Tag Archives: sparta

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

DSCN2568


paint job

Friday we had a workday. The interior color scheme of the Moore-Lewis House in Sparta, is, well, less of a scheme than it is a valiant effort to keep a local paint store in business by finding a use for the colors no one else wanted. I mean, the bold and brilliant orange that adorned the front and upstairs halls was not really that bad a color, but it is much better suited to be on C or B’s bridesmaids’ dresses that on the walls of anyone’s entry hall. Especially sponge-painted.

before

before

While half of the crew worked in the yard with gas-powered push mowers and hand-held hedge trimmers, we sweated it out on the inside pushing rollers of Kilz up and down those orange walls and cutting in around the trim. We did alright, and I’ve got to say, it looks way more open, airy, and just downright pleasant when you walk in than it did before.

We’ll let the next owner deal with those red sidelights. Now, anyone in the market for a good cheap house in Sparta?

after

after


Sparta is where it’s at

Yesterday’s trip to Sparta was beyond exciting. I’ve been itching to get back there ever since J and I had to speed through it last September. Sparta, a county seat made rich long ago by cotton and left high and dry by the various economic forces of changed farming, deep racial divides, undervalued education systems, and bad politics, is an interesting amalgamation of everything that is dear to me:

– it reminds me profoundly of Macon, Miss.
– so I feel I understand it, but only as much as I can claim to understand Macon
– it is rich, RICH in historic building stock, many of which are in decent condition and relatively unchanged.
– FARMING!! not the cotton, corn and soybeans kind—in fact, I know very little of Hancock County’s farming economy and how it compares to Noxubee—but the GOOD FOOD movement is RIGHT THERE!

One citizen of Sparta in particular is responsible for much of this preservation-good food pairing. I don’t know a lot about Mr. C, he made his money in the furniture business, moved to Sparta some time ago where he and his wife restored a grand old home with magnolia trees in front and lots of land in back. Perhaps it was she who started the garden, a picture perfect acre or two, straight of the how-to-create-a-garden book. A few years back, an appropriate “young land-less farming couple” moved into the house next door to take over the management and expansion of the garden and begin selling to outside markets. I once understood that this garden supplied the Four Seasons in Atlanta and now I know they supply other good-local-food-minded restaurants within a 2 hour radius which includes Augusta and Athens.

Untitled

Years ago Mr. C developed an alliance with us at the Georgia Trust and today is a key ally of the Trust in our work in Sparta. Apparently he was also making friends with Georgia Organics as I later learned he is revered equally among my farm-foodie friends. Currently he instigates change in his community by investing in projects that further the pursuit of these 2 interests. He and his wife are living the dream by living what they believe in.

For the Trust, the C’s recently purchased a house at auction which they then sold to us at a bargain price for our Revolving Fund. About a year ago though, the Trust worked with Mr. C to purchase a neighboring abandoned factory and the old train depot, which has become a new food venture. JT, a farming friend who used to be president of Georgia Organics, moved to Sparta this past summer to partner with Mr. C in the development of a mushroom growing operation which is off to a good start. The first Sparta Farmer’s Mkt, organized in part at least by JT is starting up in March involving other farmers in the area whose products are not already being sold to the Four Seasons, Five and Ten or such. In my mind, it’s the first big step in the good-food revolution of a small town. It’s exciting!

Yes, you guessed it, I want to live there and truly, if I didn’t already have Macon, Sparta would be mine. I kind of wish they were right next door to each other, it’s a shame there are so many small towns to choose from, and that we can each only choose one.

Moore-Lewis House mushroom growing 2


in the land of cotton

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.

Sparta Courthouse

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 gardenlet-us 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.


Sparta, Ga.

sometimes the job requires a little hands on work. This house in Sparta was sold just this summer out of the Georgia Trust’s Revolving Fund (hence we needed to take down the for sale sign, so i borrowed a screwdriver from my new friend up the street). It’ll be the 4th building in the tiny town of Sparta with a Historic Preservation easement on it which just goes to show what a collection of historic properties Sparta has—so many of these little towns have. After all I guess, this area used to be the heart of Georgia with the port of Augusta on the Savannah River, and the capital of Louisville and later Milledgeville in the same region. Of course the story of these towns is nothing new, they exist everywhere, I guess we just all like the big cities better now.