Malcolm Archibald McRainey, c. 1910 (Courtesy of Thomas Hildebrandt,
In addition to having one of the strongest names in the south, Malcom Archibald McRainey (1866-1914) was a man of wealth and prominence (shown above in his finest digs, resembling a cross between Doc Brown and Q). He was active in the production and use of timber (most notably for naval use), horse and livestock farming, and appears to have played a role in the establishment of the Georgia Southwestern and Gulf Railroad Company around 1906, though his role in that company is unclear. The railway, which ran between Albany and Cordele, operated under several different names and was eventually abandoned in 1977. McRainey was likely an investor in the failed attempt to extend the line from Albany to St. Andrews, Florida, based on a notice of petition for charter in the Albany Daily Herald, dated May 11, 1906, which referred to the line as being of 155 miles (when it was never more than 35 miles in length). His interest in the railroad was undoubtedly connected to his efforts to build a town. McRainey was the founder of Elmodel, Georgia, an unincorporated community along GA-37 near the center of Baker County.
|Courtesy of Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.|
It was at the heart of his community, that McRainey built this home in 1909 (reportedly on the site of the family’s previous, more modest home). The record associated with this photo in Georgia's archive indicates the architect was William Jay; presumably not the architect of great repute by that name known for his mastery of similar classical styles, who died in 1837.
|J.I.D. Miller's A Guide into the South (Macon, 1911), pg. 13.|
This neoclassical gem was the metaphorical diamond in the rough, a throwback to the plantation houses that once seeded this southern landscape (and fortunately still do, in some places), standing out as a display of wealth and prestige in stark contrast from the lands around them. At the time of McRainey's death in 1914, it was referred to as "one of the handsomest country homes in Southwest Georgia." It was at this house that J.I.D. Miller would have met with McRainey in preparation of his Guide into the South, a publication pressed in 1911, intended to be an enticing guide for travelers, investors, and working joes looking for opportunities to prosper in the south. Miller carried McRainey’s message of the bountiful abundance of Baker County land and his entrepreneurial endeavor to populate his small community.
It does not appear that McRainey's vision, whatever it may have been, was ever realized. Additional study of census and deed records could paint a fuller picture of this story and McRainey's successes or shortcomings, as they may have been. Nevertheless, McRainey lived and died a man of great repute and wealth. He eulogized by the Albany Herald with the following:
"He was a large planter, landowner and business man, and a man of power and influence among his fellowmen. The hospitality of his home was prodigal and he never was happier than when he was entertaining his friends there. Genial and cordial in all of his relations, he made friends with all who knew him."
McRainey was buried in a small family cemetery in Elmodel, and his grave marked with a fitting monument.
|From Miller's A Guide into the South.|
So, why am I telling you this story? I married into a family from those parts and have driven through Elmodel many times. The very first time, I remember seeing this house and being just awestruck. The area is by no means lacking in noteworthy sites for a perpetual tourist like me, but as we made the drive along that rural stretch of road, flanked by fields and trees for the longest time, suddenly the trees broke to reveal this…
… it really catches your attention. This is what happens when you love heritage. A chance encounter leads to a brief obsession that you often indulge until you either see it through or something else catches your eye. It’s a special kind of affair.
I was surprised to learn that McRainey’s home is still inhabited (or the parcel, at least), reportedly by his descendants. Just in case you were wondering why there is only one photo of the house today, there is your answer. Places like these are magnets for trespassers of all kinds. As a courtesy to those who may still own and value these places, always take measures to ensure you don't tread where you are unwelcome. This is one of those places. So, if you happen upon this place, enjoy the view, then mozy on.
Despite its sad state, McRainey’s home remains a gem ~ its merely lost its luster. It is not the only gem in this small community and far from the best Baker County has to offer, I am sure. But it stands out as a reminder that things are rarely what they seem. For the casual explorer, this seems out of place on that rural stretch of state highway. In reality, it is simply out of time ~ its time, at least. This community has a story to tell and this wonderful house gave that story to me.
So as you drive the back roads of Georgia (and your own states), be sure to keep your eyes on the road, because there are deer and hogs out there ~ but also pay attention to your surroundings, because there are countless little obsessions dotting the roadside, just waiting to be “discovered” once again.