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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Located today on private property, this structure is nonetheless accessible and widely visited. Thought to be the oldest standing jail in Georgia, it’s better known as the Aaron Burr Jail. The former Vice-president is said to have been held here overnight during transport to Richmond for his 1807 trial for treason. A granite-and-bronze marker was placed at the site by the Governor Jared Irwin Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. However, research and evidence suggests that this story is apocryphal. A 1906 newspaper article by Col. Macon Warthen, Sr., gave a very detailed account of Burr’s movements from Fort Wilkinson (Milledgeville) to Shoals of Ogeechee in Hancock County. According to Col. Warthen’s research, Burr spent the night in Shoals of the Ogeechee, not in Warthen (then known as Wicker).
It reads: “Site of First Washington County Jail – Erected 1783 of Logs – Aaron Burr Incarcerated Here 1807, En Route to Trial for Treason“. I believe this claim is possible, but I wish there were further documentation.
Different sources list different years for the date of construction, generally ranging from 1783 – 1793. Since there’s no way of specifically dating it, my source is John Linley’s Architecture of Middle Georgia: The Oconee Area (UGA Press, 1972).
Warthen Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Thanks to Jaci McKinnon for first making me aware of this interesting and little-known aspect of Coffee County’s history. In his History of Coffee County (1930), Warren P. Ward notes that Mormon missionaries came to the area in 1898, led first by Elder Nephi Henderson and an Elder Brewer. Elder Ben E. Rich established the church in Coffee County. He was succeeded by Elder Charles A. Callis. Early families who converted to the Mormon faith were those of Calvin W. Williams, Dan P. Lott, and Joseph J. Adams. “Many citizens of the county were excited over the appearance of the Elders. Some regarded them as messengers from Heaven, gave them shelter and lodging…Others regarded them as emissaries of the devil, wrecking homes and carrying away women…Coffee County has been a fruitful field for the Mormon Church, it having grown to a membership of over seven hundred. There are two churches in the territory-Cumorrah Church in Coffee County and the Utah Church in Atkinson County, formerly Coffee.” I’m not sure what happened to the congregation but will continue to research it and will photograph the nearby Mormon Cemetery the next time I’m in the area. (Thanks are also due to Andrew P. Wood for pointing me to Ward’s history of the Mormons in Coffee County).
D. O. Adams writes that this is the oldest standing LDS church in the Southeastern U. S. He also kindly shared the following history, which is the most detailed account I’ve ever seen regarding Mormons in South Georgia.