Category Archives: –HANCOCK COUNTY GA–

Amanda America Dickson House, 1871, Hancock County

Known among cotton planters as “The Prince of Southern Farmers”, David Dickson was a very progressive agriculturalist whose plantation, known as “The Modern Mecca”, comprised nearly 17,000 acres at its peak.

David Dickson, Date & Photographer Unknown, Likely 1850s, Public Domain

In The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865, John Rozier notes that though Dickson was one of the wealthiest men in the state, he lived in the simple Plantation Plain house his father built in the 1790s [it was destroyed by fire in 1946]. Rozier gives a hint as to the source of his success: He trained his slaves to pick twice the cotton those on other plantations gathered. Planters came from all over the South to see how Dickson farmed. A man of little formal education, he wrote for and was widely quoted in agricultural journals, and his book on farming, A Practical Treatise on Agriculture: to Which is Added the Author’s Published Letters (1870), was still in print 25 years after his death.

Amanda America Dickson, Photographer Unknown, Public Domain

Dickson didn’t marry until he was 62, but his daughter, Amanda America Dickson, was born in 1849. She was the product of the rape of a woman he enslaved named Julia Frances Lewis Dickson, who was just 13 years old when she gave birth to Amanda. Dickson claimed paternity and brought her into his home to be raised by his mother, Elizabeth Sholars Dickson. Amanda left the plantation after emancipation and began a domestic relationship with Charles Eubanks, a white first cousin, in Rome, Georgia. Because Eubanks was white, Georgia’s anti-miscegenation laws at the time prevented a legal marriage, but the union produced two sons, Julian Henry Eubanks and Charles Green Eubanks. Soon after Charles Green’s birth, Amanda returned to her father’s plantation.

During the same year he was married, David Dickson built the house pictured here for Julia and Amanda, just up the hill from his own home [the columns are a 20th century addition]. The idea of two former slaves being afforded such a prominent gesture was not well-received by his new bride, Clara Harris Dickson. Just two years later, in 1873, Clara went home to her parents and died soon thereafter.

Amanda left Hancock County in 1876 and spent two years at Atlanta University.

Upon David Dickson’s death in 1885, Amanda inherited the majority of his estate, worth well over 8 million dollars in today’s dollars. This made her the wealthiest black woman in Georgia and among the wealthiest in the nation. 79 relatives of David Dickson challenged the will, but it was affirmed in the local courts and again when it landed at the Georgia Supreme Court. Essentially, the state court asserted that the rights of a mixed-race child born out of wedlock were no different than the rights of a white child born out of wedlock. This was quite unusual for the time.

To protect herself from her white relatives, Amanda moved to Augusta soon after David’s death and bought a home in the city’s most fashionable neighborhood, where she was generally accepted. She married Nathan Toomer in July 1892, and died on 11 June 1893. Nathan remarried upon Amanda’s death and was the father of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.

Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson 1849-1893, by Kent Anderson Leslie, is the standard source for her life story, which has also been the subject of a movie, A House Divided.

Hickory Grove School, Hancock County

Hickory Grove was one of numerous schools for African-American children in rural Hancock County, and though it resembles a Rosenwald, no records can be found to indicate such a connection. It’s more likely that builders, aware of the functional designs of the Rosenwald schools, simply copied their floor plans. Hickory Grove was associated with the adjacent Hickory Grove [Missionary] Baptist Church and likely dates to the 1920s.

Consolidation of rural schools, both white and black, was responsible for hundreds of such closures from the late 1940s through the mid 1960s and concern over desegregation certainly accelerated this process. Hickory Grove, as well as 14 other Hancock County African-American schools, was officially closed in January 1960.

Bethel Baptist Church, 1828, Hancock County

By some accounts, Bethel Baptist is the oldest surviving congregation in Hancock County. Land for the first church was purchased from Benjamin Thompson in 1801 and it was constituted in October 1802 by Elders Thomas Mercer and Benjamin Thompson, with twelve members. It was located on Old Bethel Hill about three miles east of Sparta on Shoals Road.

I’m dating the structure to 1828 based on the Baptist Association Minutes of 1880, which state: This church was first located on what is now known as Old Bethel Hill about three miles east of Sparta. We are unable to tie the history of this church from its constitution, till the year 1828. In February, 1828 it was removed to its present site, six miles east of Sparta, near the banks of the Little Ogheechee [sic] river. The land for the new site was deeded by John S. Latimer, and the deed names the following trustees of the church: Jesse Lockhart, David Hitchcock, William Barksdale and Byrd W. Brazill. It’s possible that this notation only indicated that the congregation itself changed locations and the church structure came later but the minutes make no mention of this.

They also note that before the Civil War, a third of the membership was African-American, indicating that members brought enslaved people to services. After Emancipation, they formed their own church, known as Hickory Grove.

Thomas Cobb Moore House, 1830s, Sparta

In The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865, Thomas Rozier identifies this as the Thomas Cobb Moore House. Since Moore was born in 1861 and died in 1914, he would not have been the builder. I’ll update when I learn more.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Pearson House, Circa 1798-1805, Hancock County

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 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.

First National Bank, 1904, Sparta

These detail shots of the old First National Bank of Sparta illustrate the pride small towns took in their commercial architecture at the turn of the last century. First National Bank was established in late 1903 and dissolved by 1923.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Webster’s Pharmacy, Sparta

Webster’s Pharmacy, with its distinct facade, is a community landmark in downtown Sparta and a favorite with photographers.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Burwell-Goss House, 1906, Sparta

This imposing Neoclassical Revival mansion was built for William H. Burwell, the first man to live here. Burwell served as a mayor of Sparta and a state representative.It has recently been purchased after years of limbo, and will soon be restored.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

The Little Red House, Circa 1797 (& Later), Sparta

It’s no longer red, but to my understanding, this has always been known as “The Little Red House”. One section of the house is an early log cabin, purportedly dating to circa 1797. The addition was made later, probably before the Civil War, and may have been done to accommodate an office. Sistie Hudson notes that it will soon be home to a museum of local history.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Smith-Beall House, Circa 1830, Sparta

This house is a longtime Sparta landmark, located on Monument Square. Mr. Smith was the builder of the courthouse in Sparta.

Sparta Historic District, National Register of Historic Places