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.