This historic barn is located next to the community hall in Orianna.
This is located near a house that was relocated to the property, on the edge of town, so I’m not sure if it’s original to the location, but it appears to be. It’s a great old barn, either way.
Located on an historic farm with several surviving tenant houses, this is an unusual barn. I’m not sure why it has the gate at the front.
This property was originally settled by Joseph Shields and sons James and Patrick in 1802.
With two slaves, they cleared and cultivated the land.
When Joseph died in 1818, he willed the land to his son, James and by 1860, 20 enslaved people worked the land.
James died in 1863 and in 1865 his widow, Charity, signed a contract with three of her former slaves, providing them housing and food in exchange for their work on the farm.
When James and Charity’s son, Joseph Robert Shields, returned home from the Civil War in 1866, he built the main house and soon applied the sharecropping system to the entire farm, managing many of his former slaves alongside poor white farmers.
By 1890, the farm had grown to 1000 acres.
In 1897, Joseph Robert’s daughter Susan Ella returned to the farm with her husband Ira Washington Ethridge.
Joseph Robert Shields died in 1910 and Susan Ella and Ira inherited the house and surrounding property.
To hedge his bets against increasingly unstable cotton prices, Ira Ethridge built a self-sustaining sharecropper’s “village” near the main house.
In 1914, “Mr. Ira” transformed the main house from its historical Plantation Plain appearance to it present Neoclassical appearance by adding columns and raising the porch.
The structures seen today were built between 1900-1930. Most of the sharecropper housing is gone today, but a few scattered examples survive.
When Ira died in 1945, his son Lanis understood that the farm would soon be changed by mechanization.
He diversified and in the early 1950s began breeding cattle and slowly expanding pastureland on his acreage.
At his death in 1970, the sharecropper’s village was long abandoned.
His widow, Joyce Ethridge, began documenting the history of the farm.
In 1994 she and daughters Susan E. Chaisson and Ann E. Lacey gave 150 acres of the farm to the Shields-Ethridge Farm Foundation to preserve the site as an agricultural museum.
Joyce’s research also led to the listing of the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm is the most intact collection of historic farm structures in their original location in Georgia.
It is truly awe-inspiring and worth a visit.
As someone who has spent years seeking out structures like these, I can’t tell you how important this place is.
You must see it for yourself.
National Register of Historic Places + Georgia Centennial Farm
Note- This replaces a post originally published on 11 July 2021, necessitated by formatting issues.
I photographed this in 2015 and can’t recall where in Comer it was located. Gambrel-roof barns are not very common in Georgia, and the number of doors is a bit unusual. I’ll update when I learn more.
I believe this farm now serves another purpose, but the old barns recall the earlier days of commercial poultry, Georgia’s dominant agricultural commodity. I believe Northeast Georgia is still the top region for production and was an early leader in innovation.
The Elisha Winn House was built about 1812 in what was then Jackson County, and is perhaps the oldest extant house in the Atlanta metro area. Winn, who was a Justice of the Inferior Court, purchased the land, with Roger and Elijah Pugh, in 1809. It was part of a 7300 acre tract bordered by the Apalachee River. It became part of Gwinnett County on 15 December 1818, when the Georgia legislature created the counties of Gwinnett, Walton, and Hall, in part from Jackson County, as well as from former Indian lands.
The property is also significant as the first de facto center of government in Gwinnett County, hosting the Inferior Court and the first county elections. A barn on the grounds [no longer extant] hosted the Superior Court. Elisha Winn served as a judge of the Inferior Court from 1820-1825. He also served as a state senator for Gwinnett County in 1826, and a state representative in 1830, 1833, and 1837.
Lawrenceville was established as the Gwinnett County seat in 1821 and the Winns relocated there circa 1824.
Historic Structures Relocated to the Elisha Winn Property
Several structures representative of 19th and early-20th-century history in Gwinnett County have been relocated to the Winn property over the years. A representative mule barn [built in another county in 1917], can be seen in the background of the photo below.
Old Lawrenceville Jail, 1820s
The first jail in Gwinnett County was located on the Winn property but was demolished in 1933 by Jack Sims, who owned it at the time, and his employee Amos Hutchins, who lived most of his life on the old Winn place. As part of a collection of historical buildings, the old Lawrenceville jail [above], built in the 1820s and similar to the original jail, was relocated here for preservation. [Moravian missionaries who refused to get permits to live in Cherokee territory were briefly held in this structure before being transferred to a larger jail in Walton County].
Walnut Grove Schoolhouse, 1875
Typical of rural one-room schoolhouses of the era, the Walnut Grove school was originally located near Walnut Grove Church and the Methodist Campground. It was donated to the Gwinnett Historical Society in 1986 and opened for tours in 1988.
Cotton House, Early 20th Century
Structures of this type would have been present on working cotton plantations and farms in late-19th and early-20th century Gwinnett County. This example was donated to the historical society in 2001.
Alfred R. Clack Blacksmith Shop, Circa 1910
Dr. Donald S. Bickers, who also donated the cotton house, donated this structure to the historical society in 2000. It was built circa 1910 by his grandfather, Alfred R. Clack, who used it until late in his life. He died in 1948 and Dr. Bickers kept the structure in good condition.
National Register of Historic Places [Elisha Winn House, excluding other structures]
The house pictured above originated as a log cabin, built by Joseph Emmanuel Lyon in the 1820s. It was expanded in 1853 and again in 1893, when it took on its present appearance. It is one of the oldest houses in DeKalb County and Lyon family descendants remained on the property until 2007. Slaves from the early days of the farm remained in the area and later established the Flat Rock community nearby.
The house is reminiscent of the Plantation Plain style, but with two bays on one side and one bay on the other, is a bit unusual in its layout.
The gateposts are local granite, as are the boundary stones and flower bed areas.
Grape arbors were common features of many farms; this one was likely added in the 20th century.
The historic smokehouse, thought to be the oldest overall structure on the farm, was recently restored.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area
A thriving community of African-Americans existed around Arabia Mountain in the years following the Civil War, but by the early 20th century, a mass exodus saw many families joining the Great Migration in search of better conditions in the North.
There were a few communities, such as Flat Rock, that continued to thrive. T. A. Bryant, Sr., born in 1894, was a leader of this community, his church, and a Master Mason, and he worked hard to keep it intact.
He bought his first 43 acres from J. W. South, a descendant of slave owners, in 1925, and saved the Flat Rock community in the process. For over 60 years, Mr. Bryant bought and sold land to people in the community in an effort to keep it intact. Flat Rock actually grew during the Great Migrations, while many historic African-American communities completely vanished.
His small working homestead was self-sufficient and typical of similar farms in early 20th century Georgia.
The property is now home to the Flat Rock Archives, a museum of local African-American history, and open by appointment.
Maps will locate this at Stonecrest, a recently incorporated city in DeKalb County, but as with other such locations in Vanishing Georgia, I prefer to help keep the historical name alive, hence my location of the Bryant property at Flat Rock.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area