Sunday, September 7, 2014

An Uncanny Sort of Place

Over the past twenty-seven years of my residence in Milledgeville, the ante-bellum capital of Georgia,  I have found myself immersed (if not mired) in the history of this place.  Officially I am the University historian of Georgia College, and unofficially have become a local historian.  In the latter role I have visited sites both celebrated and obscure in Milledgeville/Baldwin County, but few have the unsettling effect that the Cline/O’Connor  estate  called  Andalusia  always  has on me.

On the face of it,  Andalusia  is  simply  another survival of a local plantation—those reminders of the horrors of slavery and the wealth generated by the cotton boom.  The farm is part of an antebellum plantation owned by a merchant and cotton grower named Joseph Stovall.  Stovall’s townhouse still survives in downtown Milledgeville, a magnificent structure known as the “Thirteen Columns.”  His plantation, three miles north of the capital, was comprised of 1,700 acres worked by at least 39 slaves.  It ran along Tobler’s Creek, one of three Tobler’s Creeks in Georgia, the name variously attributed to an early German-Swiss family in the colony and also to a Creek Indian named Tobler.  The plantation was little different than other local farms with names such as Westover, Little Creek, and  Brookline.  After Stovall’s death in 1848, the estate was acquired by Nathan Hawkins who worked it with 100 slaves.  Many of these people were sold on the auction block located hard by the Presbyterian Church in town.

I can easily imagine in the 1850s riding out in a cart, bumping along the old Sheffield Ferry Road to visit the Hawkins farm.  He had just built a modest two-story frame house that would be occupied one hundred years later by Regina Cline O’Connor and her daughter Flannery.  Other names associated with the old Stovall/Hawkins plantation, as it was broken up into smaller sections over the years, included Col. Thomas Johnson and the locally prominent McCraw family.  The current part of the farm was acquired by Mary Flannery O’Connor’s maternal uncle, Bernard Cline in 1931.

I have visited so many of these old plantation sites over the years, some barely visible, others such as Westover that still have many of their outbuildings and landscaping largely intact.  But Andalusia is different; unsettling in ways that are sometimes benign and other times not.  Over time I have read most of O’Connor’s works and the strong sense of place that permeates them surely casts a spell.  But even when I first visited the property, having read little of O’Connor, walking along the pond, out by the barns, stable, tenant house, milk house, and of course the main house, there was a quiet sense of something transcendent that sometimes stopped me cold.  I love Andalusia, but I still often get the shivers when I visit.

Stovall-Conn-Gardner House, "13 Columns" - Milledgeville, GA

Robert J. Wilson III, Ph.D. has taught early American history at Georgia College since 1987.  Ph.D., University of Massachusetts (Amherst),  B.A. and M.A. from the University of Hawaii. He refers to himself as a Yankee, and hails from Niles, Ohio.

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