This important house is little-known outside Hancock County and its specific early history is apparently lost, but a new look into available genealogical records sheds light on the story. It is certainly among the oldest extant houses in the county and, through oral tradition, has long been known as the Pearson House. I am grateful to Bud Merritt for bringing it to my attention. Bud writes: We “discovered” it this week and were clueless at the time to its status. It is close to the road but barely visible and in my opinion could collapse at any time. The brick first floor has many separations and the second floor in the rear is completely unsupported. It unleashed several loud creaks while I was photographing it.
The house has appeared in print at least twice: 1}In The Early Architecture of Georgia (1957), Frederick Doveton Nichols, identifies it as “Undocumented cottage…east of Devereux”; 2}Nichols’s work was later incorporated in The Architecture of Georgia (1976), with photographs by Van Jones Martin. It may have also been photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey in the 1930s by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Curiously, it is missing from the two best-known architectural surveys of Hancock County: 1}Architecture of Middle Georgia: The Oconee Area (1972), by John Linley; 2}The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865 (1996), by John Rozier.
Further documentation was made by Catherine Drewry Comer in her thesis, Preserving Early Southern Architecture: The Antebellum Houses of Hancock County, (University of Georgia, Master of Historic Preservation, 2016). Comer doesn’t associate the house with a builder, either, but gives the best description of its style: [It]…appears based on its construction to be remarkably early. Its two basement-level fireplaces are almost identical to those that could once be seen at Old Dominion before it was lost in the 1980s...This house is of a very early style that was common in the Mid-Atlantic states such as Virginia and North Carolina. [It] is of frame construction on the second story, which rests on top of a brick first story…[and] has one chimney on each gable end with two doors to enter the first floor on the front and one door on the rear. Comer refers to its architecture as “Tidewater”, a popular description of the style.
Of the interior living space, Sistie Hudson notes that she was able, 35 years ago, to look inside via a ladder [and] discovered that it had paneled wainscoting and curved stairs to the half story above and that it would have had staircases from outside to the second floor. She further confirms its local identification as the Pearson House and its presumed construction date as “the late 1700s”. Mark Phillips, a longtime student of architecture in the region, adds: I have always understood that this was the original Pearson home…the Pearson-Boyer house being later built by a son…
Making the connection between the presumed builder, Stephen Edward Pearson, Sr. (1774-1854), and the house requires a review of the available genealogical record, which has been graciously shared with Vanishing Georgia by Cynthia Jennings. Pearson was born to a wealthy family at Padget’s Creek, Newberry County, South Carolina. He married Mary Polly Fletcher (1775-1833) on 28 November 1798. It is believed they moved to Georgia and built this house soon thereafter, as one record notes he settled around 1795-1805 in the “watery fork of Buffalo (Creek)”. It is likely the new couple brought a number of enslaved individuals to Georgia; he owned over 80 human beings at the time of his death, including several of advanced age. They would have been involved in all aspects of the home’s construction, from milling the lumber to making the bricks. [The undeniable similarities between the Old Dominion fireplaces and those in this house are significant. If the work of the same mason, perhaps an enslaved man, they help validate the “1795-1805” time frame. Old Dominion was built in 1806].
Mary Fletcher Pearson bore Stephen no children, but research on Ancestry.com suggests he fathered a child with an enslaved woman named Cilla Chapman; the child, named Cilla Pearson, was born in 1805. Mary died in 1833 and Stephen married Catherine Garland in 1834. Their son, Stephen Edward Pearson, Jr., was born in 1836. He built a home nearby, circa 1854, now known as the Pearson-Boyer House.
Zach Hedgepeth writes: This house was in my grandfathers family for many years. A brick in the chimney had 1834 carved into it so I believe that is when it was built. The house used to sit closer to the road but when the road was paved in the 1990s they moved the road over. You can still make out the parts of the old dirt road. Over the years passers by have taken pieces of the house little by little leading to its current condition.[I believe it is likely that the dated brick commemorated the marriage of Stephen and Catherine and not the date of the house, as the conclusion of architectural historians is that the house is very early and 1834 wouldn’t be considered early in Hancock County].
This post represents the research of numerous people, to whom I’m indebted, but in no way purports to be definitive. I hope it is a catalyst for further research, and as always, welcome new facts that can be validated through primary sources. The house is unlikely to survive but I am glad to further document it as an important relic of Georgia history.