Another day of fast and furious driving moves us sixty miles north. In Forsyth we are camped near the expressway, better positioned for the drive home when the driving really will be fast and furious. This location is also closer to some of the sightseeing attractions that The Rally sponsored as bus tours when we were there last week.
In the early 1900’s, Juliette, GA was a booming community along the railroad tracks. Although the regularly used tracks are still there, the town went into decline. In 1991 Hollywood producers were looking for a location to bring the best selling book Fried Green Tomatoes to life. Although the book took place in Alabama, Juliette with its location on the Ocmulgee River, the railroad, and the quaint old buildings, was just what they were looking for. Friends told us they had stopped at the Whistle Stop diner there for a great meal and that was all we needed to hear. The little restaurant was crowded with tourists and a large flock of red hat ladies, so we sat at the counter and savored the atmosphere. The fried green tomatoes were yummy and bad for us, just as any fried vegetable is and the menu featured okra, corn bread, chicken friend steak, BBQ, and other stereotypically southern food. We expected to find a bit more to Juliette if tour buses go there, but aside from the “I ate Fried Green Tomatoes” T-shirts, there really wasn’t much there there.
So we headed down the road to a lesser known, but definitely more interesting state historic site called Jarrell Plantation. The word plantation engenders thoughts of massive white columned buildings and mint juleps, but this plantation was really just a farm. What made it special was that it had remained in the Jarrell family from the 1840’s to the 1970’s. We’ve seen many restored historic spots, but the family preserved this place over the years and the furniture in the homes and the rusting farm implements outside were all original right down to the pictures on the wall.
John, the original Jarrell built a simple pine house and made the furnishings inside. As this hard working man made money, he bought more land and slaves to help him harvest the crops. By 1860 this 600 acre plantation was farmed by 39 slaves. Although no one would ever argue that slavery was right, one can imagine how devastated he felt after the Civil War when he no longer had the help of their labor and his investments were free to walk away. However, he must have been a decent owner and most of his slaves returned to the land as free men and farmed with him in tendency and built the farm up to 1,000 acres. Along the way typhoid claimed his wife and some of his children and he remarried. He had fourteen children altogether, but even a prosperous farm this size could not support them all and most of them left. As the workers left the slave houses deteriorated and disappeared, but the family maintained the other farm buildings.
After John died his son Dick returned and in 1895 built another house on the property for his own large family. The boll weevil infestation brought the cotton farmers to their knees, but he had diversified and also made money from the saw mill, grist mill, shingle mill, planer, sugar cane press, syrup evaporator that he built on the property. They are all still there and in working condition. In 1974 his descendants donated all the old farm buildings to the state of Georgia and today a Jerrell nephew lives in the newest and finest home on the property and runs a B & B there.
As we walked the grounds we had to think about how hard these folks worked and how talented they had to be in ways we have totally forgotten. It was hard to imagine the place as a farm since trees and bushes have reclaimed the fields the Jerrells had worked so hard to clear.