Tag Archives: Georgia Superlatives

Pope Park, 1910, Sylvester

Georgia is lucky to have three landmark minor league parks dating to the 1920s [Golden Park in Columbus (1926); Grayson Stadium in Savannah(1926); and Luther Williams Field in Macon (1929)], but none is as old as Sylvester’s historic Pope Park. It’s been in continuous use as a baseball venue since 1910.

Named for Colonel John D. Pope, it has hosted amateur, semi-pro, American Legion and county league teams throughout its history. It’s presently home to the Worth County Rams high school team. The wooden grandstand is a rare sight in the modern era of baseball and is the centerpiece of Pope Park. The property is maintained jointly by the City of Sylvester and Worth County High School.


Central State Hospital, Milledgeville

Central Building [now known as the Powell Building], Central State Hospital, National Register of Historic Places

The Georgia Lunatic Asylum opened on the outskirts of Milledgeville in 1842, its name only slightly more benign than the original “Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum” conjured at its establishment in 1837. The need for such a facility was precipitated by the social reform movements popular in the early 19th century and at first, especially under the guidance of Dr. Thomas A. Green, patients were treated as humanely as possible. Green was responsible for attempting to humanize the plight of the asylum’s population, removing chains and restraints and even taking meals with them. Within its next century, though, the institution occupied over 200 buildings on nearly 2000 acres. At its peak, there were nearly 13,000 souls residing here, making it the largest state mental institution in the nation.

Victorian Building, Central State Hospital

Unfortunately, after the Civil War, the institution experienced rapid growth, as many communities warehoused “undesirable” people from their communities to what was essentially a prison sentence at Milledgeville. This included thousands of veterans whose maladies deemed them impossible to treat in their resource-strained communities. This growth lead to a 100:1 physician to patient ratio that persisted for nearly a hundred years. In 1897, the facility came to be known as the Georgia State Sanitarium. But to most Georgians, it was simply known as “Milledgeville”. It was universally known in the state as a place to avoid. Walking the immense grounds today, one has to feel sorrow for the souls who were put away here, and a sense of anger at the horrible way we treated the mentally ill until the recent past.

Storehouse, Central State Hospital, National Register of Historic Places

By the 1960s, pharmaceutical advances helped reduce the number of patients who were subjected to such horrific treatments as electroshock therapy and lobotomies. For much of the 20th century, the institution was essentially an experimental laboratory of psychology, doing greater damage to its residents than good. The name of the property was changed to Central State Hospital in 1967 and by the 1970s, the population was in rapid decrease.

Auditorium, Central State Hospital

Today, fewer than 200 residents are in treatment here and a goal of phasing out the facility altogether is closer to reality. Most of the buildings are in ruin and while anyone is welcome to walk around the grounds, it’s illegal to enter any of the structures. A round-the-clock security team strictly enforces this mandate.

Nevils Creek Old Line Primitive Baptist Church, Bulloch County

Nevils Creek is the oldest church in Bulloch County and one of the oldest Primitive Baptist churches in Georgia. It was constituted in 1790. A single headstone is located beside the church: John Neville served in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment during the Revolutionary War. He may have been the founder of the congregation.

Fresh Air Barbecue, Jackson

Dr. Joel Watkins began selling barbecue here in 1929, making it the oldest pit-cooked barbecue establishment in Georgia still in its original location. Upon Dr. Watkins’ death in 1945, the business was purchased by longtime manager, George W. “Toots” Caston, who is credited with making Fresh Air Barbecue into the institution it is today. Caston made improvements to the cooking process, the sauce, and the Brunswick stew recipe and expanded the business from a drive-in to a dine-in. Even the coming of I-75 couldn’t keep people away from Fresh Air, with many travelers taking the exit just to experience the legendary fare of the “Barbecue Place”. Still boasting one of the shortest menus in the business, there are no frills here, just barbecue, Brunswick stew, pickles and potato chips, and pecan, lemon or Reese’s pie for desert if you need something sweet for the road. And you can buy a whole ham if you’d like.  There’s a Macon location today that has a few additional items, but you really should go to the original first.

Columbia County Courthouse, 1856, Appling

Columbia County was created in 1790. The area was settled by Daniel Marshall and the Baptists in 1772. The dead town of Cobbham served briefly as the first county seat, followed by Kiokee, near the Savannah River. Because Kiokee was considered too far from much of the population to be a practical site, William Appling offered land for a new county seat and it was named in his honor. The first courthouse in Appling was built around 1793, followed by a more suitable structure in 1812. It served until the construction of the present courthouse in 1856.

Columbia County is perhaps unique in Georgia in that it has essentially two county seats. By the 1970s,  this courthouse was in a bad state of deterioration. Since the county was in the midst of a population boom and the majority of the population was clustered near Evans, the Appling courthouse was no longer adequate for housing all the offices of local government. Around 1980 a new Columbia County Government Center was constructed in Evans, with additional facilities following in the 1990s. Most functions of local government are now carried out there, while a few offices are maintained in this historic antebellum courthouse.  Some court proceedings are still held here, making it the oldest courthouse in the state still in use.

National Register of Historic Places

Locust Grove Cemetery, 1794, Sharon

This sacred ground, Georgia’s first and oldest Catholic cemetery, is a great place for walking around and exploring. A real sense of peace came over me when I was there. Though none of the late-18th-century burials are marked or discernible today, the first burial was recorded here in 1794. Fieldstones mark some graves and those are likely the earliest burials.  The headstones are similar to the styles you’d find in Savannah or Charleston, not in the Georgia Piedmont.

Lt. John Cratin (1752=8 September 1826)

One of the more interesting interments is that of Lieutenant John Cratin of the 2nd Maryland Regiment, Revolutionary War. Lieutenant Cratin was among the first Catholic settlers of Georgia. Born in 1752 in Maryland, he died on 8 September 1826 in Locust Grove.

John Burke (b. 1784, County Tipperary, Ireland – d. 25 September 1846)

Though a few headstones are damaged, the greatest danger to most is the erosion of the script due to nearly 200 years of exposure to the elements.

If you ever find yourself in the area, take the time to visit Locust Grove. You won’t be disappointed.

Thomas Turley (b. 1807, Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland – d. 20 November 1835)

A list of interments at Locust Grove, compiled by Drexel Beck, can be viewed here.

Church of the Purification, 1883, Sharon

The first Catholic congregation in Georgia dates to 1790, when several English families from Maryland established a church at Locust Grove, in present-day Taliaferro County. They first called their colony Mary Land, in honor of their home state, but the name was quickly changed, first to Mount Panoma and finally to Locust Grove, for the large number of locust trees in the area. (All that remains of Locust Grove, about 1.7 miles from Sharon, is the Catholic cemetery). A log church, built there in 1792 to accommodate 50-60 parishioners was the first Catholic church ever built in Georgia. It was christened the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The “Maryland English” at Locust Grove were soon joined and surpassed in number by French Catholics seeking refuge from the revolution and from the slave revolt in Haiti. Their priest, Father Souze, accompanied them. Father Jean le Moyne settled here around 1793-94, though records now indicate that Father Oliver le Mercier was the first priest to officially serve the congregation. Over the next two decades, German and Irish settlers were added to the congregation. Ancestors of Margaret Mitchell and Flannery O’Connor were early members.

While the first Georgia Catholics were not people of great means, they were educated and wanted the same for their children. In 1818 or 1819, they established Locust Grove Academy in the old log church and in 1826 it was chartered by the General Assembly as the first Catholic school in Georgia. A more substantial church structure was built to serve the congregation in 1821. In 1883, the present church was built. By 2001, the church was downgraded to station status by the Atlanta Archdiocese and it was essentially abandoned. An effort is presently being made to restore the structure and ultimately, rebuild the congregation. Presently, a well-attended Christmas Eve Mass is held here.

Source: Jane Abbott, “English Catholics at Locust Grove”, pp 12-15. One Faith…One Family: The Diocese of Savannah 1850-2000


Jesup Drive-In, Valentine’s Day

Jesup Drive In Theatre Valentines Day Date Night Crowd Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Valentine’s dates were bumper to bumper at Jesup Drive-In tonight. It’s one of the few places in Georgia where you could experience a tradition like this, and it’s the oldest drive-in in the state.

Old Government House, 1801, Augusta

The central section of this structure housed the old Richmond County Courthouse, making this the oldest standing courthouse in Georgia. [The oldest in its original form is the 1825 Fayette County Courthouse]. Sold in 1821 to mayor Samuel Hale, the building was expanded for use as a residence. The family of Dr. Eugene Murphy were the last private owners, selling it to the Augusta Junior League in 1952. It is depicted on both the Augusta city seal and flag. A ginkgo on the property is thought to have been planted on the lot in 1791 to commemorate George Washington’s visit to the city.

National Register of Historic Places


Jesup Drive-In Theater, 1948

jesup drive in theatre photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2014

Opened in 1948 by Ward Riggins, Sr., as the Family Drive-In, the Jesup Drive-In Theater is the oldest and one of just four remaining in the state of Georgia. It was briefly closed in the 1960s, reopened as the Jesup Twin Drive-In and has been going strong ever since. Today it’s owned by Ralph and Jamie Hickox, who have really improved it while keeping its nostalgic feel. It’s a real treasure for Southeast Georgia.

jesup drive in theatre theater movie wayne county ga marquee at night photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2014