Category Archives: georgia roads

Hawkes’ Libraries

(a Georgia-sized continuation of the Gilded Age’s social reform philanthropy)

A little less than a year ago a phone call out of the blue turned me on to a bit of Georgia history I had never heard of. The city of Jackson, Georgia, wanted to know how to save their 1925 Hawkes Library. Hawkes Library? I made confirming noises like I understood while my fingers started in on google. What I learned lead me deep into the annals of American values in the Gilded Age, philanthropy, and social philosophical ideals. But it started with a man named Albert King Hawkes.

Albert King Hawkes was an optometrist, inventor, and philanthropist. He was born in 1848 in Massachusetts but settled in Atlanta in 1886 and began an optical company which would become nationally known. Possibly partly because he didn’t have a family to pass his wealth on to Hawkes followed in the philanthropical footsteps of the wealthy benefactors from the Gilded Age (late 1800s) before him. According to one Hawkes Library National Register nomination:

“His donations were attributed to his interest in “sociological conditions” and in giving where it could most benefit society. He founded the Georgia Training School for Girls with a $10,000 donation as well as the land… He donated to various colleges, and a dormitory is named for him at LaGrange College. He provided for over-aged Methodist ministers, as well as Methodist orphans.”


some of Georgia's Carnegie Libraries, past and present

Georgia’s Carnegie Libraries, past and present

As America industrialized after the Civil War, waves of social reform also swept the nation. Besides libraries, this era saw a huge push for public schools, prison reform, housing services and the roots of the temperance movement. Much of the development in the way of public libraries was due to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie who had raised himself from the slums of Pittsburgh to become the richest man in the world through his steel industry businesses. In line with the social reformers of his day, Carnegie believed in social institutions’ ability to reform society, and in the wealthy few’s duty as benefactors. He considered the library in particular a strong influence on the “meritocratic nature” of America and thus a wise investment in order, stability, and sound economic growth.

From 1883 to 1916, Carnegie provided the funds for 2,811 libraries around the world. According to a PBS American Experience program, “Ordering a library from Carnegie was as easy as ordering a sofa from the Sears Catalog.” Step one was to submit a request in writing. Step two involved identifying a site. Step three identify matching funds for maintenance.

In Georgia, 29 total Carnegie libraries were built, 5 at institutions of higher learning.

Mr. Albert K. Hawkes apparently felt he could provide for society in a similar manner. By the early 20th century the public library was evolving as new services to address the needs of the “common man” were coming to the fore. Hawkes’ specification that the libraries be oriented toward children was a result of these new ways of thinking. In addition, and possibly due to his visual or simply technological savvy background, Hawkes wanted libraries to incorporate moving picture facilities as well.

Hawkes Library

Hawkes Free Children’s Library in Griffin, Ga.

The first discussions between the city of Griffin began in 1913 and the Griffin Hawkes Children’s Library officially opened in November of 1916. Though he had donated previously to libraries in Grantville, Roswell, and possibly other Georgia towns, the Griffin library was Hawkes’ first large-scale experiment in providing both literary and motion picture facilities. If it worked he planned to fund other children’s libraries around the state. Unfortunately, Albert K. Hawkes died in 1916 just as the Griffin library was opened. His will, however, provided $7,500 in funds for libraries in a short list of towns. Hawkes libraries in Cedartown (1921), West Point (1922), and Jackson (1925) were built as those cities raised the additional funds for construction and materials.

Although no specification from Hawkes is known, Hawkes’ libraries, like Carnegie’s were Classically styled and beautifully done. All but one of the libraries is attributed the Atlanta architectural firm Hentz, Reid and Adler and Neel Reid himself. Robert and Co. is the architect listed for the West Point library.

Despite being called a children’s library, the Griffin library and the others after it, served adults too as these were the only public libraries in town and served most towns into the 1970s or later.

The Hawkes Library in West Point is the only one still operating as a library today.

Hawkes Library, Jackson, Ga.

Hawkes Library, Jackson, Ga.

By the way, the update on the library in Jackson? On the brink of demolition the city managed to stall the county and purchase the building. Today it has a new roof and a committee is being established to oversee the building’s rehabilitation.

Sparta Courthouse destroyed

IMG_3533In horrible terrible no good very bad preservation news for the day, the Hancock County Courthouse burned to the ground in the wee hours of the morning.

I’ve written about Sparta a couple times over the years, thanks to work at the Trust, Sparta is one of the small towns in Georgia that I know best. In my opinion it is one of the best small towns in Georgia but that is an extremely personal opinion, you might have to be as intimately acquainted with a place like Macon, Miss., as I am to feel drawn to a place like Sparta. It’s a unique town too though, chock full of exquisite architectural examples from simple cottages on the back roads to antebellum townhomes of wealthy planters to the high-style arts and crafts former girl’s school on Maiden Lane. The high-style Italianate courthouse at the center of town was no exception.

No elaboration was spared on this courthouse which I think was one of the prettiest in the state. Though it may be the poorest county in the state, one could say that thanks to that and the severe decline of the population of Hancock County (from a peak of nearly 20,000 in 1910 to a declining 9,429 in 2010), expanding government over the 20th century didn’t actually take up more space in the courthouse and the relatively small 1881 building was still able to serve for all of Hancock County’s business and operations. The poverty of the county kept the courthouse relatively unchanged—besides some thin carpet added to the offices in the 60s or 70s and a cinderblock bathroom built under the west stair—it felt like one was stepping back in time.

Hancock County Courthouse courtroom

Well, you were.

It just so happened that I was traveling to Eatonton today, just 30 minutes from Sparta. My heart was heavy with dread as I took the road out of that town that pointed to Sparta, but I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to get it over with. It was close to 5:00 when I arrived, pulling into town on 16 and instead of the clock tower rising up ahead of me crowning the hill of town, there was a smudge between the trees of the courthouse square. The building was still smoldering and ash and smoke blew this way and that from the building, acrid in your nostrils. I didn’t see anyone I knew but several other people parked and walked up too, all the way around, one mother and her daughter who looked as near to tears as I was, a man and his 3 children, and more locals like the mechanics next door and workers in yellow vests who’d been there all day. We all looked at each other and said what a shame it was. How very sad. We refrained from shoulder crying.

Most of the brick walls were intact, but nothing else was, it was a brick shell, all of the wood, the doors, the plaster, the glass, were incinerated, even the iron rail of the false balcony was even mangled and twisted on the ground. There was no one to stop you from going too close, but news crews and workers seemed to be eyeing you. A cavalcade of masonry units that must’ve spilled out of the doors to the street when the clock tower fell in lay outside the yellow tape. I grabbed a good brick from the pile and went on my way.

photo by Halston Pittman


Ponder family cemetery

Months ago, back when spring was still cool in the mornings, me, N and fellow cyclist, A, met up with BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia organization) for one day of the Spring Tune-up Ride. The three of us weren’t making a day of it, so we took the 32-mile route, which, in different publications could’ve actually been 35 or 42 or 45 miles. The distance ultimately proved to be in the low 40s dependent on how many detours (or “attempted shortcuts”) you took, and how long down said shortcuts you had to chase your girlfriend until she turned around.

It only added a mile probably.

The ride was great, we started early enough that I was chilly the whole way in my new jersey and shorts. A. was eager to plow through til the end and eventually he did, I preferred to stop at all the rest stops (they are rightly known for their PB&Js) and at anything else interesting especially if it was halfway up a hill, N fell somewhere in between, looping back or waiting til I caught up. Since most of the riders were putting in 60-miles over the course of the day, our route split from most everyone else after Rutledge and we were mostly alone in the beautiful Morgan County (et al) countryside.

Before Rutledge however, we rode through the crossroads community of Fairplay where I noticed a big house just beyond the main intersection, for a moment I wished I’d detoured but then, as I glanced back to see if it was still in sight I was struck by the sight of these 2 giant monuments sitting almost on the road bank.

Ponder Cemetery

N and A were far ahead, I skidded to a halt and climbed up to the cemetery. “PONDER” it said on the monuments and my mind gleefully leapt to Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart.

Ponder Cemetery The Ponder family cemetery lay straight back from the house which was in plain view across the long field. These 15-foot-tall monuments, the headstones of George F. and Sarah Ann Ponder, would never have been out of sight. George’s father, John H. Ponder built the house in Morgan County around 1850 and it would remain the economic center of the community for decades more as the plantation system converted to sharecropping after the Civil War. Based on slave-holding census records (referenced here), the Ponders were among the wealthiest landowners in Morgan County at that time and though the family’s means must have been somewhat diminished after the war, George obviously wanted to make sure people remembered the family’s prominence when he and his wife died in the 1890s.

I lingered there a little while before my thoughts returned to the task at hand and I pedaled on toward Rutledge.

A and N at a brag rest stop in downtown Rutledge, this was the last we’d see of A for a while

detour in Cartersville

We were in Cartersville a few weekends ago for the Spring Ramble, J and I were rambling, wandering the rooms of the incredible long-since rehabbed and way out of our league houses on tour when we spotted a sign “Open House” with balloons that was clearly not on OUR open house trail. To be fair, a lot of Georgia Trust Ramblers noticed it, house enthusiasts always get their curiosity piqued by something a little off the beaten path. Not that this was so crazy, i mean, it was a realtor’s open house, they KNEW what they were doing taking advantage of all these house tourists going by. J and I popped in.

The house came with 4 acres which swept down to one of Cartersville’s main roads, which helps make sense of the nearly $1/2 million price tag. The house itself was big and a curiosity indeed. Originally an ornate, wood-frame Victorian house, it had received a false brick facade (probably in the 1960-70s) and a few rear additions whilst being chopped up into apartments (no later than the 1980s). Bathrooms were crammed into closets and the butler’s pantry (fortunately some builtins were still there!), cheap paneling covered the interior walls in small back rooms, rental-property tile on the floor of a plain vintage kitchen that felt like it belonged to another house entirely and beautiful hex bathroom tiles served to block off a former fireplace. Most of the house though, besides the obvious adjustments for boarders, was airy and filled with light. The realtor folks positioned themselves well on a side screen porch, so that when entering you straight through 3 rooms, each in tones of gray and white and filled with diffused daylight that showed off the elegant Victorian details of the molding. It was so peaceful with no one else there.


The elegant staircase was ‘boxed in’ with rails possibly because the railing was not to code height when it became apartments. Original doors, windows and mantles existed throughout contrasting with the 1970s back rooms (downstairs) and bathrooms also scattered throughout.



Like good preservationists, J and I talked our way through working out the story of the house as we went, the addition of the brick facade (“de rigueur” or to avoid maintaining the wood siding? was the wood siding underneath? the bay window??), the kitchen practically detached, the bathrooms and bedrooms and the tenants that used them…

Upstairs, curiosities in each room seemed staged to make one’s imagination run wild with more—kind of creepy—details from the past: a rocking horse like I remember as a kid in the 80s, a teapot on an antique ironing board, an old baby buggy from the house’s earliest days(?), and a handmade child’s toy wagon. For there have got to be stories, and if not, we’ll make them up.

stories to tell

Juliette, Ga

Speaking of fake places, I was outside of Forsyth and headed to Gray, by a road that wouldn’t get me there quickest by any means but was possibly interesting. I had heard of Juliette and I didn’t know why but the map had a square that said “textile mill” and that sounded interesting indeed. Unlike most hamlets, it’s hard to miss, a cluster of buildings welcome you right before the train tracks, and as you turn down the street to your right you think just how cute this is and great that people live here still, or at least, it seems that way. And then you start to notice the gimmicky stores, a “general store” with touristy knick-knacks and then 5 more shops just like it, no, maybe 10, 15… and that’s it, gimmicky or “antique” shops (all essentially the same) and the Whistle Stop Cafe. I was flabbergasted.

Whistle Stop

I still couldn’t remember why Juliette sounded familiar after I’d driven through “town,” up the hill beyond (the textile mill across the tracks and river looked pretty cool and used) to a big empty house for sale and back. So I parked and decided to have a quick look around. I knew, of course, the instant I stepped into one of those shops (pick a shop any shop), Fried Green Tomatoes was playing on the 13″ tv and souvenirs touted the same. I bought a souvenir and wandered out, still curious.

On up the road I ran into the proprietor of the Depot (an actual wooden train depot turned into another knick-knack “antique” shop, i managed to avoid his invitation to go in), and we chatted in the road a while. I had just noticed that the facade of the one brick building in town was fake, movie-fake, ACTUAL-MOVIE-fake. He had no problem admitting that, it was their business after all, but when I inquired what Juliette looked like BEFORE the movie I got a flurry of answers. He pointed out a couple buildings that had been there, the addition on the fake brick building and the fake-bricking of it, the Depot was just out in the woods there (1/2 a mile away? 20 miles?), this was moved in and this was built… “all your looking at is original, the real stuff.”

I do wish I’d saved my lunch for eating at the Whistle Stop Cafe with the other tourists (even a foreign couple!!) who drifted through Whistle Stop, i mean Juliette, on this gray Wednesday. Next time.

Bella and the Elephant

belle and the elephant

the Elephant itself is an old story, J and I discovered it in a cemetery outside of Moultrie last summer, but it was new to Bella and N and it was a hit. Really, Bella turned out to be more interested in the bronze dog she met later that night on the streets of Thomasville than the baby elephant or even the pig she’d seen on Saturday. After drinking from the dog’s water bowl, she sniffed his nose and his butt—just to make sure?

But we can still tell the story of our first Georgia road trip through Bella.

Sitting on the porch of This Little Piggy BBQ in Forsyth, the chef brought Bella her first ever rib which she gobbled up happily. Although she didn’t appear to notice the big pig that looked just like her toys back home, we got her to pose with it. Back on the road she slumbered until Hawkinsville, whose main street was as wide as the town itself. The firehouse, which I had come to check out, was a great little place, and I discovered a cat when I stuck the camera in the gap under the door and snapped. Another cat dashed across “film” in another beautiful abandoned commercial building around the corner. Bella was taking a walk around the block and missed the cats but that was probably a good thing.

Naturally, a girl and her camera on a lazy Saturday afternoon in a small town attract attention, esp accompanied by a boy and a big beautiful dog like Bella. I was approached by the possibly homeless, town drunk/eager tour guide/town promoter who had been observing us and correctly deduced our interest in the old stuff. The firehouse (“it’s old” he told me) sits behind the 1907 Opera House which hosted Oliver Hardy (with the mustache, my informant repeatedly emphasized in sign language) before he was famous. He then pointed out the oldest church in Hawkinsville, a pretty little Episcopalian sanctuary.

bread and butter

From Hawkinsville we took the road to Chauncey, a railroad town without much of a historic center (I suspect some of the 5 lanes of highway are responsible for some of that). There is a 1920 school building, however that’s big enough to hold the whole community today. Further down the road and off the beaten path, Rhine made up in historic buildings what Chauncey lacked, it might’ve used to have a good bit going for it even: the Bread and Butter Restaurant (our first religious eatery sighting), the hardware store, thrift store, post office and lawyer’s office. Not that anything appeared to be open, ever. Charmed, we rolled on. in Rochelle we drove past a tempting antique-junk market in a big old downtown hotel building (!!), we didn’t stop.

DSCN0384Adel was the first place I had to do any real work. It seemed that no one was home after I knocked so I jumped off the corner of the porch to take a picture, only to be startled back into professional decorum by the woman who answered the door. oops. Down the street, we all got out at another house owned and recently rehabilitated by the same owner. Zeke, a black lab mix that lived there, bounded out the front door when he saw Bella and they got to play in the yard for a few minutes. After that Bella slurped up some water from her collapsible bowl and climbed back in the backseat for a good nap.

Which could explain why she was so UN-interested in the baby elephant at the grave of William C. Duggan.


We reached Thomasville just in time to settle in before dinner. One bed for Bella, one bed for us at the Baymont Inn. The pool looked like it could’ve been more refreshing to tired feet than it was, but we weren’t complaining. There were many options for Saturday night dinner in Thomasville but we settled on Jonah’s fish and grits, a truly delicious eatery full of the word of the lord though, thankfully, not pushy about it. I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t need a beer.

So, if I recall correctly, the city of Thomasville used to be a resort town for Floridians, Georgians, and northerners alike. You could be near the coast without being on it and, though I don’t really see that advantage, the beautiful tree-lined streets with an eclectic mix of late 19th and early 20th century houses points to the fact that many people did. Relatively wealthy Victorians reclined behind screened verandahs and on lush wide lawns under spanish moss and palmettos. It is a town of repose and relaxation and churches. Lots of churches. In recent decades Thomasville has benefitted enormously from a very well-managed Main Street program, preservationist-minded individuals and a strong non-profit organization, Thomasville Landmarks.

By the way, for you hippies out there, the new (or newly restored) fountain at the courthouse is perfect for bathing. It reminded me of Mom and her cousins on their European travels in the late ’60s.

The next morning work took us to Bainbridge and then on up the left side of the state in search of BBQ for lunch. a pit stop at the George T. Bagby State Park gave us time to teach Bella how to swim while watching for alligators. The sign said that if the water was dark watch for gators, well, isn’t lake water always dark??! B was more than a little uncertain about this whole swimming thing, but she was trooper, anything for a tennis ball.

"got it, got the ball"

Slipping across time zones we made it to Phil’s BBQ in Eufaula before it closed for the day and then followed beach traffic out of town and homeward.

Rome rain or shine

Out of Rockmart I had spotted the Old Rome Road, which, ironically, was not straight and true as the new one. It more closely resembled a hedge-lined road through the English countryside than a Roman one. Tall grass and fencerows stood in for the English hedges and the faded yellow line wavered (not a mirage).

Once again it was hot hot HOT in Rome. Rain was predicted (we’d been getting it everyday since the 4th of July) but it was nowhere in sight as a hurried down the sunny sidewalks inspecting the bricks of downtown Rome. You’d think that just ONCE in 3 years of coming here there’d be an overcast day.

For lunch in Rome I sat in the dollar-bill-papered and happily air-conditioned Jefferson’s and had a BLT and iced tea. I observed the colorful and historic streetscape of storefronts with an appreciation that was hard to settle into while standing in the sun out there. One of the best assets of Rome’s downtown blocks are the tree-filled medians where middle-aged oak trees stand as a testament to brilliant landscaper a generation back.

Rome color


After lunch I stepped off the last block of inspections, it was getting on 3 o’clock and dark clouds were finally threatening the sky. Eager to catch the storm (or have it catch me rather), i decided to stroll the pedestrian trestle bridge, and ultimately sought shelter for the duration of the storm along the walking trail under the highway bridge nearby. The water was high from all the rain, covering the trail at the lowest points and totally submerging the steps that once led to the water’s edge.

I only wish that rain had come earlier, I’ll be darned if I walk those blazing streets again at noon. Next year I’m consulting an almanac.