By Renée S. Gordon
In 1825, the Marquis de La Fayette visited the region that is now Troup County and declared that it reminded him of his home near Paris. In 1826 when the county was officially formed from Creek Indian land the town of LaGrange was named after the Marquis’ French estate.
Prior to leaving for the French and Indian War Colonel Julius Alford and his men tossed coins into the well in the town square saying, “Here you go Lafayette.” They believed that according to French custom their wish would be granted. In 1936 the courthouse main square burned and was replaced by a fountain into which people threw coins. A replica of a French statue of Lafayette was added to the fountain in 1976. Coins, complete with coin toss instructions, are supplied by the tourist bureau and on any day you can see groups of people standing back to back with Lafayette tossing coins into the fountain over their shoulder. This is a great and historic way to begin the second part of our trip. www.lagrangechamber.com
During the Civil War the defenders of LaGrange were a group of women, the Nancy Harts, who managed to negotiate a surrender with Union Colonel Oscar LaGrange. Some of the town was looted and destroyed, but the residences were not.
The most significant home that was spared was Sen. Benjamin Hill’s Bellevue, a Greek-Revival mansion erected using slave labor from 1853-55. Colonel LaGrange had been nursed while under Confederate care by Hill’s niece and the sparing of the estate may have been his thanks for the deed. The house is open for tours and is a National Historic Landmark.
Adjacent to the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery is the gravesite of bridge builder Horace King who was born enslaved in 1807. King purchased his freedom in 1852 and moved to LaGrange in 1872. He was considered the greatest bridge builder of his era.
The Rogers House is a wonderful example of Piedmont Plain, 2 over 2, architecture. Originally constructed in 1810 for $111, a shed was added in 1820 and Victorian porches in 1873. It has been lovingly restored, using documents and photographs, to its 1873 appearance. Furnishings are of the period.
Former slave Adeline Rose built Rose Cottage, located on the adjacent lot, in 1891. She lived in the house and worked as a laundress for 68 years earning .50 a basket. Many of her clients were boarders at the Hardy House owned by the mother of Oliver Hardy.
Dr. William Johnston erected the Greek-Revival Heritage Hall in 1811 on a four-acre lot created as an urban farmstead. The most singular features of the façade are the four columns on the porch bookended by two square pillars. In 1830 the estate was purchased by Dr. Elijah Jones who owned 2800-acres in the area and held 114 blacks in bondage. The entire house was lifted and relocated 200-ft. from its original site in 1909.
House tours showcase original glass, 14-ft. ceilings and hard-pine floors. Also on view is the Haviland family china shipped unadorned from England. Once received gold nuggets were melted down to apply designs. Visits include the haunted bedroom and the hearth on which a mysterious etching of a woman and baby appears. www.friendsofheritagehall.org
From 1806 until 1868 Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia. Sherman came through the city during his march and depleted the city’s resources but did not burn it. The city did suffer fire damage because the townspeople released the incarcerated from the state prison located there to help defend the area and they set fire to the prison.
Sherman made the Old Governor’s Mansion his headquarters in 1864. The Italian-inspired Georgian structure housed 10 governors. The two-story building was constructed in 1838 and recently underwent a 10-year, $9.5-million restoration and is open for tours. The first floor consists of the public rooms and a foyer that is unique in the country. Approximately 15% of the furniture belonged to the governors and 99% of the furniture dates from the 1850s.
The Old Capital, built in 1807, was the first public Gothic building in the US. It was constructed of more than one million handmade bricks. The January 16, 1861 Secession Convention was held on the first floor that is now an excellent museum.
Chronological displays provide an overview of regional history with emphasis on Frontier Georgia, Plantation Owners, Sherman’s March and Slavery. In a real coup, the museum recently obtained African American Joseph and Susie Medlock Artifacts and Documents found in an old trunk in Jacksonville, Florida in 2004. The trunk contained historically important items such as photographs, manacles, report cards, and the family Bible. The museum is actively seeking people with a Medlock connection. Please call 1-870-792-8022 if you have information. www.oldcapitalmuseum.org
Macon is a city that everyone should visit at least once. It has 11 historic districts with a combined 5,500 National Historic Register properties and there are attractions, museums, restaurants and accommodations, everything to elevate a vacation above the ordinary. Your only problem is where to start and I will solve that for you. www.visitmacon.org
We will begin with Richard Penniman, or Little Richard, as he is better known. He and Lena Horne were born in the Pleasant Hill District of Macon, an 1870’s African American community established largely by those who worked in homes on College Ave. The area is filled with vernacular architecture, many shotgun houses, built by black skilled workers. Richard’s childhood home at 1437 Woodcliff may be viewed from the exterior only.
The Georgia Music Hall of Fame is outstanding. More than 100 people have been inducted and their stories are interpreted here in nine interactive galleries filled with artifacts, listening stations, documents and photographs. Tours begin in the Gretsch Theater with an 18-minute film that traces the roots of Georgia’s music. The artistry of Usher, Otis Redding, Outkast, Johnny Mercer, the Allman Bros and Gladys Knight among others are featured. www.georgiamusic.org
From the GMHF it is a short walk to the “dock of the bay,” really a river, where a life-sized statue of Otis Redding is seated with his guitar and a notepad with the lyrics to “Dock of the Bay” beside him. Redding’s legacy lives on through the programs of his Youth Educational Dream Foundation. www.otisredding.com
Little Richard got his start in Ann’s Tick Tock Lounge, a 50’s African American club that was ahead of its time in that it was sexually mixed. Richard was the dishwasher but periodically he would perform. The Tic Tock Room, under new ownership, honors his memory and serves nouveau southern cuisine.
The largest sports hall of fame in the nation is in Macon. This state-of-the-art 14,000-sq. ft. facility has ten galleries on two levels. Many of the exhibits are interactive and honor college, professional and paralympics sports. Tours begin with a film, “Dare to be Great.” www.gshf.org
Showcased on A&E’s “America’s Castles,” the 1859 Hay House is deemed one of the finest antebellum residences in America. Built as a four-level, 18,000-sq. ft Italian Renaissance Revival Villa mansion it has 24 rooms and a tri-level 70-ft cupola. Futuristic for the era the interior has 19 fireplaces, central heating, a cooling system, running water, an elevator, bathrooms, intercoms and gas lighting. www.hayhouse.org
The Union fired on the Hay House, believing it held Confederate gold, and hit the 1853 Greek Revival Holt House, forever after referred to as the Cannonball House, instead. The shot ricocheted off the sidewalk, hit a column, entered the house and came to rest in the hall. The hall dent is still visible. It may be toured.
Georgia has so much to offer that we have barely scratched the surface. For information on these sites and more go online and I will bet Georgia will be on your mind too. www.exploregeorgia.org
I wish you smooth and distinctive travels!
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