When I think of poultry, I usually think of Northeast Georgia, but this building near the historic West Georgia town of Molena, branded “Jack Pilkenton Turkey Farm”, sent me down a research rabbit hole. I didn’t find any rabbits but instead found millions of turkeys! Mr. Pilkenton raised turkeys on this land, adjacent to the Whiskey Bonding Barn, which he bought and incorporated into the operation in 1951.
Though the town’s website doesn’t mention it today, Molena for a time considered itself the “Turkey Capital of Georgia”. There was even a turkey queen to help promote this fact. It may not have been officially designated by the powers that be, but it was source of local pride and it employed a lot of people.
Louis Lester McCrary, Sr., who began raising the birds on a small scale in 1932, was one of the first to see their business potential, and his family was one of the last to be involved in the business, which was gone from Molena by the 1980s. An article in the 23 July 1970 edition of the Atlanta Constitution noted that the McCrarys were raising as many as half a million birds per year. At least eight families were involved in the industry at some time or another between the 1930s and the 1980s.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
DeKalb County was still largely rural and one of the leading dairy counties in Georgia in 1947 when S. B. Vaughters built this barn to house Jersey cows at his farm, one of the most successful in the area. It later housed Angus cattle and horses, before being sold to the state for perpetual preservation in 2002. Restored in 2018, the barn is located on Panola Mountain State Park and is part of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.