Category Archives: –JEFFERSON COUNTY GA–

Old Town Plantation Tenant Houses, Circa 1900-1910, Jefferson County

Archaeologists believe this plantation was built on the site of a 17th century Yuchi Indian trading village known as Ogeechee Old Town. European ownership of the property dates to 1767 (platted in 1769), when an Irish trader named George Galphin was granted the land by the Colony of Georgia. Galphin took advantage of the property’s frontage on the Ogeechee River, building an extremely successful mill and trading post. The original Crown grant of 1400 acres is one of the few remaining in Georgia that has never been subdivided.

After a succession of various owners, the Fitzsimmons family held the property from 1809-1860. In 1862, it was purchased by William Wingfield Simpson and Linton Stephens, brother of Confederate vice-president Alexander H. Stephens. Though General Sherman did not visit Old Town, Stephens’s descendants believe many of the structures were looted or destroyed by marauding Union soldiers. Restarting the plantation after the war proved too challenging to Simpson and Stephens and it was sold to William D. Grant in 1878.

Grant, who lived in Atlanta, leased convicts from the state in an effort to revitalize the property. It essentially became a convict labor camp, known as Penetentiary Number 3. Captain Thomas Jefferson James, who oversaw the convict labor at Old Town, purchased it from Grant in 1888. He sold it in 1891 to James L. Dickey, also an Atlanta businessman. Dickey replaced the convict labor with tenants, but lacking the success of his predecessors, sold the plantation to Central of Georgia Railroad president Hugh Moss Comer of Savannah in 1896.

Hugh Comer, Jr., was soon given title to the property but with little interest in farming or country life, sold it to his brother John Drewry Comer and cousin Fletcher Comer in 1908. It was during their ownership that the present tenant structures were constructed. Fletcher bought out John D.’s part in 1910 but was unable to meet the debt. His father, Alabama governor Braxton Bragg Comer, took over the property. Fletcher remained on the property but all decisions were made by Governor Comer. Fred and his wife eventually moved away from the plantation, and upon Governor Comer’s death in 1927, the property was sold to Lewis Dye.

The Depression saw the farm shift to subsistence farming, with plots being rented to tenants. The George Crouch family purchased Old Town in 1953 and subsequently made extensive updates to the property. Their stewardship has been integral to the preservation of this amazing place.

[Source: Gillispie, Elizabeth A., “An Examination of an Ice House at Old Town Plantation” (2012). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 624. Georgia Southern University]

There are three surviving saddlebag tenant houses on the highway near Old Town Plantation. One is attached to a more modern house, so I didn’t get a photograph. All are typical examples of a style of tenant house once commonly found throughout South Georgia. There’s also a hip roof house which may have been home to an overseer. It was too obscured by vegetation to photograph.

This example features a shed room.

Remnants of magazine pages and detergent boxes can still be seen on the walls, an indication of the harsh reality of life in these spaces. They were used for insulation.

It amazes me that such utilitarian structures have survived for over a century.

 

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Eden Baptist Church, Jefferson County

This historic African-American congregation dates to 1885. Reverend Andrew Wilkerson was the first pastor.

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Dogtrot House, Jefferson County

This house is remarkably well-preserved, though the open hall is now used for storage.

 

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Omaha Springs Hotel, Circa 1900, Jefferson County

The Omaha Springs Hotel (built in the early 1900s) is among the last surviving resort hotels of the mineral springs era, a time when the purported healing properties of the state’s abundant natural springs attracted visitors from all over the country. Many locations featured hotels and cabins but most have long been demolished. In A Preliminary Report on the Mineral Springs of Georgia (Atlanta, 1913), state geologist S. W. McCallie noted: This group of springs…are situated in a dense grove at the base of a rather precipitous hill-slope…One of the largest of the springs from which a sample of water was secured for analysis flows something like 100 gallons per minute. The main improvement consists of a well-built hotel of 24 rooms. The water from these springs is said to have a considerable sale in Augusta…and is well suited as a table water.

The structure is a private residence and can only be seen from a gate. Without the longtime stewardship of the Fleming family, who owned and maintained the property for decades, this treasure would surely have not survived.

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Abandoned Bank, Matthews

I’ve been able to find very little information about Matthews. It was well established by the late 19th century and was incorporated in 1904, though the area was likely inhabited much earlier.

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General Store, Matthews

It’s amazing that three landmark general stores survive in a community as small as Matthews. This example is the most endangered, but relatively stable.

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Ganus General Store & Post Office, 1897, Matthews

This general store is built in the same style as the one pictured in the next post, located on the other end of Oak Street. Jenny Pennington, at the suggestion of Lynn Walden Williams shared a history of Matthews first posted on the Remembering Wrens Facebook Page and which was very enlightening.  It’s a compilation of memories of the town from some of the oldest members of the community including Jenny’s parents Herbert and Sara Pennington, Bessie Neal Jones, Dorothy Barrow Atwell and H.C. Stewart, Jr. The history notes that the store was built by Levin A. Ganus who partnered with William A. Tarver as Ganus & Tarver, Dealers in General Merchandise. The partnership only lasted a year, but the Ganus family operated the store and post office for many years.

Thanks to Keith McLendon for first identifying it as the post office, noting it was open until about 15-10 years ago.

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General Store, Matthews

Like its twin down the street, it’s possible that this may have also served as feed & seed/warehouse, but it’s certainly a good example of the common style of late 19th/early 20th century rural general stores.

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Augusta, Gibson & Sandersville Railroad Depot, Circa 1884, Matthews

The Augusta, Gibson & Sandersville Railroad ran track through Matthews in the mid-1880s and built a depot around that time. There’s a similar depot in Mitchell, on the same line.

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Watkins Mill, Matthews

I believe this historic mill structure was relocated here; the only Watkins Mill I can find in Georgia historical records was located in Butts County. I’m unsure if this is that mill or another, more local operation.

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Filed under --JEFFERSON COUNTY GA--, Matthews GA