This schoolhouse is part of the Shields-Etheridge Heritage Farm and is just down the road from the main house and sharecropper’s village. Alex and Emory Shields, grandsons of James Shields, donated two acres for the construction of the school and it was named the Bachelors’ Academy in their honor. Ira had been a teacher himself in his younger days and believed strongly in education. In 1938, when Jackson County consolidated its rural schools, the Bachelors’ Academy became a school for African-American children, and Ira provided the teacher housing in the sharecroppers’ village. The school was in used until 1950 and was restored in 1996.
Shields-Etheridge Farm, National Register of Historic Places
This property was originally settled by Joseph Shields and sons James and Patrick in 1802. With two slaves, they cleared and cultivated the land. The farm began producing “upland” cotton in 1810. When Joseph died in 1818, he willed the land to his son, James and by 1860, 20 enslaved people worked the land. James died in 1863 and in 1865 his widow, Charity, signed a contract with three of her former slaves, providing them housing and food in exchange for their work on the farm. When James and Charity’s son, Joseph Robert Shields, returned home from the Civil War in 1866, he built the main house and soon applied the sharecropping system to the entire farm, managing many of his former slaves alongside poor white farmers.
By 1890, the farm had grown to 1000 acres. In 1897, Joseph Robert’s daughter Susan Ella returned to the farm with her husband Ira Washington Eldridge. Joseph Robert Shields died in 1910 and Susan Ella and Ira inherited the house and surrounding property. To hedge his bets against increasingly unstable cotton prices, Ira Eldridge built a self-sustaining sharecropper’s “village” near the main house. In 1914, “Mr. Ira” transformed the main house from its historical Plantation Plain appearance to it present Neoclassical appearance by adding columns and raising the porch. The structures seen today were built between 1900-1930. Most of the sharecropper housing is gone today, but a few scattered examples survive.
When Ira died in 1945, his son Lanis understood that the farm would soon be changed by mechanization. He diversified and in the early 1950s began breeding cattle and slowly expanding pastureland on his acreage. At his death in 1970, the sharecropper’s village was long abandoned. His widow, Joyce Ethridge, began documenting the history of the farm and in 1994 she and daughters Susan E. Chaisson and Ann E. Lacey gave 150 acres of the farm to the Shields-Etheridge Farm Foundation to preserve the site as an agricultural museum. Joyce’s research also led to the listing of the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Shields-Etheridge Heritage Farm is the most intact collection of historic farm structures in their original location in Georgia, and is an amazing place to visit.
Situated on some of the most idyllic land in Oglethorpe County, the historic property known as Smithonia was for a time perhaps the largest single farm in Georgia, eventually encompassing nearly thirty square miles. It was a self-contained enterprise, with its own railroad, commissary, and enough tenants to necessitate a post office, which operated from 1889-1907.
This may have been the post office. I will update when I can confirm.
James Monroe Smith (Jim) was born in 1839 near Washington, Georgia. The lifelong bachelor built an agricultural empire on the gently rolling hills around this exceptionally large house (built circa 1866), and by the turn of the century was a millionaire. The three large brick barns (the first a stable) were built circa 1888 at the height of the farm’s productivity. They remain its most significant architectural legacy.
The primary means by which Smith amassed his fortune was the use of laborers he “rented”from the state’s prison camps, and nearly all of them were African-American. Many had been Smith’s slaves on whom the irony of being back in his “employee” was surely not lost.
Smith’s wealth and desire for influence led him to politics and he served terms in both the Georgia house and senate. He made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1906.
He died on the farm in 1915 and due to his bachelor status, his estate was unsettled for many years. Numerous claims were made for his land and considerable fortune.
Numerous owners have owned parts of the property over the years, including country music legend Kenny Rogers. The most recent owners, Pam and Dink NeSmith have made improvements to various aspects of the sprawling landmark and have recently listed it for sale.
I’m not sure when Moses Chapel was established but like most African-American churches in Reconstruction-era Georgia the congregation likely counted many recently emancipated slaves among its members. The church, built in 1877, is a real treasure of the vernacular Gothic style common in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is the most notable landmark of the historic African-American neighborhood known as Pea Ridge.
Rutledge Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Harrell Lawson’s History of St. Pau CME Church  describes the two-story meetinghouse adjacent to the church as a building previously used as a school for the secular education of the youth of the community and as a meeting place for Masons and a burial society founded by St. Paul members in the early 1900’s.
A resource survey conducted in 2001 dates the structure to circa 1870. It was built in the school/lodge combination common among African-American congregations in this part of Georgia in the late 19th century. These structures inevitably served as de facto community centers, as well. No matter when they were built, they are important resources.
Randolph Cemetery, set on a precipitous hillside southwest of Milledgeville, has the appearance of a typical early-20th-century African-American burying ground, with many handmade headstones and grave markers sourced from local materials. This monumental folk art arch makes it anything but a typical cemetery. [It might also be of interest that it is believed that a descendant of one of George Washington’s slaves is buried here].
The top of the arch contains relief carvings of oak leaves, plus some possible clues about the builder. Below a random series of letters and numbers [K PL47, perhaps designating Knights of Pythias Lodge 47?] and the phrase “He Watches Over Me” is what appears to be the date 1923 and the initials F B and ARB. It’s possible that the B is for Brown, as there are several Browns in this cemetery, but that is only a guess.
This Town Lattice covered bridge, the only one remaining in Bartow County, was built on Euharlee Creek in 1886 by Washington W. King. King was the son of former slave and master architect and bridge builder Horace King.
The historical marker erected in 2000 by the Georgia Historical Society and the Federal Highway Administration notes, in part: In 1886 the county contracted with Washington W. King…and Jonathan H. Burke for the construction of this 138-foot bridge…This bridge replaced several previous structures, the last having been built two years prior.
The bridge remained in use until the completion of a modern bridge circa 1980. Much of the material used to build the massive Plant Bowen nearby was hauled over this historic bridge.
The Old Brick Mill at Lindale is the only surviving antebellum brick grist mill in Northwest Georgia and one of just a handful of surviving antebellum mills of any construction in Georgia. It was built of bricks made on site by enslaved people. Located on Silver Creek just across the road from the entrance to the Lindale Manufacturing Company, it is a favorite spot for photographers. Though it ceased operation as a grist mill in the late 1890s, it remained an important community landmark, serving as home to a local Garden Club, Boy Scout troop, and Masonic lodge at various times throughout the 20th century. The Lindale paper, The Georgia Free Lance, was also printed here around 1909.
The landmark, believed to have been built for Larkin Barnett in the 1830s, has seen various changes over time, including the loss of the mill race, the original wheel, and steps, but retains much of its structural integrity. Subsequent private owners and operators were William Cabe of Alabama [Silver Creek Mills], Jacob Henry Hoss [millwright], Joseph Fulcher, William Hemphill Jones, and Mary Jane & Sarah Elizabeth Jones. It ceased operation when it was purchased by the Massachusetts Mills. It was restored by the Lindale Garden Club, who won a National Award for Historic Preservation for their efforts, in 1975.