Tag Archives: Georgia Vernacular Architecture

Fortune Teller’s House, Harris Neck

I made these photos in 2009; no one was living here when I was in the neighborhood earlier this summer. As a self-service ice house, and home to a welder, it served an important purpose in this community of fishermen. The owners were obviously on the honor system, but to make sure customers were honest, a decorative skeleton kept an eye on things. The “answers” part of the sign always got my attention. I imagine it had something to do with the telling of fortunes. This is a bigger deal in these parts than many like to admit.

Peter Joseph’s Store, Circa 1900, St. Simons Island

This was the general store and boarding house of Peter Joseph, a leader of the historic Black community of South End on St. Simons Island. Built circa 1900, per the Glynn County Historic Resources Report [2009], it was razed circa 2016. The only Peter Joseph I can locate on St. Simons was born in 1903 and died in 1966; if this is the same Peter Joseph, it would mean the store was built by someone else, perhaps a member of his family. I will attempt to update this if I can find out anything more.

These photographs were made in February 2015.

As the images confirm, the structure had long been abandoned when I photographed it. It was an important resource for a long lost community, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to document it.

Apartment Houses, St. Simons Island

These structures, likely built in the 1950s, were located behind Bennie’s Red Barn Restaurant in the historic Harrington community on St. Simons Island. They were lost to development by 2020.

My identification of the structures as apartment houses is tentative, as I have been unable to confirm anything about them. I have been told they were built for employees of Sea Island or that they may have been owned by the late Alonza Ramsey (c. 1932-2010), a legendary resident of the Harrington community whose Old Plantation Supper Club was a longtime favorite. I have no idea which, if either, is correct, but the layout of the houses would indicate company housing or rentals.

By the time I documented them in 2017, they appeared to have been abandoned for quite some time and were obviously returning to the elements.

The structures were utilitarian in design and represented modern and practical housing in the mid-20th century.

They were built of cinderblock, like the nearby vernacular church and Masonic lodge.

If I recall correctly, there were 5 or 6 buildings in the oak grove that dominated the neighborhood.

This was one of the largest remaining historic Black resources on St. Simons before it was demolished, even if it didn’t have the elements that many would consider worthy of preservation. Describing the loss of such places, Patrik Jonsson wrote in The Christian Science Monitor in 2002: Blacks once owned 86 percent of St. Simons, but now the small remaining settlements are intertwined with development roads and gated condosWhere small ramshackle villages once stood in the shade of giant live oaks, hacienda-style townhomes now crawl all the way up to the water.

I hope someone will reach out who knows more than I do about this place. There must be some great stories.

Elizabeth Durden House, 1840s, Emanuel County

Local historians have referred to this as the Barwick House but it is best known as the Elizabeth Durden House. Elizabeth Ann Barwick Durden (16 December 1820-20 December 1909) was the daughter of Nathan B. Barwick, Sr., (3 August 1782-5 April 1868) and Elizabeth Whiddon Barwick (1782?-October 1880). Theirs was a large and prosperous family of pioneer settlers who came to Emanuel County (Bulloch, at the time), from Dubose Ferry, South Carolina, circa 1810. His obituary noted that he lived in the fork of the Ohoopee River and that he was buried on the land on which he lived, which is not this property. Elizabeth Ann Barwick married William Durden (15 August 1817-October 1864) in 1838 and they likely built the house soon thereafter. They had 12 children, 11 of whom lived to adulthood.

NOTE: The house is located on private property and is not accessible to the public in any way. I’m grateful to two of Mrs. Durden’s great-great grandsons, Hudak Hendrix and Von Wilson, for arranging my visit, and to the property owners for allowing me to photograph it.

It is likely the second oldest surviving structure in Emanuel County [after the Rountree House near Twin City] and may be slightly older than the date I have indicated, perhaps as early as 1838.

Original section of house, southeast corner

It has remained in the ownership of Mrs. Durden’s descendants throughout its existence and their good stewardship has made possible its survival.

Original section of house, front

It is of statewide importance as a vernacular dwelling, especially since the owners have been sensitive to retaining the original walls and footprint of the house.

Original section of house, northeast corner. Note the lack of chinking on the rear wall, possible because of the shed kitchen behind it.

As it stands, even with the modifications, it’s one of a very small number of log structures of this era remaining in Georgia.

Original section of house, southwest corner. Windows have obviously been replaced, but have the same placement as the originals as best I can tell. .

Shed rooms [next two images] and a modern chimney have been added to the original single-pen log house over its long history.

Shed room [bedroom], west side of house

Shed rooms were common additions to utilitarian structures and were usually porches which were transformed into rooms by the addition of new walls.

Shed room [kitchen], rear of house

The kitchen is of particular interest, as it contains the original rear wall of the house. As was the convention of the time, a free-standing kitchen originally served the Durdens but it has long since vanished.

The front porch, though featuring a new roof and floor, appears to retain its original footprint, as well.

The photograph below has become an iconic Georgia image. It graces the cover of Vanishing Georgia, [no relation to my website], a book highlighting the amazing collection of vintage photographs of the same name held at the time of publication by the the Georgia Department of Archives and History and now in the stewardship of the University of Georgia.

Elizabeth Durden with her grandson, Verdie Ricks, on her front porch, circa 1900. Copy of a family photograph, shared with permission.

Augusta Canal Headgates, 1840s & 1870s, Columbia County

Augusta Canal gatehouse, headgates, and locks.

Henry Harford Cumming envisioned Augusta as the “Lowell of the South” [in reference to the textile hub in Massachusetts] and was the driving force behind the Augusta Canal. The first nine-mile section was completed between 1845-1846, and within a couple of years three mills had already been risen along the waterway. Built near the end of the Canal Era [roughly 1800-1850], it was amazingly successful, as most Southern canals never were, and is the only intact industrial canal still in use in the South today. It was lengthened and enlarged between 1872-1877. It was after this expansion that most of the mills associated with Augusta’s industrial heritage were constructed. These included the Enterprise, Blanche, Sibley, and King Mills. I believe the present gatehouse dates to the expansion period in the 1870s.

Diversion Dam and Savannah River Rapids

A V-shaped dam diverts the Savannah River at the headgates and below it are what is now known as the Savannah Rapids. It is a popular recreation area and a very picturesque location.

Augusta Canal just below the headgates

Along the walkway at the gatehouse you’ll notice hundreds, if not thousands, of modern padlocks. These have been left behind by visitors over the years, as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the place. I’m not sure when the tradition started, but it has definitely caught on.

Augusta Canal Industrial District, National Register of Historic Places + National Historic Landmark + Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

Union Baptist Parsonage, Circa 1870, Augusta

This was built by the Greene Street Methodist Church circa 1870 as a school for Black children and a parsonage. It also served the Union Baptist Church as a parsonage and was later used as a rental property.

Greene Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Dr. J. B. Kay’s Obstetric Clinic, 1930s, Byron

This unusual structure, essentially two shotgun offices connected by a central hallway, was built circa 1919. Beginning in the 1930s, it was the office and clinic of Dr. James Benjamin Kay (1890-1960) and was the first obstetrics clinic in Georgia. Dr. Kay delivered over 3500 babies during his long career and also practiced general medicine

Byron Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Chief James Vann House, 1804, Spring Place

[This replaces a post by the same title originally published on 19 February 2019.]

James Vann (1765, or,1768-1809) was the son of a Cherokee mother, Wa-wli, and Scottish father, Clement Vann. By 1800  he became a principal leader of the Cherokee, due to his wealth and influence as a planter, tavern keeper, trading post operator, and general entrepreneur. In fact, he was thought to be the wealthiest of all Cherokee.

Chief James Vann House, Front Elevation

This home, the first of brick construction in the Cherokee nation, was built between 1804-1806. It served as the seat of James Vann’s extensive plantation on Diamond Hill. It was called the “Showplace of the Cherokee Nation”. Its success was dependent upon the labor of over 100 enslaved people, who were housed in 42 dwellings on the property. Vann was known to be quite cruel to his slaves, or to tolerate cruelty among his overseers, and this is rightfully reinforced through interpretation at the property today. Sometimes described as a “hard drinking business man”, he nonetheless encouraged cultural and educational opportunities for the Cherokee, through his assistance in the establishment of the Moravian mission and school at Spring Place. James Vann was murdered in 1809, presumably as retaliation for killing his brother-in-law in a duel the previous year. He left his home and property to his son Joseph (often referred to as Rich Joe). Joseph was also a Cherokee chieftain. An overnight visit by President James Monroe, traveling from Augusta to Nashville in 1819, was indicative of the prominence of the family and the quality of the house.

Chief James Vann House, Rear Elevation

It is believed that a man named Vogt [possibly James Vann’s brother-in-law Charles Vogt] and Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman were involved in the construction of the house.

Stairway, Chief James Vann House

Diaries of Moravian missionaries at Spring Place indicate that Byhan and Martin Schneider were also instrumental in the construction. It incorporates both Federal and Georgian design elements.

Foyer, Chief James Vann House

A Moravian settler named Robert Henry Howell is believed to have been the brick mason. The stylish interior elements were added during the ownership of Joseph (Rich Joe) Vann and may have been the work of John and James McCartney. Further documentation of this is needed.

Dining Room, Chief James Vann House, with portrait of Joseph Vann

After the Cherokee were driven west on the Trail of Tears, the house was sold and over the next century would have 17 different owners.

Drawing Room, Chief James Vann House

By the time Dr. J. E. Bradford, who had purchased the home in 1920, sold it to the Georgia Historical Commission in 1952, it was in a state of serious disrepair.

Bedroom, Chief James Vann House

An historically accurate restoration of the interior began in 1958 and was completed circa 1964.

The Slave Experience at the Chief Vann House

Re-creation of Kitchen/Workhouse, Chief James Vann House

The historic site uses three-dimensional models and the words of Moravian missionaries to interpret the slave experience at the Vann House. North Georgia was not a stronghold of slavery, so the example of the Vann plantation is exceptional. The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story by Tiya Miles, focuses on this subject, and incorporates previously overlooked primary sources.

Patience, a woman enslaved by James Vann

While the kitchen is very stylized and includes typical interpretive aids related to work, it stands out for the figures representing specific slaves who lived on the property along with brief anecdotes about their lives. The Moravian missionaries wrote in the their mission journal on 25 November 1810: “...a person named Patience caused us to feel much pity. She arrived in Charleston with some other Africans some years ago in the wintertime and afterward came to Vann’s plantation barefooted. She lost both of her feet because of the frost and now has to scoot on her knees…

Pleasant, a woman enslaved by Moravian missionaries John and Anna Gambold at Spring Place

Though the Moravians frowned upon individual members owning slaves, the church could purchase and assign them to missionary families as needed, and their views were ultimately aligned with those of other whites of the time. A middle-aged woman named Pleasant (1758?-1838) was purchased in April 1805 by the Home Church in Salem, North Carolina, and came to Spring Place to serve the missionary couple John and Anna Gambold. She was pregnant at the time. On 21 December 1805 Christian Lewis Benzien wrote to the Unity Elders Conference of the Moravian Church: On Sept. 29 on the way to Spring Place [Pleasant] gave birth to a mulatto infant which was baptized in Spring Place on October 20 with the name Michael…

Michael, son of Pleasant, enslaved by the Gambold family at Spring Place

Michael was given the honor of learning to read and often read the Bible to the Cherokee children at the Moravian school and was highly regarded by his owners, but typical of teenagers, he grew restless. In 1819, at the age of 14, he ran away from the Gambolds and when captured was sold away from Pleasant.

Reconstructed Historic Structures of Chief Vann House State Historic Site

Coahulla Creek corn crib (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee corn crib

To illustrate the contemporary vernacular architecture that would have been present on the Vann property, the Georgia State Parks division has reconstructed representative structures from the area, and built at least one from the ground up [kitchen], for this purpose.

Little Scarecorn Creek Cabin (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee dwelling

The vernacular architectural forms and the use of available material are representative not only of the Cherokee of the area but of the increasing numbers of white settlers, as well.

Sugar Creek Cabin (reconstruction), early 1800s Cherokee building

National Register of Historic Places

Shotgun Store, Circa 1900, Graysville

This is a great example of a “shotgun” store, the most common vernacular store form of 19th and early-20th-century Georgia. It was also a common form for small town offices and warehouses, but a resource survey identifies this as a general store, circa 1900. It’s been well-maintained.

Old Stone Church, 1852, Ringgold

This congregation was organized on 2 September 1837 as the Chickamauga Presbyterian Church and is believed to be the first church in what is now Catoosa County. A log cabin and nearby home served as the first meeting places. The organizers were a group of Scotch Irish Presbyterians from Tennessee or the Carolinas and the charter members were Robert Magill, James H. McSpadden, Robert C. Cain, Sarah Black, Alfred McSpadden, Fanny Magill, Susan McSpadden, Winfred Cain, Margaret Cain and Nancy Tipton.

In 1850 construction on this structure began. Member Robert Magi and his brothers hauled limestone quarried at White Oak Mountain to this site and the church was completed in 1852. The church served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War, and was also commandeered for use by Union troops. The name was changed to Stone Church in 1912 and in 1921 it was transferred to a Methodist congregation. It was used by other congregations subsequently and is now owned and maintained by the Catoosa County Historical Society.

National Register of Historic Places