Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Possum Poke in Worth County, Georgia

Rural Georgia certainly has no shortage of stories to tell. And sometimes those stories surprise you, like when you are minding your own business, driving down a highway in Worth County, and you stumble upon what appears to be a roadside park of WPA or CCC vintage. And when you get out to explore, you (how long can I keep up this writing-in-the-second-person narrative?) discover a monument that appears to be several decades younger than the surrounding site - and commemorates a former governor of Michigan.

Roadside park along US Highway 82 in Worth County

Although I have given it my best as far as internet research goes, I haven't been able to find any information on the old roadside park. However - and I mean this is the least-clickbait-sounding-way possible - what I did find is, arguably, even better.

Monument to Governor Chase Salmon Osborn

As it turns out, Chase Salmon Osborn, the former governor of Michigan to whom the above monument is dedicated, once had a winter retreat and hunting lodge in Worth County, just outside the small community of Poulan. The property, called Possum Poke, still exists, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

"Big Poke" at Possum Poke. (Photo credit: The Chase S. and Stellanova Osborn Home Page.)

From historical sources, Governor Osborn appears to be flamboyant and multi-faceted in the way only a late 19th/early 20th century politician could be. He made money in newspapers, timber, and iron ore, and after a decades-long political career, settled at his winter retreat in Georgia with his adopted daughter (also his secretary and "companion"), Stella Brunt. There the two of them spent a lot of time writing books - 17 in total, including A Tale of Possum Poke in Possum Lane - and in 1931, Miss Brunt changed her name to Stellanova. She and Osborn saw the light while at Possum Poke, and worked tirelessly for the creation of an Atlantic Union. That's right, they were secessionists. Governor Osborn is quoted thusly:
If ever the great masses of people in the world who are living under despots are organized under despotism, the self-governing peoples, who are in a hopeless minority, will be forced to unite for self-preservation.
Chase Salmon Osborn as a young man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia.)

Governor Osborn passed away at Possum Poke in 1949, but not before marrying Stellanova Brunt, his adopted daughter, two days before his death, in part to ensure that she would carry on his vision of an Atlantic Union. And carry it on she did, for another nearly 40 years until her death in the 1980s. In fact, Stellanova Osborn was instrumental in getting Possum Poke listed in the National Register, as the only remaining place specifically associated with Governor Chase Osborn and the Atlantic Union.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tate Depot

Built in 1916, the former Louisville & Nashville Railroad depot in Tate exemplifies the rural combination depot form and style. The combination depot, serving both freight and passengers, is generally a 1 or 1 1/2 story tall, three-bay building with a freight room at one end, waiting rooms at the other end, and offices in between. A projecting bay on the track-side of the building houses the ticket office. Many of these depots had segregated waiting rooms. 

L&N 364 at Tate GA Sept 1966. Photo credit: George Lane, SSAVE. Some photo rights reserved; see this link at Creative Commons. For source photo, see this page at Flickr. Courtesy of RailGA.com
A through-the-window shot of the interior
Detail of freight room doors.

Often, railroads would hire an architect to produce a single depot design and these would be reproduced down the line. Though not exact replicas, several depots along the L&N line share similar features.

Ellijay Depot, c. 1912. Photo by Leamon Scott, courtesy of RailGA.com
Woodstock Depot, c. 1912. Courtesy of RailGA.com
Blue Ridge depot, c. 1906. Courtesy of RailGA.com

The Tate Depot remains noticeably intact, but has clearly suffered from neglect over the last couple decades. An approved $400,000 TEA grant from 2006 should be addressing this, but the project appears stalled. Of particular concern is the termite damage at the building's NE corner. An ill-thought alteration replaced a brick pier with a wood pier that is now home to a seriously overlooked termite colony - the sill plate is as soft as cardboard.

Termite damage on the Tate Depot

Monday, January 27, 2014

Buddy Candler's Briarcliff Manse in Disrepair

Briarcliff, the Georgian Revival mansion built for Asa Candler, Jr in 1920 sits vacant, and has for quite some time. The property was bought by Emory University in 1998 along with a dozen other buildings associated with the Georgia Mental Health Institute. The mansion in all of its decrepit misery is, astoundingly, located in historic Druid Hills, right here.

In 1910 Asa Candler, Jr, known to many as "Buddy", moved from Inman Park to a 42-acre farm in Druid Hills. He ran a commercial farming operation on the property that was lauded for its use of electric lights and fans to provide better conditions for the animals which reportedly increased yields.

In 1916, Buddy hired architects C.E. Frazier and Dan Boden to design his new home. Frazier must have been well known in Druid Hills at the time, having designed several large "English-American" houses that decade. Little is known about Boden. Buddy enlarged the mansion in 1925 with the three-story 'Music Hall' that included an incredibly large Aeolian organ, now owned by Wesleyan College in Macon.

"Abandoned Mansion" photography by Brian McGrath Davis

Perhaps the most distinguishing element to the mansion's history is the collection of exotic animals Candler kept on site. The collection included a Bengal tiger, four lions, a black leopard, a gorilla, baboons, and six elephants. Candler donated the entire menagerie of animals to what would later become the Grant Park Zoo.

The mansion also included two swimming pools, one open to the public for 25 cents per person. The pool had a neon-lit fountain and a concessionaire to buy Coca Cola and snacks.

In 1948, the Candlers sold the estate to the General Services Administration for use as a veterans hospital, which never materialized. Instead, the Georgian Clinic (later known as the DeKalb County Addiction Center) opened there as the first alcohol treatment facility in the state.

Today, the building is boarded up and only occasionally used for television and movie location filming. From Brian McGrath Davis' photographs and others, it is clear that the building is slowly rotting away.

It appears from Emory's 2005 master plan that they would like to demolish the 1950s-era Cross-shaped health building, its associated 'Bungalow' buildings, and the numerous pre-fab and utility buildings on the property and build housing for employees - though this plan does not seem to have any traction yet. The fate of Briarcliff is unknown, though, according to a PR piece on YouTube its too expensive to rehab and too expensive to tear down.

Sounds like Emory needs to initiate a capital campaign for this Architectural treasure...

Exterior of Asa Griggs Candler Jr.'s house (1922) on Briarcliff Road, Atlanta, Georgia, September 1953, courtesy of the Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library

Thanks for the tip on this sad story from an anonymous comment on this post.