section of Coffee County that is now the Snipesville community of Jeff Davis County. He was the patriarch of a huge family (he had 20 children with two wives) who were very involved in the community, donating land for construction of the nearby Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in 1878.
Thanks to Michael Ellis for sharing the location and the vintage photograph of Mr. Byrd and some of his children. The photo probably dates to the 1890s and shows Victorian porch posts, a common “improvement” to Plantation Plain houses in that era. Mr. Ellis writes: ...this was “The Home Place” in my early childhood. My maternal grandparents lived there from sometime in the late 1930s until 1956-1957. I had a ball around there as a young child, until we relocated to Opa Locka, Florida.
The site of a historic ferry on the Ocmulgee, this landing now provides public access to the river. It’s truly one of the most appealing areas on the river, just upstream from the confluence with the Oconee and the beginning of the Altamaha River.
Rock outcrops common to the Altamaha Formation are found here as they are in other parts of the county.
Jesse M. Bookhardt recently shared this about Burkett’s Ferry: Burkett’s Ferry is a wonderful place and occupies a special place in my memory. Located in Jeff Davis County just off the old Pioneer Tallahassee Trail, it represents one of several ferries that provided river crossing services. Though not in operation during my time, I remember the site well. Folks from the neighboring communities such as Snipesville often went there fishing, boating, and picnicking. There existed a small spring of cool clear water that seeped from a bank just up stream from the landing. From this pool of fresh water, many fishermen and visitors to the river stopped to drink. It is unknown to me whether the spring still runs or has succumbed to the dynamic forces of nature. Burkett’s Ferry was one of two closely geographically connect fishing spots. Nearby is Pike Creek recorded as Pipe Creek in the original land survey of the area. Both places provided rich fishing waters. Perhaps the “Pipe” referred to a site for making Native American tobacco medicine pipes. Obviously Native Americans once occupied the Burkett’s Ferry site, for in the 1950s when I was a kid, I found pottery and stone artifacts. During the pioneer period, the ferry connected Telfair with Ocmulgeeville, and further to the east Holmesville, the county seat of Appling. When the original plan was made for the old Macon and Brunswick Railroad, it called for the route to cross the Ocmulgee near Burkett’s Ferry. Later the plan was changed and the railroad was scheduled to be built across the Ocmulgee at Lumber City further down stream. Burkett’s Ferry is historically significant to the Ocmulgee and Wiregrass region for it provided much needed access to the hinterland of South Georgia.
If you’ve ever traveled Georgia Highway 107 between Jacksonville and Snipesville, you’ve undoubtedly noticed these large outcrops near the Coffee/Jeff Davis County line. They’re an extension of the better-known Broxton Rocks, a natural area protected by the Nature Conservancy of Georgia. The area, known as Flat Tub, is accessible as a Georgia Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and recent covenants have led to further protections of this fascinating resource.
Long thought to be Altamaha Grit, different hypotheses suggest that it could be of Altamaha Formation, but not as “gritty” as other such areas previously identified. Another thesis suggests this may be a more specific “Ocmulgee Formation”, the result of a meteorite impact which may have created the Big Bend of the Ocmulgee.
Whatever the specific geology, it’s certainly an amazing environment, almost alien in comparison to adjacent lands.
Anyone who’s ever passed through Hazlehurst on U.S. Highway 341 has undoubtedly seen this house and likely wondered about its history. Luckily, Jesse Bookhardt, a native of Jeff Davis County, shared it with me recently: Dr Samuel Wright Martin (22 December 1876 – 5 February 1966) was a beloved country physician. He practiced his medicine in the homes of his patients way out in the country. He also maintained a two-story office behind his beautiful home at the intersection of Jarman and Tallahassee Streets in Hazlehurst for many decades. His fees were reasonable and if you could not pay, he allowed credit. He took a personal interest in his patients. [Jesse notes that all seven of Eddie & Eva Lou Bookhardt’s children were delivered by Dr. Martin and he was so well-regarded that they gave his last name to their eldest son, Jesse Martin Bookhardt].
From the history brochure, distributed by the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism: The Big House is an antebellum-style home that overlooks the town like a grand old dame. The beautiful Edwardian mansion was built during the early days of the 1900s. Legend holds that it was built for Minnie Sweat, the wealthy widow of a local lumber baron who had been tragically killed in a train accident. “Miss Minnie” was the former Minnie Lott of Douglas. She remarried J.H. Moore soon after her husband’s death and the two built the home designed by Memphis, Tennessee based architects George Mahan, Jr. and J.I. Broadwell. When the house was completed, the Moores traveled to Europe to buy the furnishings. The home cost about $50,000 to build. A water tower accompanying the mansion cost around $12,000. Each chimney contained a full freight car of brick. The chandeliers in the foyer and parlor are part of the original fixtures, as is the foot tub repurposed into a sink in the upstairs bride’s room. The house was originally was located near what is now Highway 341, about 350 feet south of its present site.
The Moores occupied the home until 1923 when they sold it to W.E. Pierce. Pierce lived in the house with his first wife and daughter, Louise. Pierce married his second wife, Maureen, in 1932 and their son, Eddie, was born in the house. In 1937, Pierce sold the mansion to W. Grady Floyd. Floyd; his wife, the former Grace Weatherly; and their two daughters, Catherine and Anne, moved in. The Floyds’ only son, W. Grady Jr., was born in the home in 1939. About five years later, Henry and Marguerite Duncan Dearing bought the house. The Dearings used the east “parlor” for a floral shop and catered wedding receptions in the foyer, main dining room, and parlor. They added a brick wing of sleeping rooms on the east side of the home, and from those rooms operated a boarding house.
In the late 1960s, E.A. and Mary Hinely purchased the “Big House” for use as a hotel. They planned to preserve the house as it stood, but could not gain proper access to the property with the house and brick wing situated at the front. As a result, they moved the entire structure. The movers, who estimated the weight as two hundred tons, used iron rails, rollers, trucks, and tractors to roll the house about 350 feet to its present location. The Village Inn Restaurant, known locally as the “Big House,” opened in 1970. After the Hinelys passed away, the building and adjoining motel once again changed hands. The restaurant was closed and grand home fell into disrepair from lack of use. The community did not want to see the grand mansion fade away. Citizens and community leaders began a campaign known as “Save the Big House”. Spear-headed by the Board of Tourism and funded by grants and private donations, the building was purchased from the hotel owners. After months of restoration and renovation, the home was once again grand.
Today, the county government maintains ownership of the building, while the Board of Tourism oversees the facility. Coastal Pines Technical College operates a culinary school within the Big House. The beautifully restored mansion is source of pride for the community who worked so diligently to save her and is the center of community activities hosting weddings, reunions, festivals and much more.