This massive Folk Victorian house sits at the end of a row of majestic cedars, which appear to be well over a century old.
Cedar lanes were once a popular landscaping choice but most of the old ones are long gone, lost to disease or storms over the years. These have somehow miraculously survived.
The house appears to date to the late 19th century.
An historic commissary stands at the front of the property, confirming that this was once a very busy plantation. It is still part of a large working farm. I walked up the lane to try to find someone to tell me about the place, to no avail. I imagine they were out in the fields busy with the cotton harvest.
This is one of the most pristine historic plantation properties I’ve ever seen and the owners have done a wonderful service in their efforts to preserve it. Thanks to Dale Reddick, and other members of the Screven County history group on Facebook, for the identification.
I made these photographs in 2015. By 2020, the house was gone. It was located on the Turnwold Plantation property and by appearances is an early tenant house. I say early based on the layout of the house, but more so because of the handmade brick and fieldstone in the chimney. If not a tenant house, it was undoubtedly a dependency of the plantation.
This exceptional Greek Revival cottage was built circa 1838 by Hiram Knowlton (c.1805-1875). Knowlton was a master carpenter and millwright who came to Talbot County from New York in 1836; he purchased the property on which the home is located from Chestley Pearson in 1838. The distinctive diamond panes in the transom and sidelights, as well as the diminutive dormers, are notable decorative features of the one-and-a-half story dwelling. A hand-carved molded stairway with delicate banisters dominates the main hall. William H. Davidson, in A Rockaway in Talbot: Travels in an Old Georgia County Vol. II notes that it is “..a triumph of carpentry…it is a much more sophisticated stair than usually found in Talbot County early houses…”. A second narrow stairway in the rear of the house leads to the upper floor, which may have originally housed servants. *[Due to ongoing work in the house, I was unable to get many interior shots, butI’ll be sharing more views in a future update].
After Knowlton’s death, the property passed to Luke A. Crawford, of Upson County, a son-in-law of Hiram Knowlton’s second wife. It was sold to Henry Butler in 1905. It remained in the Butler family for well over a century and was known to many as the Butler Plantation.
I am grateful to the present owners, Jim & Deborah Bruce, for welcoming me into their home, and to Mike Buckner for taking me for a visit. Jim’s extensive collection of vernacular African-American art is a wonderful complement to the interior.
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.
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.
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.
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 TheArchitecture 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 ofMiddle 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.
Early Hill is a magnificent example of a transitional Georgian-style/Greek Revival house of the early 19th century, commanding views of some of the most beautiful pastureland in Georgia. The house has undergone major remodels throughout its history, beginning as early as the 1840s, but these do not detract from its historical importance. The plantation community surrounding the house was once known as Dover.
The builder, with the labor of enslaved men, was Joel Early, Jr. (1793-1851), a brother of Peter Early, who served as Georgia governor from 1813-1815. Joel Early, Jr., was not a typical man of his time nor his class, as he freed 30 of his slaves in 1830 and through the American Colonization Society sent them to Liberia. He actually corresponded with one of them. He still held slaves after this gesture, but that he did it all makes him an exceptional figure in upper class antebellum Georgia.
This early Plantation Plain with Federal details was restored circa 1985. Windows, weatherboarding, chimneys, and the front portico were all replaced with historic materials. Two outbuildings were also added to the property at the time of the restoration.
The well-maintained home is located near the Oconee River near the community of Buckhead.
The sacred ground on St. Simons known as Village Cemetery is one of the most important African-American burial grounds in Georgia. Closely watched over and maintained by the First African Baptist Church of St. Simons, it is the final resting place of countless souls who worked nearby plantations from the early 19th century to Emancipation, and their descendants. It should be noted that until World War II, and perhaps a bit later, African-Americans were much more numerous on St. Simons, living in various historical communities scattered around the island.
I found the cemetery by accident and was so moved by its beauty that I felt an urgency to document its most important monuments. Though there are countless unmarked and unknown burials, the oldest surviving section of the cemetery contains numerous vernacular headstones. These nationally significant treasures represent the resourcefulness and perhaps shed light on some of the traditions of the first and second generations of freedmen who remained on the island after emancipation. In early 19th century Georgia, slave burials were decorated with the last object used by the deceased. It is likely that the decorated graves in Village Cemetery are a continuation of that tradition. The cemetery is active so modern headstones and markers are also present.
I hope that the church or others with more knowledge of the cemetery’s history will work to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A survey was published by the Golden Isles Archaeology Society in 2000 and the cemetery has been documented on Findagrave. I am unable to share the location of the cemetery but those interested may wish to contact the First African Baptist Church.
Vernacular Monuments of Village Cemetery
The Hattie Lee monument features a mosaic of glass and shells in the form of a vase or tree of life. It is the most colorful of all the surviving monuments.
The Aaron Lomon monument features a hand-sculpted bell, ringing.
The Peter Ramsey monument features a mosaic star and beautiful raised lettering.
The John Davis monument features an encircled star mosaic centered with milk glass.
The Albert Hampton monument features a garland of pebbles in a design I don’t recognize. In African burial customs, shells and stones represented the boundary to the afterlife. In African cultures, white often represented death, so the light color of the stones is an affirmation of that tradition.
The Jim Hightower monument features an interesting placement of letters and a star. The name is spelled phonetically, which was common in an era when African-Americans were often denied a basic education. There is slight damage to the lower right side of the stone.
There is no discernible information about the deceased on this simple headstone. Also, there are two decedents listed.
Though it appears to be the resting place of Floyd Edward, the presence of other Floyds in the cemetery suggest it is likely Edward Floyd. Unfortunately, this is often encountered and illustrates the difficulties of African-American genealogy.
I’m sharing this monument to represent the others of this manufacture bearing the symbol of the Mosaic Templars of America. This was an African-American fraternal organization founded by former slaves in 1882 to provide life and burial insurance to the communities they served. The local chapter was known as the Wesley Oak Chamber 2128.
Dr. Lyman Hall was one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia. He was also a delegate to the Continental Congress and governor of Georgia.
Born on 12 April 1724 in Wallingford, Connecticut, Hall graduated from Yale University in 1747 and was soon ordained a Congregational minister. In 1753 he began practicing medicine and in 1757 moved to the Puritan Colony at Dorchester, South Carolina. He was among the members of the colony who migrated to St. John’s Parish, Georgia, and the newly established Midway Colony, and was granted land here in 1760. The Midway colonists became such stalwarts for liberty that St. John’s Parish was renamed Liberty County in their honor. In this spirit, the colonists chose Dr. Hall to represent their concerns in the Continental Congress in 1775, before Georgia had even joined the federation. As an official representative a year later, Dr. Hall signed the Declaration of Independence, along with Button Gwinnett and George Walton. After the Revolution, he served as governor and helped establish the University of Georgia. In 1785 he sold Hall’s Knoll and in 1790 moved to Shell Bluff Plantation in Burke County, where he died on 19 October of the same year. He was buried on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River but his remains were re-interred in Augusta, with those of George Walton, beneath the Signers Monument.
The vernacular Greek Revival main house of the William S. Simmons Plantation, along with the adjacent Vann cookhouse, are two of the oldest extant brick structures in Floyd County. I was invited to photograph them earlier this year by owner Kristi Reed and am so glad I finally got to experience the charms of this important property, which continues to be a working farm. Kristi is very passionate about the Simmons Plantation and much of the following history is taken from her research. [PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY AND IT IS CLOSELY MONITORED FOR TRESPASSING]
Hidden in plain sight at the edge of downtown Cave Spring, the circa 1845-1847 landmark is built of handmade brick [18″ exterior walls/14″interior walls] and contains nine rooms, some of which retain hand-painted frescoes original to the house. It has also been known as the Montgomery Farm or Montgomery House, for subsequent owners.
As historically important as the main house, the double-pen brick cookhouse behind it was likely built no later than the mid-1820s by David Vann. Its initial use is not known, but considering that Vann was a wealthy planter who owned as many as 13 slaves, it is possible that it served as a slave dwelling before being relegated to use as a kitchen upon construction of the Simmons House. Vann, who was born at Cave Spring [Vann’s Valley] in 1800, was a member of one of the most prominent families of the Cherokee Nation and had a plantation house here preceding the Simmons house. [An interesting aside: Vann was the great-uncle of American humorist Will Rogers].
David Vann was a Cherokee sub-chief and after forced removal/relocation to the Indian Terriotry [present-day Oklahoma] on the Trail of Tears, later served as Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation. He was murdered by a group of “Pin Indians” at Salina, Indian Territory, on 23 December 1863 and was buried at Haner Cemetery in Murphy. According to the Encylopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture, the derogatory term “Pin Indians” was applied by Treaty Party Cherokees to hostile, pro-Union Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole during the Civil War. The Pins were identified by cross pins worn on their coat lapels or calico shirts. They were disproportionately full bloods, wore turbans, adhered to the long-house culture, and were politically opposed to the frock-coated mixed-bloods who adhered to Southern white cultural norms and belonged to the Knights of the Golden Circle.