Easter weekend. Laura had Friday and Monday off from Furman and decided that she needed to head back down to Florida to check on her mom. She decided that she needed some “sister time” with Amy to talk about how their mother’s care was going. That being the case, I decided to needed some “brother time” with Houston, so for the holiday weekend we headed in different directions.
I arrived at Houston’s farm below Watkinsville, Georgia about mid-morning on Friday. I was loaded to the gills with every toy we might need – kites, cameras, banjo, drums, recording gear, computers, and paddling gear. I was set for any eventuality. We would actually use quite a bit of that gear.
Lynda also had the day off, so the three of us set off on a Good Friday ramble across Georgia. Our destination was Warm Springs, Georgia, and the Little White House of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was a 2.5 hour drive, and whether we would actually get there or not was debated several times as we got distracted along the way.
Our first stop/distraction was downtown Madison. Lynda needed to mail a package, so we stopped at the historic post office on the square. Houston and I took photos of an old bank that is in the process of being remodeled as a restaurant.
Chore accomplished, we headed on out of town…and hit another distraction on the way out. Houston, Glynda, and I had explored this area one fall a couple of years ago and had stopped at the old Madison Graded School. However, we had not been able to tour the interior. This time it was open, so we decided to go in.
The lighting for exterior shots was absolutely horrible and backlit. Here are two shots from our previous visit just as a reminder…
…plus one shot of the bell tower from this morning.
The old school now functions as the Madison Morgan Cultural Center, with a museum, art galleries, and an auditorium. We entered and stopped by their gift shop for tickets, and a souvenir.
I told Laura that if I ever bought myself a hip flask she should sign me up for AA. It would be an indication of a problem, if I felt the need to alcohol with me at all times in a pocket. However, the irony of having the image of a school on a container for alcohol was just too much. Plus, its purchase would help with maintenance of the school. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
We were joined in the gift shop by another visitor. Tom Plowden and his wife were visiting from Edgefield, and he had stopped by while his wife was shopping. Plowden was particularly loquacious, and we gabbed for a long time about people we knew in common (he had also graduated from Furman.) Plowden had a keen interest in the Confederacy, hence his interest in Madison as the “town that Sherman wouldn’t burn.”
The old school had been restored in spectacular fashion. The woodgrain finishes were beautiful, from the polished floors to the stairs and railings.
Public spaces on the first floor included the gift shop, a parlor, the auditorium, and the local history museum. In the small hallway that separated the gift shop from the museum hung a thick rope. We assumed this would be connected to the school’s bell. More on that later.
We started with the museum.
Given Madison’s role in the Confederacy they actually had very little on display from that period, much to Tom Plowden’s dismay. I guess if you’re giving a broad overview it’s hard to go in depth into any historical period in such a small space.
We headed on up to the second floor. One of the old classrooms had been restored with period furniture. Houston and I both remarked how similar these desks were to the ones we had used at Ford School in Laurens.
We also remarked that the map on the wall was of Paul’s Missionary Journeys.
The Madison Graded School was built in 1895 and functioned as a school until 1957. Prior to its opening education was mostly one-room, multi-grade rural classes. The name “Madison Graded” was to set it apart, as something new an unique.
Outside of the classroom hung a portrait of Mr. John Morehouse, custodian of the school in the early 20th Century. Mr. Morehouse was illiterate. The story we heard was that when the teachers were done for the day Mr. Morehouse asked that they not erase their chalkboards. He would take care of it. In doing so he taught himself to read and gained a rudimentary education.
The other end of the second floor held art galleries. These were closed as exhibits were in the process of changing. Right in the middle of the floor was a small space now used as an office. A stairway on the right side of the room led to the third floor, and hanging right next to the hapless occupant’s desk was the pull rope for the bell. We chatted with her for a bit.
We headed back downstairs and stepped into the parlor. This was another former classroom, now remodeled as a space for receptions and weddings.
This was also where one Norvell Hardy attended school. After school he would take his father’s name, Oliver, and begin his famous comedy routine with Stan Laurel.
Next to the parlor was the true gem of the school, the restored auditorium. It was a spectacular space, with curved seating area and a small balcony.
The wrought iron work on the ends of the rows was impressive.
As you might imagine with all of these hard surfaces, the acoustics were excellent. I would love to attend a concert here.
We had one last thing to do before we left. We had to ring the bell. Actually, Houston and Lynda insisted that I ring it while they took photos and videos. The bell was quite loud, and I thought about that poor person in the office about us. It didn’t keep me from ringing the bell, though.
Here’s the video, which features Houston nearly tripping down the steps in the second clip.
They DIDN’T give me one of these stickers, though.
We continued on our way. We planned our route to Warm Springs so as to avoid Interstates. Highway 83 took us through the town of Shady Dale, which was little more than a wide spot. There was an interesting old Methodist Church, a lumber yard, an old bank, and not much else.
Looking at the bank photo it occurred to me that I tend to be obsessive about old school architecture, but old banks can be just as cool. The architecture can be just as distinctive. So a short list of building types about one could obsess might include the following:
- bridges (of various types)
- old country stores
- railroad depots
- court houses
- fire towers
…or, basically anything old with distinctive architecture.
It was about lunch time when we rolled into Monticello. Georgia is divided into many small counties, and each county has its own seat, usually with a unique courthouse. Such is the case with Monticello, county seat for Jasper County.
As with many of these towns, the courthouse sits either in the middle of or to the side of a central town square. We circled the square once, then found a parking spot.
Houston and I wanted barbecue. Lynda, being vegetarian, wasn’t keen on the meat, but these places usually have pretty good veggies, too. As we walked around the square we encountered one of the local denizens who told us that if we liked soul food we should really check out Dave’s BBQ on the other side of the square. We thanked him and used this as an opportunity to walk around the square.
Our conclusion was that for a small southern town Monticello had some weird things going on.
Then there was this place:
Houston wondered if the “All Eyes on Egipt” place was an outpost of the Nuwaubian Nation, a strange cult from Athens. I thought it was just an unusual beauty salon. Turns out Houston was right. There are “All Eyes on Egipt” bookstores all over the nation. I’d never heard of them before this trek, but it looks like it might be worth some follow-up and reading.
Eventually we found Dave’s BBQ and Soul Food. It was late in the lunch cycle, but there was still time to grab a bite before they closed.
There was one long white table down the middle for large groups with smaller tables on the periphery. Food was served cafeteria style.
This being a late lunch, they had already run out of lots of things. There was no barbecue, as I understand the term and cuisine – no pulled pork, ribs, or anything of that nature. Vegetable choices were few, and they only had fried chicken, pork chops, and fried catfish for meat. Dessert was also gone. Lynda does eat fish, so she and I got the catfish and Houston got the pork chop. I rounded out my plate with potato salad and cabbage. It was actually pretty good, especially when I used a generous amount of pepper vinegar sauce.
It also turns out that the table where we were sitting had played a roll in the movie My Cousin Vinny. I’m not sure I’ve watched that movie all the way through. I may have to watch it now, as other parts of the movie were shot around Monticello.
As we were walking back to the car we ran into the same guy that had pointed us in the direction of Dave’s BBQ. We thanked him for his suggestion. He asked if we had tried the vinegar sauce, and I was able to reply that it was great over the catfish. He posed for a photo with Houston.
We rolled out of Monticello wondering if we would, in fact make it to Warm Springs. The day wasn’t over, and there was more to see.