Tag Archives: South Georgia Women’s History

Auburn, 1899, Long County

This was the home of Helen Williams Coxon (1899-1989), a pioneer journalist,editor, and publisher (The Ludowici News). Known statewide as the “Lady from Long”, she served in the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate. She was also the first woman on the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, serving the year it was created (1943). The home, known as Auburn, was built by Helen’s father, Harry Guston Williams (1864-1937), who came from Warren County, North Carolina, to Georgia, and eventually operated thirteen sawmills. It remains in the family.

Helen Reid Williams Coxon [Public Domain Photograph, via Georgia Department of Pardons and Paroles]

 

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Filed under --LONG COUNTY GA--

Hafford-Groszmann House, Circa 1910, Waycross

This eclectic Craftsman was built of cypress lumber from the Okefenokee Swamp by Dr. Wilbur Alderman Hafford (1886-1950). Hafford was a country doctor who took care of many of the old-timers who lived in the swamp and was one of the founders of the Okefenokee Swamp Park.

The home was later owned by Dr. Hafford’s daughter, Lois Hafford Groszmann (1917-2010), a well-loved biology teacher at Waycross High School from 1949-1984. According to Sheila Willis of the Okefenokee Bird Club, who brought the house to my attention: Mrs. Groszmann was a leader in the Georgia Garden Club Federation plus a charter member of the Okefenokee Bird Club. Also, add in a world traveler. A wonderful lady!

In the back, by a small greenhouse built onto the house, is a Red Buckeye which was once the largest in the state. (The tree remains but I was unable to get a good photograph).  Sheila continues: In the adjacent area “was” a yard filled with all the old type camellias, azaleas, and other plants. From these she won many ribbons at flower shows. She also had planted a variety of other beautiful plants and trees around her house and in the back. And she had trailing vines over a trellis for the hummingbirds and an old grapevine on its supports shading the driveway. 

A few years ago before she died, I contacted LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation near Riceboro & got them to come over to try to help me get some of these legacy plants to places where they might be protected. They took cuttings & after letting them grow in their greenhouse for a while, the plan was to transplant them to their recreated plantation garden.
The fate of the house is unsure at this time, but hopefully, it will be saved.

 

 

 

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Filed under --WARE COUNTY GA--, Waycross GA

Clara Varnedoe House, Claxton

Built by Aaron Strickland, this late Queen Anne cottage is the oldest house in Claxton. I’m unable to confirm a date, but it likely dates to the late 1890s or early 1900s. “Miss Clara” Varnedoe,  who served as Evans County School Superintendent from 1929-1940, lived here for many years.

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Filed under --EVANS COUNTY GA--, Claxton GA

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Randolph County

Lena Baker (8 June 1900-5 March 1945), the only woman ever executed in Georgia’s electric chair, sang in the choir at Mt. Vernon.

Ms. Baker, a mother of three, was forced into a sexual relationship with her elderly white employer, Ernest B. Knight. It was well-known and frowned upon throughout the county. When Knight realized that Ms. Baker was determined to end the relationship he locked her in his gristmill, as he had done many times before. When she tried to escape, they “tussled” over his pistol which fired and killed him. She immediately turned herself in and claimed the shooting was in self-defense. Not surprisingly, the all-male, all-white jury in the ensuing sham trial found Ms. Baker guilty of capital murder and sentenced her to death. She was executed at Reidsville on 5 March 1945 and buried at Mt. Vernon. That this was a tragic, if typical, miscarriage of justice was confirmed when she was granted a full and unconditional pardon by the state in 2005.

Church members placed a headstone on her unmarked grave in 1998 and family members pay tribute every year on Mother’s Day.

As to the history of the congregation, I’m unable to locate anything at this time.

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Filed under --RANDOLPH COUNTY GA--

Old Webster County Jail, Circa 1856, Preston

This wooden jail was built soon after Kinchafoonee County became Webster County and served that purpose until 1910. It’s among the only antebellum jails still standing in Georgia. Dr. Fay Stapleton Burnett writes: This is the jail in which Susan Eberhart and Enoch Spann were housed from 1872-1873, when they both were hanged for murdering Spann’s invalid wife. This is a tragic tale of justice, mercy, ignorance, poverty and mental illness. 

It was unheard of for a white woman to be executed in 19th-century Georgia, and many, though aware of Eberhart’s guilt, were opposed to it. The case was a media sensation, prompting former Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens to opine in his newspaper, the Atlanta Daily Sun: “the most interesting case of crime that ever occurred in Georgia, and which is certainly one of the strangest in history of crimes.”

Dr. Burnett has just published a book about this case and you can contact her here for information on ordering.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under --WEBSTER COUNTY GA--, Preston GA

Sumter County Hospital, 1913, Americus

A group of local women established the Americus & Sumter County Hospital Association in 1908 and after raising funds and community interest in a modern medical facility, they dedicated the Sumter County Hospital in 1913.

Initially a 27-bed facility, it doubled in size after the addition of an annex in 1932. It was in use until a new hospital opened north of town in 1952.

This Prairie style landmark has been abandoned for over 60 years and is presently on the market.

Americus Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under --SUMTER COUNTY GA--, Americus GA

Women’s Clubhouse, 1927, Fort Gaines

This clubhouse, with a rear portico overlooking the Chattahoochee River, was shared the Woman’s Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

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Filed under --CLAY COUNTY GA--, Fort Gaines GA