In 1793 in the land of cotton, Hancock county and it’s county seat of Sparta were established. A primary producer of cotton both before and after the Civil War, Sparta’s old money is evidenced in the large and often elaborate antebellum homes, town homes of planters, bankers and other figures lured by king cotton. Other indicators of it’s prosperity include the fact that by 1803 Sparta was one of only 5 cities in the state to have it’s own newspaper and in 1831 the Women’s Model School was founded by . Today there is an underlying emptiness that pervades endless small towns in America, the decay of a once-thriving economy and vibrant center cloaked in the physical remains of former glory. Perhaps that is part of the reason the very name of Sparta evokes for me a sort of Faulkner-esque state, a gritty and unpleasant reality underlying extravagant beauty and wealth.
However, reading up in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Sparta’s wealth continued even into the early 20th century and so was probably very similar to town’s like Macon, Miss., where cotton was still the mainstay and gins dotted the the county. Today, with such a wealth of historic homes, Sparta has become sort of a focus of historic preservation in Georgia. I am not really sure the town (or at least it’s elected officials) are invested in its own preservation, but outsiders find it a good place for a fixer-upper retirement or second home and the Georgia Trust has revolved and become involved in the revitalization of many properties there.
Over the summer I had breezed through Sparta between stops in Sandersville and Louisville, inspecting serveral easement properties. But a few weeks ago, just before Christmas I went back with others from the Trust for a more in-depth day in Sparta. Our first stop was the Places in Peril site of Mt. Zion Church where the founder of the Female School is buried among other notable Spartans. We poked around a few more houses, had a decently greasy local lunch and got a good tour of Mr. C’s organic garden. Located in the heart of the town, the Cs’ beautiful home is backed by this perfectly formed vegetable garden with which Georgia Organics now has some involvment as a young farmer is lodged there. The garden provides organic produce (and chickens/eggs?) to the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta–neat! It was beautiful and I was jealous as we filled our plastic bags full of healthy lettuce, mustard, and arugula.
I would totally live in Sparta–with a few of my friends–if I didn’t already have a small town to attend to.